Guest post by Fionnuala Barrett, Student Ambassador and Social Media Co-ordinator for @Arras95.
I have been overseeing the @Arras95 live-tweeting project, which came to an end on the 16th of May. Initially I was given a factsheet, prepared by Everett Sharp, with day by day details of the Battle of Arras. My first job was to construct these into tweets, so that they would suit the persona Kate Lindsay had devised – a real-time reporter sending messages back from the Front – and so that they would fit into about 130 characters, to facilitate easy retweeting.
My second job was then to line these tweets up for sending. We used a Twitter client called Tweetdeck, which allows you to schedule the tweets ahead of time to be published at a time and date of your choosing, as well as to add geotag information which we would later use to create a map of the tweets.
My last job on @Arras95 was day-to-day caretaking of the account, responding to and retweeting the messages of others. The group interaction made this part of the process most interesting, even including a few other users tweeting in character (notably @2ndCMR and @8thEastLancs) — a development we had not anticipated!
Now that the “Battle” has come to an end, we are creating new resources from the tweets. Though I like the tweet timeline, I am particularly gratified by the tweet map; while I was somewhat laboriously geotagging each of our tweets, I was unsure how useful such information would be, but I am very impressed with how the map turned out, and gives a new dimension on understanding some of the movements. It works particularly well with the Arras: Before and After resource.
As for evaluating @Arras95, I felt that commentators on the Great War Forum in this thread on the project put a number of very valid points, both pro and con. J Banning was particularly fair-minded about the limitations of the project, and the fact that a 140-character message would only be able to engage with complete neophytes to a limited extent. I think the brevity, combined with the project’s very specific remit, limited its appeal to those who were already quite knowledgeable about the period. Certainly there were times that the 140-character limit was a frustration, particularly with the more anecdotal stories sourced by Everett Sharp (as opposed to the factual messages such as “this village was captured” or “this number were wounded”) which I felt might have drawn in a less specialist audience.
Yet David Underdown makes an excellent point when he points out, on the same forum, that the live-tweeting project gives some idea of the “fragmentary … nature of the reports being received on the way up the chain of command”. Similarly, like a number of forum commentators, I want to see what is possible with the new technologies now available to historians, and @Arras95 is a valuable insight into how such tools can be exploited in research and dissemination of that research (and the maps and timelines are a further extension of that). Because the technology itself and the academy’s involvement in such technologies are both so young, naturally there is much to learn, and experiments such as these are the best way to discover what we still need to find out.