Classically Inclined

May 22, 2011

On the value of Twitter

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:43 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I’m mainly writing this post to direct blog readers to a post by the Rogue Classicist on the utility of Twitter. I wanted to write a very similar post myself, but unfortunately I don’t run my own installation of WordPress, and so don’t have the necessary plug-ins to make it work without playing around a great deal with MS Paint.

On Friday, Dr. Penny Goodman was live-tweeting the talks at the British Museum program Lead the Way: Teaching Classics Through Material Culture, and mentioned this wonderful inscription that one of the other presenters used:

Cue much excitement and tweets saying things like ‘wow, that’s a fantastic inscription, please tell me where to find it so I can use it in my class when I teach Cicero next year’ and so forth.  However, because we’re a difficult lot, once the natural excitement subsided, we moved on to more difficult questions. Where is this text recorded? What does it actually say? How are we getting from the text on the wall in Mau’s edition to the translation Ray used? What are the style conventions of Roman graffiti? If you go through to the Rogue Classicist’s post, you’ll see plenty more of the conversation stream, which we’re still working through.

But I thought I’d flag this up, because it’s a brilliant example of the kind of things Twitter can do for classicists. It makes available interesting (and transferable) snippets of information, otherwise locked inside Mau 1893 and inaccessible to all but the hardy few, to the whole research community. It gives people unable to attend an event a taste of the ideas being shared there. It stimulates discussion and interaction between interested researchers, who might perhaps otherwise have little or no reason to communicate. It’s even a platform where proper research work can happen, albeit limited by being only in 140 characters. It allows people to express doubts, questions, alternative interpretations, and to drop in and out of the conversation as they are able to participate.

So if anyone was ever in doubt about the scholarly value of Twitter, here is a fabulous example of how well it can function in the right circumstances.

Edit: there’s now another perspective on this conversation over at the art history blog Three Pipe Problem, this time talking about what it’s like not to be the qualified academic in this kind of discussion.

Dr. Goodman has also searched out the reading of the inscription in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum – it gives a slightly different reading from Mau, but given how contentious graffiti transcriptions are in the first place, that isn’t much of a surprise.


  1. Great thing to notice and share, Liz. I agree, Twitter can be used as a wonderful (and potentially troublesome) backchannel for conferences and the like. I have jealously followed along to conferences I was not able to attend, and also met some interesting people sitting just near me who I have not previously met at conferences because of Twitter.


    Comment by Jeffrey Keefer — May 22, 2011 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

  2. In a completely different context, I first heard the news of the recent big earthquake in New Zealand on twitter and before the news even appeared on the major news sites over here, people were already organising donations and other relief efforts.
    Connected to this, Matt Follas (Masterchef winner two years ago) proposed a “pop-up” charity dinner for NZ, got together with a friend and what was at first planned to be a dinner for maybe 30 turned into one for 200 because he mentioned it on twitter and was immediately inundated with offers to help out and donate produce and supplies. They raised a total of £60,000 that night.

    Yes, there is a lot of chaff on twitter but it has its good uses, too.

    Comment by Karohemd — May 23, 2011 @ 8:45 am | Reply

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