Retweeting History

UT professor H.W. Brands is putting a modern twist on American history—in 140 characters or less.


Historian H.W. Brands is best known for his thorough, comprehensive tomes on vast topics like U.S. foreign policy and the Cold War. But now he’s taken to Twitter (@hwbrands) to chronicle North American history through haiku.

The project started with a challenge from a student. In a lecture a few years ago, Brands was telling his class that there are other ways to write history aside from long-form research papers—you could even write history in haiku, he said. “Well, Professor Brands, have you ever written history in haiku?” replied a student. He hadn’t, but he had to admit it was a good idea. And so “History in Haiku: The American Saga 17 Syllables at a Time” was born.

Brands sent out his first history in haiku tweet in 2009. Moving forward in chronological order, he has recounted North American history from 15,000 B.C. to Lewis and Clark and the Civil War. For some events, he can span 10,000 years in two haiku, while a three-day Civil War battle may take him up to 15 tweets.

Five years into the project and with some 2,000 followers, Brands is now tweeting about the late 19th century and has no plans to stop until he reaches the present day.

“Before I get there maybe people will stop using Twitter and move on to some other medium,” he laughs. But while Twitter’s future may be uncertain, haiku are timeless. Check out five of our favorites:

Walking from Asia
A hunter, a tribe, a clan

Into a new world.

(First arrivals, c. 15,000 BC)

The white ships appear
The bearded ones come ashore
Who the hell are they?

(Columbus, 1492)


Taunts and ice balls fly
Nervous soldiers flinch and fire
Blood moon, scarlet snow

(Boston Massacre, 1770) 


A Western empire
Suddenly offered for sale

(Louisiana Purchase, 1803)


Texas now beckons
Take me! she says, lest helpless
I seek another.

(The Texas republic applies for admission to the Union, early 1840s) 

Watch a Longhorn Network Alcalde show segment on Brands’ Twitter project below:

Illustration by Jonathan Bartlett.


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