March 23, 2010

Support for Regional THATCamps

In 2008, CHNM created THATCamp—The Humanities and Technology Camp—a yearly user-generated “unconference.” Organized on a shoestring and driven by participant interests, the new style of academic conference attracted a wide range of interest, and it spawned numerous locally-organized regional THATCamps in 2009, including recent events in Austin, TX, Pullman, WA, Columbus, OH, Los Angeles, CA, and East Lansing, MI. In coming months, additional THATCamps are planned for Paris, Toronto, London, Seattle, and other cities around the world.

Until now, the skeleton crew at CHNM (Jeremy Boggs, Dan Cohen, and I) has worked diligently, though not always successfully, to meet the many requests for assistance we receive from prospective organizers. Now, with the announcement of a major grant from the Mellon Foundation, I am happy to say we will finally be able to give local organizers and the regional THATCamp network the attention they deserve.

Our aim with the new funding is not to alter the essential bootstrap nature of THATCamp or the grassroots character of the regional events. None of the Mellon funding will be directed toward CHNM’s own Fairfax camp, and regional THATCamps will continue to be locally conceived, organized, and financed. Instead the program aims simply to make it easier for regional THATCamps to be established and run and to provide new supports for training aspiring digital humanists.

The program has four essential features. Most importantly, a new Regional Coordinator will be on hand to assist local organizers with whatever aspects of planning and hosting a regional THATCamp (logistics, technology infrastructure, application procedures, publicity, evaluation, etc.) they require, making it vastly easier and more cost-effective to establish and maintain a new regional THATCamp. We are extremely happy announce that Amanda French will be joining CHNM to fill the new Regional Coordinator position. With strong qualifications and connections in both digital history and digital literary studies—as well as a natural collaborative instinct—Amanda has emerged as a keystone of the international digital humanities community, and we cannot think of anyone better placed to coordinate a dispersed, self-organized, interdisciplinary network of digital humanists.

In addition to the Regional Coordinator, the new program will support the development of a turn-key package of open source software (“THATCamp-in-a-box”) to enable regionals to get the technology infrastructure of application, registration, and session planning up and running more easily and inexpensively. It will support the development of a basic-training curriculum (“BootCamp”) to run alongside regional THATCamp sessions, providing novices a grounding in the basic skills and methods of the digital humanities and giving them the tools to make the most of their THATCamp experience. Finally, it will support a program of micro-fellowships for graduate students, junior faculty, and other aspiring digital humanists interested in attending a regional THATCamp and participating in the BootCamp program.

CHNM strongly believes these new structures will help expand THATCamp to new audiences, provide much-needed support to local organizers, and improve training opportunities for aspiring scholars. We are excited to see how far THATCamp can go with a little extra energy behind it.

At the same time, we are mindful of the risk increased formalization poses to the success of THATCamp. THATCamp has flourished as a collaborative, participant-driven enterprise, and we remain committed to keeping it so.

It has been more than four years since Josh Greenberg, Bill Turkel, and I bandied about the idea of a digital humanities unconference and more than two years since Jeremy Boggs and Dave Lester put some action behind our yap. At no point did any of us imagine how far it would go. Even nine months ago, at the time of the first regional THATCamp in Austin, it was impossible to foresee the amazing things local organizers would do with the regional THATCamp concept. We are indebted to the regional THATCamp community for its energy and commitment, and we are happy now to be able to start repaying that debt.


  1. That’s great news! I know I felt guilty pestering Dave and Jeremy so much before THATCamp Austin, so I’m delighted by the announcement. I’ll feel no such qualms taking up Amanda’s time if we organize another.

  2. Very cool. As someone who wouldn’t have found THATCamp if it hadn’t had a regional conference in my town, I very much appreciated the opportunity, glad more will be able to get it!

  3. This is great news! Thanks for all of your hard work to enable more of these events around the world! Having just returned from the Great Lakes THATcamp, I can now say first hand that these conferences are game-changers. I think that as someone working on history and technology outside of the academy, there is great benefit in an unconference that pulls not only from multiple academic disciplines, but from multiple sectors as well.

  4. Awesome — my colleagues and I are interested in trying to organize a regional camp for New England/Northeast. We need to get $$ from our university first though.

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