Townshend Acts Twitter Project

“An Act for granting certain Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America …” (1767), Massachusetts Historical Society.

This summer and fall marks the 250th anniversary of the start of protests against the Townshend Acts, among the major moments of resistance during the imperial crisis that resulted in the American Revolution. During this project, the entire class will jointly produce two Twitter feeds to commemorate the protests, one from the perspective of anti-imperial activists and one from pro-British defenders. The feed will run for six weeks beginning on Monday, October 16.

Due date: Tuesday, Oct. 10 by 11:59 p.m.

Assignment Objectives

  • Learn how to do primary research using newspapers from the Revolutionary era
  • Consider how to develop a voice and narrative for a public history Twitter feed
  • Think about how to categorize important/key events in the Townshend Act protests
  • Practice how to convey complex ideas and information in a succinct form

The Process

  • Students will work in groups of 2 or 3. Each group will be responsible for producing tweets for a single week assigned to them. We will begin posting tweets on October 16 and continue through November 26.
  • Each group will be responsible for producing 28-35 tweets for their assigned week (that is, approximately 4-5 per calendar day).
    • A guide to writing tweets is available here.
    • Students will be required to use primary sources to create a list of tweets. They should consult the following databases available through the Whittemore Library and the Boston Public Library:
      • America’s Historical Newspapers
      • Burney Collection of Newspapers
      • Early American Imprints
    • With the primary sources, you should do the following:
      • Read through several newspapers for the week and determine what were the most important events, the most intriguing, the ones that help advance a narrative of the Stamp Act crisis.
      • The dating is more imprecise, but if you are able to, you should located pamphlets, broadsides, almanacs, or other materials linked to the activities of your assigned week.
      • Select a set of events that represents some amount of geographic diversity.
      • You can choose to include events that happened 250 years ago that day, or events that were reported on 250 years ago that day.
    • You may also use other sources, including those listed at the bottom of the assignment, secondary sources via JSTOR or Project Muse, or the Whittemore Library. Sources beyond these should be approved by me before you use them.
  • We will spend time on Monday, September 18 going over the project, so please bring your laptops.
    • That day, we will also discuss and decide two items as a class:
      • The name of the feed (I will take responsibility for creating the account)
      • The voice of the feed. In order to think about what you think might work best, you should consult this list of feeds that have done similar projects before class on Friday.
  • Most of the work time for this project will be during my parental leave from Wednesday, September 20 to Tuesday, October 3. We will not meet as a class during those dates, but you will have that time available in common with your group and access to our classroom. You will be exepcted to complete the bulk of the work for the project during this time.
  • Each group will turn in the following in a Google (via emailed link) or Excel spreadsheet
    • The text of the tweets listed by scheduled date and time, including any links, images, or other references.
    • A full citation for each tweet in proper Chicago Manual of Style format, indicating the name of the newspaper, the date, and the page from which the information was taken, as well as citation information for any other sources utilized as part of your research.
    • A brief explanation (400-500 words, in a Word/Google doc) of why you selected to highlight the events that you did and how you approached the drafting of the tweets. You should also explain how your group divided the labor as part of this process.
    • Each group will be responsible for scheduling its tweets to run at the appropriate  times. I will post instructions here for how to do so by Tuesday, September 19.
  • Once the feed is underway, we will periodically check during class to see what has gotten retweets and replies. We will determine as a group before the feed goes live how we will handle responses, etc., and I will post that information here.
  • Due December 4, each student must submit a 500-word reflection on the project. For the reflection, you should imagine that the Junto, a blog on early American history, has asked you for your thoughts on the project of publicly commemorating an event from a student’s perspective. Discuss what challenges you found in putting together your tweets, and how you found the reception to the group’s project. What responses came in? Were there any particular tweets or events that drew responses from large groups of people? This is a reflective assignment, so it can be in a narrative form without footnotes, but you should have a public and interested audience in mind as you write. You may link to or embed tweets in your narrative. In addition, keep in mind that depending on the results, two or three students may be offered the opportunity to publish their responses at the Junto. The document should be submitted by 12:30 pm on Monday, December 4.

Grading Procedure

Each group’s tweets and narrative will be evaluated in a number of areas from “excellent” (4) to “deficient” (0). The overall grade for the group reflects a holistic appraisal of the tweets and , but the feedback provided below will give you a sense of your progress on these skills for each paper during the semester. Please also keep in mind that any paper that includes plagiarized or uncited material is subject to a grade of 0.

  • Required Elements
    • All information is historically accurate.
    • Tweets are evenly distributed across the seven days with a total of 28 to 35.
    • Tweets represent geographic diversity from among the North American colonies and Britain.
    • Tweets utilize all of the required primary source research databases.
    • The spreadsheet contains Chicago style citations for all tweets.
    • All tweets are in standard English with appropriate grammar and style.
    • Members created an equitable division of labor.
  • Substance/Quality Elements
    • Tweets convey a narrative arc or theme in their depiction of historical events through the seven days.
    • Tweets effectively attribute historical information to its source(s).
    • Tweets capture the voice of someone describing events in 1765.
    • Tweets include a range of media elements, including but not limited to hashtags, hyperlinks to relevant sources, and images.
    • Tweets engage with the range of arguments, opinions, and events during the assigned week as outlined by the historical participants.
    • Tweets are based on a range of primary sources.
    • The group report conveys a clear logic and narrative for the tweets.
    • Each individual member made a significant contribution to the project.

Under the assumption that all members of the group will do equivalent amounts of work, the grade will be the same for all members of the group. However, I reserve the right to adjust grades for individuals in cases where unequal time and effort were spent.

A Note on Publicness

Twitter is a publicly accessible site. Anything you post using our group username will be visible to anyone who follows the username as well as anyone who looks up the feed. Please keep in mind that you are representing yourself (anonymously), but also the members of the course and the university as a whole. Any inappropriate posts may lead to a 0 on the assignment and further discipline if necessary.

Copyright and Credit

If you choose to use images, quotations, or other materials within your tweets, you must make sure that you have permission to do so. Many images are under some sort of copyright protection or other reproduction limitation. Some ways to check:

  • Search Google Images using the “Usage Rights” filter
  • See whether the website you are visiting has a Creative Commons license that permits reuse of materials
  • Email the owner of the materials to determine whether re-use is possible

Other Possible Sites for Research

Whittemore Library

  • America’s Historical Newspapers

Boston Public Library Electronic Resources

  • 17th & 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers
  • 18th Century Collections Online (ECCO)
  • Index to Early American Periodicals 1700-1799

Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr (Massachusetts Historical Society)

Founders Online (National Archives)

Virginia Gazette (Colonial Williamsburg)

GIGI (American Antiquarian Society)

Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Getty Images Archival Photos (includes some prints from 18th century)

If you discover any other sites that may be of use, please ask.

For an example of what a Twitter feed designed based on this assignment looks like, you may review the @KillingStamp feed, which students created in this course during the Fall 2015 semester.