I had the good fortune to attend THATCamp over the weekend. I’ve blogged my notes from day one and two, and I have written up a post for my colleagues at ZSR focused on the logistics and the most relevant take aways for us in my library. This post is more reflective in general.
First up: I loved the unconference format. It’s lovely and is ideal for the serendipity that typically only happens in the halls of conferences. I love a really good presentation, but I love good and thought provoking conversation just as much, and THATCamp focuses on the latter.
Next thought: THATCamp is only as good as its campers. I now understand why there was an application process. If it gets too big, it’d be completely unwieldy. Additionally, the mix of people is critical to the success of an event that is built around the conversations that happen and the serendipity of the mix.
General themes from the conference (for me):
I was really surprised to find that many of the sessions, to me, could have been as much about the social sciences or even the sciences as they were about the humanities. I know humanities folks have a different way of doing scholarship, so I expected something that would come across as uniquely humanities flavored. For a while I wondered why it’s not “digital scholarship” rather than “digital humanities.” As it turns out, I’m not the only one thinking along those lines. However, the more I thought about it, the more I like the term “digital humanities.” Pretty much everyone would agree the sciences are digital. Most could see technology’s impact for the social sciences. But people really need a push to think of humanities in that way, so the term really helps frame this new way of thinking about scholarly work in the humanities.
I was surprised to find that much of THATCamp was as much about sharing definitions, and working through issues new to the humanities. As a librarian with a focus on instruction, this was particularly interesting to me. At several points in the discussions it was clear people were talking about principles from librarianship or learning theory that’s well established. Often, though, they were being spoken of with an outsider perspective, and many participants didn’t have the background knowledge these other fields provide. That makes sense. Academics are experts in their own area of study. No one has time to be an expert in all things, so there is no reason in the world for a humanities scholar to also have a thorough understanding of all the techniques, findings, and best practices of librarianship and/or a deep knowledge and understanding of pedagogy, educational theory, and instructional design. I really think digital humanities could gain a lot from these fields, but the question is how to integrate this content knowledge into their work. Is it workshops? Collaboration? How do you just raise awareness of these other fields in general? I actually think there could be a really good THATCamp session on that in the future.
The other thing that really hit home for me is how much the digital humanities need instructional design. Teaching with technology, or digital pedagogy, were hot topics, and there was a real interest in being good teachers with lots of really good examples of assignments that encourage students to practice digital humanities scholarship. Many could demonstrate a student’s familiarity with the content at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. However, I did not get the impression that many had a background in this way of thinking about teaching, and this background can help frame instruction in a way that gets to multiples levels of learning. Beyond that, design thinking in general can help people start projects and assignments by thinking in terms of outcomes and framing the entire project in a way of reaching that. There’s a real strength to this approach (in all things, really) that could make the awesome things happening in the digital humanities even more awesome.
All of that to say I’m really excited about THATCamp and the digital humanities. I think I have something to contribute as someone who’s a humanist at heart (with a BA in philosophy to prove it), a librarian by nature, and an instructional designer by training. Next up: thinking about what this mean at my place of work and looking into venues to write about the connection between the digital humanities and instructional design.
I’m sure I’ll have more on THATCamp later, but wanted to share this much while it’s fresh in my mind. Oh, and librarians, be sure to take a look at the envisioning librarian/scholar collaborations notes that were taken during one of the sessions!