A Day of DH at #THATCamp #MLA13

A guest post by Genie Giaimo, Elizabeth Hopwood, Meg Tarquinio Roche

Early on the second morning of the year, over 100 scholars braved the Boston cold to come together at Northeastern University’s Digital Media Commons for the 2013 THATCamp MLA—an unconference sponsored, in part, by the MLA and NUlab for Texts, Maps, and Networks. The NULab is Northeastern University’s new center for Digital Humanities and Computational Social Science, which supports faculty research projects; trains graduate students in DH and CSS skills; sponsors talks and symposia (and THATCamps!); and provides for a for discussions of technology, teaching, and research. THATCamp MLA invited scholars to collaborate in spontaneous and productive sessions that encouraged participants to hack, create, and solve problems. Among attendees were librarians; computer scientists; independent scholars; graduate students;  faculty; secondary education teachers; and textual and digital humanists from a variety of disciplines.

Unlike traditional conferences with predetermined schedules, the day opened with session proposals and voting. Once sessions began, participants were encouraged to abide by the “two feet rule”: attend as many sessions as your two feet can carry you to and don’t be shy about leaving a session that you aren’t finding useful to pursue another, even if the session you leave is the one you proposed! Some of the session proposals concerned pedagogical topics in digital media; becoming a better bloggette; network analysis; new media scholarship; and academic tools like Juxta and Voyant.

Talk, make, teach, play: these imperatives guide the work of a THATCamp. In one of the first “talk” sessions of the morning, scholars from across the old/new media divide joined in a discussion about the state of aesthetics within the Digital Humanities. Participants began by tackling a timely question: for those who study new media, what do you wish people who studied old media knew about digital aesthetics? In “teach” sessions, participants learned to integrate digital tools into their criticism and pedagogy. In the Omeka session, for instance, Patrick Murray-John gave an overview of Omeka—a curatorial/blog software that emphasizes conceptual reflection for pedagogical and research projects.

Throughout the day, conversations expanded via #MLA13 and #thatcamp, as well as through shared documents and collective notes posted to THATCamp MLA’s WordPress site. One thing you wouldn’t expect from a traditional, or even a digital, conference? This unconference featured a cherished THATCamp tradition, offering a session space that privileged play and the creation of analog objects—a “craft cabin” where campers hacked their badges and produced other material art.

Collaborative and democratic, THATCamp encouraged both novice and expert to come together and learn from one another.

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