Teaching Early American History Through Social Media Posts

Teaching Early American History Through Social Media Posts

April 8, 20192 min read

Abigail Adams often complained that her husband, John, did not write her enough. When he did write, his letters were too short and didn’t adequately convey his sentiments. “I have to acknowledge the Recept of a very few lines dated the 12 of April,” Abigail reported to John in 1776, but “you make no mention of the whole sheets I have wrote to you,” she chided him.

Michelle Orihel, associate professor of history at Southern Utah University, and specialist in early American culture, likes to use the letters of John and Abigail Adams as an example in class: 

"This complaint resonated with my students in Gender in Early American History. A few of my students designed a meme to capture Abigail’s protest. The meme depicted a skeleton with folded arms sitting at a desk. It was captioned: 'Me waiting for your letters.' One simple image and a few words translated Abigail’s words into a contemporary media form."

Orihel had asked students to compose a series of Facebook posts or tweets for an assignment in which they “translated” eighteenth-century correspondence into contemporary social media.

"Far ahead of me on social media trends, my students surpassed my instructions and expectations. Their enthusiasm illustrated to me the possibilities of engaging them in the world of eighteenth-century letters through their own use of social media. Letters mattered in the eighteenth century in the same way that the explosion of new media forms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, memes, gifs, and Instagram have reshaped communication and politics in our own time—yet twenty-first-century students sometimes struggle to relate to the old-fashioned medium of letters."

Dr. Orihel’s research focuses on early American culture, opposition politics, gender history in the United States, and history lessons in pop culture. She is familiar with the media and available for an interview. Simply visit her profile.

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  • Michelle Orihel
    Michelle Orihel Associate Professor of History

    Specializing in history lessons in pop culture, gender history in the United States, and the English revolution

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