Twitter in the History Books

Last summer I wrote about how the Massachusetts Historical Society was using Twitter to re-broadcast the daily ‘tweets’ of John Quincy Adams.  (A project which is ongoing, by the way, and still fun to find out the daily activities of this long ago Bostonian and former US President.)  And in that post, I asked “What other historical figures would you love to see as a Twitterer or in some other modern guise?” (I’d love to hear the brain-poppings of Thomas Jefferson, JRR Tolkien, or Thomas Edison, to name just a few.  “Dang! Have now invented 64th way not to build lightbulb.  Must purchase more filament tomorrow.”)  The folks at the Paul Revere House have taken up the challenge  and tweet regularly as the Midnight Rider himself at @PaulRevere1734.  And for the ironic, sad, amusing, and historically inaccurate, check out Historical Tweets: @johannesG: Finally finished invention. Disappointed to learn that no one can read. (Johnnes Gutenberg, inventor of the Gutenberg Press)

However, it now turns out that future generations will be able to find out what was on the mind of folks around the world and up and down the spectrum of celebrity — from the online and backstage shenanigans of rock stars and actors to the mundane details of what you and I thought about the recent spate of natural and manmade disasters.  Late last week, The Washington Post reported that the Library of Congress is going to be archiving all of Twitter’s public tweets, on a six-month lag (to separate ‘history’ from ‘current events.’)  Though some people are naturally skeptical (and uninterested in what Al from Boise had for lunch when he visited San Francisco on a business trip), others point out that hearing people’s off-the-cuff responses, finding out what interests them at a particular time, or evidence of casual correspondence between public figures is a historical goldmine.

Also mentioned in the article is also the benefit to populist history: taking the archives and sifting through the hashtags, etc, future historians could in fact get a real picture* of societal values and interests in an increasingly fractured “information age.”  I once heard historian and author David McCullough speak, and was incredibly struck by his statement that though we live in an age which is ‘information rich,’ future historians could easily find it ‘information poor,’ especially if and when digital records are lost.  Who writes letters by hand?  Who keeps a steady handwritten journal?  he asked.  What possible tools will the future students of the past have to understand an age where newspapers begin to disappear and half our life is lived by email?  Though it does  not solve the digital-record-dilemma, perhaps the Library of Congress Twitter archive is one way to answer his–and history’s–concerns.

*And by “real,” the article and I would both like to point out, we mean “the sections of society which are aware of and interested in a communication medium like Twitter.”  All historical sources have their context and limitations, after all!

Popping with Poetry

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.

~Emily Dickinson

Ms. Dickinson was clearly a Brain Popcorn-style poet.  (She also reputedly said “The brain is wider than the sky,” a sentiment I quite enjoy.)  And so I am happy to say…

It’s National Poetry Month!  (As good a reason as any to love the fact that it’s April, just as Archaeology Month is  a grand thing to celebrate in October.)

There are a lot of very cool things going on in the world for National Poetry Month, and here are a smattering of particularly interesting and/or interdisciplinary approaches:

One Day Poem Pavilion — a very neat project, brought to deserving attention by Paul Orselli over on Exhibitricks.  This particular intersection of art and science writes a poem with sunlight and cardboard which changes as the day progresses.  Be sure to check out the time lapse video.

You Too Can Haiku — ARTSEDGE does it again!  A nice satisfying lesson plan incorporating writing, visual art, and multicultural discussion.

Michelangelo Complains in Rhyme about the Sistine Chapel — Highly amusing, even if one probably loses something in the translation.  (And it holds particular shine for me, as I’m going to Italy at the end of next week!)  This would be a really fun poem to tie in to a discussion/activity on ekphrasis.  If you’re looking for further ideas, I recommend this lesson plan over at ReadWriteThink.

MYO Magnetic Poetry Activity Plan (downloadable pdf) This is the list of materials and directions for a Make Your Own Magnetic Poetry activity that I’ve done several times at The Discovery Museums, and which will also be one of the April drop-ins at the Art & Nature Center here at PEM.  It’s entertaining, and though pre-cutting words can be time consuming, it’s very rewarding to watch people sift through the words and exclaim over the ones they find.  Small kids through teenagers and adults have fun with this one!

Finally, I would like to applaud this particular random act of poetry in a grocery store.  That kind of news just makes my day.

Plum Blossoms, Bamboo, and Pine Sprigs

Welcome in Lunar New Year with the spirit of friendship (as represented by the flower arrangement above) and with an arrangement of my own suggestions for cool resources and activities.

Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City 2009, photo by ho_hokus

History and Culture

A brief but interesting collection of information on the New Year as celebrated in China, from the University of Victoria

A nice resizeable map of China, with or without more detailed information, from National Geographic

Asia-Art.Net, a collection of really beautiful examples from several cultures, organized by medium or by culture.


Why is it Lunar New Year?  Observing the Moon, from Science NetLinks

Arts and Crafts

Disney’s family activities offer up some fun and easy decorations for the holiday: a festive ribbon dragon, a beautiful lacy banner, and a good-luck goldfish.

The Smithsonian strikes again!  (I love these guys as much as I love National Geographic!) The Sackler and Freer Museums are home to the Smithsonian’s Asian collections, and they have both Chinese centric and Across Asia teacher resources as part of their larger set of Online Guides.

Theater and Music

Two fabulous resources from the Kennedy Center’s Artsedge:

Puppets on the Move: China and the Silk Road and

The Sounds of China Pod Page, with music to listen to and connected information and activities.


Also from the Kennedy Center, Chinese Calligraphy and Ink Painting

And finally, from Read-Write-Think, which is run by the National Council of Teachers of English, a very cool Fairy Tale Autobiographies lesson plan, which uses Chinese tales but could be adapted for pretty much any culture.

Not enough?  Then come celebrate with the Peabody Essex Museum, on Saturday February 27! (Chances are very good you’ll find me making paper lanterns in East India Marine Hall…)

Another reason to love November

Is it just too long until National Poetry Month for you?  It certainly is for me–which is why it’s awesome that November is  Family Literacy Month.

The central idea behind Family Literacy Month is that parents and other adult role models are keystones to their children’s habits of, attitudes toward, and grasp of reading.  If you’re looking for some fun ways to incorporate literacy activities into your day, here are a few places to get started:

Credit to cx1uk

For ages 3-5: 31 Days of Reading (though personally I think older kids would enjoy some of these too!)

For all ages:
The Massachusetts Libraries’ page on Family Literacy Month, with a link to events occurring at local libraries and information on the Boston Children’s Museum event later this month.

The National Center for Family Literacy; they’ve got an interesting collection of research and resources for educators on working with parents and children.

Even more research and resources from the Massachusetts Family Literacy Consortium.

And because I cannot include links to all that dry information without some other fun places to start playing with words:

Wordle: creating pictures with words (ala the image above in this post)

Word Games by Merriam Webster Online

Read aloud the colors the words are written in, not the words themselves.

The Stroop Effect, at Neuroscience for Kids: trick your brain–how easy is it to read a color when the word says something else?

The Past in Motion

This does not, I suppose, technically qualify as archaeology.

However, in the theme of really-cool-bygone-stuff, I bring you: The Animated Bayeux Tapestry.

This is no substitute for getting to see the real thing–the sheer immensity of this tapestry just does not convey on a video clip.  However, it’s a cunning piece of animation, and the foley artist involved clearly had a lot of fun with everything from the feasting noises to the horses to the ‘guuuuh’ and ‘gack’ sounds of battle.  And if you’re looking for a way to liven up the story of 1066 and the Norman Conquest, this is a fun way to go about it.

Have I whetted your appetite for tapestries, Normans, or movie-making?

Britain’s Museum of Reading has a great site about the Bayeux Tapestry, including an activities page which made me grin.  [Specifically the directions on how to make your own Norman soldier’s helmet.  (Halloween, anyone?)]

If it’s the sounds that really caught your fancy, check out Paul Orselli’s great recent blog post: Exhibit Designer’s Toolkit: Creating the Sounds of Gore and Squidge

And if you’re intrigued by the illustration style of the medieval tapestry, try your hand at the Historic Tale Construction Cit (presumably pronounced ‘kit’ as all ‘c’s are hard).  Write and illustrate your own story using figures, settings, and beasts from the Bayeux Tapestry–careful, this is a hoot and dangerously addictive to those of us who grew up loving computer programs like Storybook Weaver.  The image interface is pretty sound, too–you can resize and flip the image elements, as well as type captions, with the option to create several frames, save them, email them, and submit to a visitor-created gallery.