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THATCamp: an “Unconference” Comes to BU

Will discuss how technology enhances the humanities

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Who says classicists are stuck in the past? Humanities scholars and librarians from around New England will come together tomorrow and Saturday to explore how technology fosters better understanding of literature, art, music, and other humanities fields.

The event, known as THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp), hosted by the College of General Studies, is described as an “unconference,” or highly informal conference. Since the first THATCamp was held at George Mason University in Virginia seven years ago, others have been held or are planned for more than a dozen cities around the world.

As for this weekend’s agenda, the very nature of the affair makes that difficult to specify. The idea behind such unconferences is that the attendees suggest topics on a specially created blog; on arrival, they sign up for whichever topic they’d like to discuss. You can register and pitch topics for the BU THATCamp here.

“CGS faculty members tend to prize strong pedagogy” and interdisciplinary collaboration, says camp cochairman Joshua Pederson (GRS’08), a CGS humanities lecturer. “Thus, we’re calling for sessions that touch on one of these two areas.” The only definitively scheduled items, he says, are six “expert-led workshops” introducing digital tools and strategies specific to the humanities. “Among other things, attendees can learn how to build interactive online maps, how to create digital archives, or even how to do basic computer coding.

“Digital humanities moves forward with one simple assumption: cutting-edge technologies can help us discover brand-new insights into the words we read, the paintings we look at, the music we listen to, and the history we’ve lived,” Pederson says. “It can reopen and reinvigorate well-studied topics, from Marlowe’s plays to Miles Davis’ riffs.”

Otherwise, the CGS event will stay true to the democratic premise behind THATCamp, he says: “A truly unique, user-generated experience will take shape in the weeks leading up to it, and its content will be developed to fit the needs and wants of attendees.”

CGS is hosting the event to promote discussion of digital humanities here, Pederson says. “You don’t need any special skills, technological or otherwise, to join us. You just need an open mind and a desire to learn new things.”

According to Pederson, about a dozen BU-affiliated people have signed up for the camp, which is being sponsored by the CGS Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning.

THATCamp New England 2014 is being held tomorrow, Friday, May 30, and Saturday, May 31, at the College of General Studies, 871 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Find more information here.

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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