THATCamp Leadership is an invitation-only unconference that will take place from 9am to 3:00pm on Thursday, October 10, 2013 at the Mason Inn Conference Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

Why THATCamp Leadership, and why is it invitation-only?

THATCamp Leadership is a bit of an anomaly in THATCamp-land, to be sure. Its primary purpose is to introduce academic leaders to THATCamp and to the unconference model by bringing together experienced THATCamp facilitators with deans, department heads, and heads of scholarly associations and humanities councils; its secondary purpose is to begin the process of creating a THATCamp Coordinating Council to administer the THATCamp project after its grant funding ends; and its tertiary purpose is the same as that of any other THATCamp — to carve out some retreat-like time for discussion of and work on issues related to the humanities and technology. Trevor Owens has likened THATCamp Leadership to a “summit on THATCamps,” which is a very good way of thinking of it, although we’ll get to talk about other things besides THATCamps. THATCamp Leadership is invitation-only because participants’ travel costs are fully funded by the Mellon Foundation; we’ve attempted to invite a very wide range of people.

What is a THATCamp?

THATCamp stands for “The Humanities and Technology Camp.” It is an unconference: an open, inexpensive meeting where humanists and technologists of all skill levels learn and build together in sessions proposed on the spot. Here are the key characteristics of a THATCamp:

  • It’s collaborative: there are no spectators at a THATCamp. Everyone participates, including in the task of setting an agenda or program.
  • It’s informal: there are no lengthy proposals, papers, presentations, or product demos. The emphasis is on productive, collegial work or free-form discussion.
  • It’s spontaneous and timely, with the agenda / schedule / program being mostly or entirely created by all the participants during the first session of the first day, rather than weeks or months beforehand by a program committee.
  • It’s productive: participants are encouraged to use session time to create, build, write, hack, and solve problems.
  • It’s lightweight and inexpensive to organize: we generally estimate that a THATCamp takes about 100 hours over the course of six months and about $4000 to organize.
  • It’s not-for-profit and either free or inexpensive (under $30) to attend: it’s funded by small sponsorships, donations of space and labor, and by passing the hat around to the participants.
  • It’s small, having anywhere from 25 or 50 to about 150 participants: most THATCamps aim for about 75 participants.
  • It’s non-hierarchical and non-disciplinary and inter-professional: THATCamps welcome graduate students, scholars, librarians, archivists, museum professionals, developers and programmers, K-12 teachers, administrators, managers, and funders as well as people from the non-profit sector, people from the for-profit sector, and interested amateurs. The topic “the humanities and technology” contains multitudes.
  • It’s open and online: participants make sure to share their notes, documents, pictures, and other materials from THATCamp discussions before and after the event on the web and via social media.
  • It’s fun, intellectually engaging, and a little exhausting.

What are “the humanities”?

Good question. Turns out there’s a legal definition! As the National Endowment for the Humanities puts it: “According to the 1965 National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, ‘The term “humanities” includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.’ ”

What is “technology”?

We suggest you read this brilliant article by Professor Leo Marx, American cultural historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept.” (Side note: those who love technology should be those who are most aware of its hazards.)

What is an “unconference”?

The shortest answer is this: an unconference is a highly informal conference. Two differences are particularly notable. First, at an unconference, the program isn’t set beforehand: it’s created on the first day with the help of all the participants rather than beforehand by a program committee. Second, at an unconference, there are no presentations — all participants in an unconference are expected to talk and work with fellow participants in every session. An unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture; going to an unconference is like being a member of an improv troupe where going to a conference is (mostly) like being a member of an audience. Unconferences are also free or cheap and open to all. For more information, see Wikipedia’s entry on the unconference. Some say that the first unconference was BarCamp, which is the model for THATCamp. Read more about BarCamp at barcamp.org, radar.oreilly.com/2005/08/bar-camp.html, and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BarCamp.

What is the purpose of THATCamp Leadership?

The purpose of THATCamp Leadership is to introduce academic leaders to the unconference model in general and to THATCamp in particular. We believe that unconferences are an exciting new mode for enabling scholarly communication, and we now have more than five years of evidence that THATCamp is an effective, cheap, energizing, and popular model for facilitating training, professional development, and scholarly communication in the digital humanities.

What should I propose?

See the Propose page for ideas, or come up with a creative idea of your own for a session genre or topic. Ideally, you should come to THATCamp Leadership with something in mind, but you will have a chance to brainstorm session ideas on the first day, when all THATCamp Leadership participants will figure out together what goes on the schedule.

What should I wear and what should I bring?

The dress code for THATCamp Leadership is business casual. We recommend that you bring a laptop computer instead of a tablet, since THATCamp often entails writing and publishing to the web with this site, which is easier with a laptop.

Write Amanda French, the THATCamp Coordinator, at with any other questions about THATCamp Leadership.

Leave a Reply