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Great Lakes THATCamp Overview

March 22nd, 2010 by

This weekend, Michigan State played host to the Great Lakes THATCamp (@GLTHATCamp), an “un-conference” in humanities and technology. This was my first experience at a THATCamp or un-conference, and it was definitely a successful format that took some getting used to. Once I did, however, things went smoothly (Visit the original THATCamp page here). The process is as follows: to attend, you have to bring an idea, which is submitted a month or two ahead of time. 75 people are accepted, and they post their ideas to a blog to get things started. Other attendees comment on the posts, and get the discussion started. The first hour of the actual conference is dedicated all the attendees talking about possible sessions, scheduling them in rooms, and appointing facilitators. This was all put on a Google Spreadsheet, so that everyone could see it and add to it throughout the weekend.

Sessions were similarly informal: the topic was stated, people usually started by saying something like, “I’m here because of this and that reason”, and then conversation started. Questions were posed, problems solved, new ideas brought to the table and collaborations formed. While this was happening, I’d say about 75% of the attendees were on Twitter, posting links, quoting things that were said, and asking additional questions. People followed from “outside” the Camp, making suggestions, adding content, or asking questions. It was incredibly dynamic, both online and in the sessions, and made me truly value the possibilities of how different media could be used at a un- or non-un conference.

From the perspective of an archaeologist, it was an interesting experience. The overlap with humanists certainly lies in areas such as public history, public engagement, museums, and cultural heritage. Archaeologists have been using technology for a long time, so that overlap is fairly evident. These sessions did encourage me to think harder about applications of digital technology beyond data analysis, and into public engagement, in both similar and new ways. Certainly, my personal work and my work at Campus Archaeology (@capmsu) will benefit greatly. Also, there were sessions on technology and teaching, which is helpful for anyone who has to stand in front of a classroom. What the conference did so well was foster ideas. I will be putting up posts as I get time that are influenced by the things discussed in these sessions, as opposed to trying to talk about them all here. Stay tuned!

I’d like to congratulate the organizers, particularly Ethan Watrall (@captain_primate), for their hard work. It was a wonderful success. Anything that generates ideas and pushes people to think and interact in new ways is always a good thing, and should always be repeated.

There are ThatCamp’s being held across the country, so I would strongly encourage you all to look one up. The hash tag is #ThatCamp, for you Twitterers out there.

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