In Real Time: Twitter as Public History

By Jennifer Vannette

In the summer of 1967, violence and chaos consumed Detroit. Fifty years after the summer rebellion (race riot?) engulfed the city and captured the nation's attention, there are several resources available for us to revisit or learn for the first time about the event. One of the most intriguing resources that blends public history, social media, and primary sources comes from the @StatesideRadio Today in 1967 Twitter account. 

Today in 1967 recounted the Detroit rebellion in real time by tweeting information and primary sources at the time they occurred. For example:

The tweets begin fifty years to the minute when the police officer entered the blind pig and continue through the fires, looting, snipers, political decisions, and arrests. Tweets layer the police accounts with people's memories. Several tweets note the reactions and lack of concern over smoke rising just past left field by those at the Detroit Tigers baseball game. One tweet provides a link to a Detroit Free Press article attempting to explain why the rioting spread so quickly across the city. Other tweets note where Gov. George Romney was and what he was doing at different points during the crisis. One embeds his radio address. The organized collection of primary sources is outstanding. Not only is it a great method of presenting public history -- partly because you feel just how long the event took -- but it will also make a great teaching resource since it is automatically archived. You find the whole series of tweets either on Today in 1967's profile of with the #rebellion67.

This may become something of a trend. Representative John Lewis also used this format earlier this year to detail his experience at Selma. His series is tagged with #Selma52. Twitter is offering historians a new world of engagement.