Our students’ facility with social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and personal blogging sites can be useful scaffolding for teaching the context, reception and circulation of literatures of different time periods.
Dr. Kirsten Saxton uses Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr to situate eighteenth-century political writing (the “pamphlet wars”) in her eighteenth-century literature course at Mills College. Dr. Saxton writes:
Our digital age in many ways resembles the sea change that the printing press brought to eighteenth-century England, and this assignment thus works well at the level of form as well as content.
OVERVIEW from Kirsten Saxton
In my class, I teach eighteenth-century political writings, or “pamphlet wars,” from the debates that bookend the century: the first particularly focused on notions of English national character as the country struggled to negotiate religious, monarchical, and parliamentary tensions and power; the second particularly focused on notions of English national character at the century’s end, in the face of revolutions in America and in France. In each case, pamphlets were quickly printed and widely distributed, and the writers “tag,” “hat tip,” and “troll” one another.
Social media “translation” — through the assignment of creating Facebook, Twitter and blog posts — offers an engaging and effective way for students to hone and demonstrate their grasp of the main argument and tone of each text, and their choice of hashtags and handles to their linked memes or web sites requires deft engagement with the writers’ works as well as being much more fun to write and to read than a series of summaries or broad reading responses.
Facebook posts are longer than Tweets and while their commentary is often related to that of others, it is a less overtly a “call and response” medium than Twitter. The blog format parallels a longer form pamphlet essay, and allows for more in-depth thought as well as facilitating student response to one another’s work through the comment function at the end of the blog.
When covering the first part of the century, I assign students to create Facebook posts on behalf of Daniel Defoe (“The True-Born Englishman”), James Thompson (“Rule Brittania”), and Jonathan Swift (“A Modest Proposal”).
When covering the later part of the century, I ask students to create Tweets that demonstrate the ideas of Edmund Burke (“Reflections on the Revolution in France,”) Thomas Paine (“Common Sense,”) and Mary Wollstonecraft (“A Vindication of the Rights of Men”). I ask the students to include the class hashtag #Mills18thCPamphletWars on all of their posts. When we come into class for discussion I screen Tweet Deck and pull up our class hashtag so we can follow and review the tweets and use them as the focus of our discussion.
After students have completed the Facebook and Twitter assignment they are asked to write a blog post on our class Tumblr page.
READING RESPONSE 1: Write two Facebook status updates each from Defoe and Thompson and Swift that reflect their arguments regarding who is a “true Englishman” and what makes England great; add media (photos, pix, memes, links) as desired. [Note: the students do not actually have to post to FB (which requires an account that some may not want to register for.) This assignment may be adapted so that all students bring in their “post” and share them in small group discussions. You can also set up a Fakebookpage for your class.]
READING RESPONSE 2: Create 2-4 Tweets each from Burke, Paine and Wollstonecraft on the Revolution; create handles for each; use hashtags; have them be in conversation. [Note: the students do not actually have to post to twitter (which requires an account that some may not want to register for). The assignment may be adapted so that all students bring in their “post” and share them. The three inch sticky is a great size for this and students can stick them on the wall, reorganizing them into call and response patterns.]
READING RESPONSE 3: Write a short argument that supports and adds to the stance taken in one of the pamphlets we have read in class so far. You may choose either to join the debate on who is “a true Englishman” by choosing to take up the work of Defoe, Thompson or Swift; or you may argue about “Revolution” by extending the work of Burke, Paine or Wollstonecraft. Post your argument on our class Tumblr page.
Many exciting pedagogy suggestions for using Twitter or Facebook in classrooms may be found online. Three essays from Hybrid Pedagogy that we recommend are:
- Jesse Stommel’s “Teaching with Twitter”
- Dorothy Kim’s “The Rules of Twitter”
- Sean Hackny’s “Breaking Binary: Facebook and Teachable Moments”
We recommend the journal Hybrid Pedagogy: a digital journal of learning, teaching, and technology as a go-to source for deeply considered and classroom tested innovative pedagogies that use digital tools. To further explore digital tools for use in the classroom or for your own digital humanities projects take a look at this list of digital research tools.
- Twitter: Twitter is a free, online news and social networking service where users post and interact with messages, “tweets,” restricted to 140 characters.
- Facebook: Facebook is a free, online social media and social networking.
- Tweet Deck: Tweet Deck is a social media dashboard application for management of Twitter accounts.
- Fakebook: Fakebook is a Facebook-like platform that allows teachers and students to create imaginary profile pages for study purposes.
If you do use and adapt this assignment or if you have an assignment that you’d like to share please let us know about your work in the comment section. Thank you.