So it was sometime in 2002 when a bunch of us were sitting around (Kevin Franklin, you have a lot to answer for!), thinking about what we wanted to call this visionary network of thinkers (not all of them professional educators) who were frustrated by the institutional, disciplinary, and field barriers that made it difficult to think of the entire interactive, linked in, global, creative possibilities of the future together. We came up with a number of images and realized, no, we needed to actually call out the fact that we wanted everyone to collaborate and we wanted everyone to be working together in an evolving and interactive process as in a lab. So the "collaboratory" part (not our neologism, thankfully) was easy. And then we began playing around with what it would mean to say we wanted humanists and artists and scientists (social and natural) and technologists to all be developing new tools together but also using those tools for creative purposes founded in a deep, critical understanding of what technologies enable in a digital future. Ah, here comes an acronym . . .
The scientists in our group loved the idea that H-A-S-T-A-C could, conceivably, be pronounced "haystack." A lot of scientific acronyms are pronounce-able if you twist your tongue (and mind) enough around them. Plus, the "haystack" was a great metaphor for what we wanted. Back then, it was thought that (oh, this seems so dated now) "finding the needle in the Information Age haystack" was an admirable goal. So 2002. But what we really loved at that early set of meetings was the image of all those pieces of straw that, together, combine to make the haystack. The whole far greater than the sum of its part. That is still not dated. In fact, it is as much about 2020 as it is about 2010. Collaboration, working together, each with something individual and special to contribute but with an awareness that you are part of a whole, a community, a collective effort, a group fronting the future, is still the essence of HASTAC.
Thus a name was born and, with our new logo of a very modernist haystack and the definitive line over the "a" hoping to help with the pronunciation, we're hoping people are getting it that our acronym is actually a "haystack" when said out loud.
It's still embarrassing to have to say what the acronym stands for to "normal people" (by which I mean non-academics). Then again, as I look over this week's really astonishing HASTAC Scholars Forum, and see all of those students, mostly grad but some undergrads, and interested others (profs, members of the community, technology developers) contributing ideas, I think the haystack metaphor is exactly right.