So this past weekend, I attended THATCamp (The Humanities And Technology) New England at Boston University. When I signed up for THATCamp back in January, I had little to no idea what digital humanities. I had signed up for a course on it, it sounded pretty cool, and I figured by the time May 30th rolled around I would have a better idea of what this buzzword meant.
Well, about the week before May 30th, I realized that while I know had a better idea of what digital humanities was, I had no idea what THATCamp was going to be like. I’ve only been to one academic conference before, and that was at UMass, where I could at least pop in as a student and not feel obliged to contribute to anything. I was worried I was going to be WAY over my head.
What I loved about THATCamp was the unconference style. I walked in on the first day and grabbed a blank schedule, filling it in as I listened to different proposals of topics, everything from cross-campus projects to syllabi to sustainability. There were a few things set in stone, of course – mostly workshops on various DH tools – but for the most part, people brought up the ideas that they were concerned with (and hoping other people were concerned about these issues too!) It tailored the event directly to the people attending.
One thing that quelled my fear of being lost was that your background wasn’t important. I recognized a lot of the participants from Twitter, especially notable academics or alt-acs that I didn’t necessarily know, but other people recognized and respected as such. But for the most part, affiliations were not included on name tags, and veteran/novice status didn’t make a difference. (However, most people were up-front about which one they were.) If you had something to contribute to the conversation, then you could contribute. It made someone like me, an undergrad with little to no experience, really feel comfortable in an environment with seasoned professionals.
I learned SO much – a lot of it being over my head at this point. I participated in sessions about teaching DH to undergrads and graduate students, sustainability of DH projects, Wikipedia & Hacktivism, GLAMs and DH, and introduction to MediaKron. But my tailored THATCamp experience was just one of several combinations one could’ve had this past weekend.
I also loved how active Twitter was – while I couldn’t be in two places at once, I could almost pretend I was by following what people were talking about. I was bewildered by the ability to maintain a conversation when half the room had computers or smartphones right at their fingertips. But it happened – it even made the conversation better as people from outside the conference started contributing.
I honestly have nothing bad to say about THATCamp – it quelled any fears I had about DH. The more I tried to read on my own, the more confusing and distressing the ideas became – THATCamp made it simple WITHOUT the structure so often present in academia. DH is about creativity and spontaneity and devotion – everyone I interacted with (physical and virtually) at THATCamp embodied that spirit.