Many Wellesley students use Twitter, often interacting with each other in the community known as “Wellesley Twitter.” But many of the College’s professors are also on Twitter. I checked out some of their accounts to learn more about how they use the platform and to find out whether there were any trends or commonalities between all the professors I followed.
I found that much like everyone else, the way professors use Twitter varies widely. Some, like history professor Brenna Greer (@BrennaWynn), log on rarely, but when they do, it is to share articles relevant to their field of study or promote their own work. Others, like History professor Quinn Slobodian (@zeithistoriker), seem to tweet constantly. Of course, there are also many professors who do not use Twitter at all, or at least do not have an account public enough for their students to find.
Regardless of the volume of content they post, most professors use Twitter to discuss current events or new publications relevant to their field of study. For example, Pat Giersch (@cpgiers), who specializes in Chinese history, mostly retweets news articles about China and offers his own perspective on recent developments. Similarly, Sarah Wall-Randell (@swallowsong), professor of Engish and medieval and renaissance studies, often shares news of upcoming lectures in the Boston area. Many professors, including Wall-Randell, Slobodian and Larry Rosenwald (@LarryRosenwald) of the English department, use Twitter to advertise their own recent happenings. Others, like Giersch and English professor Dan Chiasson (@dchiasso), include information about their recently published books in their Twitter bio, so the information is immediately accessible, regardless of how much they actually tweet.
By using Twitter to promote their own work in their fields, professors have the potential to reach a larger audience than those who will actually buy and read their books. While many professors only have a few hundred followers, some have amassed a small army. Chiasson’s followers number over 5,000, while Slobodian has over 15,000. Summarizing their opinions in 280 characters offers a summary of their unique angle of analysis and makes their views accessible to people outside of their academic circles and to the general public.
Professors don’t only use Twitter for professional purposes. Some, like Rosenwald and Chiasson, don’t even identify themselves as Wellesley professors in their bios. In addition to promoting their works, they also use the platform to share political opinions with more frankness than they often use in a classroom setting. Chiasson frequently uses Twitter to express his own political beliefs, often while responding to current events such as the congressional impeachment hearings or the Democratic debates. Rosenwald frequently speaks out against climate deniers and Trump supporters on his account.
Some professors are more involved with the wider Wellesley community through Twitter than others. At the beginning of the semester, Rosenwald used Twitter to share information about the campaign to get Wellesley College union workers a fair contract and to ask if anyone on campus was organizing for the Sept. 20 climate strike. Biology professor Jackie Matthes (@matthesecolab) often shares news about research conducted and papers published by her students. She also posts pictures of the scenery around campus. On May 13, Wall-Randell posted a picture of her seminar conducting an outdoor staged reading of a text they studied. Chiasson is well-known among Wellesley students for being very likely to follow us back if we follow him and has been heard praising Twitter during class.
Professors also interact with each other on Twitter. In April 2017, Chiasson famously got into an argument with sociology professor Thomas Cushman (who has since deleted his account) which ended with Chiasson replying, “whatev jackass,” a phrase that went viral among Wellesley students, with one student proclaiming she wanted to get the phrase tattooed on her.
But not all interactions are so charged (or legendary). Some simply display the juxtaposition of different styles of tweets among professors. Jackie Matthes and her husband Erich Matthes of the philosophy department (@ehatmat) are both on Twitter, and sometimes use the platform to interact with or mention each other. On Nov. 30, Erich Matthes tweeted, “‘We need to be very careful with these ornaments. Some of them are even older than Daddy.’ Says my wife to our son. She’s 23 days younger than I am…” Jackie Matthes liked this tweet.
And sometimes, professors’ Twitter accounts can just be a way for them to express interests that do not directly line up with their field of study. On Nov. 20, Slobodian used Twitter to profess his love for Brutalist architecture. On Nov. 26, Jackie Matthes shared an interview posted on the Wellesley website in which she and her husband answered questions about the environmental impact of plant-based meat. This spring, Rosenwald tweeted about Game of Thrones as he watched it. On Oct. 16, Slobodian tweeted, “Found my favorite 19c New England term for nouveau riche: codfish aristocracy.” Giersch quote tweeted to say, “Love the term!” Additionally, some professors even post memes. On Oct. 15, Slobodian tweeted two versions of the sign bunny meme, showing a cartoon rabbit holding signs saying “NEOLIBERALISM IS NOT A THEORY OF MARKETS” and “NEOLIBERALISM IS A THEORY OF STATE DESIGN.”
It is clear that professors use Twitter for a multitude of different purposes. Twitter can be a useful tool to spread the word about their scholarly research, upcoming lectures and analysis of current events. They can discuss politics in more opinionated terms than they might be able to use at work. And sometimes, they use it to talk about something unimportant they’re interested in, just like younger people do. For students, professors’ Twitter accounts can show us a different side of them than what we usually get in class, offering a glimpse into their everyday lives, if they are willing to share it.