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Tweet the Debates: Using Twitter to recreate history

Twitter is a pretty amazing tool. Think about it. With Twitter, I can get constant updates from my friends, family, and colleagues on what they had for breakfast, how their drive to work went, and truly important stuff like how hot they think it will be this afternoon.

Seriously. How did we live without Twitter?

I kid because I love.

Twitter really is a pretty amazing tool. Revolutions in Egypt. Live updates on natural disasters. Connections with loved ones thousands of miles away. Not to mention a decent instructional strategy.

We’ve talked about using Twitter in the social studies before. And so when I came across Tweet the Debates, I was more than just a little curious. Created by artist and lawyer Toby Grytafey, Tweet the Debates is his attempt to recreate the summer of 1787 as if those attending the Constitutional Convention had access to social media.

It’s an interesting concept that has worked for other historical events. And it sounds pretty cool. Toby started a Kickstarter project that was hoping to raise funds for a mobile app and other goodies. Even if the fundraising idea fell through, the actual Tweet the Debates idea is awesome.

Toby uses a quote from James Madison, apparently written in the spring of 1835, as inspiration for the project:

Considering the peculiarity and magnitude of the occasion which produced the Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, the Characters who composed it, the Constitution which resulted from their deliberations, its effects during a trial of so many years on the prosperity of the people living under it, and the interest it has inspired among the friends of free Government, it is not an unreasonable inference that a careful and extended report of the proceedings and discussions of that body, which were with closed doors, by a member who was constant in his attendance, will be particularly gratifying to the people of the United States, and to all who take an interest in the progress of political science and the course of true liberty.

The idea is pretty basic. Madison knew that learning more about the process of 1787 can make us smarter in 2013. So let’s take advantage of what Madison left us. You can catch Toby’s thinking here.

So. How would the “proceedings and discussions” have sounded as a Twitter feed? How might the conversation have evolved if more of it had been public? All tweets will be linked to actual speeches made during the Convention so there are some incredible learning opportunities here.

But the idea is deeper than that. If we can “witness” the literal creation of America’s government and listen to the voices of the people who created it, what can we learn and apply to our current situation? There were very obvious and deep disagreements among the Convention’s participants. Yet they somehow managed to pull off perhaps the greatest upset of all time – the creation of a document that has withstood over 200 years of history.

I love the concept. Multiple Twitter users represent the various members of the Convention and, while staying in character, will discuss and argue “live” through the summer and into September. Law professors, rappers, history bloggers, civics teachers, actors, judges, comedians, Twitter stars and advocates of every political persuasion will use their voices to tell the story of the Constitutional Convention.

Get involved at the main site, find more info on the Kickstarter site, and follow along via Twitter.

And then start your own debate. How can you use this idea to connect with other classrooms around the country to discuss this topic? Other topics? What did civic discourse look like in 1787? In 1830? In 1860, 1941, 1954?

What does it look like right now? Does social media help or hurt the process?

So many questions. So many awesome learning opportunities!

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