A MODERN Languages lecturer’s social media project about a key event in German history has achieved recognition in Germany, including through the German government’s Ministry for Culture, the German Ministry of the Interior, and German
Dr Richard Millington is the Programme Leader for German, and is a specialist in East German history. Sunday, June 17, 2018, marked the 65th anniversary of the first uprising
in the Eastern Bloc. On June 17, 1953, up to one million East Germans demonstrated for the removal of the ruling communist government, free elections, better living conditions and the reunification of Germany. Only the intervention of Soviet tanks and troops saved the East German regime from disaster.
To mark the anniversary, Dr Richard Millington brought the East German uprising to life in the form of a bilingual (German and English) Twitter project, which saw seven fictional East Germans tweeting ‘live’ from the uprising, transporting
followers back to 1953. Throughout the day, the characters tweeted what they were
seeing and hearing on the streets of East Berlin, Dresden, Magdeburg, Halle, Leipzig and Görlitz. They described being caught up in the demonstrations, chanting antigovernment
slogans, seeing regime buildings being stormed and finally being driven from the streets by the might of the Soviet army.
Dr Millington said: “I have done years of primary and secondary research on this event in East German history, including interviews with people who took part. To mark
this significant anniversary, I wanted to bring the history of the events to life in a publicly accessible and engaging way. Twitter was ideal for this. When major events or incidents happen, such as the Arab Spring or the Paris terror attacks, one of the
first things people do is report what they are experiencing on social media. I thought about the East German uprising and wondered – what if social media had existed back
then? As a historian, I kept things as accurate as possible; the content of the tweets, the times, places and incidents, as well as the feelings, emotions and opinions expressed.
The stories, opinions and thoughts of the characters were based on my oral history interviews with 20 eyewitnesses to the uprising, so everything was historically accurate.”
Dr Millington’s project was a great success. It was followed by over 1,000 people and was promoted by the German government’s Ministry for Culture, as well as the German
Ministry of the Interior. The German TV channels Deutsche Welle and ZDF also shared the tweets, and the German delegation to NATO also posted about the project. The German Federal Archive’s memorial site for German Freedom Movements at Castle Rastatt in Germany also screened the project live, while providing visitors with sources and documents from 1953.
Feedback from the general public that Dr Millington has received has also been overwhelmingly positive: https://17juni1953live.wordpress.com/feedback
“I am very familiar with the Uprising but by using eyewitness accounts through different
characters, in different places, over a ‘real’ time period, the whole event was brought to life.”
“It’s a brilliant concept and one which should be used by educational institutions to bring other historical events to all people.”
“At a time when we seem to be ignoring the lessons of history once again, and when the power of social media appears to be all conquering, it could well be a very important tool
for the right reasons. Thank you.”
In 2014, Dr Millington published a book on his research into the uprising: State, Society and Memories of the Uprising of 17 June 1953 in the GDR. He also has an article about the events in East Germany — ‘Day of Dissent in the DDR’ — in the July 2018 edition of
the popular history magazine History Today.
In support of the project, Dr Millington has worked with the historical media company 8000ft Media, including to produce a promotional video, which follows the story of one of the characters from the project (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em7_aOHZDpw).
The project can still be found on Twitter @17juni1953live, with the supporting website
Crowds looking at Soviet tanks on the streets of Magdeburg on June 17, 1953. http://www.17juni1953live.wordpress.com.