What do people think of History Camp?
“I’ve been to dozens of official academic conferences with big names where all submissions are thoroughly vetted by panels of experts and none of those conferences were as fun and informative as History Camp. It really was the best set of speakers I’ve seen at a conference: relaxed and informed and direct.”
What makes History Camp?
The name “History Camp” is an adaptation of “BarCamp,” which is the name many in the tech industry use for events with this “unconference” format. More in this Wikipedia entry. The list of some of the other events using this format is at barcamp.org. The idea of creating History Camp using an “unconference” format came from attending Boston BarCamp a few years ago. (More information on the first History Camp is below.)
History Camp is for adults, though some kids in high school have attended with their parents. If you’re looking for a summer history camp for kids, this list is dedicated to those types of history camps.
What is an “unconference”?
- It’s a self-organizing conference. People who share a common interest get together and create the framework for the event. The on-scene volunteers, presenters, and everyone else who attends make it happen. The topics that are presented are the ones of interest to the presenters. The sessions that are well-attended are the ones that are of interest to the attendees.
- One of the principles that defines an unconference is that anyone can present. You don’t have to submit papers months in advance. No committee screens submissions. There is no specific theme. It’s an incredibly democratic way to gather and share information.
- Another important principle is that, space permitting, anyone can attend and money should never keep anyone away. There is often a suggested contribution amount to cover the costs of the day, but you can attend for free/pay what you want. And you can always volunteer to help set up, keeping things running smoothly, and pick up at the end.
It’s all run to break even. No one is being paid to organize or present.
What aspects of history are covered?
- History as broadly defined, across geographies and over time. Ultimately, it’s the speakers and attendees that define the scope. Hopefully each History Camp will be broad in a way that attracts many people.
- What about genealogy? Sure.
- It is not, however, the place for a sales pitch. In other words, if you are an expert at preserving very old books, do not come and give a talk about how you provide a great service and why people should hire you to repair and preserve their old books. Rather, give a talk that has useful information, perhaps tips and techniques, so that, regardless of whether the person listening hires you or decides to undertake the work themselves, they walk away with new information that they value.
- And it’s not the place for politics or rallying people to a cause, unless the politics are historical (roughly pre-1980) and your cause is fostering a greater interest in history.
How did History Camp get started?
In late 2013, Lee Wright approached three authors and bloggers in the Boston area and proposed that they adapt the format that he’d seen work at Boston BarCamp to the topic of history. John Bell, Sam Forman, and Liz Covart got things started by posting sessions they would present to a wiki so that others could get an idea of what to expect. Things came together fairly quickly, and on March 8, 2014 they held the first History Camp. It took place in Cambridge at a facility that IBM donated for the day. One hundred twenty-nine people attended 23 sessions and two panels.
Who Attends History Camp?
People of all ages and from all walks of life—students, teachers and professors, authors, bloggers, reenactors, interpreters, museum and historical society directors and board members, genealogists, and, anyone else, regardless of profession or degree, who is interested in history and wants to learn more.
Here’s what attendees to History Camp Boston 2015 said when we asked them to describe themselves:
- Genealogist, history buff, homeschooler
- History Entrepreneur studying for my Masters in American History
- Practicing museum designer working on historic subject matter.
- Working in a job very much based in the present, and not looking back in time.
- Exhibit designer for small spaces such as libraries
- Non-historian, general interest
- Professional musician
- Public librarian, freelance writer (mostly for kids)
- Working as volunteer with several history groups
We asked them why they attend:
- I love history and I wanted to interact with the history community.
- I love history and I was a presenter!
- I love history and am studying it in grad school.
- I love history and love to be with people who share the same passion
- I thought it would be interesting. I enjoyed the sessions I attended.
- I wanted to be part of a community of history-loving, narrative-sharing, dedicated folks.
- I wanted to share the information and experience I have gained over the last few years and to receive feedback on that information.
- I am interested in local and regional history, and was certainly not disappointed by the many offerings at the event.
- It sounded really interesting, and as someone who works in the history field, I felt some of the sessions could be really helpful in my day-to-dayday work
- I felt it was a great outlet for history enthusiasts as well as well-seasoned academics to gather in one place to learn from one another.
- I love hanging with people who love history. I enjoy hearing about interesting research, and especially love a good story.
- I am a history fan, on the Board of an historical society and am interested in learning about many different aspects.
- I wanted to support this event and I found the topics interesting
- It seemed like a great place to meet history enthusiasts and I was right!
- It seemed like a very exciting time.
- It sounded interesting.
- Several of my former students were involved, and it sounded like a good group to get to know.
- Sounded interesting
- The topics are great; the presenters are knowledgeable; I meet new contacts.
- To introduce people to my museum and network with other history enthusiasts
- You’re preaching to the converted here—besides, it was accessible
- I am a historian and curator. I wanted to go to these information sessions/lectures. This event was a way to connect with other lovers of history.
- I was intrigued by the informality and the variety of scheduled presentations.
- I really enjoyed the first one and it was fun to meet other people who are into history, but not necessarily my profession of history, which allows for new ideas.
- Being part of a small nonprofit means that board members do not have the opportunity to talk with other groups about what works. We need to be part of the larger world.
- It sounded like a neat opportunity to learn about a variety of history topics that I might not get to otherwise
- I loved the branding, I liked the philosophy underpinning the unconference, and the topics were stimulating and appealing. Not least because they combined issues about how to do/present history as well as historical topics.
- 1. I was a presenter. 2. Many of the sessions seemed fascinating re new insights about history and how to “present” history so its interesting and meaningful. For instance, Newport’s approach to living history as a way to get people feeling history and its impact.
And we asked them what they liked most about History Camp:
- Diverse range of speakers and topics
- A shared atmosphere of enthusiasm and curiousity for the subject.
- As a non-historian, I enjoy being exposed to professionals and their work.
- Being able to gather educators and historians in one place.
- Finding more resources and connections
- Finding out that there was such a thing!
- Fun approach to interesting topics, opportunity to meet others in the field
- Getting exposure for the museum and topics not taught while networking
- Information and networking.
- Interesting presentations
- Learning about a lot of random history things!
- Learning about topics that I haven’t had the time to look into or research.
- Learning from interesting speakers.
- Learning history
- Learning new things; networking with other history enthusiasts
- Learning new things! And realizing just how little I know!
- Listening to authors talk about books I might not otherwise read.
- Meeting all my new history buddies!
- Meeting like-minded individuals with same passion for history.
- Meeting like-minded people.
- Meeting other history enthusiasts!
- Meeting the other attendees.
- Networking and learning
- Networking and meeting other History Buffs
- Networking opportunities and an all-around fun day.
- Quality presentarions
- So many interesting and different topics, one after the other, all under one roof.
- Talking to some participants. Enjoyed the passion some speakers had for their subjects
- The interesting sessions and the friendliness of the people
- The people, the topics
- Being able to meet other people with shared interests
- Being among other history fans
- Great topics, mix of people, thought-provoking ideas
- Mental stimulation
- Meeting people with like interests, who also “talk history”
- Variety of sessions.
- Meeting other like-mined people are are into history and hearing about new idea and historical stories that I had not heard before.
- To make a positive impact, learn, network and feel empowered to shape future trends because I was treated as an equal to everyone else.
- To share something I love with other people and learn new things. I feel more connected to my city and environment.
- The variety of topics to choose from at each session.
- Spending the day with a group of like-minded individuals with a lot to say and a lively discussion.
- There was such a variety of people and backgrounds that it made things very interesting.
- I did not realize when I signed up that there would be that many sessions to choose from all day. Solid presenters, great venue, good support.
- I was worried that as a layperson that I would feel incredibly out of place. Indeed, when the morning introductions were done, I was worried that I had made a huge mistake. But as the day went on, I didn’t feel that any of the talks I chose were beyond my understanding or interest. It was a really fun time.
- The topics were great and varied enough that I wouldn’t have gotten the breadth of knowledge at any other single event.
- It was a lot more fun than I expected! The group was a lot more diverse (in terms of professional backgrounds, stages in their career, etc) than I expected.
- I was impressed with the number of talks that were offered and the professionalism of the speakers. Also, the event was extremely well organized, the space was perfect, and the lunch was very nice.
- It was exciting to, each hour, be able to, on a whim, pick a fascinating topic to explore in depth. It was very social too.
- It was fun to meet people from such a wide variety of background and interest.
- The people were great and genuinely interested in what everyone was doing and what they had to say.
- I was interested and impressed with the topics of discussion.
- There were so many different subjects and genres of history, all of them interesting, that it was difficult to choose which lectures to attend. I wish I could have been in 2 or 3 places at once.
History Camp Logistics
I’m really interested, but just can’t afford it right now.
Please come. If you can contribute even a few dollars, that’s great−this is run by volunteers and we’re trying simply to break even—but if that’s too much right now, don’t let that stop you. One of the foundational principles of History Camp is that it’s open to everyone, assuming there’s still room, regardless of whether they can contribute financially. If you want to contribute non-monetarily, perhaps you can come early and help set up or stay afterward and help pack things up.
What if I can’t get there at the beginning, or I have to leave before the end?
Come whenever you can and stay as long as you like. To be sure there’s a spot, register in advance.
My son/daughter is in junior high and likes history. Can I bring them with me?
What should I wear or bring to History Camp?
- Are you a reenactor? Feel free to come in your full kit.
- Your laptop or tablet–There’s usually wi-fi access
- Something to use to take notes
- Your preferred badge holder
Presenting at History Camp
I’d love to present. What’s the process?
- It will help the organizers if you post your topic and a description of your session on the wiki for your History Camp as soon as you think you might present. Include contact information, such as a link to an e-mail address, blog or site, or Twitter account. (Check your city’s History Camp page for a link to the wiki. If you don’t see one, be sure and sign up for the mailing list for that city and you’ll be notified when they add the link.) If you’re not comfortable posting to the wiki, look for the contact information of the organizers.
- You can propose sessions the morning of History Camp, too. See the organizer when you arrive. Note that all the rooms and time slots may be full. Organizers may seek input from those who are attending on which sessions they want to attend. Or they may suggest another place to meet at the facility that’s not one of the rooms.
- As a reminder, presentations should be non-commercial. That is, people who attend your session should leave feeling that it has been worthwhile. They shouldn’t be made to feel that they should buy your book, visit your historic site, or take your tour.
- Read our Tips for History Camp Presenters for more on creating an engaging presentation, catchy title, and great slides, as well as optimizing for the History Camp audience and format.
I’ve studied this one topic extensively and I’d like to present, but I’m no author or professor. I didn’t even get a degree in history.
History Camp is for everyone who is interested in history and wants to learn more. Some of the most well-received sessions come from people who pursued a particular history topic with a passion and have a deep understanding of their subject, but it’s not been their livelihood. By day they may be an attorney or a mechanic or a sys admin or a farmer or a nurse or a retired insurance executive or a stay-at-home mom or . . . you!
There’s a panel I see listed that I’d like to be on. What do I need to do?
Contact the person who is organizing the panel. It will be up to him or her. If the panel is full or you’re told that your topic isn’t a good fit for the existing panel, consider your own session or creating another panel dedicated to your topic.
I have an idea but it’s not fully sketched out. I’d like to collaborate with another person to develop the idea into a session, panel, or roundtable discussion.
Post that request on your History Camp’s wiki. You might also send a note to the organizers and ask them if they’ll include your request in their next e-mail update. And you could always Tweet our your request. (Include #HistoryCamp in your tweet.)
What’s a roundtable discussion?
That’s a format for a session in which everyone who wishes to contributes to the discussion. Here’s one example of a session that was done as a roundtable: “Ideas for Programming, Outreach, and Operations of Smaller History Organizations: What worked what didn’t, and what we learned from it.” We went around the room each person shared one idea each and explained what they learned.
How can my organization get a table or show our support for the event?
Contact the folks who are organizing the History Camp in your area.
I’ve got a book out that I’d like to sell. Can I get a table?
Probably. Contact the folks who are organizing the History Camp in your area.
History Camp in the Press and on Social Media
- October 3, 2016: Colorado History Camp set for Metro Campus, Sonya Ellingboe, Arvada Press
- October 25, 2016: “History Camp Iowa 2016: From the Iowa Territory to the 21st Century,”on Iowa Public Radio’s “Talk of Iowa”
Pioneer Valley 2016
- July 28, 2016: “Unconference” anyone? History camp set for Holyoke Community College, Mike Plaisance, Mass Live
History Camp Iowa at the Iowa State History Museum in Des Moines (11/14/15)
- Leo Landis, curator at the Iowa History Museum, and two other History Camp Iowa presenters discussed History Camp Iowa, the first History Camp outside of New England, with Charity Nebbe on Iowa Public Radio’s “Talk of Iowa.” (Air date: August 13, 2015. Listen online | Transcript)
- November 6, 2015: History Camp Expands to the Heartland, History News Network
- November 8, 2015: Interview with Danny Akright on KCCI’s “This Morning” show (below)
- March 19, 2015: History Camp Brings Together History Enthusiasts From All Walks of Life (Press release)
- March 24, 2015: Keeping Old Local Stories Alive at History Camp, Chris Bergman, MetroWest Daily News
- March 26, 2015: History Camp “unconference” returns for the second year in Boston, Lee Wright, History News Network
Social media and more
- February 17, 2014: Presenting History Camp, The Unconference for Local Historians, Lee Wright, History News Network
- March 24, 2014: Nick Kristof Ought to Be Paying Attention to History Camp, Elizabeth Covart, History News Network
Special thanks to . . .
- Danny Akright and the rest of the volunteer organizers in Iowa for starting up History Camp Iowa.
- Cliff McCarthy and the rest of the volunteer organizers in Western Massachusetts for starting up History Camp Pioneer Valley.
- Carrie Lund for starting up History Camp Colorado.
- Michelle Novak for the incredible History Camp logo.
- Jacob Sconyers for creating this site and keeping up to date.
- David Alderman for creating the designs for the 2015 and 2016 t-shirts.
- Aperio Insights for help with post-camp research.
- Michael Kamleitner and the team at walls.io for the tool we’ll use to display social media mentions at History Camp.
- John Macintosh and the rest of the folks at Hashtagio for their cool social media aggregation and curation tool, which we use to capture, curate, and display social mentions of History Camp.