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Meet Pvt. Joseph French. Tweet. Tweet.

11/15/2013
That's me posing with the Joseph French diaries at the Bangor Museum and History Center. (Photo by Brian Schwarz, Bangor Daily News)

That’s me posing with the Joseph French diaries at the Bangor Museum and History Center. (Photo by Brian Schwarz, Bangor Daily News)

Back home in Minnesota I used to write the news.

Here in Maine I am the news…or at least my “follower” Pvt. Joseph French is the news.

Last fall, I started transcribing  the Civil War diary of Maine soldier Joseph French for the Bangor Museum and History Center. French was 22 when he enlisted in the Union Army in 1862. As a member of the 4th Maine Artillery, he made daily reports from the war-torn hinterlands of Virginia. It’s an amazing piece of work. He survived everything from the measles to Antietam, the bloodiest single day battle in U.S. history.

Transcription work is tedious and time-consuming, but French and his war-time exploits are fascinating. He writes in short, to-the-point sentences that discuss the weather, camp life and the horrors of war. This was too good to just finish and file away in some dusty museum cabinet. I wanted to  get the French diary in front of the public. But how?

Then it dawned on me.

Twitter.

What was French doing in 19th Century sort of way? He was Tweeting. His diary books are the same size as an iPhone. A pencil was his touch screen stylus. In fact, most of his daily entries are 140 characters or less – just like Twitter.

Yes, it’s perfect, I can use 21st Century technology to bring 19th Century American history to the world.

Last month, I opened a Twitter account for French. His portrait has been lost so I used an old Civil War cannon as his profile picture. I enter each day in his diary as a separate Twitter post. Then, through a computer application called TweetDeck, I send the posts out on the Internet once or twice a day.

Eventually the posts will be timed so each diary entry is sent out on the same day it was written 150 years later.

The first five months of the French diary are now on Twitter for everyone to read. He has 77 followers right now, including the American History Museum and the Harvard Library.

Two local news organizations have reported on the French Diary project. The Bangor Daily News was the first, with a great article from Brian Swartz. FOX News/ABC-TV Anchor Jared Pliner produced and aired a feature on the project during Veteran’s Day. Great timing.

Here’s the links to the news reports:

http://www.foxbangor.com/news/local-news/3551-transcribing-history-maine-civil-war-diaries.html

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/10/18/living/pvt-joseph-french-tweets-the-civil-war/

If you have a Twitter account you can read his diary, “follow” him and get daily posts @PvtJosephFrench.

If you have a computer and just want to read the diary go to: http://twitter.com/PvtJosephFrench. Use the space bar to scroll down to the first entry.

It’s funny being interviewed for the news…after so many years of being the one who conducts the interview. But it’s been a fascinating project and I hope French gets 100s of more “followers”

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2 Comments
  1. John permalink

    This is a great idea and I’m glad it is receiving some publicity.

  2. Ferr permalink

    Great job Nick; Mr. French’s notes are in competent hands.

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