Would you join a militant political movement, risking not only your job but potentially your family, friends and public reputation? What physical and emotional trauma would you be willing to face?
These were all questions that faced women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when they joined the emergent women’s rights and suffrage movement.
As part of Women’s History Month, the National Archives (@UkNatArchives) has invited Twitter to make these decisions for Rose Larkin, a 22-year old factory worker from London in 1903.
Choose Your Own History Adventure?
Choose your own adventure stories has been a popular Twitter trend for the last few years, covering many literary and historical genres. Museums and heritage organizations have joined in this trend, using short tweets to explore historical experiences of warfare, politics, class and gender.
- How about joining @EghamMuseum’s Flora Seville, arriving at Royal Holloway university in 1887?
- Want to know what it was like to be a medieval princess? Follow @MuseumofOxford St Frideswide
- Wonder if you survive in the early Tudor court? Historic Royal Palaces: @HRP_palaces
- Or if you’d survive the Civil Wars? @NTChastleton
- How about inventing your own version of Wordsworth’s poetry (and in the words of the creator, make Wordsworth spin in his grave)? @TheMERL
The trending #chooseyourownadventure History Twitter feeds are not just a diverting way of passing time on social media.
These threads are a light-hearted way of dealing with the tricky topic of historical agency: the personal, social, cultural, and economic circumstances which determine someone’s freedom of choice and action in the past.
But they do more than that.
They encourage us all to reflect on our own beliefs, and what we would have done if personally faced with challenging situations.
How would we have reacted to the structural sexism and gender inequalities of the early 20th century? Would we personally have stood up and joined the suffragette movement? Or would we have instead viewed these women as dangerous radicals, a view taken by a significant number of the British population at the time? What would have influenced your views and your decisions?
We can take this question further. What do we do if we are confronted by sexism and gender inequalities now?
A Twitter Choose Your Own Adventure (Hi)story can only ever, of course, highlight a limited range of the personal motivations, immediate circumstances and social and structural barriers which determined people’s choices in the past. Historical nuances are difficult to communicate at the best of times, never mind within a 280-character limit within a few adventure tweet threads!
The stories do blur the line between fact and fiction.
But storytelling has always been part of how we communicate History.
It can be easier to feel more emotionally connected and empathize with someone you know very little about. Without a preconceived idea of what one particular historical personality was like, one can spend more time imagining the person and incorporating more of ourselves into the fictionalized them. This imaginative and emotive connection helps us feel more part of the History being told. Fictionalizing historical decisions can make it easier to think what we would have done if in their position.
Understanding someone else’s actions and viewpoints (even if we do not agree with them) can help us build empathy for those around us. And empathy can help us all learn from each other and move forward together.
Enjoy your adventures stories in History…