This past weekend* I attended my second THATCamp. But before I talk about how wonderful it was, I want to spend a moment on my first THATCamp. It was the fall of 2011 and I had just finished up my MLIS program. I was working as a library assistant in a health sciences library, so my only outlet for DH-type work was a now-defunct project with my grad student boyfriend. Like most of grad school, it’s embarrassing to recall in much detail, but the theoretical goal was an online encyclopedia/wiki on “Literary Darwinism.”** In reality, it was a project that gave me an excuse to learn Drupal and gave some of my academically-minded friends a research project while they decided if grad school was actually a good idea. We took this project to THATCamp, proposed a session, and people showed up. Some of them even took us seriously.

The culture of acceptance is one of the best parts of THATCamp. As someone with a “healthy” dose of imposter syndrome, conferences are often demoralizing in that still-so-many-things-to-learn way. But THATCamp produces these amazing positive “I’m learning so much!” feelings. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of my favorites is the decentralization of authority. Experts and novices and everyone in between sit in the same circle to discuss a topic. You could be the most experienced person in the room at one session, or a total n00b at the next. Obviously, I’m not suggesting comparing yourself to others, but the interdisciplinary format encourages this kind of metacognitive assessment of your own skills and expertise. For instance, while we were discussing our project’s infrastructure, someone suggested that we use Weebly because it would be easy and Drupal is hard. I bristled at this in the moment. It was a reasonable suggestion, but I didn’t like the implication that I couldn’t handle Drupal. I knew I was capable of more than just a drag and drop interface.

Fast forward four years. I now have several years of professional experience as a metadata librarian, with at least one spent actively working in the DH world. I am comfortable participating (finally!). And I got to play the role of THATCamp veteran to the three colleagues who accompanied me. It was so gratifying to see their positive reactions to the experience. The romance languages faculty member was delighted to realize that a conference could be more than just listening to some academic read their paper. During the first session he met someone with considerable TEI experience and by the end of the day, we were in a TEI specific session having a meaningful and useful conversation. My librarian colleague went home inspired to ignite a few smoldering projects. We were able to bring a student along. She was brand new to DH, but totally held her own in every session. She wasn’t afraid to ask questions or share her opinion. We ended up in one session explaining how social media works to well-tenured professors. I hope it was a nice send-off for her, she’s now graduated.

On a final note, I read Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction the same month as THATCamp Va, and the two complemented each other well. In addition to (or because of?) the aforementioned decentralized authority, women represented a large portion of the attendees, making it feel even less like a typical tech conference. Its open, productive, and collaborative qualities are all things I’d like to bring to my own teaching of technology, so it was helpful to actually experience those things in between terms.

So get yourself off to a THATCamp

  • Please ignore the time gap between writing and publishing. I know it feels like decades in internet time.

** Presented without comment: the Wikipedia page on Literary Darwinism as written by Joseph Carroll, expert in the field.