Twitterstorians: Thoughts on the D’Souza/Kruse Exchange

October 10, 2018 |  Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Twitterstorians: Thoughts on the D’Souza/Kruse Exchange

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 It probably won’t come as a surprise that the Liberal Arts often aren’t given a lot of respect in popular culture. As a student of history myself, I can’t tell how many times I’ve cringed when I hear someone make a joke to the tune of “would you like fries with that?” in response to learning about my major. In the defense of history, it is ironic how despite the popularity of lampooning students for pursuing the degree, we as a culture have an obsession with the subject. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the newest political crisis in action, and I can all but guarantee that you’ll find history cropping up in the political debates. Not that this is particularly surprising after all; understanding the past is crucial for understanding the present.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Perhaps because of this, it should come as no surprise that many people (trained historians and otherwise) have taken it upon themselves to write about historical topics as they relate to current issues. This has led to a number of individuals writing about history with questionable motives, research, or biases. One prime example of this problem is the works of far right commentator Dinesh D’Souza. A known provocateur, D’Souza has published a series of books on American history that can only be described as controversial. Some of D’Souza’s works include the End of Racism (1995), the Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and its Responsibility for 9/11 (2007), and the Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (2017). While it might be hard to infer from the titles of these books, D’Souza’s works are known for being vitriolic and have often been criticized for their questionable and oftentimes conspiratorial content.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Given D’Souza’s reputation, it would seem disheartening to think that these are the type of people writing on our national history. There is hope however, as historians pushing back against people like D’Souza have found a new platform to reach the public. Earlier this year, D’Souza had taken to Twitter to lash out against critics in response to his then-upcoming documentary, Death of a Nation: Can We Save America a Second Time. Throughout the work, Death of a Nation makes a number of extraordinary claims, including accusing the Democratic Party of widespread racist and fascist policies, and D’Souza uses the policies of the political parties during the 1960s to back up his claims. Up until this point, D’Souza had been aggressively defending his stance the modern Democratic Party had retained the same stances of its pre-1960s counterpart. This had attracted the attention of many academics, including Princeton University professor Kevin Kruse. This was of particular importance to Kruse, who identifies as a “Twitterstorian” or historian who engages on social media and particularly Twitter.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0  On July 2nd, D’Souza had responded to a tweet by Richard Jones, who had pointed out the political shift of the Democratic and Republican parties during the Civil Rights Era. 

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In his tweet, D’Souza rather aggressively demanded a list of “racist Dixiecrats who switched parties and became Republicans” to back up Jones’ tweet. Less than 24 hours after the tweet was posted, Kruse had a response ready. As a professional historian who has written extensively on the politics and social developments of the 20th Century, Kruse proceeded to break down D’Souza’s argument in what was nothing less than one of the most entertaining threads of the summer.  

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In his responding thread, Kruse not only provided a sample list of 30 politicians who switched parties during that time period (as D’Souza requested), but also provided analysis into the political factors that influenced their decisions. To back up his arguments, Kruse linked a number of primary sources in his tweets, including newspaper clippings and political advertisements. As a final thought, Kruse made a point of criticizing D’Souza’s focus on Southern politicians rather then ordinary Americans as a way of measuring the sociopolitical changes of the time. 

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 As one might imagine, Kruse’s comments have become somewhat of an internet sensation, and to date have been retweeted over 11 thousand times. Due to the attention garnered, D’Souza and Kruse have been engaged in an ongoing Twitter War over various topics of history since that initial exchange. During this time, Kruse’s tweets have not only provided readers with a huge amount of information on U.S. history, but also all of the entertainment value that one would hope for from twitter. 

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 This ongoing feud has not only have garnered attention from traditional media sources such as The New Republic, but also spurred on similar responses from other Twitterstorians such as U.S. historians Eric Rauchway of the University of California, Davis and Heather Cox Richardson of Boston College. D’Souza meanwhile has played to his base, and has either claimed that Kruse and others were part of some greater Left-Wing conspiracy, or more often has resorted to ad hominem attacks. Despite all of D’Souza’s efforts though, the Twitterstorians have kept the good fight going and have continued to debate him in the virtual stage.    

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 This brings me to an even larger point: What are the implications of using Twitter as a medium for historical discussion? First and foremost, this addresses a long-standing problem with historians on how to engage with the larger public. Truth be told, the metaphor of “the Ivory Tower” that many love to use didn’t come out of the blue; due to the nature of academia, it is true that historians have had a bit of divide with the public in the past, and many of the sources that we traditionally use (such as monographs and academic journals) can be hard to access for most people. Given that factor, it should come as no surprise that “popular historians” such as Dinesh D’Souza have cropped up. As was seen in D’Souza’s case, this type of historical work can sometimes mean playing into the expectations of their audiences rather than challenging them in any meaningful way. 

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 By comparison, Twitter has given historians a much more even playing field. Despite being limited to only 280 characters per tweet, twitter has proven to be a gathering place for academics to come about and discuss history in a meaningful way. Even when debating with D’Souza online, Kruse consistently composed his tweets in a scholarly fashion in order to make his points clear and concise. On top of that, he would often cite sources and provide links in order to not only strengthen his arguments, but also to provide readers with a way of seeing the sources themselves for the sake of personal growth. It is important to note that Twitter hasn’t just become a place for historians to react to polemicists and other personalities; more importantly, Twitter has become a place where both trained historians and members of the public can come together to examine topics in history in an open and scholarly way. Hashtags such as #twitterstorians and #ahahistorians have come include threads and posts ranging from professional discussions on current political trends to resources for students and amateur historians. While some threads are certainly the result of disputants, the majority of historians’ posts are done more for their own sake rather than for the sake of proving someone wrong on the internet. 

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 For all intents and purposes, the phenomenon of twitterstorians seems to be growing rapidly. As of right now, Kevin Kruse has over 173 thousand followers on twitter, and that number seems to be growing as time goes on. What then is the takeaway of this? As much as our culture seems to love to criticize the “Ivory Tower,” it certainly seems as though we’re all to happy to embrace it on a digital medium.  Perhaps this tells us that we aren’t as apathetic to history as some would like to believe. To paraphrase a quote of Kruse’s from an interview on the podcast the Way of Improvement Leads Home last March, it seems that there is certainly a hunger for this knowledge out there, and if we as historians don’t provide it, someone else will. Perhaps through means such as Twitter and other social media, we may be able to satisfy that hunger and bring a change in the way that the liberal arts are viewed! 


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