Sometime toward the end of 2010, the organizers of ThatCamp Lausanne asked me to come and give a keynote to get the event started on the right foot. ThatCamp in Switzerland? Um, sure. I can definitely make it.
Off I went with some appropriately vague ideas of what I would say in my keynote. It was a ThatCamp after all, so too much preparation felt like I would be doing it wrong. And then I arrived at the University of Lausanne auditorium and there were lots and lots of people there — maybe half graduate students — and they were all looking so serious, like they expected ThatCamp to be serious business.
Being me, I threw out my initial remarks and told everyone to stand up. Out of 200 or so people there, I think about 20 stood up — almost all of them graduate students (or very young faculty). The rest just looked at me like I was insane. So being me, I insisted. “I’m standing, so you need to stand up too.” With a fair amount of grumbling and eye rolling, everyone else stood up. Or almost everyone. Then I made them take what I called the “ThatCamp Pledge.”
Repeat after me, “I am here to have fun.” Their first response was really, really weak. So, I made them all do it again. “Louder, please.” The second rendition was much more satisfying. And it tickled me to see that many of the younger people in the room were smirking at the discomfort of some of their older colleagues (people my age).
Having forcibly extracted my pledge, I then invited them all to sit back down and went on with whatever it was that I’d prepared to say. At which point we came up with topics of the event in good ThatCamp style, and started moving on to our respective rooms.
If you were there, you may remember the “Occupy Mills” movement that occurred when Mareike König and Eva Pflanzeter came in and “occupied” my session on graduate students and DH — as they should have done. It was truly a perfect ThatCamp moment — an unconference schedule being subverted in the middle of its unscheduledness.
Toward the end of the first day, one of the older scholars taking part came up to me and said, “I am having fun now!” And he was. He had a big smile on his face and was hustling off to another unstructured event…far from his comfort zone. I’ve often wondered if that moment of fun carried over into the rest of his professorish life?
My last ThatCamp was ThatCamp Digital Appalachia. I was at the very beginning of my new project on the history of the Appalachian Trail and right away I made a number of new professional connections that have helped sustain me over the past five years. That day I was just a participant, not a speaker, and even though there were only a few dozen of us in attendance, our time together was just like all ThatCamps — exciting, generative, collaborative, and, of course, fun.