Arguably shallow: representing archival material on social media

In recent years archival material has proved to be extremely popular on social media sites, particularly Twitter, with feeds such as the Retronaut and History In Pictures gathering large followings. Both are examples of a growing trend to show historical photographs in consistent and regularly-updated feeds and aim to focus attention on the image or the object of the photograph.

However, there is an awareness – both from amongst those who operate such feeds and from external audiences, perhaps especially those in the archival and academic communities – that there is at times a policy of ignoring traditional referencing principles. This is undoubtedly, for some of these feeds, a deliberate rule, with the prime focus being on the image, with minimal attendant metadata.

This exposes a tension between what is desired on social media sites (e.g. instant access, image-heavy content) and what historians or archivists would usually expect (e.g. references, provenance) which can cause issues for archives or museums when attempting to engage with online audiences.

The @ukwarcabinet Twitter feed uses cabinet papers available at The National Archives to provide a narrative of the Second World War 70 years on from when the material was created. The feed was created by Jo Pugh of the Education department but has been run by a project team in the Advice & Records Knowledge department since October 2013.

By using the example of the @ukwarcabinet feed – and particularly the efforts to represent the 70th anniversary of D Day – I will explore how the tension between the expectations of social media users and those of the archival and academic communities is manifest. I will also attempt to investigate what the respective challenges are for archives which engage in such projects online, and the steps that can be taken to bridge the gap between the two practices.

Image: Sword area night raid, June 1944′ – ADM 199/1662

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