History Camp Iowa FAQ

What is History Camp Iowa?  History Camp Iowa brings together people of all types who love history for a day of presentations, exhibits, and more, organized in an “unconference” format (more on this below). The first History Camp Iowa will take place Saturday, Nov. 14. In addition to presentations, authors, reenactment groups, and others will have the opportunity to set up table displays.

What’s the purpose? We love history and know that many others do, too. By coming together to share our interests, we believe it will foster greater engagement with history and strengthen support for historic sites, groups, and institutions throughout Iowa.

Has this been done before? Yes, twice. The first History Camp was held in Cambridge in March 2014 and the second was in Boston in March 2015. Great presentations, great turnout, and very positive feedback both times. You can browse past sessions, including descriptions, schedules, and slides and video of some sessions, along with a detailed report for History Camp in Cambridge and in Boston. This set of slides includes photos of each and quotes from attendees.

History Camp Iowa will be the first History Camp held outside of New England.

Is this going to be an annual event?  We don’t know yet. We’ll ask the people who attend the first one whether they want to do it again.

Who is organizing History Camp Iowa?  A team of volunteers is spearheading the event. You can reach them at historycampiowa@historycamp.org. They would love to hear from you. 

So what’s an unconference? It’s an event where participants essentially create a conference based on the interests of the people who show up that day. It’s a format that’s been used around the world for other volunteer-organized events, typically on tech subjects. The idea of using this format for history enthusiasts is new. Here are the principles:

  • Anyone can attend. There will be both free and fee-based levels (to help cover the cost of lunch), so money won’t keep anyone from being able to participate.
  • Anyone can speak. There is no committee screening proposals. If people aren’t interested in a topic, they won’t attend. If the presentation isn’t good, they’ll walk out and go to another. There will be a few presentations going on in different rooms at each time slot.
  • Organized by volunteers with the goal of simply breaking even.

It’s a very different approach from a formal conference, democratizing participation and information sharing. While it may seem unorthodox, it’s been used hundreds of times quite successfully. 

Who is going to speak?  Anyone can present.  In other History Camps the speakers have included authors, archivists, students, teachers, researchers, and people from all walks of life who are passionate about history.  We’ve already had people express interest, and we’ll put up a wiki where people can add their names, topics, and contact information. Let us know if you’d like to speak by emailing us (historycampiowa@historycamp.org).

How many speakers are you going to have?  We don’t know.  We hope there are enough so that we can have two to three sessions going at a time. That gives more people a chance to participate and provides choices at each time slot.

Is this all about Iowa history?  Nope!  Any historical topic is on the table.

What are they going to speak about?  Anything related to history, such as research methods, a particular historical event, managing historic sites and institutions, becoming a published author, engaging children with history, historic preservation, and more.

Is someone going to screen the presentations?  No, not in the traditional sense. If a topic isn’t interesting, people won’t attend that session. If the speaker isn’t good, people will quietly walk out and go to another session. This is all explained at the kick-off meeting where everyone introduces themselves at the start of the day. 

Everyone?  Yes, everyone. We’ll go around the room and you’ll see that it’s one of the most interesting parts of the day. History Camp draws a very interesting and diverse crowd.

Where is it going to be?  The State Historical Museum of Iowa has graciously agreed to host History Camp Iowa. The State Museum is located in Des Moines’ historic East Village, just a stone’s throw from the state capitol and dozens of local restaurants and shops. While History Camp is an independent event, we are proud to have the support of the Iowa State Historical Society!

How much will it cost? Who pays for it?  We’ll have registration options for everyone, including an unpaid option. Our goal is simply to cover our costs, which will primarily be lunch and handouts. Organizations and individuals may wish to support History Camp with a donation or help underwrite the event. 

How can I get involved?