Conversations 1 Assignments 1101

How can we use social media to understand the past?

Learning goals
Students will be able to:

  1. Successfully create a pinterest page so that they may search
  2. Locate three separate credible websites on, and that address the period 1200-1400 C.E.
  3. Summarize the content on those three sites.
  4. Correctly link to three sites in the D2L discussion board.
  5. Explain why you found your three websites to be credible.


Our module “Conversations” will focus on the period from 1200-1400 CE. The conversation part will be addressing how social media shapes our understanding of the history of this period, often called the late middle ages. Our first week we'll work on understanding this period by using social media and our second week we'll use social media to help others understand this period. Four topics will prove useful to you as you navigate this period: the Mongols, Mansa Musa, the plague (known as the Black Death), the Renaissance.

So, why are we focusing on social media when studying history? Well, for one, social media allows us to practice what we call public history. History written by historians for other historians is very small in scope and in audience. Museums, plaques at public parks, blogs about minor subjects that just happen to fascinate people; these are all public history. A historian's book published by a university press will get maybe 200 copies printed. A good history blog will get at least 200 hits a day, and a good twitter feed can have a 1 million followers. If we think history matters (and I do) we have to be attentive to where it will have the biggest impact. For example, John Green, who is an author and video blogger, has 4.7 million followers on his twitter feed. In many ways public history matters far more than any professional history.

So, to begin, you need to get comfortable operating in three social media platforms:,, and Pinterest requires an account to search, but wordpress and twitter don't. is a web log hosting website. WordPress is also blogging software that anyone can use to publish their own site. Lots of historians and history-minded people post their research, analysis, and an odd-assortment of material on blogs. For example, consider the wordpress site History Behind Game of Throne. Or consider this blog that recounts when a pope wrote a mongol khan about possible converting to Christianity (the khan declined.)

Pinterest is a web log that focuses on images, which the site calls “pins.”
Twitter is a mico-blogging site. It allows users to post blogs in 280 characters, with a limited number of pictures. A “feed” is all the tweets from a particular user.

I. Assignment

  1. Find a pinterest page, twitter feed, and wordpress blog that are a) credible and b) address a world history subject between 1200-1400 CE. Each media type may focus on a specific country or a particular group. For example, Mansa Musa left a variety of records about his famous hajj.

  2. Post your three links in three different discussion posts and under each link post a two sentence summary of the media and one sentence evaluation of the credibility of the site. Please review the posts before posting your own an try to avoid duplication.


  1. To limit a google search to a particular domain type :.domain name. For example, if I wanted to search for “Mansa Musa” only in wordpress blogs, I'd type “Mansa”
  2. Twitter uses a particular grammar that takes a while to get used to. Topics are “tagged” with a # . For example searching for #Mongols will get all the most recent tweets about that topic. People or institutions who are writing on twitter “tweeting” are tagged with @. So, I'm @historyjack.
  3. To find good historical material on twitter, say on the Mongols, you may need to find good historians of the that subject.
  4. Pinterest is the shallowest (has the least historical) content of these three media types. It has hoards of non-credible sites, which pinterest call “boards.” Be prepared for lots of images that are not attributed (cited). No citations = not credible.
  5. There are many wordpress sites that are hosted by high school or college students. Unless those students have all citations for all their work and can demonstrate expertise, those sites are not credible. I note this as many general searches turn up popular and long-standing blog posts that are nonetheless not credible for our standards.
  6. f you want to know who owns a website, use the website To know what software created a website, plug the URL into To know what websites link to a website, type in "link:yourwebsite" . Knowing who owns a website, how it was built, and who is linking to a website can help you evaluate the credibility of websites.,, and won't tell you much, but if you find a self-hosted wordpress site, these tools may be useful.

Grading criteria


  1. Located three separate credible websites on, and that address the period 1200-1400 C.E.
  2. Summarized the content on those three sites in three paragraphs.
  3. Correctly linked to three sites in the D2L discussion board.
  4. Explained why you found your three websites to be credible in your three paragraphs.