I first joined Twitter in 2010 when I started my PhD and have primarily used my account for academic purposes. Many of the conferences I was attending had started to encourage attendees to use Twitter to communicate conference proceedings to those unable to attend. Twitter soon became a regular part of my conference experience. When I arrived in Munich this August for the European Society for Enviornmental History Bi-Annual Meeting hosted by the Rachel Carson Center, I first took to twitter, rather than the program, to find out who would be attending the conference. To my delight, I immediately noticed several colleagues from home in Canada had also made the trip to Munich.
While there was a relatively small contingent of Canadian scholars in Munich, we were featured prominently in the digital realm of the conference. The popularity of Twitter as a scholarly networking tool amongst Canadian scholars was evident on the daily twitter feeds. In fact, there were times when the conference’s twitter feed looked as if it could have been from just about any NiCHE event. Tina Adcock (@TinaAdcock), Jim Clifford (@jburnford), Merle Massie (@merlemassie), Jessica van Horssen (@Historiamagoria), and myself (@MDDELVECCIO), all active members of the NiCHE community, tweeted enthusiastically throughout the conference. We used our one hundred and forty character limit to convey central ideas from presentations, share cool discoveries, continue discussions, and ask further questions. Academics who were unable to attend the conference in person were able to follow and contribute to the conversation from abroad.
The use of twitter and other digital technologies as scholarly tools continues to be a central discussion when talking about the future of the academic world. To some, the merits of these technologies, particularly the social media tools such a Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, have yet to be proven. They may never be, and I too was admittedly a skeptic at first. But my experience at ESEH has reinforced my belief that web services such as Twitter have the ability to create a more dynamic and inclusive academia. One highlight of the conference for me was being able to field a question to a presenter in my session from someone who was attending a different session. It was fitting that the session I was at was a workshop discussing the use of new media in the dissemination of environmental history. To me, there is no better example of the value of social media in the academic community.
Like the many other conferences I have attended since the beginning of graduate school, Twitter played a central role in how I experienced and interacted with ESEH 2013. Whether in the office or in the field, this free, open access, and relatively secure technology can add another layer to your academic experience whether grad student or senior scholar.