This article, originally posted August 16, 2016, was updated May 29, 2017. Scroll to the end for the update.
This post is something of a bittersweet one. Many of you reading this have been following the up-and-down saga of my specialized Twitter account, @CryForByzantium, which I’ve been using to “live-tweet” the entirety of Byzantine history in 140-character increments. That project, which I began in July 2009, has now gone through two complete cycles of Byzantine history, from 306 C.E. to the final fall of Constantinople in 1453. In May I announced that I would not be “rebooting” for another cycle. Since that time another history fan, Michael Birlin, has stepped up to the plate to curate the account and guide it through another cycle. I’ve been working the last few months to transition the account over to him. Tonight, August 14, 2016, he takes full control of the account, and the history reboots back to the beginning with Constantine I. Therefore, today is my final day as the curator of CryForByzantium.
I established CryForByzantium seven years ago largely as an experiment. Was it possible and practicable to use the then-new social media platform Twitter as a tool to teach history? That question has been answered strongly in the affirmative. I remember July 12, 2009, the day I started the account. It was a very hot day, and as it was in the midst of the Great Recession–I was then working as a lawyer–the work was very, very slow at my office. I began tweeting with the accession of Constantine I, and by the end of the day I think I had three followers. As of now we have over 7,000 followers. Since the end of the last cycle, hundreds of them have tweeted thanks and good-luck messages, and many have stated how the account has deepened their understanding and interest in medieval history. This is incredibly gratifying to me.
Constantine XI Palaeologus, the last Emperor of Byzantium, is possibly my favorite Byzantine ruler. I enjoyed “being” him in the final stretches of the CryForByzantium cycle.
I do many things in my life. I write, I blog, I record podcasts, I advocate for awareness of climate change, but the job I most enjoy is being a teacher. There are a lot more ways to teach history than by standing in a classroom with a piece of chalk in your hand or PowerPoint slides on a screen. CryForByzantium is, I think, a modern, dynamic and fun way to bring the stories of the past to life for people who may not have thought about them before or may know virtually nothing about their own history.
In the last few days I did an analysis of CryForByzantium’s followers. While the largest percentage (34%) were from the United States–which is not surprising, considering I am American and the account is in English–the next largest group, 18%, is from Turkey. Byzantine history is part of the history of the Turkish people as well, and many of them are interested in it and proud of it (a few noisy ultra-nationalists aside). I’m neither Turkish, nor Greek, nor Orthodox in my religious background; yet over the past seven years I’ve been able to use history to bridge gaps of politics and faith to bring a meaningful experience to a lot of people. CryForByzantium receives a lot of @ replies in Turkish, some in Greek, even some in Latin. There’s a broad community out there, rich in cultural diversity, in which my work has struck a chord, and that’s the most gratifying of all.
I posted this song, somewhat prematurely, in my May 29 article. It is now truly time for me to go “Into the West.”
I know that Michael Birlin will do a fantastic job as the curator of the account. He already has. My best wishes and prayers go with him, and I’ll be watching and following, finally joining that rich community that counts CryForByzantium as a part of their daily experience online.
These are my final words as curator of CryForByzantium. Thanks everybody for your support. God bless, and remember Byzantium.
Update 29 May 2017
On the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople, I thought I’d just add a brief update on how things have been going. I’m no longer involved in CryForByzantium, but I have to say that my decision to pass it on to Michael Birlin was an excellent one. He’s really shone as the new curator, adding a great deal of pizzaz, color and humor to the account–in fact I think he’s done a better job of it than I did! CryForByzantium has grown in followers and in reach since I’ve retired, and I greatly enjoy reading the tweets, most of which I wrote (a long time ago), as a spectator and observer rather than curator.
Here’s hoping the account will continue to have a long and successful life!