‘It can get a little crazy sometimes’: N.S. history buffs summing up 400 years, in tweets

Growing up in Charlottetown, Leo Deveau was intrigued by the Confederation Centre of the Arts, but not for its programming.

Rather, the name of the centre is what piqued his interest.

“What was Confederation from a child’s perspective and what was that all about, this country we call Canada?” said Deveau, who now lives in Halifax.

He’s been hooked on history ever since.

Today, he shares that passion through his Twitter feed, 400years, which looks at moments in Nova Scotia’s history and are posted on the anniversaries of when they happened.

The Twitter page is an offshoot of a book he wrote called 400 Years in 365 Days: A Day by Day Calendar of Nova Scotia History. While the Twitter page was launched to coincide with the book’s release, Deveau isn’t slowing down as he continues to gather new information.

Deveau said he spends a few hours each week doing research, which comes from reading books, going to museums and the provincial archives, as well as the archives at different universities.

“It becomes almost a daily reflection and connection, and then a note to follow this or get in touch with so and so about getting more information,” he said.

Leo Deveau started his 400years Twitter account to coincide with the publication of the book, but more than a year later, he’s still sharing facts about Nova Scotia’s history. (CBC)

“I don’t know what you might call it, it’s not obsessive compulsive, but it can get a little crazy sometimes.”

One of the things Deveau likes about the Twitter feed is the reach it has and its ability to connect with people from all over the world.

Deveau isn’t alone on Twitter for using the platform to educate people about Nova Scotia’s history. Other accounts include the Beaton Institute, which is the archives at Cape Breton University. Its Twitter account offers information about Cape Breton’s “economic, political, and culture history.”

The Nova Scotia Archives tweets regularly about the province’s history.

Old Nova Scotia, an account dedicated to sharing information from old Nova Scotia newspapers ran for about 3½ years and ceased in January 2015. That account was run by now-CBC reporter Frances Willick.

And then there’s Small History NS, which tweets information about life in small-town Nova Scotia between 1880 and 1910 as reported by newspapers.

That feed is the work of historian Sara Spike.

When she was working on her PhD, much of her research involved looking at rural and community newspapers. Some of the information gathered didn’t fit with her studies, but she wanted to share it anyway.

“It’s not even news, you know, someone lost their geese or someone was visiting and having tea with someone, or the first mayflowers found in some tiny community in the Annapolis Valley gets put on the front page of the newspapers,” said Spike, who grew up on the Eastern Shore in Jeddore Oyster Pond.

“Those are not the kinds of things that are in the newspaper today, but those are the things on social media today.”

‘It’s really motivating’

Spike started the account 4½ years ago and she is considering expanding the time span her site currently covers.

She said historians often spend considerable time by themselves doing research before they’re ready to share the finished product, which can often take years.

Social media platforms such as Twitter are a way for historians to share their findings with a larger audience.

“To be able to engage with the public and share some of my research and the things I was thinking about and excited about along the way, it’s really motivating,” said Spike. “It’s really nice to see how much people are interested in rural history and this kind of material.”

Bringing light to Nova Scotia’s rural history

She said her Twitter account helps share a side of Nova Scotia history that doesn’t get much attention.

“I think that rural history in particular is not very well known,” she said.

“A lot of the big stories and events we tend to know about the past are in urban places or they’re big, dramatic events, so these small-scale, very personal, very intimate daily details about the past in these small communities are not something that we see very often in published histories.”

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