By Olivia Dunton, English
From Oct. 7-10, the University of Maine hosted THATCamp, a participant-driven meeting, as part of its biannual Digital Humanities Week. Christopher Ohge, a post-doctoral fellow in the Digital Humanities, organized the event. This year’s THATCamp was titled “Surfacing,” focused not on the ways that we can save the humanities, but on how the humanities can save us.
THATCamp introduced the idea of the “unconference,” which is a highly informal, non-hierarchical conference. They are not planned ahead of time by a committee, but instead created during the week of the THATCamp. Many of the workshops and presentations are created on the spot and anyone can host. While THATCamp did have a schedule of esteemed presenters, the purpose of the THATCamp is to open the floor to anyone with an idea, a project, or something to they want to teach others about technology and the humanities. THATCamp gives them a space and time to bring these ideas to life with people who have similar interests.
“THATCamp provides an awesome opportunity to participate, learn, and experience new things,” UMaine student Mariah Mills said, “I’d like to broaden my horizons as a student and as an artist and learn new tools that could benefit me in the future.”
Along with the unconferences, there were seven presenters who participated with and inspired the attendees of THATCamp. This included speakers such as Nicole Starosielski from New York University, Andrew Stauffer from the University of Virginia, Anne Collins Goodyear from the Bowdoin College Art Museum and Ari Epstein, a professor at MIT, with a background in Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Epstein gave the final presentation of the THATCamp, titled “Is It a Sorbet, or Is My Radio Broken?” He started off the talk by shaking the audience from their typical “sit-and-observe” stances, to encourage group discussions, debates and a sense of equal footing between everyone in the room. It allowed for a more open forum for questions and answers, in which everyone could participate.
Jon Ippolito, an associate professor in the New Media department, introduced Epstein and said of his interest in THATCamp, “As a teacher, I’m always excited by new ideas, and as a new media practitioner, I’ve found the best ideas get generated and built through a many-to-many dynamic.”
THATCamp and the Digital Humanities Week are a part of the ongoing University of Maine Humanities Initiative (UMHI). The initiative was established in 2010 by provost and vice president for academic affairs Jeff Hecker, formerly the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The initiative is run by faculty from many different departments on campus and aims to create a style of interdisciplinary learning where technology and the humanities work together to create a stronger community and an even more distinctive university.
THATCamp at the University of Maine was sponsored by the New Media Department Correll Initiative, the UMaine Humanities Initiative and the Cultural Affairs/Distinguished Lecture Series.