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THATCamp LAC attendees gather in Eds, the Mulva Library coffee shop, for an impromptu session.

Photos (above and on our front page) courtesy Quinn Dombrowski.

July 2011

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Digital humanities scholars connect on campus

Intern Nicole Jagielski ’12 reflects on her first experience with the digital humanities at THATCamp LAC, a liberal arts “unconference” at the intersection of the humanities and technology.

My introduction to an “unconference” and the digital humanities happened in a single, overwhelmingly exhilarating weekend.

About 60 humanities professors, library scientists and undergraduate students from all over the country met in our very own Mulva Library on June 4-5 for the first-ever THATCamp LAC – The Humanities and Technology Camp: Liberal Arts Colleges.

This unconference strives to be radically different from a traditional academic conference. Instead of sessions with one lector presenting one specific idea, we attended “bootcamps,” which were collaborative and discussion-based, and quite representative of the liberal arts experience. The topics themselves were dynamic and changed mid-“bootcamp” to suit a given group’s needs and expertise.

The liberal arts aspect was, in my mind, essential to the unique nature of the conference. Collaboration and discussion ruled the conference format, making conversation dynamic and lively. I’ve never laughed so much in a professional setting in my life.

Undergraduate students spoke right alongside their professors about technology and higher education in the humanities because, especially at liberal arts colleges, student input is highly valued. After all, changing pedagogies affect students just as much as their professors.

The passion the THATCamp attendees have for the digital humanities was evident; conversation about it started the first day during breakfast at Ed’s Café and didn’t stop until long after dinner at Titletown Brewery and an ice-cream run to Zesty’s. Granted, there is much to discuss within the digital humanities; humanities and technology, stereotypically, have more differences than similarities, so finding a way for them to complement each other in higher education can be difficult.

But all in attendance were there because they realize that the digital age influences the way students process information and learn, and that no matter the discipline, the teaching, researching and presenting of ideas has to change to accommodate this influence. Reconciling the differences between the humanities and technology is essential.

Conferences that address the digital humanities are quite new to higher education. The first THATCamp was held in 2008 at George Mason University, and St. Norbert is the first to add the liberal arts component.

The group’s collaboration reflected this unconference’s liberal arts focus; over the course of a short day-and-a-half, each conference attendee gained about 60 new colleagues and friends with similar interests from across the country. These relationships have the capability to positively influence not only the attendees’ careers, but also the college’s status as an institution that supports the digital humanities.

Ryan Cordell, one of the THATCamp LAC organizers and director of Writing-Across-the-Curriculum at St. Norbert College, is a contributor to ProfHacker, a Chronicle of Higher Education blog that focuses on tips about teaching, technology and productivity. Cordell posted his thoughts about THATCamp LAC on the ProfHacker blog.

July 5, 2011

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