We are all stiff, bad-tempered and ill fed. Our morale is getting worse—not a good omen."

A day before scaling Mount Everest, in 1953, this is what was going through the minds of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Today, thanks to Twitter, we’d know that.

These days, people are compulsive sharers and can’t stop tweeting—whether they’re talking about their dinner, or their plane’s forced landing on a river, as Twitter users Jim Hanrahan (@manolantern), Janis Krums (@jkrums) and others did, in January 2009.

What if Twitter had been around for longer though? How do you sum up some of the world’s most amazing moments in just 140 characters? Live-tweet them, of course!

The latest example of “historical live tweeting", from www.hstry.org, is the live-tweeting of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Mount Everest. The account, which started tweeting from 12 April 1953, has been posting regular updates and will continue to do so until 29 May 1953, giving minute-to-minute updates of the ascent.

This is part of a recent trend of reliving historical events through Twitter, which has been used for everything from the Cold War to the American Civil War. Hstry.org, which is running the Everest account, also plans to tweet other historical events, such as an account of Gandhi’s life, and reliving World War I, from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918, across four years

The Everest account is particularly interesting—users following @Everest1953 get an insider’s view of the ascent, which strongly humanizes the story, making it easier to relate to what you are reading.

Some of the updates can place you in the minds of Hillary and Norgay, such as the tweet about being stiff and ill fed. Others feed into the somewhat self obsessed behaviour of the typical Twitter user, such as a post where the text reads: “About time I trim my beard, ey?" accompanied by a picture of Hillary looking intently into the camera with a scruffy, bushy beard.

The account uses a lot of pictures from the climb, and leans heavily on the historical record, but by breaking up the narrative in this manner, it’s able to build suspense for what is essentially a foregone conclusion.

It also tells us that Norgay dreamt of yaks, and furry animals are always popular on Twitter: “Tenzing told me he dreamt of yaks and white horses and a far-off mountain," Hillary tweeted.

Thomas Ketchell, who founded hstry.org along with Steven Chiu, said by email that the goal is to inspire young people to learn about history, in a way that the classroom does not anymore.

“With the help of these social media services we can create the next generation of educational platforms which inspire, engage and most importantly educate. Ultimately we want to bring history to life and speak to the next generation in a language that they can understand and will want to engage with."

In October, the duo will be tackling the life of Gandhi, starting from his birth on 2 October 1869. Ketchell says, “We are actually in the process of putting together sources and reaching out to organizations in India who can help us create the timeline. We will mainly be covering the big events from his life and getting people to share their personal stories and memories of Gandhi."

Earlier attempts, such as the live-tweeting of the Titanic’s voyage, were similarly gripping. It starts off cheerfully, detailing everything from the ship’s technical prowess to the dinner menu—until things suddenly turn grim.

The account (@titanicrealtime) was created by The History Press, UK, and tweets were tagged #captain, #firstclass, #crew, to give you different perspectives about the journey.

The last tweet for the account is from an officer, and reads: “They say there are around 700 of us—that adds up to around 1,500 lives lost..." Another earlier tweet is distressing; marked #bandmaster, it reads: “No questions, I have received an order to play, and play we will." Just a little earlier, a #firstclass tweet read: “Sitting down to what I am sure will be a lovely dinner with friends. Everyone is dressed spectacularly."

The American Civil War was also given this treatment by The Washington Post—@civilwarwp comprised tweets from historical records, using lines from journals, letters, records and newspaper articles. The tweets are often poignant reminders of the confusion of war—like this one near the end of the war, for example: “DC diarist Horatio Taft: ‘a great Battle was fought yesterday in Tennessee betwen Rosecrantz & Joe Johnson, result not known’."

These accounts all take advantage of Twitter as a medium; by breaking up long historical narratives into easy-to-absorb chunks, it turns statistics into stories, humanizing history. That was the stated goal of British historian Alwyn Collinson, who created the @RealTimeWWII account, which started in August 2011, with the start of World War II and the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Collinson has been tweeting events of the war as recorded in history, on each date and time. That project will take until August 2017 to finish.

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