Teaching history through Twitter narrative

by ninashiel

The Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE have been working on a dramatised Twitter project to re-enact the events of the so-called “Winter War” (1939-40) the first part of the Finnish participation in World War II. The hashtag for the project was/is #sota39 but a bulk of the project is only available in Finnish. The project consisted of a main “narrative” account, @sota1939, which mostly focused on the historical developments and retweeting the various other involved accounts, as well as a number of in-character accounts of a number of contemporary politicians. As the purpose of the project was education, YLE also provided a dedicated website for information on the project as well as associated articles, photographs and a number of video clips.

As an online project, audience participation seems to have been a natural part of the project, but it ended up taking interesting forms. While the main website allowed for comments and discussion, the events on Twitter evolved through unexpected crowd-narrativization (I just made that up). Readers created their own accounts of ordinary people, fictional and historical (although, interestingly, mostly in terms of local or family history, although, likely inevitably, further major historical figures such as Stalin also appeared), who then proceeded to actively participate in the events using the hashtag. Participation took the form of text tweets and images – including images of a soldier’s diary. One school created their own parallel project during the relevant history module by assuming a number of characters on Twitter (through dedicated accounts) and using their own hashtag (#siihis4) alongside the main one.

The project was very interesting to follow. It did not quite seem to hit the full real-time immersiveness that you might have expected, but this may have been partly intentional considering the crucial role of the war in the Finnish national narrative (and mythology!) It was translated in English and Swedish by originally uninvolved volunteers, but at least the English account avoids the immersiveness entirely by simply acting as a “reporter” of sorts from the events. That is a pity because this kind of a project might have plenty of interest in it even outside the immediate cultural area. I’m myself particularly interested in the “official” educational aspect, because while there have been plenty of twitterized real-time historical events, I’m not sure how many others have had the same kind of overall function, or have attracted the same kind of audience participation.