History Club has passed 100,000 followers on Clubhouse! This exciting news, just shy of our 1-year anniversary, gives me a chance to look back at the first year of History Club as well as talk about where we’re headed.
I joined Clubhouse on August 12, 2020. At the time, the last thing I thought I needed was another social media account. But, I was deep into researching how history gets communicated on the Web (the subject of my forthcoming book) and I felt that having a glimpse into where social media was headed might be good for book’s conclusion. I’d only vaguely heard of Clubhouse through a Taylor Lorenz article.
Clubhouse had only a few thousand users at the time. (I was user number 7,086.) Once I joined, I immediately got sucked in. It felt like a mix between an Aspen Ideas Festival and a big high school. Really smart people were leading really smart conversations about politics, technology, the pandemic, the election, leadership, cooking, health & wellness, e-commerce, the future of government and how to reinvigorate democracy. It felt fresh. It felt smart. And because it was ephemeral with no text, images or URL, it was remarkably candid. People had honest disagreements with each other without fearing their opinions would be weaponized as memes or viral tweets. In one room, a woman spoke about how fearful she was of the police, while another woman spoke about how fearful she was of living without the police. It felt like the type of dialogue America and the world needed at precisely the right time.
Many of the conversations invoked history. Yet, no historians were a part of them, and none of the speakers seemed to have substantive historical knowledge. People spoke with a lot of conviction about the past, yet they did not have a lot of evidence to back up their claims. So, I decided there should be a space on Clubhouse that lent some historical expertise to these pressing societal questions. Two weeks after joining the app, I applied to create a History Club. (At that time, clubs were created via applications and had to be individually approved.) In late August, we got the go-ahead.
Our first event occurred on August 27, 2020 and was titled, “Secrets from the Library of Congress.” A few dozen people joined me as I talked for two hours about the hidden gems I’d seen and uncovered during my seven years working at the Library of Congress, as well as the underground tunnels and hidden stairwells throughout the Capitol complex. We had so much fun. One guy cried, he was so excited. (It turned out he was a big philanthropic supporter of libraries.) It felt… magical. In the midst of the pandemic and divisive politics, such a warm community of people felt like a gift.
The following week we did a room on the future of museums in a digital and Covid-19 world. We followed that with a room on histories of prior misinformation campaigns, including the 1864 miscegenation hoax. On Rosh Ha’shanah, we held a room where people from diverse backgrounds and heritages shared their new year’s traditions. In October, we hosted a room on the past, present and future of journalism with reporters from NPR, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Al Jazeera, Cheddar and a past president of the National Press Club. We hosted a conversation two days after the Presidential election. We held an event about rioting in America after January 6th. In February, we had our largest room to-date, as more 10,000 attendees discussed African Americans during the Civil War with author Ty Seidule. In March, our second-largest room occurred on U.S.-China relations featuring journalist Josh Rogin and Tianxia (天下) Club co-founder Roger Huang. As part of an education conference on Clubhouse, we hosted a room about Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and we recently held a room about cryptocurrencies and history.
Where do we go from here? History Club has been on break the past few weeks as I complete my book manuscript. Once we return, we have more than 100 conversation topics submitted by History Club participants, including the women’s rights movement, the Constitution, the Islamic world, Puerto Rico, romanticism, Reconstruction, the American presidency, and the Cold War. (Anyone can submit topic suggestions.) As my book becomes a reality, we’ll also host events on topics in the book: social media, media literacy, the role and influence of Wikipedia, the future of history education, and whether all future history lessons will be curated by machines.
We’ve also had requests from our European friends to host events at different times of day, the current time of Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET emerging out of the early days of Clubhouse when most users were on the West Coast. And we’ve had requests for more show recordings and podcasts. That all requires more time and resources, so please do support the club financially if you’re able.
Throughout this journey, the best part of History Club has been YOU, the people who participate week-after-week via the newsletter, Clubhouse, Twitter or otherwise. In one year, we’ve not had one divisive or derisive conversation in the club. We’ve spoken respectfully, yet passionately, about sensitive issues. We’ve debated, but never disrespected. We’ve proven that social media does not have to be toxic or corrosive in order to be effective. To the 100,000 of you who have made the first year special, I say “Thank you!” Let’s make year two even better.
Have a great week.
History Club meets Thursdays at 10 pm ET exclusively on Clubhouse. Want to participate? Suggest a topic for a future conversation.