An unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture, what a party at your house is to a church wedding, what a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee is to an NBA game, what a jam band is to a symphony orchestra: it’s more informal and more participatory. To get the most out of THATCamp, have fun, be productive, and stay collegial. Don’t bring a presentation (unless you’re teaching a workshop). Propose a session and take charge of running it. Talk, make, teach, play. Listen. Help take notes. Sign up for Dork Shorts. If a session isn’t useful for you, go to another one (that’s the Law of Two Feet). Bring a laptop, not a tablet. Dress comfortably. Consider volunteering to teach something. Keep a record of the experience. Don’t forget to fill out an evaluation.
What is a THATCamp?
THATCamp stands for “The Humanities and Technology Camp.” It is an unconference: an open, inexpensive meeting where humanists and technologists of all skill levels learn and build together in sessions proposed on the spot. An unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture, what a party at your house is to a church wedding, what a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee is to an NBA game, what a jam band is to a symphony orchestra: it’s more informal and more participatory. Here are the key characteristics of a THATCamp:
- It’s collaborative: there are no spectators at a THATCamp. Everyone participates, including in the task of setting an agenda or program.
- It’s informal: there are no lengthy proposals, papers, presentations, or product demos. The emphasis is on productive, collegial work or free-form discussion.
- It’s spontaneous and timely, with the agenda / schedule / program being mostly or entirely created by all the participants during the first session of the first day, rather than weeks or months beforehand by a program committee.
- It’s productive: participants are encouraged to use session time to create, build, write, hack, and solve problems.
- It’s lightweight and inexpensive to organize: we generally estimate that a THATCamp takes about 100 hours over the course of six months and about $4000.
- It’s not-for-profit and either free or inexpensive (under $30) to attend: it’s funded by small sponsorships, donations of space and labor, and by passing the hat around to the participants.
- It’s small, having anywhere from 25 or 50 to about 150 participants: most THATCamps aim for about 75 participants.
- It’s non-hierarchical and non-disciplinary and inter-professional: THATCamps welcome graduate students, scholars, librarians, archivists, museum professionals, developers and programmers, K-12 teachers, administrators, managers, and funders as well as people from the non-profit sector, people from the for-profit sector, and interested amateurs. The topic “the humanities and technology” contains multitudes.
- It’s open and online: participants make sure to share their notes, documents, pictures, and other materials from THATCamp discussions before and after the event on the web and via social media.
- It’s fun, intellectually engaging, and a little exhausting.
What is an “unconference”?
The shortest answer is this: an unconference is a highly informal conference. Two differences are particularly notable. First, at an unconference, the program isn’t set beforehand: it’s created on the first day with the help of all the participants rather than beforehand by a program committee. Second, at an unconference, there are no presentations — all participants in an unconference are expected to talk and work with fellow participants in every session. An unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture; going to an unconference is like being a member of an improv troupe where going to a conference is (mostly) like being a member of an audience. Unconferences are also free or cheap and open to all. For more information, see Wikipedia’s entry on the unconference.
Who should attend?
Anyone with energy and an interest in the humanities and/or technology. Our particular THATCamp is focusing on implementing digital humanities in community colleges or smaller learning environments with fewer resources and funding.
What are “the humanities”?
Good question. Turns out there’s a legal definition! As the National Endowment for the Humanities puts it:
According to the 1965 National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, “The term ‘humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”
What is “technology”?
We suggest you read this brilliant article by Professor Leo Marx, American cultural historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept.” (Side note: those who love technology should be those who are most aware of its hazards.)
What should I propose?
Sessions at THATCamp usually range from general discussions (Talk sessions) to project-based hackathons or writeathons (Make sessions) to technology skills workshops (Teach sessions) to miscellaneous experiments (Play sessions). If you want to learn something in particular (like “How to use Omeka in a CC History class”), then propose a session! If you want to share something you know (like “How to tap into CC funding streams for DH”), then propose a session! There should be no full-blown papers; we’re not here to read or be read to. See the list of sample sessions at thatcamp.org/proposals/ for ideas, or come up with a creative idea of your own for a session genre or topic. Ideally, you should come to THATCamp with something in mind, and on the first day find a time, a place, and people to share it with.
Is a THATCamp only for scholars / grad students / librarians / archivists / programmers / instructional technologists? Can scholars / grad students / librarians / archivists / programmers / instructional technologists apply?
No to the first, yes to the second. THATCamp aims at the broadest diversity of backgrounds and skills possible.
I’m poor. How can I get funds to travel to THATCamp?
Some academic participants have mentioned that their universities will not fund any travel unless for the purpose of presenting a paper, and since there are no presentations and no papers at THATCamp, they cannot come to THATCamp. We have a few suggestions.
- First, you might offer to teach a workshop at THATCamp, which is undeniably a presentation of a sort (though we recommend that you include hands-on exercises as well); workshops need not focus exclusively on “hard” tech skills, but can address “soft” skills such as pedagogy or project management. Also, if it accords with the spirit of your institution’s policy, you might decide to classify your well-written session proposal and the accompanying session you will facilitate as a conference paper.
- Second, you might frame your trip to THATCamp as “professional development,” if such a category exists at your organization — coming to THATCamp is definitely much more of a learning experience than a showing-off experience.
- Third, you might wait for a THATCamp to pop up nearby so that travel will be cheap: you can sign up to be notified of new THATCamps by email.
- Fourth, a few THATCamps offer fellowships — be sure to check individual THATCamp sites to see if there are fellowship funds available.
- Fifth, you might consider simply organizing your own THATCamp — that way, the world will have to come to you.
How do I organize my own THATCamp?
There’s plenty of advice for THATCamp organizers in our Help documents. After you’ve read through that and looked through some old THATCamp websites in our THATCamp Directory (try filtering for “Past” THATCamps), why then you can go right ahead and register a new THATCamp.
Is THATCamp a nonprofit organization?
No, THATCamp is not a registered nonprofit; it has no official organizational existence. The “THATCamp” name and logo are trademarked by George Mason University (which is itself of course a nonprofit). The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University retains the rights to say who can use the “THATCamp” name and logo, but we basically license them to anyone who agrees to the (easy) terms on our Registry page. (See also below.) Each THATCamp raises its own funds, recruits its own volunteers, and is run in its own manner. THATCamp is hyper-decentralized: the only full-time THATCamp employee ever was Dr. Amanda French, THATCamp Coordinator for 2010-2014. Her salary was paid for by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. All original THATCamp code is GNU-licensed, and all original THATCamp text, images, audio, and video are Creative Commons-licensed.
- Unconference 101: A Quick Guide to Transparency Camp and Beyond by Laurenellen McCann
- How to Prepare to Attend an Unconference by Kaliya Hamlin from Unconference.net
- Unconference – Wikipedia
THATCamp Ground Rules (4:50)
A video we didn’t make (2:50)
Here’s a great video about unconferencing at Transparency Camp: just about everything in it applies to THATCamp as well.