Sara Spike started the Small History NS Twitter account as a distraction. The historian from the Eastern Shore was working on her dissertation about cultural history in rural Nova Scotia in the 19th century, using community newspapers from around the province as sources.
She’d find funny tidbits of information she’d send to friends and other historians. In 2014, she started sharing the tidbits online. “For academic historians, we often see very big picture, but this is a way to engage publically on a small scale and get people interested in the small details of life in these communities,” says Spike. She taught at Carleton and is now the lead on the Eastern Shore Islands Heritage Research Project.
Spike scans newspapers on microfilm at the Nova Scotia Archives and collects the information from the papers’ community notes columns. These columns are where residents of small communities shared the news of visits from relatives, crops, events, and daily life. “Very occasionally I’m summarizing stories into 140 characters, but mostly it’s these little bits that were written actually as they were,” she says. “The tweets are right on the page.”
Spike says she enjoys the seasonality of the news in rural communities. People planted crops in the spring, worked in the summer, and harvested in the fall. Ships from communities around the province left for fishing banks for regular catches. Workers cleared the roads of ice and roads of snow in the winter. Life ran in cycles.
“To see people engaged in these same activities across the province is really compelling and interesting to think about the way in which life used to be organized more seasonally than it is now,” Spike says. “There is a kind of connection to the environment that is relevant and integral to everyone’s experience of living in rural Nova Scotia.”
She also documents the social lives of rural residents: picnics, fundraising events, concerts, festivals, and strawberry socials. And there are lots of events featuring pie. “The sense of the social life in these communities is really apparent and something people respond to,” Spike says. “You don’t think of [rural communities] as having really active social worlds.”
The tweets also reflect social movements. Temperance halls were opening and communities were seeing religious revivals. Spike’s Tweets include details on Sunday school and Bible meetings. She also tosses in “amazing amateur poetry” once in a while.
The account offers an unvarnished look at rural Nova Scotia’s social history. “It’s not fancy,” she says. “It doesn’t aspire to be anything than what it already is. I think I just want to keep it going. We don’t know what twitter is going to become. There’s something I like about the idea of it just staying as it is and being this archive of rural life.”