Social media for historians: a workshop report

TwitterstoriansWe wrote about the IHR’s workshop on developing an effective social media presence last year, on the suggestion of Clare Roche. Clare attended the workshop, and has kindly written this report for us. If you too would like to contribute, please email Emma ( Thanks again, Clare!

Before going to the recent course on using social media run by the IHR, I had been unsure whether I should be trying to write a blog, compulsively tweeting with the #twitterstorians and generally interacting with the digital world of online historians for some time. So, this day seemed heaven sent.

Three presentations by representatives of the British Library (Julian Harrison), History at the Bodleian (Isabel Holowaty) and the National Archives (Laura Cowdrey) gave a comprehensive overview of the different ways social media can benefit both institutions and individuals. There was a consensus that having some form of ‘digital presence’ was going to be of increasing importance for historians. Some went as far as predicting that within five years anyone without a blog, Twitter or account, for example, would find it difficult to get a job. This definitely concentrated a few minds!

Blogging was felt to be the most useful activity. It is a way of getting opinions known, marking out an area of expertise and warning others off intruding into ‘your’ research topic. On a more positive note it can attract others to contact you with helpful advice and information. Writing a blog is good practice for communicating in an easier style than is often demanded in a thesis. WordPress* was recommended as the best interface to use, but it should be linked up with a Twitter account so that ‘plogging’ can go on. No, I didn’t make that word up – but Julian Harrison from the BL did! It is the unashamed plugging of a blog. Every blog post, we were told, should be accompanied by an announcement on Twitter – sometimes several announcements spread over a couple of days. This, apparently, ensures people all over the world get to pick up the tweets. (I don’t think I have any ‘followers’ that far away!)

Julian summarised his advice in the Seven Golden Rules if Blogging, which are

  1. Post blogs frequently
  2. Make sure you have something informative to say – don’t waffle about nothing!
  3. Write in a lively and engaging manner (if only it were that easy)
  4. Include pictures whenever possible
  5. Include links to other relevant sites
  6. Know your audience (easy for the BL but not so easy for an individual just starting out, I thought)
  7. Don’t be afraid to plog!

Other advice to attract ‘traffic’ to your site was to visit other blogs on similar subjects and be generous with comments. In other words slowly develop a presence within the digital world of history.

Isabel Holowaty from Oxford suggested three other useful sites, the bookmarking tool, delicious, the online book cataloguing site and the already mentioned for advertising / situating yourself within the academic world. Laura Cowdrey from the National Archives also highlighted, a user generated archive of historical photographs, and which is more like an online scrapbook of photos on varying subjects. There was a discussion about the dangers of posting too much information from your thesis and also the care needed not to infringe copyright rules. If in doubt, leave it out seems to be the sensible thing to do. The last thing you want is your hard work to be stolen by someone else.

Just to prove that I took all this advice to heart I have started a blog. My first post can be found at Do leave a comment… I would really like to know what fellow Birkbeck students think!

More information about the social media day can be found on another delegate’s blog here

Follow Clare on Twitter @clarearoche, and read her blog at

One comment

  1. Victoria Powell

    This is brilliant, very useful summary, thanks Clare!

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