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Historical Reenactments – Teaching with Twitter

September 25th, 2009

I received an email from a school teacher interested in reenacting parts of the Cuban Missile Crisis using several accounts as “actors.” My friend Marion Jensen came up with the concept in early 2009, and together we started the website TwHistory.com. Earlier this summer he single-handedly recreated the Battle of Gettysburg. Since there seems to be some interest in this kind of Twitter reenactment I thought I would explain the process for those who are interested. The technology behind a project like this is fairly simple, and everything but the web hosting is free. Most of the time spent involves researching the events, which is where the real learning happens. Here are the three basic elements to set up a “TwHistory” reenactment project:

1. Setting up your Twitter “character” accounts:
Think of your project as a play, and make a list of all the characters you will need. Each of these will need a separate Twitter account, and each account requires a different email address. So you will need several different email addresses to register multiple Twitter accounts. (If you use Gmail, there is a trick to get around this problem. You can fool Twitter into thinking you are using a different email address by adding “+1″ or “+something” to your Gmail address. An example would be yourname+something@gmail.com. So if you have 10 Twitter characters you need to set up, you can register one as yourname+1@gmail.com and then register another one with yourname+2@gmail.com, and so on. Gmail will ignore the + and everything after it and promptly deliver a confirmation email for each of your character accounts to yourname@gmail.com.) Before you get started you will also want to set up a main Twitter account and then use it to follow the “Twitter characters” in your project. I called mine “HistoricTweets.” Don’t follow anyone else with this account (other than your characters) and don’t tweet from the project Twitter account or those tweets will show up as well. (Frankly it’s a little tricky to erase an accidental tweet, since it involves digging into the mySQL database to find and delete the problem entry.)

2. Archiving Tweets on a single web page:
This is not really a necessity, but it’s nice to be able to show all the tweets in one place, especially to people who don’t use Twitter. Before you can do this part you will need a web hosting provider that can support PHP and mySQL (most can). Something inexpensive like BlueHost.com is fine. I used a free program called Twitster to capture all the tweets. Setting up Twitster is easier than setting up a WordPress blog, so if terms like PHP and mySQL are somewhat familiar to you, then you can probably do it. Download Twitster (http://plasticmind.com/twitster) and set it up using the project Twitter account and following the instructions in the README.txt file (included below). Be sure to leave the hash tag field blank in the setup wizard so that all tweets from anyone your follow with the project account will appear on your Twitster page. The tweets show up with the newest ones first, and there’s not much you can do about that unless you are a programmer. Here are a couple examples:
http://twhistory.com/gettysburg/
http://tomcaswell.com/historictweets/

From the Twitster Installation Guide:
1. Upload the Twitster files into the directory you want to use. (e.g. http://mysite.com/twitster/)
2. Bring up that location in your browser. Twitster will bring up a setup wizard the first time you access it.
NOTE: You may need to make your make your Twitster directory writable (777) so the wizard can create your configuration file. For security’s sake, once you run the wizard, you should delete setup.php and set the main directory permissions back to something safer, like 755.
3. Fill in the setup form. Leave the hash tag field empty if you want to display all the tweets for those you are following. Click “Set Up Twitster”. You’re done!

3. Scheduling Tweets:
Being able to schedule tweets ahead of time is very useful, especially if you are reenacting an even with many characters tweeting around the same time. The best free tweet scheduler program I have found is called TweetMaster (http://www.twtmstr.com) It was developed by a fellow contributor to the TwHistory.com project, and now it seems to have a few extra bells and whistles. This app lets you schedule tweets down to the minute, so recreating an even like the Cuban Missile Crisis could be really exciting (especially when events happen in rapid succession). The other thing I like about this app is that you can set up multiple twitter accounts into groups for easy tweet scheduling. I highly recommend testing whatever timed tweet app you decide to use with a couple fake accounts. That way you know what it can and can’t do for you.

I hope this helps others get started with Twitter History or other reenactment projects. Please leave me a comment and let me know if you are doing a Twitter project so I can link to it from TwHistory.com.

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  • http://robmba.blogspot.com Rob Barton

    Marion did most of the reenactment, but not singlehandedly. I did have a few characters myself. It was seriously an awesome project. I learned a ton about the war and came to understand the different points of view a little better, tweeting from both the North and the South. I highly recommend to anyone working on a similar project.

  • http://hookedoutdoors.com Tom

    @Rob Sorry for not giving you credit. That’s cool you participated as well!

  • http://www.squidoo.com/mobsterworld spunkyduckling

    Sounds exciting. If only I could find some use for this information you've just generously shared. For a personal blog yes.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/mobsterworld spunkyduckling

    Sounds exciting. If only I could find some use for this information you've just generously shared. For a personal blog yes.

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