Welcome to Hashtag History

A Digital Dissertation

Welcome to “Hashtag History: Historical Thinking and Social Media in an Undergraduate Classroom,” a digital dissertation produced in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree, Doctor of Philosophy, for Drew University’s History and Culture program. Dr. Wyatt Evans (advisor and chair), Dr. Gamin Bartle, and Dr. Richard Mikulski oversaw the creation and completion of this project.

“Hashtag History” was submitted to the dissertation committee on March 15, 2019 and successfully defended on April 2, 2019. A white paper and supplemental materials (including a video of the defense presentation and all contents of the Downloads & Datasets page) were submitted to Drew’s library and Proquest on April 19, 2019.

Core Argument

With many scholars of historical thinking, I argue that undergraduate students bring a broad personal web of values, experiences, and habits to their understandings and articulations of history. My work is in conversation with researchers who have mapped the roles of family, nation, and identity in shaping historical thinking. I seek to call attention to an additional sociocultural influence: social media.

Social media habits frame students’ reactions to historical content, guide what they pay attention to, and provide a visual and textual vocabulary for expressing their understandings of history. These habits are both beneficial and detrimental in the classroom. Recognizing the affordances of social media habits allows educators to leverage this sociocultural influence to increase students’ historical understanding. Acknowledging the constraints provides opportunities to disrupt habits that hinder the growth of students’ knowledge and skills.

In “Hashtag History,” I explore three intersections of social media habits and historical thinking skills. First, The Attention Economy and Historical Significance considers the ways online content conditions attention habits and influences students’ perceptions of significance in a history course. Second, Affect and Historical Empathy explores the impact of the web’s privileging of affect (i.e., intense, embodied emotional response) on the care and understanding students display for past peoples. Finally, GIFs from a History Class queries the affordances and constraints of visual media, especially GIFs, as a pedagogical tool for developing students’ practice of historical significance and historical empathy.

Methods & Ethics

The three content chapters in this digital dissertation are based on a dataset composed of 11,454 tweets and 74 blog posts (plus comments) produced by the 150 students enrolled in my world history course in Spring 2017. The Methodology chapter discusses the tools and methods used to collect and analyze the data. Readers can view the contents of the dataset by downloading the “All Tweets Dataset” and “Blog Post Master List” in Downloads and Datasets.

All data was public at the time of collection and therefore not conditional on IRB approval. Early in the semester, I informed students about the collection of their public data and detailed their options for controlling my access to their content and identities. Their blog posts were necessarily public, as the assignment was a public writing project, but students could choose to use pseudonyms to protect their identities. They also had the option to protect their Twitter accounts, which prevented web scraping. Ten students did so during the semester; a handful more chose to protect or delete their accounts when the semester ended.

I did not incorporate tweets from the accounts protected by students during the semester. However, the accounts protected or deleted after the Spring 2017 semester are still included in the “All Tweets Dataset” and portions of this project as the data was public when I collected the data.

Navigation & Contact

The page Navigating Hashtag History provides readers with linear and non-linear options for engaging with this site. The website is fully searchable via the “search” widget in the sidebar (if reading from a desktop/laptop) or footer (on small screens). “Hashtag History” is also web accessible. The site uses Miniva, an accessibility-ready WordPress theme. Buttons to engage larger fonts or high contrast are available in the sidebar/footer. To the best of my ability, the site conforms to the POUR (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust) principles recommended by W3C and WebAim.

Contact Heather L. Bennett (author of “Hashtag History”)