I am Facebook Friends with Dave Bidini. In 2015, with Stephen Harper up for re-election, I worked with him and a bunch of other musicians, artists, and supporters who were trending #ImagineOct20th. Together, people were curating and organizing concerts across the country to get Canadians to imagine the day after the election when someone else won the seat of federal power.
I do not say this to brag about my CanCon arts links or my left-leaning politics. To be honest, the social media connection is not a huge feat. Bidini is, in fact, approaching 5000 Facebook Friends and has over 3000 Followers. I say this because it seemed particularly relevant to me during yesterday afternoon’s History and Social Media roundtable. What I have gained from networking with artists like Bidini is an activist arts presence in my life that I desire to see in other historians’ social media presence beyond published journal articles and textbooks.
Featuring Daniel Ross, Jessica DeWitt, Adam Gaudry, Andrea Eidinger, Alexandre Turgeon, and Sarah York-Bertram, the session moderated by Sean Kheraj and supported by ActiveHistory.ca did more than suggest preferred platforms and a shared love of Twitter analytics.
Rather, I have not been able to forget DeWitt’s responses since it wrapped up. Being adamant that a social media presence ought not to be separate from the person behind the medium is, I think, a powerful and impressive stance for her to take. A degree of professionalism is, of course, important to the way historians engage with their online publics. But that has to be balanced with engaging content from an interesting expert that can reach those both within the field and outside of it. If we only appear as historians facing the public—in effect, hiding the multiplicity of our individual identity—does this not dehumanize and detach us from the world that we live in?
We also exist in an era of evermore precarious employment. As discussed yesterday, graduate students in history departments fear a poorly worded, irrelevant, or too political Tweet could spell their ruin in the academy. And it is a fair concern.
This, in turn, brings me to my second reflection from the session: the ever-present argument of exposure. Last year, Bidini wrote a Facebook post seeking information about the fallout of 2016’s Greenbelt Harvest Picnic where artists were not getting paid for their performances due to a contract loophole. I recall someone responding in the comments with something to the extent of, “In Canada, you could die of exposure.”
In the national arts community, this remains a common sentiment. And it seems to be ever applicable to the young historian seeking to carve their way in an academy that has increasingly limited opportunities within it. So some of us are creating our own path by using the accessible tools that social media offers.
Looking to those in the arts, we can learn from the ways that musicians, photographers, and other creatives balance the benefits of exposure and fair pay for their labour. Graduate students tweeting, blogging, and generating online content for “exposure” ought to look to these examples for solace, alliance, and development that exceeds the expectations and limits of the academy.
I further will venture to say that no historian worth their salt is *only* a historian. Those within and beyond the Canadian Historical Association are, of course, people with a passion and a talent for history. But they are also more than that. The things that make us different from our colleagues ought to therefore find applicable value to combining variety with our field’s shared methods to reach a more diverse output.
I am a historian who has worked in media, museums, and behind musician merch tables. These experiences do not make me any less of a historian. Rather, I am confident in saying that they actually probably make me a better historian. And I, for one, do not think that any of us should be hiding who we are under the guise of a perhaps outdated genre of expected professional development trajectories that the academy no longer provides.