Historical Figures in Social Media
Over the last year I have become more and more committed to various social media applications, and over the last six months, I am completely obsessed with Twitter. (Facebook, not so much, but not for any ideological or practical reasons; I just prefer Twitter run through Hootsuite). Recently I have been enamored with the spate of historical figures on Twitter. The first that I recognized was the brilliant Cry for Byzantium which sent out creative Tweets in the name of various Byzantine Emperors who have particular interests in politics, military campaigns, diplomacy, and palace intrigue. The blog is run by the author Sean Munger who explains the set up for Cry for Byzantium on his blog. At present he has over 550 followers and has sent out over 2000 Tweets!
Since then I’ve also begun to follow iTweetus, who is a Roman soldier on campaign in England during the winter of 72/73 AD. His feed is curated by the Roman Frontier Gallery at Tullie House in Carlisle. Tweetus is poetic and has a keen eye for the rugged landscape and the worsening weather. I hope he survives the winter. At present iTweetus has made 53 tweets (he’s on campaign for heaven sake and who knows what the Roman mobile phone coverage is like at the borders of empire!) and has 495 followers.
Finally, iHerodotus has begun to push out tweets from his great work on the Persian Wars. He has 172 followers and has pushed out 95 tweets. Laura Gibbs has been tweeting Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar since the summer. She has over 100 followers and has made over 1000 tweets. Various authors whose works are being tweet are aggregated into several lists like Classic Writer’s Words.
The idea that these real or fictional ancient figures are part of my “social network” certainly stretches the notion of a social network and its virtual existence to a new place. To be sure, Herodotus or even the Byzantine Emperor’s do not respond to my Tweets as a colleague might, but at the same time their stories and personalities emerge over the course of their twitter feeds. Like college classmates or rarely seen acquaintances, the names of historical figures and the text of classic literature roll out across my twitter feed sharing space with various automated tweets from tech-bloggers, various companies, CNN, athletic teams, et c.
My social media space, then, extends the notions of the social to include a wide range of products, services, individuals, and texts. Or, to see it another way, my social media space represents the commodification of personal relationships as much as the personalization of products and services. I am not sure how historical figures fit into a network of commodified social relations, except by observing that historical figures have always contributed to the production of social capital. If Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services provide new ways to visualize and deploy the diverse range of social capital, then there is no reason why historical figures, texts, and other works of so-called “high culture” should not appear.