On the weekend of June 15th, I will be attending the fifth THATCamp Prime. What is THATCamp? Founded by graduate students at the history department at George Mason University in 2008, THAT stands for ‘the humanities and technology’.  It is an ‘unconference’ in that the structure and agenda is decided on-site on the first day of the conference itself. No papers. No panels. This model facilitates THATCamp’s strengths: productive results, networking, and knowledge sharing.

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at GMU then secured funding in late 2009 to launch a platform for growing the thatcamp movement worldwide. The grant established Amanda French as coordinator, provided fellowships for grad students to attend the conference, and provided hosting and IT support for THATCamp websites. Since then, there have been over ninety regional and thematic THATCamps. The Chronicle of Higher Education blog Profhacker was born at a THATCamp and Gradhacker launched nearly a year ago at THATcamp Prime.

Why go:

  • It’s cheap. You can apply for a fellowship to help defray costs and besides travel and lodging, you are only encouraged to donate $25 for the conference itself.
  • THATCamps are an excellent opportunity for graduate students to run the conference, help facilitate, or shine as contributors or bootcamp instructors.
  • Speaking of bootcamps, THATCamp offers excellent workshops to acquire digital skills called bootcamps. Not every iteration offers bootcamps, but when they are on tap, they are a refreshing experience in learning from excellent instructors with heaps of patience. In my own experience, I learned how to use wordpress, the basics of html and css, and how to use zotero and omeka all that THATCamp bootcamps.
  • At THATCamp, you can network in a non-hierarchical setting with that facilitates meaningful engagement. You aren’t scrambling to catch three minutes of Professor Prestige’s time after dinner while another grad students tries to derail your conversation. Instead, Ethan Watrall describes THATCamp’s networking scene as “all bars and hallways.” You not only get to form meaningful connections during the sessions, but also through the twitter backchannel and during the copious socializing that surrounds the rest of the conference.
  • At THATCamp, you get to meet people you will never run into in your program or disciplinary boundaries. While attendees are certainly humanities/education-centric there are always people outside the academy (journalists, programmers, publishers) that bring valuable insights and perspectives to the mix.

If you do go to a THATCamp, be sure to keep and open mind and take frequent notes. It is hard to overstate how intensely the wheels in your head spin with all of the exciting people and ideas you run into. Many participants post their reflections after attending the unconference, and its often useful to hear these insights before diving into your first experience. There is also a google docs collection for all THATCamp related documents, including notes and project ideas. Head over to thatcamp.org to check out some of the exciting THATCamp’s coming up in the summer and fall!

(For those interested in the history of THATCamp, the IRC log from the first conference is available here.)

Have you been to a THATCamp? What did you get out of it and what advice would you give for first-timers?


2 Responses to What’s THATCamp and why go?

  1. Thanks for this, Alex! We especially love having grad students at THATCamp — usually as much as one-third of the participants at any one THATCamp are grad students. I should point out, though, that the fellowhip program has ended. 🙁 Still, THATCamps are required to cost less than $30, so as long as you can find one in the area, it should be much cheaper to go to than other conferences. And if you can’t find one in the area, I always tell people to organize their own THATCamp so it’s *other* people who’ll have to travel. Plenty of THATCamps have been organized by grad students.

    See you in June if not before.

  2. This is great; I am going to forward it to my colleagues.

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