Why Attend THATCamp? Observations From An Art History Doctoral Student

THATCamp logo A few months ago, I asked THATCamp alumni to share one or two big takeaways from THATCamps attended, to help me get other humanities-oriented educators and professionals interested in attending THATCamp SoCal this coming September (the THATCamp SoCal site will launch this week).

Abram Fox (@abramfox) — a Ph.D. student in art history — heard my plea on Twitter and promptly sent a detailed account of his first THATCamp, allowing me to publicly share it.

I’m a doctoral student in art history at the University of Maryland, and attended last month’s THATCamp Games in College Park. It was my first THATCamp experience and it was by far the best conference I’ve attended. I was there on my own accord, not supported by my department or any other organization (the free factor made it particularly appealing!).

What impressed me most was the breadth of the attendees, and the camaraderie throughout both days I attended. Everything that people write about the openness of participants, the wide range of interests, the fun of the open sessions, and the relevance of the subject matter is all spot on. THATCamp was the first conference where I actually enjoyed myself from start to finish.

The concept of proposing open sessions rather than reading papers made the biggest difference. I’m sure that most conferences are attended by fascinating individuals, and engaging in discussion with them (rather than sitting in a room with them, listening to a handful of people talk for 20 minutes) made sharing ideas with those fascinating people much easier. Conversations were very fruitful too. Not all the sessions I attended were particularly relevant to my studies, but far more even in those I could tell that the ideas batted around were not only interested, but helpful to many in attendance.

Basically, if I had a paper that was almost ready to publish and just wanted some feedback fine-tuning its argument, I might want to go to a more standard conference. Other than that, the unconference format of THATCamp is unquestionably better. I took away a great deal of ideas applicable to my teaching, my research, and informing projects I’d like to explore in the future. More importantly, THATCamp was by far the best experience I’d had with networking – the informal atmosphere encouraged the exchange of ideas, and I feel like I came away with too many ideas to work on, if I still want to finish my dissertation on time!

The digital humanities aspect of the camp wasn’t very daunting for me, someone who’s aware of DH but isn’t much involved in any projects. I was able to find sessions relevant to me anyway, and there was an awareness throughout the whole THATCamp of varying levels of aptitude and familiarity with technology, and I never found that any conversations got to a point that was inaccessible for newcomers (unless it was specifically for folks with advanced skills).

I could go on about it more about how great THATCamp was, and I hope to be able to at least attend a few more in short time. Definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had in an academic setting throughout my time in academia.

Abram Fox
Ph.D. Student, 18th and Early 19th Century British Art
Department of Art History & Archaeology
University of Maryland, College Park

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