It would be “fantastic news,” wrote the New Leftist leader in 1962, if the nuclear-tipped Bomarc missiles – potentially housed in Canada– could be re-directed by the Soviet Union after launch to destroy their own bases. I read these documents in the McMaster University archives while writing an MA course paper in 2006 (which would later grow into my first book).
This nuclear-missile letter helped me to understand the context of the New Left, as well as the cultural divide that was manifesting itself between New Leftists and mainstream Canadian progressive politics.
What if that missile quip had been a tweet? A college student tweeting something like that today could quickly become the focus of an outrage campaign. But how could a historian make sense of something like that in the future?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this during the latest “dig-up-old-tweets-to-take-them-out-of-context” scandal, where The Verge’s (soon to be part of the New York Times editorial board) Sarah Jeong saw tweets from 2013 and 2014 used as part of an alt-right campaign to discredit her. I’m probably not the only person to have thought about the hidden treasures sitting in my own Twitter timeline, and wondered about how they might be misinterpreted by others – say, a historian in the future, using social media as a historical source. Continue reading “History is Always About Context (or why a history degree equips you to understand the context of a tweet)”