Wednesday, 29 June 2016

@SouthAsia71: Bringing Oral Histories to a New Audience

Since my previous post, which explained how @SouthAsia71 tweets archival documents related to the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971,  I've been busy working with material from the oral history project at the archives of the Cambridge South Asian Studies Centre (CSAS). This post will showcase the tweets, discuss their success in reaching a new and wider audience, and lay out plans to incorporate them into analytical narratives within @SouthAsia71's twitter feed.

In terms of the material available at CSAS, I've first turned my attention to a series of interviews carried out by Professor Ian Stephens in 1973. The meetings brought together a number of different scholars to discuss their perspective on the events of 1971 from various geographical locations. In order to convert the material into tweets, I've applied the same principles that I have to the government documents that I'm used to- condense the material into an engage-able format, whilst maintaining proper context. Given the conversational nature of Ian Stephen's interviews, this can be easier said than done, but a challenge I've relished.

The inclusion of oral histories has added a new dimension to the twitter feed. The above tweet, quoting Dr Rashid Amjad, was the first time that @SouthAsia71 had considered the reaction of the West Pakistani people toward the crisis in East Pakistan. Previously focus had been almost entirely upon the actions of the military government and Zulfikur Ali Bhutto.

The Oral History-based tweets have been successful in reaching a new and wider audience. The tweet above, featuring Atta-ur-Rahman, was retweeted 16 times throughout the course of a day (each tweet is sent 3 times per day) and was seen by 2.913 people. Whereas the tweet below, a highlighted screenshot from a transcript of the interviews, attracted 27 retweets and reached 3,084 people. As @SouthAsia71 continues to gain followers, these numbers are certain to rise in future. Of the account's 2,800 followers, 65% reside in South Asia, and are interacting with this material for the first time.

The material from CSAS has also sparked debate and discussion about the events of 1971. In the above exchange I made the point that Dr Amjad is explicitly separating consideration of the West Pakistani leadership from the people themselves in West Pakistan.

In future, the material from CSAS will be incorporated into the wider analytical narratives that @SouthAsia71 creates. As in the example above, the integration of diplomatic and oral histories can provide a rich and more nuanced picture for @SouthAsia71's followers. There is also great potential to use the material on other mediums such as Storify and Buzzfeed, this will be the focus of my next post.

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