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We hosted a THATCamp! What did we learn? And should you host one?

We hosted a THATCamp! What did we learn? And should you host one?

Hey everyone! So, what did you do last weekend? 'Cause the fabulous Melody Dworak and I hosted a THATCamp as part of our conversation-creating HASTAC goal at the University of Iowa. If we're slightly loopy(-ier than usual) this week, that's why.

I just finished a big, linky wrap-up post at our THATCamp website. But I think what Melody and I will be addressing in our next couple of posts is more targeted: should you, ambitious HASTAC scholar, host a THATCamp of your own?

(Quick note: THATCamp = "The Humanities And Technology Camp." And yes, when you say "THATCamp" in person, people will ask "Fatcamp?" More about THATCamp is here!)

In short, it's an unconference, which does make things a bit easier on the organizers: you just reserve the rooms, talk to lots of helpful people, do the food and coffee, raise money, arrange workshops, open registration, create a schedule, fix up the website, do publicity, do swag (we did travel mugs, which seemed popular!), and coordinate fellowships, if you're offering any. And make posters, graphics, get office supplies, and a few other odds and ends. (THATCamp does a lot to walk you through the process.)

So actually, yes, it's still a lot of work, but at least you don't have to read proposals, create a program, or figure out panels / chairs / commentators. 

Okay, I'm going to break this into three things for if you're thinking about it:

1. Talk to LOTS of people. The biggest thing at the very start is to listen. If you try to "bring people onboard" midway through the process, you've already failed in a certain way. Familiarize yourself with THATCamp, so you can pitch it as an idea, but then start with asking people for what they'd like to see: Workshops? A particular theme? What can THATCamp do for your campus? What resources are already available? Who else should you be talking to? As well as resulting in a camp that is a good fit for your campus, bringing people on early also helps you create and coordinate an on-campus community that is invested in the camp's success. Which brings me to my second point....

2. Be sure you have support! There is no way that Melody and I could have done THATCamp without the tremendous amount of support  and enthusiasm that we received from... a dozen? two dozen? more? people in different parts of campus. I'm not going to relist everything here, but a quick look at our "Thanks!" page shows how much help we had, in advice, time, and work. This, I think, should be the crux of your decision whether or not to do it. If you find yourself unable to drum up much interest, I would seriously consider not going ahead with it. We were able to raise more than enough money, which was wonderful, but even if we'd had 10x as much money as we could have used, the two of us could not have done it without outside help. We had a great deal of help in handling finances, creating the workshops, getting advice, and doing publicity. You can host the camp on a shoestring budget, but you can't create more time for yourself... and wow, my transitions here are excellent, because the next point is:

3. Give yourself TIME. Melody and I started work on it sometime in October/November, and the camp happened March 30-April 1. And with that lead time, there was never a panic point; we met about two or three times a month to make sure everything was on track, and everything went pretty smoothly. We made a list of goals for each month that gave us generous amounts of time; we mostly met them; and so the week before the camp, the only things left to do were to double-check catering, reservations, and send out a few reminder emails.

So---was it worth it??

YES! Unequivocally yes. THATCampers were enthusiastic, happy to be there, and super into it. The conversations were great, the food was good... Because everyone voted on topics for sessions, campers were invested in them. We had about 75 participants from a wide variety of backgrounds, and the result was this great diversity of experience, perspective, ideas, and knowledge, all being shared for a weekend, which is just what we were aiming for. Totally rewarding, and a fun weekend!

So it is totally worth it.

My strongest point here, though, is that you need support from people to do this.

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Smaller, more specific points post-camp:

1. We started our days at about 11am, simply because our library didn't open until then. But lots of people commented on how much they liked the late start!

2. If you have a popular topic proposal with more 25%+ of your campers voting to attend that session, consider scheduling it twice. Otherwise people have to choose between it and their more focused interests. Plus, keeping the groups somewhat smaller doesn't hurt; our biggest sessions broke into small groups pretty quickly anyway.

3. Er... this is perhaps a throwaway, but let yourself be a little quirky? We gave everyone THATCamp Iowa City travel mugs.

But then we wondered: will people mix them up? Solution: stickers. Specifically, in this case, puffy foam jungle animal stickers. I thought they gave the registration area a certain cheerful, informal (if slightly messy) aura. If your first decision of the day is whether you would prefer a tiger, crocodile, or elephant sticker, and whether you should accessorize it with a palm tree or a sun... eh, sounds like a good day to me!

On a similar note, we hosted the reception in a really informal bar setting--which created a  relaxed atmosphere where participants could properly wind down:

Well, the sticky floors might have been a bit much--they had forgotten to clean them... and someone had evidently been dancing on one of the tables... but it was something to laugh about!)  Okay, so I guess the takeaway here is to go low-key, but not toooo low-key.

 

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