Educational technology tips for teachers, librarians and schools.

The Perfect History Lesson Tool

The Perfect History Lesson Tool

By Jessica Sanders

Philip Gibson is writing history in a way that it’s never been written before. By collecting tweets, he puts history in a format that your students are familiar with—a twitter stream. In his books, called Hashtag Histories, he covers a variety of topics from World War II to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

We talked with Gibson about why he’s retelling history in this format and how he sees it helping teachers like you. Make your next history lesson one your students won’t soon forget.

Q: What gave you this idea? 

A: During the recent Libyan Civil War, I was following the dramatic, unfolding events closely. However, it was difficult to find up to date information on the regular media, so I turned to social media sites such as Twitter where I could receive minute-by-minute updates on the unfolding conflict. Receiving updates of unfolding events in that format was very much like watching the situation developing in real time reported.

While a great deal of the social media posts were repetitious or inaccurate, as is often the case with sites like Twitter, it was clear that if all the information could be cross-checked and the dross and repetition edited out, what would remain would be an engaging, accurate and detailed account of the real events. It would be an account with more detail, accuracy and real-time immediacy than any produced by the more conventional media.

The result was an extremely readable and informative account of the main events.

So I set about constructing a day-by-day account of the final days of Hitler’s Third Reich as if the participants in World War II had been able to post their thoughts and actions in real time through social media sites. The result was an extremely readable and informative account of the main events, which was very well received by members of a history discussion site of which I am an active member.

When the day-by-day account of Hitler’s last days was completed, I was encouraged to compile the daily account into book form and publish it under the name #Berlin45: The Final Days of the Third Reich.

hashtag histories

Excerpt from “#Berlin 45 The Final Days of Hitler’s Third Reich”

Q: Do you think it’s a better way to present history to children? Why?

A: Not a better way perhaps, but another very good way. The books would certainly be a valuable extra item in a teacher’s toolbox and, being presented in a social media format, students may well see the content as modern and appropriate for their generation.

There are many ways to exploit the books in the classroom. The basic way is to assign students (individually or in groups) the parts of the characters in the books and have them read aloud the postings of the characters, as one would do in a play reading.

Because each post is very brief as per Twitter, no student is unduly stretched and the action and events move along at a rapid, engaging pace. At key points in the reading the teacher can pause the class for guided discussion about the events so far.

Additionally, the books offer teachers many opportunities for ‘extension’ activities. For example, students could be encouraged to develop their own social media/Twitter versions of the historical topics they are currently studying.

Q: Have you worked with any educators to incorporate this into their curriculum?

A: It is my earnest hope that schools would be the ultimate destination for these books. However, I have no idea how to go about achieving this. Maybe you or your readers might have some ideas. I am very open to suggestions as I would love to get these books into the hands of teachers and students. I think students would respond very well to them and would learn a great deal. Each book is packed with interesting historical facts and has been thoroughly researched and fact-checked.

Each book is packed with interesting historical facts and has been thoroughly researched and fact-checked.

Q: Have you sold a lot of your books?

A: Sales have not been stellar so far. Not being traditionally published, it is hard to get the books noticed. However, I have sold over a thousand copies since publishing the first in the series last year.

Q: How many of these books exist in total? I noticed quite a few of them on Amazon.

A: So far, I have published 5 Hashtag Histories books and am currently doing the research for a sixth book. Each book has an eBook version and a paperback version.

The books so far are:

  • #Berlin45: The Final Days of Hitler’s Third Reich
  • #Tokyo45: The Final Days of the War in the Pacific
  • #Havana62: The Cuban Missile Crisis – To the Brink of Nuclear Apocalypse
  • #Houston69: Apollo 11 – When Men Walked on the Moon
  • #Houston70: The Miracle Journey of Apollo 13

Find Gibson’s books on his Amazon page or contact him for more information at

Would you use Gibson’s books in your history lesson or curriculum? Tell us in the comments!

Learn more about your fundraising Read-A-Thon at Learn2Earn.

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