BUENOS AIRES–In 1810, Argentina’s founding fathers decided to overthrow the colonial viceroy who oversaw their country and declare independence from Spain. One week ago those events were re-enacted by their protagonists, in real time, on Twitter.
Argentina’s revolution began on May 18, 1810, when news arrived from Europe that French troops had overcome the last Spanish resistance and achieved total domination of Spain. Over the week that ended on May 25–La Semana de Mayo or, the Week of May–Argentine notables held a series of meetings and decided that without a government to declare fealty to, they might as well be free. The modern recreation of the revolution was the brainchild of Máximo Gibelli, creative director of MG54, a digital design and marketing agency in the Buenos Aires suburb of San Isidro, and was put together with historian Daniel Balmaceda. And while it’s not the first “live tweet” of a historic event, it uses its historical characters in innovative ways.
“The idea was to retell history in a different way. Far from trying to replace a book, we aimed to create another tool, keeping in mind that Twitter is part of our daily lives,” said Gibelli, 34. Gibelli says that while the project attracted the youthful followers one would expect from Twitter, it attracted fair a share of teachers as well.
Through more than 350 tweets spread over the Week of May, Twitter accounts in the names of 19 historical personalities–including the viceroy, three of his allies, and 15 independence-minded men and women–gave the story of Argentine independence in real time. The project’s website described the characters, while the story unfolded at the Twitter hashtag #Mayo1810. Begun almost as a game two months before, the retelling achieved wide popularity. During the live tweet, the 19 historical accounts picked up a total of more than 50,000 followers (some were duplicates between characters).
The #Mayo1810 story is not the first historical “live tweet.” Gibelli was inspired in part by the fantastic success of @RealTimeWWII, a WWII retelling launched in August by recent Oxford University history graduate Alwyn Collinson that has more than 240,000 followers. And the Civil War, Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911 polar expedition, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the sinking of the Titanic are all being retold.
But the retelling of the Argentine revolution took the historic live tweet concept a step forward by creating an ensemble of characters who each speak in their own voices from their own Twitter accounts. Gibelli says that this is why the historian Balmaceda was brought into the project. “He helped us understand what happened that week in greater depth, but most of all he helped us the understand each founding father’s personality, temperment, and in some cases their vices,” he said.
Besides developing their unique characters, the protagonists also use the peculiarities of Twitter-speak, including the common multiple exclamation points and abbreviations. The effect is one of a lively–and contemporary–argument. As one point, Viceroy Cisneros claims, “there’s no human being in the River Plate who can beat me at cards.” Later, Domingo Matheu says, “No way!! Cisneros as President of the junta WTF??!!”
“For me, the project is a way to bring the people closer to history,” Balmaceda said.
This willingness to re-enact private conversations among the famous works well in Argentina, where newspapers regularly relate word-by-word conversations between the President and her advisors as told by anonymous officals. Similarly, another Argentine historical live tweeting project, Proyecto Walsh, used the imagined voice of journalist Rodolfo Walsh, to recreate his investigation into a 1956 massacre committed by one of the country’s military dictatorships. Walsh was murdered by another dictatorship in 1977.