Even before Mandela’s death scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals contemplated his legacy. Some considered how the Madiba was constructed and what ends it might serve. Others debated whether people would remember Mandela’s activism, his imprisonment, or his efforts to reconcile Post-Apartheid South Africa. Which Mandela resonated with people; the militant, the martyr, or the statesman? I am proposing a digital history project that will analyze memories of Mandela on the twittersphere, which will provide insight into which aspects of Mandela’s legacy are more prominent in the public’s memory. Twitter was an important part of the public’s reaction Nelson Mandela’s death. Around the world people took to the social media platform to express their grief, give their thanks, and remember. The archive created by these tweets is an important source because it will reflect immediate reactions. Thus, accessing tweets from the period after his passing to his funeral is a crucial element to understanding how the global community contributed to the creation of an enduring Mandela legacy.
If granted access all tweets collected will be analyzed within the framework of popular digital history and heritage. A noted problem with the worldwide recognition of Madiba iconography is the appropriation of his name and image to promote various causes, projects, or products. This endeavor (like all good history projects) will be driven by archival evidence, but the analytical priorities will be centered on popular memory, public discourse, and recognition of digitally born material as archive. The research produced will reflect these priorities.
The research will be conducted by me, J. M. Bradshaw (@bradsh41). I am a PhD candidate at Michigan State University’s top ranked African History program. I will be the primary user, querying, manipulating and analyzing the data sets. This research will be conducted under the supervision of Dr. Peter Alegi (@za_prof1), a scholar of contemporary South African History and ardent supporter of digital humanities projects. MSU’s Matrix Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences (@matrix_MSU) will provide the required technology and facilities. I am committed to creating the kind of open and accessible product described in the data grants application guidelines.
The project has already begun in a limited fashion. I am currently using tweetarchivist to querry tweets that mention the words “Madiba” or “RIP Mandela”. Access through the tweetachivist site and api is convenient and useful. Nevertheless, a meaningful and accurate analysis requires access to tweets blogged before I began archiving. The ability to access past tweets through multiple queries is also an essential element of this project that is currently missing. Please give this proposal your most sincere consideration. Scholars from a variety of fields have already begun to use twitter data in remarkable ways. This project presents an opportunity to explore the potential for twitter’s role in popular memory and heritage through the lens of the most important political figure of our time.