#History on Social Media – Sources, Methods and Ethics

#History on Social Media – Sources, Methods and Ethics

Project "SocialMediaHistory"
Gefördert durch
44801 / 20148
Bochum / Hamburg
Findet statt
Vom - Bis
11.11.2022 - 12.11.2022
Mia Berg, Historisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

The joint project SocialMediaHistory of the Universities of Bochum and Hamburg is organising an online conference on "#History on Social Media - Sources, Methods, Ethics" from 11 to 12 November 2022.

Abstracts (500 words) and a short biography (max. 100 words) can be sent to socialmediahistory@rub.de by 21.09.2022 (extension).

#History on Social Media – Sources, Methods and Ethics

"What we know about our society, indeed about the world we live in, we know through the internet." This - or rather similar – is how Niklas Luhmann's dictum about the connection between the creation of knowledge and the use of media could be further developed. With regard to the acquisition of knowledge about history, Hannes Burkhardt recently stated that the "relevance of the internet for the visualisation of the past can hardly be overestimated today" (Burkhardt 2021: 13). This is especially true for social media, whose low production and access barriers have led to a multiplication of history-related content, actors and practices (König 2020).

The influence of digital transformation on historical narratives and education has already been addressed in many historical sub-disciplines for several years. However, social media are often used only as a non-specific example in the field of digital media and appear as an umbrella term for all platforms without taking into account their specifics, formats and target groups. Due to limited (API) access to data, media-specific studies have so far often focused on text-based platforms such as Twitter or Wikipedia. With a few exceptions, audiovisual social media in particular have not yet been extensively studied from a historical perspective. However, considering the emerging volumes of data, this seems to apply to social media in general. There is still potential for future studies, especially with a focus on "history as big data" or automated quantitative analyses.

On a research-pragmatic level, it is evident that the connection of historical narratives to global corporations and data structures leads to a "shift of sources from document to data" (Fickers 2013: 157) and technical, ethical and legal challenges. Above all this concerns the accessibility, archivability and (automated) analysis of digital history as well as the question of how to use personal social media data when basic principles such as information obligation, voluntariness or anonymisation are not (or cannot) be fulfilled in most cases.

Social media are therefore an ambivalent object of research: on the one hand, history is always medially conveyed and shaped - social media are no exception. Historical scholarship thus seems to be prepared for the reflection of medial traditions, framework conditions, specifics and their influences on history(s). On the other hand, the historical toolkit must be methodically expanded in order to deal with the emerging data.

The conference will therefore focus on social media in historical research, with particular attention to theories, methods, sources and ethics:

- What impact do social media have on historical scholarship? (Practices, knowledge transfer, sources, methods)
- What knowledge potential does the study of particular media offer?
- What impact do users of social media have in the creation of historical narratives (co-creation of knowledge)?
- How and by whom can social media be sustainably preserved - and how can research data be made accessible?
- How can history be analysed in different social media? Which content-related, formal, aesthetic and technical aspects play a role and need to be taken into account?
- Which methodological approaches are suitable for researching social media from a historical perspective? What role does interdisciplinarity play?
- Which and whose interests must be taken into account in the research? (private individuals, corporations, politics)
- What skills are necessary for social media research?
- How do economic, technical and medial framework conditions of the platforms influence historical representations and also research?
- Which media milieus and specifics can be identified?
- How is history received in social media? How can the impact and outreach of digital formats be evaluated?
- …

Submissions can address several questions or focus on individual aspects.


The conference will take place online via Zoom on 11 and 12 November 2022.

It is being organised as part of the project "SocialMediaHistory - History on Instagram and TikTok" (project lead Prof. Dr. Christian Bunnenberg and Prof. Dr. Thorsten Logge). The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the Citizens' Research funding programme.

On both days, we want to take a look at the significance of social media for historical research as well as research pragmatic approaches. We therefore welcome proposals for empirical case studies as well as theoretical or methodological contributions and problem outlines on various social media. Depending on the topic, we put special emphasis on the reflection of data access, methods, identification of problem areas as well as possible solutions. Interdisciplinary approaches on individual aspects such as archiving, scraping or ethics e.g. from (historical) communication research, media studies, ethnology, digital humanities or archival studies are explicitly encouraged.

Following the conference, selected contributions will be published in a handbook.


Proposals for a 15–20 minute presentation in English can be sent to socialmediahistory@rub.de by 21 September 2022 (abstracts of max. 500 words + short bio of max. 100 words). Applicants will receive feedback by the end of September.

The Call for Participation for attendance without a presentation will be published in October together with the programme.

Possible topics, e.g.

- Methodological approaches, e.g. digital methods, close and distant reading, citizen science, nethnography, quantitative and qualitative studies, ...
- Empirical case studies
- Source corpora and archiving
- Research access to different platforms
- Ethical Considerations
- Legal framework
- Investigation of (audio-)visual content
- Potentials and challenges of Big Data
- Reception and media effects research
- Practices and communities
- ...


Mia Berg, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Andrea Lorenz, Universität Hamburg

E-Mail: socialmediahistory@rub.de