Sunshine, stale coffee, and serendipity

[Full disclosure: I wrote most of this post right after returning from THATCamp and I’ve been too burnt out to do anything with it. So now, over a month later, I’m finally getting down to finishing it up and getting it out there. Thanks in no small part to recently reading several articles about burnout in DH (new post soon about that, too!), I’m somewhat ironically energized to finish this one up. The details here were written right when I got back, but I’ve edited things slightly since then to temper some of the strong feelings I had immediately after the conference.]

 

Now that I’m back from THATCamp and had some time to reflect on how things went (and catch up on sleep/emails/homework) I’ve had some more thoughts on what I think went well and what didn’t. As a whole I thought the experience was great, and I came away with a lot of positive insights. There were some things I found incredibly interesting, some I really didn’t care for, some I thought were a bit superfluous, and some I absolutely loved. I think I got more out of the total experience than I did from any one session, which is OK. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I do things differently if I had any say in organizing it? Definitely. But I also appreciate how hard it is to coordinate a large (“un”)event like this so I really do want to say thank you to the folks as UCF that organized this, if they ever see this post!

Things I liked:

  • Breadth of experiences people brought to the table- the handful of undergraduates that showed up (which was super unexpected and really awesome!), grad students in both library school and in history-ish departments, librarians, non-library faculty, administration folks,  and even a few department Chairs and Deans! This let a lot of different ideas shine through in discussions, and really helped to get things out in the open (like when discussing my grant funding thing – it was cool to be able to share my own expertise to grad students who were interested, while also myself learning from the the Chairs and Deans).
  • Variety of sessions – ranging from “lets talk about GIS” at the most basic & open – learned a ton of new, cool things at a very basic level; to project specific stuff like the very interesting WWI in Florida project. There was just enough to keep things constantly moving, but (for me) there was a nice variety of levels of seriousness.
  • Got to network with a bunch of different people – including a recurring online classmate I’d never actually met, head honchos and honchettes from local organizations, and just generally folks doing DH in the region. Way cool.
  • (BEAUTIFUL weather & super fun time roadtripping with FSU folks. First real day of spring-like weather I had experienced for a while, and that was super nice! Sunshine!)

Things I didn’t so much care for:

  • Scheduling conflicts – since it was a one day event with concurrent, overlapping sessions, I only got to see 5 sessions (counting my own). Staggered start times would have been an amazing way to break up the “session” vibe. There were just so many really cool things going on I wished I could have seen them all.
  • Quick turnaround on a lot of stuff. I know it’s sort of antithesis of THATCamps to run several days, but it would have been awesome to just have like 3 leisurely days of getting to talk to people about DH in sessions like this. (Compared to the only other academic conference I went to, admittedly, that had a socialized opening dinner night, presentations all day, and another social event that night.) Our travel plans meant we were in and out of town in just over 24 hours, which just felt rushed to me.
  • Lack of collegiality from some members – several in particular were very hostile to what I felt was the spirit of THATCamp, where everyone could do their DH Yacking (which I strongly feel is a good thing) and get it out in the open without criticism. One example sticks out: the last talk of the day before mine featured my colleague and friend Jamie trying to discuss techniques for collaboration in digital pedagogy and the classroom (at least, I’m pretty sure that was the topic – I’m sort of unclear, cause that’s definitely not what was actually discussed). One of the present members kept drawing the discussion away from anything related to pedagogy or collaboration, and ranted quite angrily for almost the entire hour about faculty resistance to technology and the futility of getting DH into traditional departments’ tenure review. While this is definitely a discussion that needs to happen (things are changing) this person’s insistence that faculty would never allow for DH project to “count” was met by lots of questions gingerly stepping along the lines of “well you’re at a DH conference, and have a respected voice in your department, why don’t you speak up and champion the legitimacy of DH?” After all, isn’t that sort of what we should be doing anyway?

On Serendipity:

  • I walked away from this conference feeling way more confident in what I know than I was before. Imposter Syndrome, which has sort of plagued me extra hard in this program (since I feel like I’m cheating by working in a field outside of libraries, and still trying to get into them professionally) was mitigated hugely, even with the small interaction I’ve had with the field. I had a ton of fun with a bunch of people that were as passionate as I was about the future of digital humanities, and I saw that people in the field I’m trying to get into are actually fantastic individuals. I was somewhat worried that our cool little bubble at FSU’s ODRS was some weird outlier, but I think it’s far more the norm for this particular branch of librarianship than I thought. Digital Scholarship seems to draw a particular kind of person that I feel is very much in line with the personality I’d like to work with.

 

So, overall, a great time was had at UCF, and I felt like I actually knew my stuff pretty well for still being such a newbie in the field. Gave me a huge boost of confidence, which was sorely needed at this time of the semester!

 

 

(I swear those giant industrial coffee urns must come from the factory with Stale Coffee Taste ™ as standard, cause I don’t think I’ve ever had java from one that tasted right. But hey, free coffee’s free coffee!)

 

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