The Loud Sounds of Many Fingers Typing

Lush garden in front, deciduous tree in centre in front of 2 storey old building

My favourite, quiet courtyard at University of Sydney

This series of posts has largely celebrated the tweeting of this year’s Australian Historical Association Conference. Overall we did well at sharing the news of the conference online. But while we should celebrate our achievements, we should at the same time keep a sense of proportion on all this. Twitter is not everything and neither is social media. The vast majority of conference attendees did not send a tweet and are probably not on Twitter at all. However, as I wrote in my last post, historians who are not on Twitter also benefit from tweeting.

But for at least one attendee, the use of computers during conference sessions detracted from their conference experience. After the conference they shared their less than ideal experience with me. They noted that I had referred to “soft tapping of numerous keyboards” from people tweeting at the Global Digital Humanities Conference in an earlier post. This historian said that in their view the sounds of people typing was not ‘soft’ but so loud that they found it quite distracting. They said that they didn’t feel comfortable raising this during the comfortable as they didn’t want to upset people or cause the issue to mushroom into a controversy. Continue reading

Top Retweets from 2015 Australian Historical Association Conference

Sandstone Quadrangle Building at University of Sydney

A glimpse of one of Sydney’s modern skyscrapers through an ivy-covered arch of University of Sydney’s nineteenth-century Quadrangle Building.

Retweeting amplifies tweets. One tweet is ephemeral. It can easily be lost in the deluge of tweets that are emitted at the same time. Retweeting is one way that tweeps catch tweets that appeal to them and increase the volume on those tweets. The tweet is sent again but to a slightly different audience and at a different time. A tweet that is retweeted many times has something in the 140 characters that has captured the imagination of the Twittersphere and has a much larger audience than the first time it was sent.

In my last post I wrote about the dominant themes that emerged in the Australian Historical Association Conference’s Twitter stream. This was done by analysing the most popular words in the Twitter stream. Another way to understand what interested the conference tweeps is to have a look at the most retweeted conference tweets:

Tweet No. RTs
1 RT @perkinsy: #OzHA2015 For all those who want to learn how to use @TroveAustralia API, here are simple step by step instructions: http://t.co/1vsBpXOZzm 17
2 RT @AustHistAssoc: Mark McKenna #OzHA2015. Historians need to be part of public debate as collaborators with journalists, documentary makers, museum curators. 15
3 RT @perkinsy: I’m presenting at #OzHA2015 now: Needle in the haystack: a searching look at digital tools’. See slides: http://t.co/NXuAT5Rsjp #dhist 11
4 RT @baibi: My paper is on Sydney boy Charlie Allen, who lived in China from 1909 to 1915, + the letters he wrote home. #OzHA2015 http://t.co/0donu76vCF 10
5 RT @history_punk: #OzHA2015 Matthews: fascinating insights into history/social change and a lifelong commitment to research/activism. http://t.co/kl8ZzVksvF 10
5 RT @AustHistAssoc: Catherine Freyne #OzHA2015. How to write history for radio? Balance of narrative and analysis, anecdote and reflection. 9
6 RT @ap_ap_ap_: Those at #OzHA2015 – check out this fab #DH2015 keynote on memory and access to archival sources by @wragge: http://t.co/xGgwy1707t 8
7 RT @AustHistAssoc: Anna Clark #OzHA2015. Historians caught between rigorous demands of scholarship and appetites of audiences for intimate stories. 8
7 RT @history_punk: #OzHA2015 Mootz: You can teach a 5 yr old about historiography. How? Ask mum/dad to tell you about the day you were born. Two perspectives! 8

Trove was the subject of the most retweeted tweet in the conference. It seems a lot of people are interested in learning how to use the facility provided by Trove for the speedy, mass download of search results. This technology is called an API. You don’t need any qualifications or programming expertise to use it. As I said in the tweet, you can learn how to use it with some simple step by step instructions I have written. By using an API you are liberated from the tedium of clicking each search result and saving it one by one. Give it a go – it will open up a world of possibilities for you.

In a similar vein, Tim Sherratt’s well-received and provocative keynote speech at the previous week’s Global Digital Humanities Conference gained deserved attention by people following the #OzHA2015 hashtag. His paper examined our access to government archives and questioned the perception that “open access” really means that. If you have not already done so, make sure you read his paper which he has made available on his discontents blog.

Three tweets from the Big Questions plenary panel were in the top retweets which reflects my comments in the last post about the interest of conference tweeps in this session on public history. panelists, Mark McKenna, Catherine Freyne and Anna Clark provided these morsels of interest. Likewise, women’s history is reflected in this list of popular retweets. It is worth clicking on the link to the screenshot from Jill Julius Matthews’ Australian Women’s History Network keynote presentation.

The last in the list of retweets is a wonderfully quirky but perceptive insight into the learning of history in real life. This pearl was contributed by Denis Mootz of the History Teachers’ Association of NSW in his paper on ‘Historical Literacy’.

There are two interesting tweets in this list. Both the third and the fourth tweets on the list were pre-scheduled tweets that Kate Bagnall and I sent while we were speaking. This indicates that people following the Twitter stream found it helpful when speakers contributed some tweets about their papers while they presented their papers. These pre-scheduled tweets provided some context to those following from afar and helped tweeps in the audience by locating information about the paper for them. For more about this see my post, ‘Presenting at a Conference in the Social Media Age’.

This post has focussed on the people who was the subject of the tweets, not the person who wrote and sent the tweets. There is a very good reason for this. In the academic and professional sphere the content of tweets is important. To take an extreme case, a professional who only tweets about their morning coffee is unlikely to get many followers, even if they are an esteemed leader in their field. A person who only tweets about themselves and their own work is of limited interest unless they are a leader in their field. There are few people like this.

Effective professional use of social media is an act of service to a professional community. Professional tweeps help share knowledge and assist members of the community to connect with each other.

Librarians and teachers understand this well. They regard their social media connections as a ‘Professional Learning Network’ (PLN). The historian tweeps at the conference and those following online were using social media to learn and to connect. People who use social media professionally learn from others and pass it on. They ask questions of their Professional Learning Network when they need help. While they certainly contribute their own work, this may be only about 25% of their tweets/posts. For the vast majority of us it is the content of the tweets that we send that is valued above all else.

It was the presenters at the conference and other conferences who provided the interesting ideas and comments which tweeps passed on to the Twittersphere. This list of popular retweets shows that Twitter can help raise the profile of people who are not on Twitter. Tweeting a conference is a service to an online community which wants to learn more about the subject. It is also a service to presenters at a conference as their ideas are disseminated to a wider audience.

This analysis uses the data from the Conference’s Twitter Archive maintained by digital historian, Sharon Howard. If you would like to look behind the analysis I have done of the conference tweets go to the Voyant Tools text analysis page I have created. Let me know if you find something interesting.

Twitter Themes During 2015 Australian Historical Association Conference

word cloud

Most commonly used words in #OzHA2015 tweets during the 2015 Australian Historical Association Conference. Click on the word cloud to enlarge it. Click on it again to be taken to the data behind this word cloud. I love this facility from Voyant Tools!

During the four days of open sessions at the conference, participants tweeted over forty thousand words excluding hashtags and Twitter handles. This year’s conference had the biggest Twitter stream of any Australian Historical Association conference since 2012 and as my last post showed, more people tweeted the conference than ever before.

A conference Twitter stream is a news service for those who cannot attend the event.  It is a crowd note-taking service which participants can refer to in order to jog their memory, find out what happened in sessions they did not attend and to provide added commentary which enriches the conference discourse.

Yet we need to be careful about what a Twitter conference stream can and cannot provide. The fact that there are lots of tweets does not necessarily mean that the event is properly represented in the hashtag. Any digital history papers are more likely to be well tweeted because attendees interested in technology are more likely to be on Twitter. Likewise some papers might miss out on coverage on Twitter even though the room is full, because those attendees are not on Twitter.

How well did this year’s Twitter stream reflect the conference program?

The word cloud above represents the most frequently tweeted words during the four days of sessions at the conference (after excluding stop words such as ‘the’ ‘are’, ‘a’ etc). Predictably words such as history, historians, Australian, Australia and historical were among the most commonly used words in the Conference Twitter stream. If we delve deeper there are some other themes which emerge.

I have taken a closer look at the fifty most tweeted words to identify topics of significant interest to the tweeps during the conference. This is a subjective analysis. I did not use topic modelling software and I ignored over four thousand words which occurred with less frequency in the conference Twitter stream. However, I feel that this limited analysis provides an interesting indicator of at least some of the dominant themes in the Twitter stream. Continue reading

#OzHA2015 Conference Tweets – the numbers and the people

three women kneeling in the front and five women standing behind them.

Some of the attendees who brought the conference to you on Twitter.

Back in 2012 some Australian historians were following the annual conference of the American Historical Association on Twitter. We did the Australian thing and stayed up late to follow a live event in another country and immersed ourselves in the torrent of tweets from conference participants reporting the events via the #AHA2012 hashtag. I have written about this, my first experience following a conference via Twitter in my post, ‘Nearly There: Experiencing a Conference Online’.

What a wonderful service those tweeps had provided to all those who could not attend the conference. We were inspired:

@perkinsy 13/1/2012 4:52.56:

#AHA2012 was an online success. Can we share @AustHistAssoc conference in the same way? @davegearl @wragge http://t.co/Xjk2q8yM #AHA2012

The tweets have long disappeared from Twitter itself but through my Twitter Archive I found the response from British historian, Sharon Howard, which gave life to the idea (I added bold to the key text):

@perkinsy 13/1/2012 20:38.28:

I like it – succint. @AustHistAssoc @davegearl RT @sharon_howard: @perkinsy @wragge I propose the hashtag #OzHA12 🙂

So the #OzHA hashtag was born… and to my chagrin my spelling error is immortalised. Continue reading

Presenting at a Conference in the Social Media Age

Conference sign stating name of conferenceIn many respects the format of academic conferences has not changed much over the years. There will be some plenary sessions with keynote lectures but the hive of the conference is the parallel sessions where many presenters stand up, read their paper and answer a few questions afterwards. Once upon a time presenters may have used overhead transparencies. These have been replaced by powerpoint presentations which in the hands of most presenters are little different to the old technology.

But social media has introduced a profound change to the dynamics of conferences. The soundscape of plenary sessions at the Global Digital Humanities conference did not simply comprise the tones of the person speaking on stage. There was also the soft sounds of hundreds of fingers tapping on keyboards, reporting the conference to the world via Twitter.

Over several conferences I have been observing presenters and thinking about how best to present a paper in the Social Media Age. At the Australian Historical Association conference a few weeks ago I had a chance to put some ideas into practice.

Firstly I made sure I put my name and my Twitter handle on the bottom of every powerpoint slide. The best way of giving attribution on Twitter is to use the presenter’s Twitter handle but too often the people tweeting a paper are not aware that the presenter is on Twitter. The presenter misses out on a higher profile online and the possibility of connecting to more colleagues online. Likewise the audience misses out on an opportunity to expand their professional networks. Continue reading

Digital History at #OzHA2015? There was some

Screenshot of the home page of the website.

The Prosecution Project from Griffith University is examining the history of criminal trials in Australia between 1850 and 1960.

There are good reasons to attend conferences. I treat them as my CPD (professional parlance for Continuing Professional Development). At a productive conference I learn a great deal from being immersed in a learning environment for several days. The breaks are as productive as a session because they are good opportunities to chat with others in the field about their work and further discuss what we have learned. These blog posts I am writing are a further opportunity for me to think through new ideas and approaches as well as to pass the learning on.

The Global Digital Humanities Conference was a week before the Australian Historical Association Conference. As I said in previous posts, Australian historians Peter Read, Julia Torpey and Tim Sherratt featured at those conferences. It was a rare opportunity for Australian historians interested in Digital History to learn from leading digital humanities practitioners.

It is very difficult for one person to attend two conferences in one fortnight, so it was understandable that digital history was not a big focus at the Australian Historical Association Conference. There were no sessions titled ‘digital history’ or something similar that would convey that the papers were about the use of technology in history.

Yet digital history was there. My paper was about digital history as was Janette Pelosi’s paper about the State Records NSW digitisation project, ‘Sentenced Beyond the Seas‘ which she presented in the same session.

With low expectations I have searched through the 2015 conference abstracts for papers featuring the words, digital, data, website, internet, social media, Facebook, Twitter. To my surprise I found thirteen papers which could be regarded as digital history. This was more than I expected. Continue reading

Big Questions in History: History’s Relevance in Contemporary Society

Family history is an important entrée into wider historical interests for many people in our society. But historian Anna Clark asks if connecting to the past through personal experience shuts out other personal experiences?

Anna Clark from University of Technology, Sydney was one of five historians who spoke at the popular ‘Big Questions in History’ panel at the recent conference of the Australian Historical Association. This plenary session is devoted to a critical discussion about the connections between historians and Australian society. It has been held at every conference I have attended since 2012 and is a dynamic, thought-provoking session.

Anna Clark

Anna Clark

Clark’s question is pertinent. While we are absorbed in our own family history research are we alert to the lives of others who lived in the same community as our ancestors? We may have built a fascinating story about our ancestor but embellishments and silences handed down over the generations may be exposed when we look at the stories of others. The stories of others, unrelated to us, are important to understand too. How can we understand current affairs without some knowledge of the Stolen Generations and the Mabo High Court Case?

“In the midst of this popular flowering of history”, Clark said, “there is a concern that we don’t know enough about the past”.

It is a classic example of the more we know, the more we know we don’t know.

Ann Curthoys reflected on her personal history as a participant in the original Australian Freedom Rides which exposed horrible discrimination against Aboriginal people in Australian country towns. A few years ago she wrote about her experience in Freedom Rides: A freedom rider remembers, and her diary is held by AIATSIC and is available online. Continue reading