Last week saw the University of Huddersfield hosting the Voluntary Action History Society’s fifth international research conference. Over the coming weeks we’ll have a series of blog posts commenting on the goings on and some of the fascinating subjects raised. If you would like to contribute one then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Historians typically have a reputation as being rather dusty and dated. Although this has always been unfair, most of the papers presented some story pieced together from information gleamed from pieces of paper in archives. However, the online presence of the conference – most notably on twitter – was quite something. As @VAHS_uk we have over 700 followers, so had used twitter to let people know about what was happening ahead of the event, but I was really surprised by just how much it was embraced during the conference.
We’ve pulled all of this together in a conference storify – providing a sort of virtual scrapbook of the conference. As well as 268 tweets from 34 different tweeters, it also includes blog posts, photographs and videos. Since this has already had more than twice as many views as the conference had participants, this is likely to be a great way of spreading the word about the research presented, as well as letting those who were there know about what was going on in the other panels. We can still add to this, so do still post your photos and comments using the #VAHS2013 hashtag.
The most pleasing of our digital moments for me personally was when we were able to include Kate Bradley via twitter, even though she was unable to join us. Charlotte Clements kindly read her PhD supervisor’s paper on Toynbee Hall in the 1980s and I, as chair of the session, fielded questions and put them to her on twitter. She answered these while Charlotte gave her own paper on postwar London housing and Anjelica Finnegan gave hers on unemployment and volunteering in the 1980s. I then opened the Q&A by projecting Kate’s answers up on the screen and reading them out, before putting a few more questions to her from the audience. I also then tweeted her with any relevant questions put to the others and Kate was generally able to respond while Anjelica or Charlotte were still speaking, meaning I could add her comments straight after theirs. I then closed the session by giving Kate’s answers tweeted while we were discussing other topics.
I have no doubt that Kate would have spoken more clearly and eloquently than I could read her tweets. But as having her there was not an option, I feel this experiment worked really well. Judging from the comments offered both in person and – naturally – on twitter, it seems I’m not alone in thinking so.