Confession: I really wish there was a THATCamp SCMS. I wish we could have some of the spontaneity and collaboration that defines THATCamp (The Humanities and Technologies Camp) at SCMS (the annual meeting of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies). Both THATCamp and SCMS are defining events in their respective fields of Digital Humanities and Media Studies. Yet, they couldn't be farther apart. While THATCamp is proudly defiant of the traditional conference format, SCMS embraces panels and papers.

Let me elaborate a little. THATCamps are weekend-long unconferences that come without paper proposals or a predetermined agenda. Instead, participants share a common investment in the Digital Humanities (or, more recently, a broadening array of topics, including feminism, games, or pedagogy). Participants include archivists, librarians, grad students, museum curators, and professors. Conversations at THATCamp cross both disciplines and professions/institutions. Any THATCamp's agenda of informal workshops is set on the first day based on participants' interests; it often includes show-and-tell sessions highlighting research methods and tools. THATCamp is about the nitty-gritty details and the larger conceptual questions that define scholarly everyday life. In many ways, it is a look behind the curtain of the polished conference paper, and that is precisely what makes attending THATCamp inspiring and rewarding.

SCMS cherishes the polished conference paper. It embraces the thrill of seeing a carefully crafted argument unfold before one's eyes (or should I say through one's ears as visual aids are often still absent from SCMS). But what if there was space for THATCamp at SCMS? The recent increase in workshops (and the packed rooms I have seen at these workshops) suggests that there is an interest in a collaborative conversation. What if there was a space in the program that would allow us to think through the implications of unfolding media events, industry conversations, regulations, and technological shifts and their place in nascent research projects? Sure, these conversations often happen in the hallways between panels (or on Twitter), but what if there was a dedicated space for them in the program? To borrow THATCamp's motto, perhaps SCMS could do with a little more hack and a little less yack.

Image Credit: THATCamp Bay Area Program by George Oates on flickr


Although I've only been on the conference "circuit" for a couple years, my favorite so far has been MSU's bi-annual Meaningful Play conference. One of the reasons (and there are many) I feel this event is so much more resonant with attendees and participants is the game room set aside for people to come in, grab a seat, and chat with others over a quality board game. Not only does this offer everyone a moment to take their breath from their grueling schedule, it's a perfect opportunity to have the spontaneous conversations you describe. Unlike the between-session hallway chats, these moments are unhurried and honest.

Thank you for bringing to light these events.


I agree! Most people I've talked to at SCMS have said that they wished there were more workshops, to allow for the free exchange of ideas that is not always possible with the traditional panel format. Even when panelists diligently try to stay within the suggested time frame of 20 minutes per paper, tech issues and late starts to panels means that there is rarely time for a good Q & A after a panel. I'd like to see more workshop-style presentations at SCMS in the future.

Though I do have one quibble with your account above--I find that most presenters at SCMS do use some kind of visual aids--either clips or a power point or something of that nature. Have you had a different experience?


Thanks for a great post!

I completely concur that SCMS is ready for some unconferencing & general rethinking of the conference structure. I was struck this year in comparison to MLA (my first), where a pre-conference THATCamp was an excellent start to the conference, along with other long-form pre-conference workshops that were really "working" rather than listening. Despite MLA being a much larger conference, it actually felt more intimate and contained, in large part because of these more thematically connected workshops.

This year's expansion of SCMS to 5 days of papers/workshops goes in the opposite direction, and everyone I know either came for only 3-4 days, and/or burned out after a few days. More interactive sessions and pre-conference activities would energize things for many, but only if the regular conference were compressed more - which would mean more people getting their panels/papers rejected. SCMS is a much more grad student presenting conference than many, so that would be a price to be paid for creating more unconferencing.

Computers & Writing has the Graduate Research Network, a preconference that allows graduate students to come in and workshop projects at any point in their development. Advice is also given on publication venues and formats. A similar design might work  to balance both. While I was excited to present at SCMS this year, my mostly grad-student panel was at 9am was not well attended. A workshop structure might have given me more feedback. 

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