THATCamp VA Round-Up

Posted by on Jan 16, 2011 in Dirt, Research and Engagement | No Comments

In December, I had the privilege to attend the Virginia THATCamp at the University of Virginia Scholar’s Lab in Charlottesville. I was blessed with a wonderful fellowship from THATCamp, which covered my travel expenses, and was very excited for the chance to spend a weekend talking and learning about the Digital Humanities, in particular the way in which archaeology might be able to either fit into the discipline, or, at least, learn and use the types of technologies that are being developed. (What’s a THATCamp?)

This was my second THATCamp (the first being the Great Lakes THATCamp), and I had a good idea what to expect coming in: namely, a great format and an energetic base of people who were open to new ideas and making stuff. While I consider myself a bit more on the “idea” side, it’s always great to talk with folks who really know how to build. I can ask questions like, “I want something that does this, or that will help me answer this…can that be done?” and I can get good answers.

The part of THATCamp that was more immediately important to my research, however, was the BootCamp. My dissertation research is beginning to rely more and more on spatial analysis, and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is the best tool for me to use. Unfortunately, I haven’t received any training with it, and it is far to robust of a software package to just open up and mess around with. After a full day of instruction on GIS and Google Earth by the folks from ScholarsLab, I feel much more confident about how the software will help me, and it serves as a good launching pad for some dabbling.

My proposal for the conference was regarding Digital Archaeology. I had attended a similar session at Great Lakes THATCamp, and we had some really wonderful discussions about what digital archaeology looks like, how it might fit, and how it might change our approach in the field. The session in Virginia, while there was some discussion about those things, was spent primarily explaining what archaeology was to people who weren’t archaeologists. While this isn’t a complaint (I will happily explain to anyone what archaeology is and why we do it), it was a very different session.

The reason for this is simple: at Great Lakes, there was a room with a number of archaeologists in it. At THATCamp VA, there was a room with only one archaeologist in it, a couple people who have worked with archaeologists, and a number of non-archaeologists. I was prepared for this when I realized that I was really the only archaeologist who had applied/been accepted to the Camp back in October. I was disappointed because I know that there are archaeologists doing digital archaeology at Colonial Williamsburg and Monticello, as well as other places in the Chesapeake Region who would have really benefited from a conversation about these topics. One thing that was evident at the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference this weekend was that there were a lot of people interested in and doing digital archaeology, but none of them were talking to each other. This is a big problem for a number of reasons, particularly that a lot of money can be spent accidentally  reinventing the wheel.

In all, this was a great unconference. I continue to love the format, and think that other disciplines, archaeology in particular, should begin adopting it and using it. Ethan Watrall (@Captain_Primate) recently mentioned that digital archaeologists should get together sometime, and maybe a separate unconference would be a way to do that. There has also been talk of the format being adopted for the Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference this fall at Michigan State. I also was given a wonderful introduction to important software that will help me out a lot at the Bootcamp, which was by far the most productive part of the weekend. Special thanks to everyone who helped organize, and to THATCamp for the Bootcamp fellowship, allowing me to attend!