By splitting students into three, distinct Late Roman Republic groups (Optimates, Populares, and Moderates), the instructor had students developed personas based on their assignments through the Twitter platform.
Activity: Roman History through Twitter
- To explore the role that the “biographical” genre plays in understanding history, as biographies preserve historical events through a unique lens, affected as they are by personal biases and social commentary.
Class: Latin Ba – Latin Prose Selections (Classical)
In this activity that spanned the course of two weeks, students were expected to develop personas based on what characterizations were available in surviving textual sources. These sources included: Cornelius Nepos' Life of Atticus and Suetonius' Life of Augustus, which students had already read. Students were also given supplementary readings from Augustus' Res Gestae, Suetonius' Life of Caesar, and Plutarch's Lives of Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, Cato the Younger, Cicero, Antony and Brutus, which were provided for the purpose of elaborating on the students' social media personas. Students were also given chapters 6-8 from an introductory textbook (The Romans: From Village to Empire) on Roman history for context.
- The instructor divided the students into three groups, coinciding with the main parties during the Late Roman Republic: the Optimates, the Populares, and the Moderates.
- Next, the instructor registered a Twitter handle, The Daily Roman (@daily_roman), for the purposes of disseminating the "breaking news events" to students.
Groups were asked to secure Twitter accounts utilizing one of three strategies:
- 1) One twitter account that represented the Unified Front, which collected and distributed the opinions of the people;
- 2) Power in Numbers, which consisted of individual twitter accounts representing the opinions of each member of the group; and
- 3) Strawman, a fake account created to spread misinformation as if from a rival party.
In the process of choosing their accounts, students were also tasked with choosing a historical persona to represent, with the accounts and their tweets clearly reflected this.
- Students were given a list of events that would transpire over the course of Reading Period (see handout), and were asked to devise responses to these events based on the opinions and attitudes of their chosen personas.
- During Reading Period, students responded to each "breaking news event" in turn, and to others' comments as well, as long as they included #LateRepublic.
- Students were expected to respond to all fifteen events, even if their chosen individual had died prior to the event. In this case, students were to take on the guise of the individual's ghost (or post mortem representative), providing commentary on events as if they were still living (or haunting those who were alive).
- Students were expected to submit a list of their tweets along with a commentary, in which they substantiated their tweets with reference to textual sources and, if no explicit textual reference was available, such as when an event had occurred after an individual's death, and the account represented the ghost of said person, students were asked to justify their statements with their impression of the person’s character and beliefs prior to death.
- The assessment of the activity was based on the quality and relevance of the tweets, and students' ability to contextualize and substantiate their tweets within the discourse(s) of the Late Republic. The grade breakdown was simple: 75% for the tweets (5% per tweet x 15 tweets) and 25% for the commentary.
- The instructor submits that Twitter prompted students to think creatively and express opinions in succinct, 140-character statements, which in turn tested their ability to condense arguments into efficient but effective chunks.
- The instructor found that using Twitter was a useful way to structure the activity and convey this concept, as the class constantly encountered biased opinions and tabloid-style commentaries through social media. The instructor reported that the beauty of platforms like Twitter and Facebook offer an almost stream-of-consciousness version of biography in real time.
- The instructor advised that it is important to address the issue of vulgarity and negative rhetoric, as it can be counter-productive and may be seen as an ad hominem attack on the real student, and not the fictionalized historical figure. Nevertheless, these issues allow us to engage with and heighten the rhetoric in class, and in turn in the academic community as a whole.
Submitted by Anthony Shannon, Department of the Classics, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences