THATCamp Changed Our Lives

When folks ask me how we started FromThePage, our crowdsourced transcription software, I talk about the family diaries, and how, inspired by Wikipedia, we sought to build a place that made transcribing a collaborative experience.  But when I talk about building the business–Brumfield Labs, our digital humanities consultancy that runs FromThePage–I say “there was this unconference called THATCamp.”

My partner Ben and I were both working corporate software development jobs when he mentioned there was this “un-conference” for digital humanities practitioners, that it was open to anyone, and he thought folks there might be interested in FromThePage.  THATCamp’s registration page had a field for this thing called a Twitter handle, so as folks registered many of them signed up for Twitter accounts. And because your Twitter handle was part of your THATCamp profile, they all followed each other.  All of a sudden my grubby open source hacker had an online network of interesting digital humanists. He loved it. So much so he organized the first regional THATCamp during a Society of American Archivists meeting in Austin a year later.

I see the legacy of THATCamp all the time:

  • People still come up to him — more than a decade later — “I attended your class on regular expressions at a THATCamp and it changed my life!”
  • Just this week, when reading a presentation from a digital librarian on a particularly gnarly facet of an open source library system, Ben said “She was at THATCamp; I can email her.”  
  • Again, this week, a collaborator in Kentucky told a friend we had referred to him: “The Brumfields know everyone.”  Yes, that’s part of consulting work, but you don’t build those relationships from selling people your time.  You build them when you show up and work together on events like THATCamp.

Over time Ben transformed from “grubby open source hacker” to “valued digital humanities consultant”.  As he gained clients I was able to quit my corporate job and do my dream job of building a family business, focused on making FromThePage a great service, working with my best friend, collaborating with nice, intelligent people on projects that are so much more interesting than what we did before.

We wouldn’t be here without THATCamp.  That’s true of our life, but I like to think the digital humanities would be poorer without FromThePage, some of our projects like Mashbill, Slavery Images, or The Curran Index, and our involvement in IIIF.

Categories: General