On Twitter today: Taylor Swift is listening to Keith Urban in the dressing room, Bill Gates is posting vacation photos from a recent trip to Antarctica, and 152 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are hitching oxen to wagon and heading out on a 1,000 mile trek to find a new home.
"Leaving Winter Quarters with 6 of my teams," tweets Heber C. Kimball — a man most LDS know only as a faded, 1800s-era daguerreotype staring out from the pages of a church history manual.
Another well-known (but long-dead) pioneer tweets a couple hours later to report some horse trouble.
It's not a joke. It's the latest trend in historical re-enactment.
Since early 2009, Tom Caswell, 35, and Marion Jensen, 37, have been using Twitter to recreate dramatic moments in history. Over the next four months, they'll use the popular microblogging service to tell the story of the LDS Church's 1847 immigration from Nebraska to Utah.
Caswell and Jensen, who devised the project "TwHistory" for their Ph.D. theses at Utah State University, fancy they were the first to bring history to the social-media scene. Similar projects with authors from all over the world, however, have started surfacing in recent months. For example, a rabbi in Texas used Twitter to dramatize the biblical book of Exodus, while a Missouri high school class simulated the Cuban missile crisis.
"Twitter is the perfect medium for telling a story," said Caswell, who is an outreach manager for the OpenCourseWare Consortium. "It gives you the tools you need to create different actors, and it gives you a time line."
For the pioneer project, Caswell and Jensen created 19 Twitter accounts — one each for 19 LDS historical figures, including pioneering former church president Wilford Woodruff.
The pioneers' posts are near-direct quotes from journals kept during the 1847 journey. Jensen and Caswell rewrote the entries in present tense and, at times, condensed the wording to better fit Twitter's 140-character limit. They estimate, according to the activity, what time to broadcast each tweet.
"If you were just following one of the threads it would be very boring," Caswell said. "But when you listen to them all in concert it really does paint a picture. I feel like there's this group out there experiencing something historic, and I get to be a fly on the wall."
Unlike traditional re-enactments, most of which last only a couple of hours, TwHistory unfolds in real time. Followers can get updates via their personal computer or their mobile phone — about 25 updates a day from different characters.
The medium allows people to learn details they may otherwise have missed without expending a lot of study time, said Jensen, who is an instructional designer for American Express.
"I always thought of the pioneers as stoic men boldly going across the plains," he said. "When you hear their everyday stories, though, it comes out that there were some rascals in there."13 comments on this story
Kimball tweets not only about spiritual meetings with the church presidency but also about shooting his first antelope and beating a wolf to death with a club. At one point, under the instructions of then-church-president Brigham Young, Kimball announces to the Twitosphere than he and some of the other men "liberated" some plows.
"Young told Case to take plows etc as govt payment," he tweets. "He worked for govt nearby, fired w/out pay when he became Mormon. We'll leave a letter."
To follow Kimball and his colleagues on their trip to Utah, visit TwHistory.com.
Jensen and Caswell are in the process of developing software that will allow teachers to reply TwHistory broadcasts at will. Archives of previous TwHistory projects are available on their Web site.