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Editors’ Choice: THATCamp Roundup

Where We All Ended Up by Lee Skallerup Bessette

I don’t know if I can say what impact THATCamp had on (checks notes) Comparative Literature, but I do know, personally, what impact it had on my teaching and my career. A decade ago, I was a contingent faculty member in the middle of nowhere. I had learned how to hand-code in HTML as an undergraduate, did pre-seminar discussion boards as an MA, blogged before it was blogging on my friend’s zine, and even tried a wikipedia assignment in a literature class, but it wasn’t until I got on Twitter and found (among others) the THATCamp community/network that I was finally able to learn about digital pedagogy, digital research, digital teaching and tools.

THATCamp, DH, and my Wardrobe by Patrick Murray-John

The sunsetting of THATCamp is bittersweet for me. It played a fundamental part in both my personal and professional development over its entire span. From the initial reactions on Twitter, and the retrospectives written here, I’m not at all alone. The outpouring of love and respect reflects well the experiences we have shared.

Growing up with THATCamp by Trevor Owens

In piecing that together, I’m realizing that I think it’s been six years since I’ve been to a THATCamp. So I went to 9 of them in one six-year period and apparently haven’t gone to any of them in the subsequent six-year period. Time is strange. The first one in 2008 feels like forever ago and the more recent ones feel like things that happened not that long ago. But I realize and recognize that the strangeness of time is also connected to how the camps fit into my career.

The Unreality of THATCamp by Boone Gorges

I attended my first THATCamp in 2009, less than a year before I quit my PhD studies. I descended on CHNM that June weekend wavering between: frustration about the hypercompetitive-hypermasculine-hypercynical world of academic philosophy; and resignation to the fact that I was grinding away on a dissertation that no one would ever read.

Reflections on THATCamp, the Franchise by John Theibault

I don’t remember how I first learned about THATCamp – perhaps it was from the HNN website, or perhaps it was from Twitter. I’m pretty sure the inaugural one passed me by entirely unnoticed. But when the call for participation came out for the second THATCamp in 2009 I was very eager to participate. I was at a crossroads in my own work and had decided that digital work was the direction I wanted to go. THATCamp seemed like the ideal place to discover the cutting edge work in the field. So I applied. And I was rejected. There were too many applicants for the room available. I felt terrible.

THATCamp and Digital Art History by Max Marmor

We at the Samuel H.  Kress Foundation are proud to have been among the early philanthropic sponsors of THATCamps. Our key interest was in jump-starting the evolution of digital art history. In retrospect it is abundantly clear that supporting a series of THATCamps for art historians – including THATCamps held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the College Art Association – was the best way of encouraging that development. If digital art history has reached a significant state of maturity in the short span of the past decade, THATCamp is to a significant degree responsible for that success. Thank you, THATCamp!

I Am Here to Have Fun! by Mills Kelly

Sometime toward the end of 2010, the organizers of ThatCamp Lausanne asked me to come and give a keynote to get the event started on the right foot. ThatCamp in Switzerland? Um, sure. I can definitely make it.

Off I went with some appropriately vague ideas of what I would say in my keynote. It was a ThatCamp after all, so too much preparation felt like I would be doing it wrong. And then I arrived at the University of Lausanne auditorium and there were lots and lots of people there — maybe half graduate students — and they were all looking so serious, like they expected ThatCamp to be serious business.

A Career Forged in THATCamps by Jeffrey McClurken

I began by just trying to figure out how many THATCamps I attended.  I knew that I went to the original one at CHNM in 2008, presenting on a class that I had just finished teaching for the first time, and undergraduate Digital History course.

Then I realized that I actually had a section on my c.v. at one point that actually stated “THATCamp Sessions and Workshops”

Bliss was it in that dawn by Amanda French

When I think of the THATCamp era, 2008-2014, I think of the Wordsworth lines from The Prelude: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive / But to be young was very heaven” (see at Hathitrust). Wordsworth was writing about the French Revolution, which started out so promisingly: his initial passionate enthusiasm for it, and indeed for transformative social reform generally, an enthusiasm that later turned to disillusionment and disaffection as the Revolution turned into a bloodbath.

THATCamp Reflections by Jeanne Kramer-Smyth

2006 was early in the “archives blogging” landscape. It was the era of finding and following like-minded colleagues. RSS and feed readers! People had conversations in the comments. 2006 was the year I launched my blog. My post about Dan & Roy’s session was only the 9th post on my site. I was employed full time doing Oracle database work at Discovery and working towards my MLS in the University of Maryland’s CLIS (now iSchool) program part-time. So I added Dan’s blog to the list of the blogs I read. When Dan invited people to come to THATCamp in January of 2008 and I realized it was local – I signed up. You can see my nametag in the “stack of badges” photo above. For a taste of my experiences that day, take a look at my 2008 THATCamp blog posts.

Playing at Academia by Anastasia Salter

When I attended THATCamp in 2010, I had just defended my dissertation, and I was trying to figure out who I was supposed to be now that I had supposedly grown up. Looking back at my session proposal that year, my post is full of earnestness, citations, and uncertainty—I proposed “Remixing Academia” but it is painfully obvious that I had no idea yet what that meant. I wasn’t even sure what the “digital humanities” meant, or if there was space for me in it. Exhausted from dissertation-writing and dubious about the future, I almost skipped THATCamp that year.

When anything was doable by Quinn Dombrowski

My first THATCamp memory is the poster for THATCamp Chicago in 2010. I downloaded it immediately and set to work adding Space Invaders. I couldn’t resist.

That meeting, which brought in folks from all over the Midwest to experience the THATCamp phenomenon sweeping the east coast, came at a strange moment for me. Project Bamboo, the Mellon-funded DH cyber infrastructure initiative I’d been working on since 2008, had just been funded for its technical development phase. But instead of being excited, I bristled at the direction it was taking: big on the cyberinfrastructure, small on the things humanists had said they wanted during our planning phase.

Just (geo)Duckie by Megan Brett

It was my Dad, George H. Brett II, who told me about THATCamp. He was my introduction to many DH things – html, the world wide web, twitter, and RRCHNM. I was working in public history, and after he attended a THATCamp in Fairfax he encouraged me to attend the next year.

I remember that as we were approaching THATCamp (2010?), he paused and asked, with some trepidation, if it was okay if people knew we were related; I think he knew I was a little nervous, and he was willing to back off, to give me space to be my own person. I think I laughed, and I definitely said I didn’t mind people knowing he was my Dad.

We’ll Always Have ThatCamp by Sheila Brennan

It made sense that an idea like THATCamp originated at the Center Roy built. Like many Center projects, it started with a simple idea to address a real problem. The costs were low and the payout was huge. THATCamp democratized the DH conference by breaking it into an unconference designed for folks interested in solving problems, building some things, and working collaboratively with a schedule built on-the-fly. It certainly didn’t break academic structures, but TC’s created a space for trading in titles and hierarchy for a t-shirt and a bag lunch. Experimentation was encouraged. Content experts admitted they were tech novices. Attendees were encouraged to get up mid-session to try something else. The wifi wasn’t always strong, but it was always available.

THATCamp through the years by Karin Dalziel

In 2008 I was an office associate in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, halfway through my Library Master’s, and attempting to build a “professional network” on Twitter (an effort hamstrung to this day by my inability to stay professional on Twitter). I saw an early tweet about the very first THATCamp and said something like “wish I could go to this” to which an organizer replied with an offer of a small scholarship to attend. It was enough for it to make financial sense, and off I went. At THATCamp I found people that were immediately accepting and encouraging, and who pushed everyone to think beyond labels and roles. I proposed and ran a couple of somewhat awkward sessions (since I had never been to an unconference before, I didn’t know quite what to plan for) that led to great discussions and helped me refocus my interests and aspirations.

Apogee by Matthew Lincoln

In 2013 I was nearing the end of my PhD coursework and feeling truly despondent about the specter of writing a proposal for my dissertation. Nothing in the field seemed to be the right combo of interesting, feasible, and novel. I was supposed to be itching to read more, and build a research plan around some new and exciting thing in seventeenth-century Dutch art history, but I was spinning my wheels. With a little nudge from my department chair, and the leaders of the Michelle Smith Collaboratory in UMD’s department of Art History & Archaeology, I went to THATCamp Prime at GMU.

Gratitude by Ben Brumfield

THATCamp was the first encounter I’d had with academia since graduation.  The original call for participants was so open that I expected the gathering to be like a tech conference or user group, so I was astonished to discover that most of the other campers had (or were working on) PhDs.  However, their welcome and enthusiasm soon set me at ease.  By the end, I’d made some good friends and gotten over most of my technical challenges.

THATCamp Changed Our Lives by Sara Brumfield

When folks ask me how we started FromThePage, our crowdsourced transcription software, I talk about the family diaries, and how, inspired by Wikipedia, we sought to build a place that made transcribing a collaborative experience.  But when I talk about building the business–Brumfield Labs, our digital humanities consultancy that runs FromThePage–I say “there was this unconference called THATCamp.”

More than THAT by Dan Cohen

“Less talk, more grok.” That was one of our early mottos at THATCamp, The Humanities and Technology Camp, which started at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in 2008. It was a riff on “Less talk, more rock,” the motto of WAAF, the hard rock station in Worcester, Massachusetts.

And THATCamp did just that: it widely disseminated an understanding of digital media and technology, provided guidance on the ways to apply that tech toward humanistic ends like writing, reading, history, literature, religion, philosophy, libraries, archives, and museums, and provided space and time to dream of new technology that could serve humans and the humanities, to thousands of people in hundreds of camps as the movement spread. (I would semi-joke at the beginning of each THATCamp that it wasn’t an event but a “movement, like the Olympics.”) Not such a bad feat for a modestly funded, decentralized, peer-to-peer initiative.

THATCamp Reflections: On The Unfinished Business of Unconferences by Jim McGrath

My first THATCamp was one officially sponsored by the Modern Language Association in January 2013 (there was also a “Digital Pedagogy Unconference” that year at MLA; that’s a lot of unconferencing tbh). I went because it was hosted by Northeastern, where I was a doctoral student in English. DH was increasingly on our radar in English thanks to Elizabeth Maddock Dillon’s encouragement and to the recent arrival of Ryan Cordell, among other factors. In addition to attending, many graduate students were part of the labor involved in setting tables up and organizing session Post-It Notes and things like that.


This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Kris Stinson based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: