I’ve been saying lately—and I know I’m not alone here—that I’m suffering a bit of “THATCamp fatigue.” The unconference format, which was truly exciting, even liberating, the first time I experienced a THATCamp, has become a bit stale for me. One reason for that staleness, I think, is that the loose structure can inhibit as much as it can facilitate conversation and work. It sometimes seems the same introductory conversations recur over and over: (how) can one get professional credit for digital work? How do you use Omeka/Voyant/another DH tool in the classroom? How can we improve access to DH for those outside R1 universities? &c. &c.
I don’t want to denigrate such conversations: they’re necessary for the field, and especially for those just entering the field. But I worry there’s higher-level work that could be happening at THATCamps if there were space to make clearer distinctions among participants, not along typical lines, perhaps, but distinctions. If we could say something like, “this session on geospatial literary analysis will presume a good working knowledge of ArcGIS,” then we could move beyond talking about mapping and toward doing some cool mapping.
I realize there’s nothing hard-wired into the current structure of THATCamp to prevent organizing such sessions, and that high-level discussion and building has certainly happened at THATCamps. But I do think there’s some soft-wiring at play in most sessions: people read the injunctions toward welcoming and away from hierarchy as requiring all sessions to speak to all possible campers. And so sessions drift inexorably toward 101.
I don’t know how to address this problem. We might develop a rankings system for proposed sessions that would signal the level of expertise expected, but that does seem to jostle the THATCamp ethos. We might develop guidelines making it clear(er) that advanced sessions are welcome. I don’t have a good answer, but I would like to do some meta-thinking about how THATCamp might address this issue moving forward. THATCamp provides a valuable on-ramp for DH newcomers, but it will need to be more than just an on-ramp in order to keep experienced practitioners invested in the movement.