Close Encounters of the Social Media Kind: Mining Online Content for Primary Sources, Part 1: Unmediated Voices, Mediated Platforms: Seeking the “Other” through Social Media

AHA Session 151
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom East (Marriott Wardman Park)
Amalia S. Levi, University of Maryland at College Park
Voices from the Margins
Jessica Lingel, Rutgers University–New Brunswick
Can a Mormon Have Tattoos? The “I Am a Mormon Campaign” and the Politics of Online Identity
Max Perry Mueller, Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University
The Audience

Session Abstract

This session explores the use of social media content in historical research. Panelists assess these new primary sources under the light of ethnicity, gender, religion, and normativity.

Historians have always conducted research that transcends geography, time, and formats. Especially those who study ethnic, subaltern, or minority populations have had to rely on alternative sources of information, since marginalized voices rarely found their ways into memory institutions (libraries, archives, museums). Today, people make extensive use of social media both at the communal, as well as the individual level. In the process, new forms of primary sources have come forth (tweets, Facebook posts, websites, blogs, etc.).

Social media content, abundant, albeit ephemeral, presents issues of curation, preservation, contextualization, and relevance among a sea of data. Undoubtedly, current archival and scholarly practices will affect historical research in the future. How can we take advantage of this wealth of information? What is the role of historians in unearthing, curating and preserving such material?

Panelists in this session will share their experiences on using social media in their research or in the classroom on the subject of diverse populations: Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarp explores social media as a historical source for understanding social and political change among Tibetan communities; Max Perry Mueller critically examines the interplay of bottom-down and bottom-up history in the “I am a Mormon” campaign; Sadaf Jaffer assesses the potential for a feminist intellectual history through analysis of the online testimonials posted by Pakistani women; and Jessica Lingel discusses issues of privacy and secrecy when dealing with socially deviant subcultures.

The panel is intended for attendees in any stage of their career, who consider using social media in their research, and seek to see how other colleagues have gone about it. The panel also aims to stimulate discussion with the audience, especially those who have used such resources.