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The Shapes of Digital Memory: Remembering Sesame Street Twitter (SHAPES)

Interdisciplinary research group working on collaborative digital memory project with support from Uses of the Past

Project description
We are an interdisciplinary research group of four (an information specialist, a student assistant from History, a PhD student from Spanish and Latin American Studies, and an Associate Professor from History), who for the past year and a half has been working on a small, collaborative digital memory project. Our project investigates how the history of the American children's television program Sesame Street has been debated and remembered on Twitter, including how the platform's technical setup has co-shaped these remembrance practices. The project combines theories from memory studies with digital methods and strong domain expertise relating to Sesame Street's 50-year long history. Our group brings together varying degrees of coding skills, domain knowledge, and theoretical insight into memory studies.

The project has had three aims: 1) we wanted to experiment with large scale analysis of data in relation to memory studies; 2) we wanted to keep our analysis so simple and well documented that it could be reproduced by researchers with minimal coding skills (our group's motto has been 'keep it simple'); 3) we wanted to produce results that were relevant to the excising research in memory studies that is almost always produced using traditional close reading.

So far, we have produced full drafts of two articles. The first uses a mixture of close and distant reading to explore how Sesame Street's history was remembered on Twitter on two occasions in 2015 and 2019. This article has provided interesting both methodological and empirical results that are in direct conversation with existing literature within memory studies and childhood nostalgia. The second is a lesson for the Programming Historian, which will help historians and memory studies scholars reproduce our approach, which combines close and distant reading of tweets harvested with Twitter's API.


  • Alexander Thygesen, Spanish and Latin American Studies, Aarhus University
  • Helle Strandgaard Jensen, History and Classical Studies, Aarhus University
  • Josephine Møller Jensen, History and Classical Studies, Aarhus University
  • Max Odsbjerg Pedersen, Aarhus University Library and the Danish Royal Library.

Support from Uses of the Past
The project has received funding from Uses of the Past for a subscription to Twitter's premioum API and a writing workshop. Project leader Helle Strandgaard Jensen explained the relevance of these activities for the project as follow:

The activities funded by Uses of the Pasts have been invaluable for the project. Without the subscription to Twitter’s premium API, we would not have been able to collect our data. There is now a free API, developed for academics in mid-2021, after our data collection took place, but we can use our experience with the Premium API to use the free Academic API for future projects, giving us a head start compared to other groups working on twitter data. The writing retreat was vital for the co-writing process, as the use of close and distant reading for the same analysis is highly experimental in our case. The two days we got together thus meant that we could try out things in practice and improve our research questions together.