The Scottish History Network was created last year to help share knowledge and develop connections throughout the field of Scottish history. One of their co-founders, Fraser Raeburn, discusses how social media has enabled their work:
In late 2015, my colleague Laura Harrison and I were grumbling about how organised Irish historians are. They always seemed to know what was happening in the field, and Twitter in particular always seemed to be full of news about Irish history conferences, events and publications.
In contrast, our own field of Scottish history seemed to be perennially quiet. Things always seemed to happen with little fanfare, and you needed to rely on luck or word of mouth to ever hear about events and opportunities. Particularly as postgraduate researchers without an established network outside our own institutions, it was very frustrating to not have a way to keep track of what was going on in our field. We found some other postgraduate researchers, Nicola Martin and Scott Reid, who felt the same way, and decided to try and do something about it.
It was in this somewhat petty spirit that the Scottish History Network was born. The main goal of our day-to-day activities has always been about information sharing, making it easy for those interested in Scottish history to keep abreast of what is going on in the field – and in doing so, foster a sense of connectedness and community.
Information sharing has proven relatively easy to achieve. Our weekly digest tries to collate everything happening in Scottish history into one document, covering academia, heritage and museum sectors as best we can. On Twitter, we try and act as a clearing-house for social media activity relating to Scottish history. If you regularly tweet about goings on the field, odds are we’ve retweeted you or included information you’ve shared in our digest.
We’re all very proud of what we’ve managed to do in this regard. Hundreds of people receive our digest each week (you can too!), and well over a thousand follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Whenever we attend events, we often hear how other participants would never have heard about it if it weren’t for our digest. For historians living outside of Scotland in particular, having everything summarised in one place has made it much easier to follow what’s happening in the field from afar.
Where we’ve struggled more at is achieving the second part of our intended remit – fostering community and exchanges. While sharing information on Twitter and Facebook is easy, it’s harder to use it as a forum for discussion. We’ve always been faced with the dilemma of how much personality to give our social media accounts, especially as since the recent expansion of our committee there are now many more people who regularly tweet through it. It can certainly be done – curated accounts such as We The Humanities and scheduled sessions such as #museumshour are shining examples – but we’ve yet to find our own formula for success.
As such, we’ve never thought about abandoning more traditional events that involve people getting together in real life. We’ve hosted several, either by
ourselves or in collaboration with organisations such as the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland, and found that there is still no substitute for actually sitting down in a room and talking to people when it comes to exchanging ideas. Introducing a 140-character limit on questions at conferences might be worthwhile though!
Even with our events, it’s still striking just how much we rely on social media to do what we do. We have no budget for carrying out regular activity, so without the free services provided by platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and Mailchimp, we’d be extremely limited in what we could do. In some ways, we may be part of the next generation of scholarly societies – less hierarchical, fewer resources and certainly less prestigious, but more flexible and better able to leverage the opportunities provided by our new digital world.