With the winter break and the holidays it has taken me nearly a two months to get to this post!  But, since the THATCamp movement seems to be carrying a full head of steam , it seems worth posting a somewhat belated reflection upon my own first THATCamp experience.  In December I attended THATCampVA, hosted by the University of Virginia‘s Scholars’ Lab, which itself lives inside Alderman Library.

One thing the THATCamp experience made me realize even more acutely is the value of academic units like the Scholars’ Lab, which link technologists with academics.  I’m lucky to have worked in a similar lab at UT Austin, the Digital Writing and Research Lab (DWRL), which is similar, though focused more exclusively upon the concerns of a single discipline, rather than a host of disciplines, which is what UVA’s Scholars’ Lab serves.

My first THATCamp experience was invigorating, but also exhausting.  I attended the Friday BootCamp, and attended a session on using Geographic Information Systems.  I have a distant background in GIS from my undergrad days and previous, albeit short lived, career, and the BootCamp session was a great refresher, and a great introduction to the more sophisticated elements of what current GIS software is capable of.  It was nice to attend a session on a technology for its own sake, without being entirely clear in my own mind on how I might use that technology down the road.  This allowed me to play during the session, which is how I tend to learn new interfaces best–when I’m not too focused on immediate goals, which tend to suck the fun out of things.

Saturday and Sunday the sessions began, and without getting too far into the nitty gritty, it was a tumult, in a good–no, great–way.  For me the greatest value of the experience was simply conversing with intelligent people OUTSIDE OF MY OWN DISCIPLINE about a host of topics of general interest.  We get so locked into our disciplinary identities, and yet, when we meet people completely outside of our own disciplines, it can be hard to break the intellectual ice and connect in a meaningful way.  In my limited experience, this is the greatest value of the THATCamp experience, semi-structured conversation with very smart people who I otherwise never would have had the opportunity to meet.  It really was that simple, and that valuable, for me.  I especially liked the absence of formal goals or presentations, which allowed the unconference to take the form of almost pure brainstorming and intellectual cross-pollination.  This is where things became exhausting–it takes a lot of energy to talk to new people about new ideas for 8-12 hours a day.  I left exhausted, but in that most pleasing way.

In March I’ll attend my second THATCamp event, THATCampSE, at Emory University.  It will be my first time on the Emory campus and I look forward to meeting a mostly new crowd (new to me, that is) of digital humanists, and catching up with a few of my new friends from THATCampVA.  I’ll be working especially hard to recruit people into getting their classes to contribute to the very newly launched Rural Image Cooperative, which my grad class in Visual and Digital Rhetorics has begun to build.

My one regret about the THATCampVA experience is that I was too tired Saturday evening to stick around for the “vintage pan-Asian surf and garage rock” of Dzian. Next time.


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