Hello, poor neglected blog! Long time no see. I've just spent the weekend at THATCamp 2009, in a whirl of project demonstrations, conversation about the present and future of the digital humanities, comparisons of favorite tools, and massive amounts of Twittering. It was the most fun I've had at a conference in I don't know how long.

You can get a sense of individual sessions and participants at the main site and at the THATCamp wiki, so instead of trying to summarize every session I'll refer you there and to the tweet archive. Instead, I hereby submit my top 10 reasons why THATCamp beats the pants off most academic conferences I've attended:

10. Wifi. Everywhere. Always available. (I'm looking at YOU, MLA. Actually, a bunch of us were looking at you.)
9. Free registration. I didn't miss having to lug around a giant program and a big ugly tote bag full of vendor-logo-emblazoned tchotchkes. (And now I'm looking at YOU, ACRL. And you too, ALA.)
8. Casual, suit-free dress code. Plus, commemorative t-shirts.
7. No shortage of dongles for anyone who wanted get up and project something from their laptop.
6. Not only was everyone working on really cool projects, the whole
gathering had a "Let's share how we built our projects and maybe find some new people to collaborate with" ethos
(as opposed to "My project is a jealously guarded secret until it's
accepted in a major journal and/or I read a snippet of it to an
5. The complete absence of "But why didn't you just talk about MY
pet topic? [10 minutes of rambling about the questioner's pet topic
follow]" questions.
4. The certainty that one could say "You know that xkcd with the virus that reads people's YouTube comments back to them…?" and be greeted with nods of recognition.
3. Lots of participants were in interesting hybrid positions somewhere at the junctures of academia, IT, librarianship, museum studies, art, and a bunch of other fields, or had spent their careers shifting from one area to another.
2. Participation. Lots and lots of participation. Self-organization by the low-tech but efficient means of a big roll of paper and some markers. An emphasis on building new things, together.
1. Time limits on the shorter presentations were strictly enforced … by the organizers playing the Keyboard Cat music every time someone ran over. Seriously, why is this not the rule at every conference ever?

In some ways I feel like a bit of a poseur among digital humanists. I'm a humanist by training and inclination, and one who's picked up a bunch of digital interests and miscellaneous skills along the way, but none of this is part of my official job description. But the beauty of a conference like this is that we're all there to learn, experiment, and try stuff out. Not every aspect of the unconference model would work for a bigger gathering, but I wish more academic and library conferences had more of the freewheeling geeky spirit I enjoyed so much at THATCamp.

4 Responses to “On THATCamp”

  1. Sherman Dorn says:

    Thanks! All someone needs is a way to get the Keyboard Cat music onto a phone and then play it as an alarm. I’d love to do that when I chair conference panels…

  2. Amanda, this sounds wonderful – as much fun as THATCamp sounded when I read about it. I worried, though, when I saw the call for proposals that the barrier for entry was rather high – that you already had to be doing a cool project, already had to know the tech and its jargon. I’m still trying to figure out how one gets into all the cool tech stuff as a novice and it seems like THATCamp would be a great place to learn, and to make the connections that would enable learning. Yes? No? Other ideas?

  3. Amanda says:

    I’m sure the Keyboard Cat phone maneuver could be done guerrilla-style even at conferences where it’s not an official practice. Hmm. Maybe I’ll start suggesting that to everyone I know who might end up moderating a panel in the future…
    It is hard to learn the tech skillz without being part of a project where you’re picking them up as you go along — there’s a lot of information out there on the web, but I’ve never been all that good at sitting down by myself and teaching myself that kind of thing without a context. THATCamp was great for exposing everyone to new tools and methodologies, but it is oriented toward people already working on existing digital projects. As far as more novice-oriented learning spaces go, I’m not sure; but there was a lot of talk over the weekend of setting up little regional THATCamps, and I’d imagine the smaller group size would work nicely for bringing newer people in.

  4. I’m late to the party, here, but I just want to say that I think the CLIR fellowship alone qualifies you to be a digital humanist if you want to be one. We’re only just beginning to see the formation of actual degree-granting programs in digital humanities, so most digital humanists are in fact (I’d say) “humanist(s) by training and inclination [who’ve] picked up a bunch of digital interests and miscellaneous skills along the way.”