Wednesday, 11 May 2016

@SouthAsia71: Widening Access to Archives on Twitter

In the first of three posts over the course of two months, I will introduce my Twitter account @SouthAsia71 as a new and unique means of widening access to archives.

Over the course of my doctoral studies, I found that I had collected a vast amount of archival data that I was desperate to share. Having taken over 100,000 photographs of documents from archives in the UK and the US, I took to Twitter in an attempt to have them reach a wider audience. In 2015, @SouthAsia71, with the use of the archival pictures and other resources, tweeted Bangladesh's road to independence as if it were happening on that day, in real time. Since January, I've continued to tweet about the events of 1971, now concentrating on creating narrative arcs and providing analysis for the account's followers. I've also worked to ensure that content is free from copyright restrictions and is fully referenced.

Since its launch in December 2014, the account has gained almost 2,500 followers at an average growth rate of around 150-200 followers per month. In December 2015, during the 14 days of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, the account received over 1,600 retweets and 1,000 likes, and in just 4 days this March, the account accrued over 800 retweets and 400 likes. Via retweets, material often reaches more than 5,000 Twitter users and has reached as many as 13,000. Engagement rates (which include retweets, likes, follows, link clicks etc) for @SouthAsia71's tweets rarely dip below 3%, often reach 10% and can be as high as 20%; This is in comparison with an average engagement rate of 0.5% for all Twitter users. Through tweeting the documents themselves alongside infographics produced with information from primary material, @SouthAsia71 is engaging thousands of people with archival sources.

@SouthAsia71 has the potential to showcase any archive that has material relating to Bangladesh's independence. With an audience engaged online with the history of South Asia the account certainly has scope to expand beyond the study of 1971. In the coming weeks, I will be incorporating information from the oral histories project at Cambridge University's Centre for South Asian Studies into the Twitter feed. As well as producing tweets from the data, I will also use Storify to both provide a repository for the data I use and to provide an editorial narrative (I've produced an example of a Storify story here).

I have written a long-form article about the project for E:International Relations (available here). My next post will discuss the results of my usage of the material at Cambridge.

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