THATCamp New England 2011

A couple weeks ago I attended THATCamp New England at Brandeis University.  I was awarded a fellowship to cover travel expenses. In return, I was asked to write up a report. I started working on it right away, and sent this off to my co-workers:

As some of you know, this weekend I went camping; THATCamp-ing. The Humanities and Tecnology Camp is an “unconference” run by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. I was at THATCamp New England, held this year at Brandeis (next year at Brown). Unlike a traditional conference, the bulk of the schedule is determined the morning of the event. Attendees vote on the sessions they would like to attend. THATCamp is free to attend, and I was fortunate to receive a travel fellowship so I could pitch my tent, so to speak, at a hotel nearby. Friday evening there were three, hour long, workshops. The first, given by a Worcester State University prof, was on using primary sources to teach undergrads. Digital Worcester is a project she has worked on with her students.  Next we learned about creating online exhibits with Omeka. That was good stuff, and I will type up my notes soon and put them on the S:\ drive. I really wanted to pay attention to the third session, on HTML and CSS, but it didn’t start till 9pm and by that time I was fried. I’m hoping when I look back over the instructor’s code (it’s posted online), things will ring bells. 

Saturday morning we voted on sessions. There were four concurrent sessions during each time period, and more workshops, too. During the first time period I attended a session on timelines. The three leading the discussion have created an online timeline of the Russian Revolution. During the second time period I went to a workshop on regular expressions. Way over my head. You literally type something like ^O*!. and it finds…uh…stuff. Next up was the session I had proposed on digital humanities in a library, archives, and museum world. I had hoped to discuss what sort of projects scholars might be looking for from an institution such as ours, the type of material they would like to see, how they would like to interact with it. Unfortunately, I got all the newbies who have the same amount of experience I do. One of the THATCamp organizers did show up part way through, and she did have one very good piece of advice: make the interface simple and the information available complex. There wasn’t anything I was too interested in during the 4:30-6p slot, so I caved to exhaustion and drove home in daylight.

Then life got in the way. Specifically, eight inches of wet snow that brought down tree limbs and power lines all over town. I was without heat and electricity for 180 hours and was not up to doing much in the dark. So based on what I wrote above, here are a few more thoughts. It is perhaps not as polished as I would prefer, but I wanted to post this as soon as I could.

I liked that THATCamp was multidisciplinary. Previously I had only attended archivist conferences. However, it also meant there was a lot of information I won’t be able to put into practice. Tona Hagen was inspirational. It made me wish I were teaching so I could put together some similar projects.

I was very excited to learn about Omeka. I had heard of it before, but was glad to get a thorough introduction. I already started playing around with it a bit and would love to be able to put an exhibit together.

As I stated above, the third workshop on Friday evening was just too late for me. I have created and maintained websites, and I know Jeffrey Boggs was sharing information that was new to me, but I was just too sleepy to ingest it.

I really enjoyed the timelines session. We have a new exhibit at the Connecticut Historical Society that is a timeline of Connecticut history. My desire now is to create some sort of digital component for the physical exhibit, possibly with an Omeka-based site. That will have to wait, though, as I am on a grant funded project that doesn’t allow much time for such activities (I may, though, be able to do something through my work with the Hartford History Center at the Hartford Public Library).

As a first-timer, the lesson I learned was to not propose a session unless you actually have a project to discuss. My proposed session did not draw the type of crowd I felt was necessary to make it a productive conversation.  I’m also disappointed I didn’t stick around Brandeis a few minutes longer. There was a last minute discussion that popped up in the final time slot that I think would have been helpful. These things happen.

Overall, THATCamp is an experience I would certainly like to repeat. It was great to see how archival material is being used in a classroom, ways we can digitally exhibit that material, and just the creativity of those in the humanities. I also had some great conversations with attendees before and after sessions. Perhaps if I’d stayed somewhere farther away/less expensive I would have been able to stay over a second night and would not have missed out on the final session. Regardless, I am incredibly grateful for the fellowship I received. Whether or not I have adequately expressed this above, attending THATCamp has helped me to think more often about the ways I, as an archivist, can contribute to the digital humanities. Lastly, I must also thank Lincoln Mullen and team for organizing the event so well.