What’s Happening?: #Promoting Public History in #140Characters

Pictures and web links distinguish many of the museum and archives tweets from the personal and business accounts I follow on Twitter. In 140 characters or less, public history institutions answer the question “What’s happening?” by teaching short history lessons, promoting events, showcasing special artifacts, and interacting with followers. The constant use of pictures draws my attention away from Twitter accounts simply using the social media service to write pithy statements about the latest political debate or the new episode of their favorite show.


Example of the American Museum of Natural History using a caption contest to interact with followers on Twitter about the newly installed Titanosaur. (@AMNH)

One account stood out from the others for its tweets focusing not only on the past, but also on current events relevant to the content held inside the institution’s walls. The mission of The Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC) is to “collect, preserve, and present historic and contemporary radio and television content as well as educate, inform, and entertain the public through its archives, public programs, screenings, exhibits, publications, and online access to its resources.” MBC’s Twitter (@MuseumTV) feed is full of tweets and retweets about current new stories on the latest TV spectacle or the rise of Netflix. While some of the stories are interesting and certainly are relevant for a museum about broadcasting, I feel as though those tweets are covering up or taking away from the original content posted by MBC. There are several tweets promoting artifacts and events at the museum, but they are far and few between as I lose track of what is original and what is just a retweet. Inside of MBC, rooms hold bright, colorful exhibits that include TV screens showing clips of shows and important historical events. The physical museum could be better represented on Twitter.

The CWS (@AugieCWS) sticks to tweeting mostly original content. Any retweets are usually directly related to the institution. Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 12.37.23 AMRecently, the CWS capitalized on the film The Revenant, as the institution holds several items of Frederick Manfred, author of Lord Grizzly (1954 novel based on the adventures of Hugh Glass). Multiple tweets promote the CWS’s exhibit on Manfred and share links to news stories on Manfred and the exhibit. The CWS does an excellent job of furthering their mission by utilizing the popularity of The Revenant to draw attention to the collections of a small institution in South Dakota.

The most important thing for public history institutions to remember is to keep tweeting! Twitter is a useful platform to send out short blurbs and attach videos, pictures, and news links. Even while under construction the National Museum of African American History and Culture (@NMAAHC) continued to tweet and keep followers up-to-date on the building progress. This is unlike the Twitter feed for The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (@lucasmuseum). The official Lucas Museum account appears to have stopped tweeting in late 2014. Perhaps the lack of a social media presence is due to the current legal battle over the proposed site of the new museum. Twitter would seem to be an ideal place to build support and to highlight why Chicago should be the future site for the museum. Communicating with followers by answering questions and retweeting photos of visits and positive comments will add a personal touch to a Twitter account and promote continued interaction with public history institutions.

Head over to the Lakefront Historian blog to read a post about how institutions from around the world interact with Twitter followers for #AskAnArchivist and #AskACurator.

One thought on “What’s Happening?: #Promoting Public History in #140Characters

  1. I like your consideration of the Museum of Broadcast Communication. I think they have to toe a very fine line between history and current events. It reminds me of the Newseum in DC. There’s difficulty in balancing the huge amount of information that is generated everyday in the media and focusing on the innovations of the past. It’s just fascinating how a museum about communication finds it difficult to balance media and mission…


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