This free event was run as part of an ongoing series of workshops for postgraduate and early career researchers under the Classical Reception Studies Network umbrella. As one of the co-convenors of the Network, I chose social media as a theme for a number of reasons. Reception is clearly an area in which there is huge potential for talking to people in other disciplines as well as those outside the academy, whether that means basic public engagement or the life-changing sort of engagement that REF counts as 'impact'. However, I didn't insist on reception connections in those attending the workshop, simply because an increasing number of classical studies people tweet and blog, and also because grant-awarding bodies ask for evidence of dissemination of various kinds, and this seemed like a good opportunity to share ideas about what works, and for whom. For me, despite the pressures from grant-awarding bodies, social media are not just about the ‘impact agenda’; as well as being a way of reaching outside the academy, they offer so much within it. I invited two people whose range of work in social media was known to me - Emma Bridges, who runs the Classics International facebook page, and Liz Gloyn, who tweets and also blogs as ClassicallyInclined.
In my own academic work, I've studied how an unsupported claim made to the media about a historical figure has then reverberated through formal and informal channels across the web (http://oro.open.ac.uk/28951/), and in the course of that research I was interested to find that it was often bloggers who acted as the gatekeepers, asking all the right questions about evidence, and challenging the more sensationalist claims from a solidly historical background. My own engagement with social media is probably typical of the mid-late career academic; I went on Facebook under my married name to see what the family were doing, but found lots of academic colleagues already there. I embraced academia.edu as a way of finding out what else is going on in the various fields which my work crosses. I’m an initially-reluctant convert to twitter, now hooked by the amount of information that comes my way, and I am aware of the argument that blogging is a good discipline because it means you write 400 words or so before getting down to the more formal activities of the day, and thus keep in the habit of writing.
Most, but not all, of those who took part in the workshop were postgraduates and early career researchers, and their experience covered the full range of engagement with social media. They included those in classics education and working for classics societies. One of the strongest messages that came across was that social media allow the creation of virtual communities of support. We learned that tumblr is not like a blog; in tumblr ‘comments’ can be disabled so readers can simply Like or Reblog, and also the content can be far from the polished prose of a blog post. We recognised the value of academia.edu for those without a current academic affiliation or for those who are moving from short-term post to short-term post and who need somewhere to keep their CV visible and under their own control. We discussed the transition from student identity to professional identity, and the difference between tweeting or blogging as oneself, or as an institution or department. We thought about how to live-tweet a conference, and the value of using storify to collect a conference’s tweets and preserve them for posterity. We noted the gender balance of social media – only two men attended the workshop – and decided that this owed more to women’s insistence on taking on too many tasks rather than to any stereotype of women as better at communication! We also considered the risks of social media, from trolling on twitter to the emotive language of ‘friending’ someone on Facebook.
The question to which we kept returning was ‘What do I want social media to do for me?’ It's a great question. Here are reflections from just some of those who took part.
Facebook: Classics International (Emma Bridges, OU)
Comprising over 5500 members worldwide, the Facebook group Classics International acts as an online community for those with an interest in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds and their post-classical reception. As such it facilitates communication between students, researchers, teachers and members of the public, allowing for the sharing of classically-themed news/resources and the promotion of relevant events (theatrical productions, media broadcasts, conferences, public engagement activities and so on) as well as offering the opportunity for group members to seek advice (for example by ‘crowdsourcing’ information on a theme or asking for bibliographic recommendations) and to discuss topics of mutual interest. The use of Facebook – a widely used, easily accessible and free-to-use social media service – as a platform for such a network allows for the dissemination of ideas to a wide audience and can help to foster a sense of community between those from a range of different backgrounds and levels of experience. As an informal means of promoting discussion and circulating information it may also help to break down some of the perceived barriers to communication between those who operate within academic communities and those who share an enthusiasm for the subject-matter but for whom more formal settings may be inaccessible or intimidating.
Facebook: Archaeology 100% (Katerina Potiriadi)
Archaeology 100% is the brainchild of two archaeology undergraduate students, Maria Dendropoulou and Katerina Potiriadi. It was created in December 2012 during our Erasmus time in London. At first it started as a game and a way of keeping track of all the information we found on Facebook about archaeology. As we invested more time in the growth of the page we understood that this connection of archaeology and social media can open new possibilities for us and our audience. As a result it made us want to keep finding unique material and the best opportunities to present this on our page.
As the title of the page suggests we are interested in all things archaeological, even topics that touch the borders of the science. However, we post mainly news about job opportunities, scholarships, seminars, conferences and journals, while we try to keep our content different than that of the major sites about archaeology. We also post news from current Greek archaeological events because we want to promote the vibrant archaeological community of our country.
Our main purpose is to help people find all the existing opportunities within our field. It is very rewarding for us to know that we might have helped someone to find a good job or a PhD position. Secondly, we try to bring into the spotlight as many different branches of archaeology as possible. The field is very broad and it keeps expanding as new technologies and means come to our hands. With the presentation of these different aspects we may help widen the perspective of a person as to the possibilities that archaeology offers.
Blogging: Classically Inclined (Liz Gloyn, Royal Holloway, University of London)
I've been blogging at Classically Inclined since April 2011; over the last three and a bit years, I've published 217 posts that have had a little over 135,000 views. When I started the blog, I planned to use it as a space to reflect on my transition from PhD student to Dr. Gloyn; to publicise my research; and to talk about my approach to teaching. Those three core subjects were quickly joined by analysis of classical reception in the culture I consume, which ranges from films to opera productions. I'm now well settled into being an early career researcher, but the blog still offers a space for long-form reflection on professional development issues. It gives me a more informal platform to share thoughts and ideas that would never find a home in a formal publication - for instance, it's the only appropriate place to put my thoughts on classical reception in Lily Allen's latest album poster. It also makes sure that interesting snippets of research that won't make the final article get out into the wider world, particularly in reception reseach, and raises the profile of publications and conference talks. For me, the blog is an opportunity to share the work that I do with anyone who's interested, and demystify some of what goes on inside academia for both students and the general public.
Twitter is my eyes and ears for what is being said about the ancient world by a whole heap of different people, including academics and - ooh a cute kitten pic - sorry, what was I thinking? That is what I find both great and bad about Twitter - it is a channel of information that helps me very quickly get an idea of some new discoveries and discontents around the discipline in odd spare moments but it can also be an unneeded source of distraction. It can also be hard to find individual tweets later unless you 'favourite' them (essentially creating a publicly viewable bookmark). I try to follow about twice as many people as follow me, and follow students and people from related disciplines as well as anyone tweeting about classics. It can also be a good ice-breaker when you meet someone new at a conference if you've already had a conversation on Twitter - or at least seen their tweets or blogposts - and I like to follow tweets using hash-tags that publicise and comment on conference proceedings. My favourite tweets are those with genuinely interesting links e.g. to well-written blog posts or non-UK media, or which include captivating images. I also use twitter to publicise my own blog, which I write sporadically and which is aimed at a non-specialist reader about topics only tangentially related to my research.
Tumblr (Silvie Kilgallon, Bristol)
Tumblr is a versatile micro-blogging platform without the character limit of Twitter. I use Tumblr in two different ways – as StitchedIliad, I use Tumblr as a simple archive of my progress on the Stitched Iliad project and to answer any questions followers and viewers have about the project; as AristotelianComplacency I use Tumblr to engage and interact with the Classics, Latin, and Ancient Greek ‘fandoms’, as they are known on Tumblr (our hashtag is tagamemnon). I share resources such as learning and teaching tools, links to youtube documentaries, free legal downloads of books, etc.; I reblog the research and practice of other classicists (both within Tumblr and outside) and engage in discussions about classics with both the classics fandom and the wider tumblr community: bloggers within the Homestuck fandom, for instance, will often reblog posts discussing classical allusion in Homestuck and add their own commentary and analysis to the mix.
I find Tumblr – and blogging as an individual rather than an institute – particularly useful for erasing the barriers between academia and the general public, and between academics and makers/artists. The same people (whether they be early career researchers, undergraduates or those still considering what to study at university) are both blogging their thoughts on classical reception in their other fandoms, and creating new content in the forms of fanfic written in Latin, music compositions inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and artworks and craft based on interpretations of myth. But most delightful of all, to my mind, is the fusion of contemporary internet culture and classics that inevitably happens when the classics fandom starts reblogging the latest meme – very quickly it is adapted to classical content, whether it’s simply translating memes into Latin, adapting contemporary memes by transposing words onto classical images, creating tube maps of Roman emperors or maintaining an ‘Incorrect Iliad’ blog (http://incorrectclassics.tumblr.com/). The Tumblr classics community is creative and thriving and, most importantly, not isolated from the rest of contemporary culture and ‘ordinary’ people.
Can it all be too overwhelming, too much to combine with everything else we do? Tony Keen (OU) was asked how he follows all the postings on a given platform, and how he makes sure that followers from one platform follow him to another platform. His answer would be 'I don't bother, and I think that's important. On any social media platform, one rapidly reaches a point where one cannot follow everything - therefore one reads what one reads, and doesn't worry about trying to stay completely on top of it all. And it is impossible to manage the Internet, however much one may want to. So I very much advise chilling out and not worrying too much about benchmarks for online activity. A lot of perceived failures of internet activity are the result of excessive expectation.' So, decide what you want, and why you want to do it, and don't compare yourself with others who may be on social media for very different purposes.
And finally, some comments from others attending:
‘I found it very interesting & learned a lot, impressed by the sheer diversity of ways people use social media and the things they use it for’
‘thoroughly enjoyable and informative day’
‘it was great to meet everyone and share thoughts/ideas/experiences’
‘a really useful and thought-provoking day and timely’
‘social media means a lot more than just Twitter!’
The Open University
Other reports on the workshop:
Official report by Carol Atack
Blog post by Liz Gloyn
Some links to follow up:
Citing social media
Is blogging 'work'?
Academia & Social Media: Practices, Politics, Problems
Average age on social networks