Lawrence – On June 28, the event that unleashed World War I and forever shaped history will unfold through 140-character tweets in an elaborate e-reenactment featuring more than 25 historical figures and multiple languages.
Students, staff and faculty at the University of Kansas, as well as local community members, have taken on the Twitter personas of significant and minor participants in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which occurred 100 years ago in Sarajevo, on June 28, 1914. These characters will tweet as though the events were occurring in real time.
Twitter users can follow along through the hashtag #KU_WWI, which will provide dozens of historical perspectives – ranging from world leaders to members of The Black Hand terrorist group – on the assassination that launched Europe into total war. For those not on Twitter, a Twitter feed will be on the Center for Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies and European Studies websites.
The Twitter project is a chance for the university to use social media as a tool to engage different academic skills and academic units from across campus in the study of a single, historical event.
“The project is exciting because its success is driven purely by the talents and skills of KU students and our local community,” said Adrienne Landry, outreach coordinator for CREES. “I have been so overwhelmed and appreciative of the many different academic units and community organizations that have come forward to support this project.”
Throughout the spring, participants have been developing scripts and crafting tweets. While the bulk of the action will occur from 9:30 a.m. to noon June 28, historical characters have already started tweeting as officials discuss security measures for Ferdinand’s upcoming visit and assassins begin plotting to kill the Archduke. Thanks to KU foreign language classes, select tweets have been translated into German, Bosnian and Serbian.
The Twitter project, organized by the CREES, is one of many events that will be part of KU’s four-year-long commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the war. Those events, coordinated by the KU European Studies Program, include lectures, classes, exhibits and conferences on World War I. More information can be found online at european.ku.edu/wwi-tribute and on the KUWWI commemoration blog kuwwi.com.
On June 28, participants representing the event’s main characters will be tweeting from the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. The museum, which begins its own centennial commemoration with programming through 2019, will stream the tweets for those visiting.
"The Great War set the foundation of the 20th century by spearheading technological advancements, so it's fitting that we use a 21st century method of communication to engage and encourage people to learn history in a new way," said Lora Vogt, National World War I Museum curator of education. "The National World War I Museum is proud to serve as the host site for this event as we commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of the war."
Among the project partners is Slavic languages and literatures lecturer Marta Pirnat-Greenberg, who had her intermediate Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian language students translate the tweets into Bosnian and Serbian. The project required her students to learn about the events leading to World War I as well as to master subject-specific vocabulary and the appropriate style of discourse to use for the translations.
“Equally exciting for students as creating the tweets in Bosnian and Serbian was using their language skills in the medium that is part of their everyday communication in English, as well as the prospect of showcasing their language work,” Pirnat-Greenberg said.
College students aren’t the only ones who have benefited from the project. Diana Bailey’s fifth-grade class at Deerfield Elementary School in Lawrence has been researching characters and writing posts for Twitter. Bailey said she was amazed by how quickly the students integrated their social media savvy, such as the use of hashtags, with a historical event. One of her favorite examples was a tweet from Ferdinand’s wife, Duchess Sophie Chotek. “Oh no, we missed our turn. #NotAgain #WorstDriverEver,” it read.
“The students love to get involved in historical research, and when you combine 21st century technologies, they excel,” Bailey said.
Project partners include the KU European Studies Program, National World War I Museum, KU departments of Germanic languages and literature and Slavic languages and literature, Ermal Garinger Academic Resource Center, Center for Global and International Studies and University Honors Program.
CREES is designated a Title VI National Resource Center for the study of Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia by the U.S. Department of Education.