Reflections on THATCamp


When I started working at Hampshire, I had a reasonable idea of what anthropology was as a discipline; however, I was not aware of how it could be practiced locally, a misconception I quickly corrected through my engagement with Nancy Foster Fried’s and Susan Gibbons’ work at the University of Rochester. The biggest take away for me is that trends about user behaviors can be both local and universal; students are checking out fewer books more generally, the reasons for which have local reasons and implications.

At Hampshire, I began experimenting with ethnographies in small ways to learn about my student population, to understand their context for learning and living and how I could frame my outreach efforts to match their needs. For instance, I learned that many students live off campus. Many of those students in Northampton, and therefore have to rely on the bus to get to Hampshire. Instead of assuming that students would seek me out in my office, I decided to try my hand at outreach by taking the bus to campus at the times they frequently did. As one student exclaimed when we had a chance encounter, “I’ve been meaning to email you and you’re just HERE when I need YOU.”

Ethnography and anthropology helped me think about technology, too. Through happenstance, I read a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a book written about the culture of the free software movement. Reading this book helped me better contextualize and ground my perceptions about technology, culture, gender, and normative behaviors.

In combination with the Debates in the Digital Humanities chapter about “Why Are the Digital Humanities so White?” and a recent First Monday piece about gender imbalances in software development, it became clear to me that ideas about how to create and practice technology are still primarily male and white. This was again reinforced in another recent article about Feminist Hackerspaces “that is based on discussions and interviews conducted mostly with women and queers involved in hackerspaces and in the free/libre/open source movement in North America. Moreover, it draws from my own experience with FouFem, a feminist hackerspace in Montreal that aims at being a safer space for (self-identified) women and queers to demystify technologies, learn from peers, and create a core group of local women interested in technologies and hacking. FouFem grew from the desire to have more women and queers in the hacker/hacktivist movement in Montreal while evolving in an environment where feminist principles would be explicitly foregrounded. FouFem also stems from the desire to imagine feminist hacker projects to expand the hacker/hacktivist movement and make it even more inclusive.That entry into this world is about knowing the skills right away and practicing technology with ease rather than coming to the community with questions and learning as one goes along.”

Enter THATCamp ACRL.

I was really excited to attend a THATCamp in conjunction with a librarian conference, where I could road test ideas and programs discussed in traditional conference formats through more intimate discussions with THATCamp participants. Having attended a THATCamp in the past, I had some idea of what to expect. Moreover, my work in the digital humanities gave me confidence that I ‘belonged.’ While I am not an expert in DH, I still felt empowered to be in that makerspace. Unfortunately, other ACRL participants did not share my feelings of inclusion. Some confided in me that they did not feel comfortable. Some assumed that they needed some level of technology competencies or robust knowledge of digital humanities to properly participate. Moreover, the DH ethos of ‘hack’ over ‘yack’ can also alienate. Not everyone comes to a THATCamp ready to make, nor are all DH conversations necessarily about making; #dhpoco reinforces the necessity of ‘hacking’ about structural inequalities within DH and the academy.

I would argue that THATCamps can be valuable experience for the novice, the expert, and the full range of people in between. The experience of ‘yaking’ about digital humanities to orient a novice can introduce new sets of questions to the expert, and the intermediate can give back by engaging with the novice. For me, THATCamps allow us to grow together, build a community together, and part of that is creating spaces for multiple points of entry to include both the novice and the expert.

I owe a lot to THATCamp. In 2010, I applied to THATCamp New England on a whim and a hope that I could become part of digital humanities, and the experience of attending with a Bootcamp fellowship completely altered the way I think about my work as a librarian. With limited skills and endless desire to learn about ‘doing technology,’ I really grew after my experience there and now I am proud to say that ‘instructional technology’ is part of my new job title. I co-taught a digital humanities course at Hampshire this semester and am active in dh + lib,. I was excited to be able to give back at THATCamp ACRL by facilitating a ‘DH 101’ session. THATCamp gave me inspiration, tools, and human capital to begin working in DH. And I am so grateful for that. My experience in 2010 paved the way for me to work on digital liberal arts at some of the most exciting college campuses in the United States with some extraordinary people.

And I know that I can still grow, give back, and help figure out how digital liberal arts, digital humanities, and the humanities large will evolve. I want that process to be inclusive to many voices, not just the usual suspects, the talking heads, or the early adopters, but the skeptics, the critics, the people just finding their voices, and the librarians asking new questions and learning new skills. DH, libraries, the humanities, and higher education will all benefit from a more perfect union of participants.