Monday, May 30, 2016

Short And Tweet: History in 140 Characters

Review: Berlin 1945: The Final Days of Hitler's Third Reich by Philip Gibson

It is a sweet premise: if Twitter had existed during WWII, what might your feed look like as Berlin fell? If you expect hashtags and LOLs, you will be disappointed; these "tweets" sent by the movers and shakers (and their "social-media associates") in the Allied and Axis Powers are formal and complete with proper punctuation and spelling. If you hoped for a succinct presentation of attitudes and events, you will find a goldmine here.

As example, I'll share a juxtaposed pair of tweets that epitomizes revelations from the Twitter-stream that one might not acquire from reading a formal history. 

This pair lie adjacent in the feed from Friday, April 27, 1945, as the Goebbels family, Hitler, and Eva Braun share the safety of the Führerbunker:
Magda Goebbels @MGoebbels  The only bathtub in the bunker is in the Führer’s quarters, and he has so kindly offered it for the use of all our 6 children 
Adolf Hitler @AHitler  Early this morning, I ordered the flooding of the Berlin underground to slow the advancing Soviets

There are many of these "accidental" insights buried in the flow of comments. I also found it helpful to search Wikipedia (easy to do from my Kindle) for each of the named persons, reminding myself with the online descriptions of details that were not apparent from the Twitter feed. I could see this being one more useful tool for teaching history, fresh and easily understood.  

The story encompasses 20 days of the Fall of Berlin, beginning with the death of FDR, with quotes and paraphrases of quotes from historical figures (Eleanor Roosevelt, Truman, Stalin, and Churchill; Patton and Zhukov, Jodl, and Heinrici; Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels; Pravda, Reuters and the BBC). 

These are real quotes, the actual words of people who mostly died long before social media became a common communication mode. For his sources, Gibson appends an impressive list of references that begins with Shirer's massive The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. That is a tome I have begun to read at least 8 times in my life, with little success in finishing it.

I guarantee, the Twitter version is more accessible.