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SASA Research Series #1: Social Media (4 of 8)

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

Virtual Engagement Models in the Humanities

This week, we bring you the fourth installment of the SASA Research Blog Series #1: Social Media. Titled Virtual Engagement Models in the Humanities, this post addresses some methods and strategies through which the fields of humanities and ancient studies might better employ social media as a tool for engagement and education.

In this post, we shift the focus from specific social media content to a broad range of virtual platforms. When it comes to humanities-based nonprofits, there exists a plethora of ways to engage audiences with the use of technology, even beyond the Twitter updates and mass emails to which we are all accustomed. These strategies enable more people to actively take part in discussions surrounding the humanities, bridging the wide gap between scholars and the general public.

The first virtual engagement model uses social media in a rather distinctive manner: microblogging. According to Claire Ross, microblogging is a form of digital communication that can occur in academic conferences and organizational settings, in which individuals take notes, share resources, and convey real-time reactions via backchannels like Twitter (Ross, 2011). It extends commentary and discussion without the need for interruptions, complementing sharings and encouraging participation. For instance, if an attendee of an event had a question but was uncomfortable asking it out loud, the attendee could instead raise the question on Twitter using a conference-specific hashtag. Though participation through microblogging does remain low, it nonetheless is an available tool that can help individuals connect with colleagues during conferences.

Another model comes from the rising popularity of interactive platforms in museums, most notably iPads. These devices can host discussion boards about exhibits, providing visitors the opportunity to write comments and engage with other visitors. They create an individualized experience that will be different each time and help visitors form personal connections with the affiliated material. The concept of museum iPads might, at first glance, seem limited to in-person experiences. However, the experience can be emulated quite easily through online discussion boards. Interactive platforms promote community interaction, which is important for humanities-based non-profits because they subsequently facilitate cooperative interpretations of humanities content. Findings are more accessible, and individual narratives are constructed. Especially for object-based content, the latter can be incredibly important, as the “unpredictability of multiple narrative forms [...] introduces new considerations to the process by which [organizations] convey object and collection interpretation” (Ross, 2011). As such, the collaborative creation of narratives can lead to independent analyses that are more creative, personal, and engaging than any traditional approaches.

The final model is crowdsourcing. This strategy involves enlisting a large number of people to work on a project, typically remotely. It is an effective way to engage the general public in humanities-oriented initiatives, such as transcription projects. A new audience can help transcribe historical manuscript papers, creating a temporary structured community and allowing more people to take part in an endeavor seemingly closed off to non-specialists. Virtual platforms enable everyday people to make use of exciting opportunities that reward both the non-profit itself as well as the individual. Whether projects backed by crowdsourcing attract starry-eyed students eager to gain more experience in a field that interests them, working adults who want to rekindle a passion for the humanities, or restless retirees looking to occupy their time productively, there exists a broad audience whom humanities-based projects on the internet can bring together.

Digital humanities open up a whole new realm of possibilities for community engagement, specifically regarding accessibility and enjoyment. Microblogging connects colleagues and complements sharings, discussion boards increase interaction and foster a personal connection to associated material, and group transcription projects via crowdsourcing help projects progress at a faster rate and close the gap between the general public and scholars. While the internet is an excellent means to spread the word about the current goals and projects of one’s non-profit organization, it can be used for far more than just updates; it can get the public to actively take part in projects, too. Engagement is key for nonprofits, and the more approachable and immersive a project is, the better each participant’s overall takeaway will be.



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