Doomed to Re-Tweet It

Library of Congress
Library of Congress


Since last July 28, the 100th anniversary of Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia, more than 150 Twitter users have live-tweeted World War I as it happened. Microbloggers variously represent entire countries, continents, London neighborhoods, and rural European villages. Kaiser Wilhelm II has an account, as do the Eighth Worcestershire Regiment (@WW1_8Worcesters), the British Parliament, and a cadre of officers, nurses, and foot soldiers. The World War I “soldier bears,” which were designed to fit inside British soldiers’ pockets, have two accounts.

Sir Francis Bertie, England’s ambassador to Paris, tweeted (from a report to the Foreign Office), “At the Front the trenches are so close that British and German troops have been fraternizing, which has had to be discouraged.”

Professional organizations and museums manage accounts or partner with the official First World War Centenary, as the worldwide commemoration is called, but most tweeters appear to be unaffiliated individuals who post the cartoons of the era, diary excerpts, newspaper articles, and increasingly, lists of the dead.

The First World War isn’t the first conflict to be relived in this way. That would be the Second, a project of Alwyn Collinson, an Oxford history graduate who has 325,000 followers and rates a Wikipedia page. His @RealTimeWWII illustrates events with newspaper archives and eyewitness accounts.

“I’ve always wanted to get a sense of how people in the past might have lived and experienced historical events,” says Ryo Kawashima, who tweets at @CenturyAgoToday. He cites Collinson’s project as inspiration. Will users such as Kawashima keep going until Armistice Day 2018? “Possibly further,” he says. “Continuing it up to WWII is an interesting thought, but I would be surprised if Twitter is still popular in 2039.”

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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