Doing Scholarship on Twitter

Reading time: 3 mins

Recently, I have made a rather long(ish) thread on Twitter about a letter of an anonymous schoolgirl to her teacher. It would probably not have been so interesting, if the letter was not over 1200 years old and simultaneously one of our most striking sources to the history of writing women in the Carolingian period.

The thread met with an amazing response (for which I am very grateful!) Among the replies I got some people were asking me is it possible to quote my thread in a book, praising to be so generous with my scholarship on social media and wondering about the outlet I have chosen to present it. There is a an almost instinctive fear among us, academics, that when something is presented on-line instead of in a “traditional” outlet it will not get the credit it deserves. Sadly, it is a well-founded fear. Twitter is seen to be ok to amplify your published work but not to do scholarship.

The thing is: I am a historian and a digital humanist1 and that means that displaying my scholarship on-line is not just a matter of replicating what I have done before. It is, very often, the first place I present my work. This thread was based on the effort of great scholars before me (duly referenced!2) but for example the exact location of the teacher’s mention in Düsseldorf D.1 manuscript is only alluded and never referenced. It took me a long time to find it and corroborate it (all possible thanks to the wonderful digitization of the manuscript). It is research in action, so to speak.

I am far from being the first one to do scholarship on Twitter. Scholars like Elaine Treharne, Sarah Bond, Susan Oosthuizen, Caitlin Green, Erik Wade (to mention just a few, there are many!)3 have shown long ago that Twitter is a perfectly valid outlet for scholarly output. Nowadays some of the most important methodological discussions happen on Twitter as well. Those discussions are sometimes years ahead of the scholarly publications in our field.

Writing scholarship on Twitter forces us to be precise, open, and engaging. It gives us an amazing opportunity to amplify voices that otherwise would have a hard time finding their way into “traditional” venues. It is a great training ground for making your research attractive to the wider public. Moreover, our students are on Twitter and we should be where they are, because their feedback is crucial. For me personally, as an ECR, it is a chance to present my scholarship to a global audience.

Humanities in particular have a tradition of snubbing the small form in academic output. But not all of our research is fit to be presented as a 10 000-word article in a scholarly journal or even a 2000-word one. Threads will not replace academic publishing (not should they)4, but they can be just as valid a place for “doing scholarship” as conferences and journals. Maybe, in some years, when humanities warm up to the small form, we will find another place for those little sparks of research (I really thing we should create one). For now, we are here.

  1. Although I do have my problems with the term itself… 

  2. As a matter of fact, I have even included a small bibliography for the thread, so readers can follow up on the sources and the most important secondary literature. #smug Now I just have to find a way of doing footnotes in a sensible way. 

  3. Follow them! Follow them all! 

  4. Even though it is helplessly broken and needs a revolution: 

Written on April 12, 2019