By Amanda French
You probably know a little already about THATCamp, The Humanities and Technology Camp: it’s an unconference, an open, inexpensive, informal event where the agenda is set on the spot and where people work and talk together instead of passively listening to papers or presentations. There have been more than a hundred THATCamps around the world in the five years since the first THATCamp was held at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) at George Mason University, and there are currently 42 more THATCamps already planned for the rest of 2013 and for 2014.
On June 7th and 8th, with the aid of funds from CLIR, DLF, JSTOR, and Microsoft Research, we at RRCHNM had our sixth THATCamp Prime in the place of its birth. Rebecca Onion has written up a partial recap of what happened there (be sure to check out the Maker Challenge entries, in particular, which include everything from poetry to plugins). Instead of writing my own recap, then, I thought I’d give a brief account of “the code of THATCamp” — not the values of THATCamp (have fun, be productive, stay collegial), but instead the technology of THATCamp.
The very first THATCamp website from 2008 was built with WordPress, and the 140+ network of THATCamp sites still runs on WordPress. WordPress is a blogging tool and content management system that “powers one out of every 6 websites on the Internet”, and the nature of WordPress software and the nature of THATCamp are what you might call intertwingled. WordPress is easy to use, free, open source, and extensible. THATCamp, similarly, prides itself on being welcoming to technology “newbs,” on being free or at least cheap (under $30 to attend, about $4,000 to organize), on exposing its inner workings to everyone, and on letting others adapt and add to a basic model rather than insisting on a rigid set of rules. BarCamp , which was by some accounts the first unconference, uses MediaWiki software to run the websites for their events, a software that is better than WordPress at enabling highly collaborative work, but which has a very particular and arcane argot that can be off-putting.
I began as THATCamp Coordinator in March of 2010, and less than three months later, just at the most convenient possible time, WordPress 3.0 with “Multisite” capability was released. Exactly when we needed to, we were able to set up a whole network of THATCamp sites so that anyone who wanted to could have a THATCamp website on thatcamp.org. Jeremy Boggs built a “THATCamp Registrations” plugin that let people register to go to individual THATCamps, and, more recently, Boone Gorges has done a specialized installation of BuddyPress that makes each THATCamp and all THATCamps into much more of a social network, so that people can befriend one another and can mark certain blog posts as their favorites. We also asked Boone to ameliorate some of the disadvantages of using WordPress for THATCamp sites by developing Participad , which brings some of the collaborative editing capabilities of a wiki into WordPress. At our recent THATCamp Prime, people used Participad to create many notepads with notes on the sessions, and they used the “favorite” function to vote for the entries in the Maker Challenge. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Boone himself won the Maker Challenge with 28 “favorites” on his Digital Public Library of America plugin for WordPress .)
WordPress turned ten years old on May 27th, 2013, and THATCamp turned five years old just a few days later. Here’s hoping that both WordPress and THATCamp continue to grow and improve together with the same synchronicity.
Amanda French is Research Assistant Professor and THATCamp Coordinator at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University.