Electronic Age: Twitter + History = My Writer Muscles Are Sore

I’m a novelist. Fiction is what I have loved to write since about second grade. My first publications were with magazine and newspaper articles, and I still freelance on the side. I’ve added blogging to my list of types of writing I do. Now I’m on Facebook and Twitter, which have their own styles—learning to put a thought into a succinct 140 characters is skill all its own.

Last fall, Marion Jensen asked for volunteers for different kind of writing project, and I signed up. It’s not a paying gig, but it’s new, it’s exciting, and totally different from anything I’ve ever done before: I got to play Heber C. Kimball on Twitter.

Okay, it’s not on Twitter quite yet. My writing as Heber will be seen on Twitter very soon. The project is part of what what’s called “TwHistory.” It combines history with modern technology, allowing followers to experience the past as if it’s happening right now.

The concept came from Marion Jensen and Tom Caswell, two guys who love taking new technologies and turning them on their heads.

Last year they took journals from those involved in the Battle of Gettysburg and created the entire battle in tweets, then ran them on the same days and times the events actually occurred during the Civil War. Twitter followers read the battle in real time. If a soldier was shot at this hour, they read about it. If another died on the battlefield, he suddenly stopped tweeting.

The project got international attention. Marion and Tom were invited to a conference in Spain to present their innovative way of teaching history. (See more about that HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

They’re creating another TwHistory reenactment. This one  will be of the original Mormon Pioneer Trek from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, ending with Brigham Young’s declaration on July 24th that, “This is the right place. Drive on.”

That’s where the volunteers came in. We were given a specific person from that original company, access to their journals online from LDS.org, and the goal of writing 4–6 tweets for each day recorded in the journals.

Talk about stretching my writer muscles. I had to record Heber C. Kimball’s journals while condensing the events into tiny statements while maintaining his voice—and trying to make sure not to overlook anything important.

Some days Heber got seriously long-winded, and it was a challenge to decide what to tweet from the day; there was just too much. Quite often he’d record the weather, the plants of the area, the terrain (in painful detail), how many miles they’d traveled, how many rivers and creeks they’d crossed, what the banks were like on each one. At times he’d create large lists of the captains and the members of their groups, discuss long speeches by Brigham Young and other members of the Twelve.

Relevant and important information, yes, but there were times I’d skip over those parts and instead tweet something more interesting . . . like the time he had Brigham Young hold a small wolf by the tail so Heber could whack it to death with a stick. (Had to get food somehow, right?)

It was a fun, challenging assignment. My part is done now, but Marion and Tom are just getting going, putting all the tweets together so that come April, they can hit the ground running, making each of tweets from the historical figures we’re following show up exactly when they’re supposed to.

For those interested in following the reenactment, you can find more about the project at the TwHistory website. If you’re already on Twitter, you can follow the list of wagon train members HERE.

If you’re not on Twitter yet, this is the time to sign up; watching the reenactment alone is worth it. It’s going to be a fascinating look at history as followers watch the original trek unfold before them as if it’s happening right now. I have a junior high student studying Utah history and the trek right now; I’ll be letting the teacher know about the reenactment so he can use it with his class if he wants to. It’s a fantastic way to learn.

The project was a ball to participate in.

On the other hand, I’m also looking forward to getting back to novel-writing, where I can let my imagination go on for a lot longer than a mere 140 characters.

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2 Responses to Electronic Age: Twitter + History = My Writer Muscles Are Sore

  1. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    What an interesting project. And finally, a worthwhile purpose for Twitter–to teach history. Some people are so smart. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  2. Moriah Jovan says:

    [b]And finally, a worthwhile purpose for Twitter[/b]

    I find Twitter very useful for a host of other things. First and foremost, doing business. Trust me, my bank account adores Twitter.

    That said, I follow several accounts that tweet history, particularly in a time period that corresponds to the next book I’m writing (American Revolution).

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