I just attended my second THATCamp, a digital humanities “unconference,” in Boston. And I have to say, even if you know nothing about the digital humanities, you should just go to one! By nature, they are a lightweight conference that’s easy to organize, which means they are popping up everywhere. Check here to see if there’s one near you…
This model of attending an academic conference in an area of specialization you have little to no expertise is quite different from other models in the humanities. Before I presented my first Victorian studies paper at a national conference, there was a lot of preparation. I’d already been in grad school in my field for two and a half years, I’d read the key texts in the field, and I knew the major figures in Victorian studies. I would never have thought of opening my mouth at an important Victorian studies conference if didn’t already know the difference between Isobel Armstrong and Nancy Armstrong.
Attending a THATCamp while knowing nothing about the Digital Humanities might seem tantamount to going to a Victorian Studies conference without having ever read a Dickens novel. But it’s not. It’s really not. Everyone is extremely friendly and no knowledge is assumed. The sessions, which are proposed by participants and voted on the morning of, have a huge range from technical to very non-technical. There are some you might be interested in right now, like becoming a better blogger or using Twitter in the classroom. And you will hear about what new DH tools (most of which are free and open source) people are talking about, like Gephi or Omeka. Then, you ou can then go home and play with them. This has been one of the most valuable parts of THATCamp for me. I have found that one of the hardest parts of getting a digital project up and running is knowing what tools to start with. THATCamp demystifies that aspect of planning a digital project.
If I had gone to a THATCamp before I ever started on a digital project (an undergraduate reader of sources on the representation of disability in the nineteenth century, available here), I surely would have saved myself a few mistakes. Instead, I assumed I had to know something to go to a digital humanities conference, and worked away on my own for eight months (!). Don’t make my mistake–just go!