One of my favourite Twitter feeds that I follow is @RealTimeWWII, a six-year project to do a real-time retweet of the Second World War, broadcasting every event exactly 62 years after it happened. I started following late last year, after the fall of Poland and right before the Soviet Union invaded Finland; this morning, I woke to find the Germans had occupied Paris.
I also really like @JQAdams_MHS, which reproduces John Quincy Adams’s daily diary entries on the two hundredth anniversary of when each entry was written. John Q is currently the American ambassador to St Petersburg, and word should be reaching the Russian capital any day now of Napoleon’s invasion.
And I followed a live-tweet of the hundredth anniversary of voyage of the Titanic, though I picked the wrong one–the one I followed wasn’t terribly good, and I found a couple of much better ones after everyone had wrapped everything up.
As is my bent, I found myself wanting to do my own real-time historical Twitter stream, and tried to think of a good topic. Fairly naturally, considering that the best one I’ve seen so far is a Second World War stream, my first thought was the First World War. But that’s not really feasible for a couple of different reasons–first, with its hundredth anniversary approaching, there’ll be a whole lot of people doing the same thing, better than I could; and second, the First World War is too well-chronicled and too intense an event for me to give it the treatment it would demand. It’ll need two or three dozen tweets a day.
So I looked for an event in the more distant past, something that proceeded at less of a frenetic pace. A friend suggested the (Anglo-American) War of 1812. This was attractive, because there are several parts of the way the War of 1812 is commonly taught and thought of that I really disagree with. But one of those ways is the insistence in American historiography of teaching it like it’s an independent war, rather than a minor theatre of the Napoleonic Wars, so I decided I couldn’t spend two years presenting a picture of only the war in the North America and feel like I was presenting a picture that in any way resembled the context that its participants were actually living in.
So then my next thought was to do the Napoleonic Wars as a whole. And then it occurred to me that that would mean the French Revolutionary Wars as well, since the break between the two is pretty arbitrary. And then it occurred to me that I’d be blogging, in real time, a series of events that lasted for twenty-six years from 1789 to 1815.
And really, I have to admit in the end that I’m probably just not suited for this sort of thing. I simply don’t have the attention span to give it the care and effort it needs continuously for months or years on end. But I still like reading them when they’re well done, and I still daydream about doing them.