The Medieval Twitterati Take IMC Leeds 2015

This has been a long time coming, but I couldn’t make myself sit down and write about the amazing Twitterati session (#s1403) at IMC Leeds a couple weeks ago. Perhaps I thought that if I wrote about it in the past tense, that meant it had to be done. Finished. Literally, and soon-to-be literarily, in the past. Carla María Thomas (ahem, the author of this post) organized and moderated the roundtable of the following fabulous #medievaltweeters (Is this a hashtag? It should be a hashtag):

1. Shyama Rajendran, who could only be with us in spirit, would have said a longer version of this condensed post. Essentially, this is her story of previously having submitted to the constant rhetoric of tone-policing and censoring herself as a graduate student who needed to “curate” her academic persona, just as most graduate students are told. But then Ferguson happened, and she found that she could no longer keep her “career” life separate from her “personal” life. Her post is short enough for you to read it quickly, so click on the link above and read what Twitter has taught her.

2. Dorothy Kim on getting started on Twitter: crafting your public image online for whichever of the many “publics” out there you choose to engage; do research on the social media platforms at your disposal; pick the right platform or “ecosystem” for you and your style; and her well-received analogy of Twitter (or other social media, like blogs) being like “digital marginalia” for whatever your academic, pedagogic, and/or activist (these need not be mutually exclusive) needs may be.

3. Jonathan Hsy on why live-tweeting conferences is a good thing: Twitter etiquette; room for both forms of engagement–reporting and glossating; appropriately live-tweeted how to live-tweet and use someone’s Twitter handle in a tweet (this session was so meta); made the excellent point that retweeting is a form of advocating for others (or “(for) others,” as Kristen tweeted); live-tweets as source for information on a session or conference if you can’t attend; importance of live-tweeting to the profession–a source of play and community (example of #medievaldonut); and how Twitter makes the boundaries between academia and the rest of the world porous.

4. Kristen Mapes on the data from live-tweeting at the last three international medieval conferences at Kalamazoo 2014 and 2015 and Leeds 2014–and, more importantly, why that matters. You can find her slides here and her own write-up of her talk here. After categorizing each of the 11,000+ tweets from K’zoo and Leeds in 2014, Kristen discovered: medievalists like images (as Dorothy put it, we’re “ocularcentric”); there’s similar Twitter behavior between the two conferences (some attend both); not everyone tweets–about one-third of conference attendees tweet; only about 1.5% of conference tweeters post 100+ tweets [as Kristen said, we Twitterati are the one-percenters of live-tweeting]; and many kinds of tweets–notes, retweets, comments, conversations, sharing resources, establishing presence (“I made it!”), announcement (“Books!”), whimsy (#medievaldonut). For what this all means, go read her own post!

5. Angie Bennett Segler on using Twitter in the classroom: Twitter is a supplement, not a replacement for other assignments; all students must create new handle with university/college email address; be aware that students know their media, not your media (they may not be familiar at all with Twitter); categorize students based on sections of the class and make lists so that they can find each other easily; BIG RULE: no nonsense! The class Twitter account is just that–for the class; use unique class, reading, and assignment hashtags and keep track of their use; ultimately, this fosters conversation because they have to read and comment on each others’ tweets (good trick to make them read in advance); and mini-research projects that use Twitter. For more on how Angie uses Twitter in the classroom, read her earlier post here.

6. Heide Estes (also tweets as Medieval Ecocritic) on using Twitter for activism: ecocriticism in the classroom and online–using ecotheory while discussing the Anglo-Saxon world comes with present environmental commitments; information leads to change, but activism pushes it further; using Twitter allows for a self-selected audience; Twitter makes porous the barrier between academia and the public (this porousness was a big theme for our roundtable, I see); Twitter is a kind of news source for activist events and issues that cause a ripple effect and can affect mainstream media (might I add, “Muahahaha!”); and your Twitter feed can be a place for your multiple personalities (academic, activist, lover of cat-videos, etc). You can find her blogpost on her comments at the roundtable here.

So, that’s your quick run-down on the roundtable, but if you’d like to see more of the actual tweets that resulted from it, check out this Storify by Jonathan. And now I’ll share my own thoughts on it since I didn’t have the multitasking wherewithal to moderate and live-tweet at the same time.

More than one person complimented me after the roundtable was over (35 minutes over time–thank you to everyone who was able to stay even 5 minutes over time; we really appreciated it) on 1) how well I moderated and 2) how well I had organized the roundtable with such wonderful and diverse speakers. I’ll leave the first compliment alone since I don’t really have anything to say about it other than “Thank you. I try,” but I’ll speak to the second.

Almost as if I had consciously planned it and had some kind of second sight, our panel lacked an established straight white male scholar, which perfectly contrasted the #manel of the very interesting Public Medievalist roundtable two days earlier (write-up of the panel available here, but you can also search the #s406 on Twitter for more). Our roundtable included POC, queer, and women speakers with only one man. I did not plan that intentionally–they were simply the best medievalist tweeters I could think of to deliver the needs of the panel I had envisioned: an introductory roundtable to help demystify the scariness (or at least the unknowns) of Twitter. As such, I needed a general intro speaker (Dorothy), a speaker to address our immediate concerns of live-tweeting (Jonathan), some fabulous data to back us up (Kristen), a perspective on how Twitter can be useful within the classroom (Angie), and how Twitter can help with activism (Heide). Shyama would have been the first speaker to discuss why she had resisted, and then eventually succumbed to, Twitter, but since she couldn’t make it, I briefly discussed my own reluctance in my opening remarks (I’ve written a post on my own blog about why I started using social media professionally here).

Most exciting for us in the East Coast Medieval Graduate Alliance, or ECMGA for short (“ek-muh-guh” hahaha), was Lisa Fagin Davis’s attendance and comments to me afterward. As the Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America, it was a big deal to have her attend a graduate-student organized session on using Twitter because 1) it was organized by a graduate student and 2) it was about Twitter, which is not a usual topic for the MAA. Moreover, Lisa was incredibly generous in extending whatever help the MAA could lend to our nascent graduate alliance, and we’ve already been in communication via email. These are exciting times for both ECMGA and the changing winds of medieval studies in the US. With Lisa as Executive Director, we in ECMGA are hoping that the MAA will finally be more open to non-traditional work in both people’s approaches to medieval topics and in the media used to communicate those approaches and ideas.

After all, ECMGA’s primary goal is to promote the teaching/reading/researching of non-canonical texts (monolingual and multilingual alike) that are usually overlooked or ignored in English departments of American universities. It’s nice to know that Big Brother, so to speak, is on our side.


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