North Dakota Sky

August 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

The past two weeks have been hot, a bit muggy, sunny, and dry. The sky has been pink and brilliant in the morning except on Thursday, when we enjoyed impressive line of thunderstorms.

This the what those storms did to our sky:

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This prompted me to make this little triptych of our morning skies from the past week. It was inspired (actually “copied from”) by a print that I saw a couple of years ago at UND’s spectacular Arts and Culture Conference.

Triptych

It’s a nice time to live in North Dakota.

Backyard Archaeology

August 13, 2013 § 3 Comments

Every now and then I get such a brilliant idea that I have to patiently wear down my wife’s skepticism. For the last year, I’ve been suggesting (as well as hinting, imploring, and begging) that I be allowed to conduct a proper excavation in part of our backyard. She has finally agreed.

When we bought our house 2 years ago there was a swing-set in the backyard. The base of the swing-set was a sandbox. It appears that the sandbox was cut into the ground by maybe 10 cm. When the swing-set was removed, the sand from the sandbox stayed and as a result nothing can grow in a 3 m x 1.5 m splotch in our back yard. Some way or another, the sand must be removed if we want to have a lush and appropriate backyard lawn. 

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The need to remove sand, however, is probably not a sufficiently robust scientific reason to conduct a proper excavation. Archaeology is, after all, destructive and archaeological contexts are a limited resource. There is an archaeological justification for excavating the backyard, however. Our house probably dates to 19th century and is probably the oldest house on our block and in our section of town. We know that the house has seen only limited modification. A back room – maybe designed to be an expanded kitchen – and sleeping porch were added at some point probably in the earliest 20th century. The sleeping porch was built in by the mid-20th century to serve as an additional bedroom. The front porch as it now exists dates from the last decade of the 20th century, but it likely replaced an earlier porch. There has been extensive landscaping and there are two out buildings: a one car garage that is earlier than a two car garage. The former is probably mid-20th century – judging by the massive elm tree that today pushes into the side of the structure – and the latter is probably from the 1970s. This short architectural history of the house demonstrates that there is little chance that we’ll uncover fragile architectural remains associated with an earlier phase of our house or an earlier structure on the site. This makes our excavation relatively low risk in terms of possibly damaging otherwise protected earlier structures.

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More importantly, from what I can gather there has never been a fully published archaeological excavation within the urban core of Grand Forks. Despite the almost constant excavating of foundations for new buildings, there is no effort to document the remains of earlier structures on these sites. What does happen, however, is neighbors discover buried middens in their backyards while preparing gardens and the like. At a recent block party several folks reported finding old bottles and other archaeological material between the back of their houses and the alley way. I suspect that an excavation in my backyard will reveal trash pit from the turn of the 20th century as well as construction debris associated with the house. Carefully documenting these finds will not only reveal the rich material culture associated with small town habitation, but also serve as a study collection for finds discovered in other, more neighborly (and unscientific) gardening digs.

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With very recently granted approval, I need to start to assemble a team to excavate my backyard and to determine what approvals will be necessary (including local utilities!). I am clearly not qualified to document the material culture from a turn of the century excavation and have no experience digging in the Red River Valley or the Northern Plains, but fortunately, I know some people who do have experience. We plan to backfill the trench and replace the barren ground with sod when we’re done and it won’t be any larger than 3 x 3 m. When we excavate, it will be important to publish the results promptly both on the web and in a more traditional form. My thought is that our Grand Forks Community History Series might provide a useful venus. Hopefully the finds can find a home at a local museum and the digital or paper documentation of our work can live in Special Collections at the University of North Dakota.

My hope is to start our work mid-summer 2014 provided we can jump through any hoops. I’ll certainly keep you posted.

North Dakota Man Camp Project Update

June 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

This post is from Bret Weber, a former camp cook for the Pyla-Koustsopetria Archaeological Project and now my co-director in the North Dakota Man Camp Project. He recent directed our third major fieldwork trip to the Bakken, and since I was in Cyprus, he has generously provided this update. Thanks, Bret!

Last week I led a team of 6 out to North Dakota’s industrial wilderness as part of the ongoing work of the North Dakota Man Camp project. The team included Kyle Cassidy—the famous and delightfully genial photographer’s second trip to western ND. This was the first trip specific to the man camp project for the other four members who included the first women to join the project. Robert Caulkins is a PhD student at UND. In addition to his insights as a Marxist historian he brought his personal experiences from having worked and lived in similar circumstances earlier in his life, along with his tats and bearing that assured our easy passage. Florent is a Parisian and new lawyer who recently passed two bar exams including one on patent law. He has some specific interests in unmanned aerial vehicles, but he reads broadly and has a keen insight for systems analysis. Julia Geigle, Florent’s partner is an MSW student finishing up her Masters thesis and is a co-author on an article about the impact of the boom on social service systems that has just been accepted by ‘Social Work,’ the top journal in that field. Carenlee Barkdull—my partner and fellow co-author on the previously mentioned article—is an Associate Professor in UND’s Department of Social Work. She and I have done other work out in the oil patch, but this was her first trip explicitly related to the man camp project. Each of the members brought rich new insights to the work, though the insights of the two women were less gender specific than we had been expecting.

Adsc 9020Bret Weber (photo Kyle Cassidy)

The collection of 150 surveys helped to fund the trip and the work promises to supplement our ongoing data collection about temporary workers in the oil patch, especially in relation to their housing situation. However, while the specific information gathered on the surveys will surely have value, we also gained insights by simply doing the work of gathering surveys. For instance, we had hoped to gather surveys from a distribution of the various man camp types identified in other posting on Bill’s blog. Additionally, we had planned to pick up some quick and easy surveys at the infamous WalMart in Williston. However, the megastore was surprisingly slow (for that location) and there was security everywhere including patrols in the parking lot. Carenlee proposed that we go to the train station, and we chanced to hit it at the perfect time. The Empire Builder only rolls through town once a day and we happened to get there an hour before it arrived. This gave us a chance to collect surveys from those waiting to catch their train and those who disembarked when it arrived, even while it rained outside.

The two main observations that I took from this recent trip (my 10th out to the patch in the last 18 months) had to do with 1) the diminished number of camps in Watford City and 2) a hopefully helpful insight around issues of ownership and an apparent caste system across occupations. The previous week, Bill and I had already noticed a relative dearth of the most ad hoc and ephemeral Type III camps. Indeed, on that reconnaissance trip we ‘speculated on an hypothesis’ that perhaps Type IIIs were a component of the ‘edge’ of the boom where it was newest. Consequently, we drove several hours south and east to the front of the expanding boom, but only found more of the Type I & II camps that we were seeing elsewhere in the patch. Taking greater time on this survey trip and looking at the camps more closely I realized that areas that had been almost completely full of camps as recently as last summer have since been cleared for shopping malls. Additionally, Tioga and Watford City have built hundreds of units of permanent housing. If this boom continues for a long time, their wisdom will pay off: if it busts anytime soon, those communities will have failed to heed the lessons from previous booms and be left with bills for infrastructure.

The two main observations that I took from this recent trip (my 10th out to the patch in the last 18 months) had to do with 1) the diminished number of camps in Watford City and 2) a hopefully helpful insight around issues of ownership and an apparent caste system across occupations. The previous week, Bill and I had already noticed a relative dearth of the most ad hoc and ephemeral Type III camps. Indeed, on that reconnaissance trip we ‘speculated on an hypothesis’ that perhaps Type IIIs were a component of the ‘edge’ of the boom where it was newest. Consequently, we drove several hours south and east to the front of the expanding boom, but only found more of the Type I & II camps that we were seeing elsewhere in the patch. Taking greater time on this survey trip and looking at the camps more closely I realized that areas that had been almost completely full of camps as recently as last summer have since been cleared for shopping malls. Additionally, Tioga and Watford City have built hundreds of units of permanent housing. If this boom continues for a long time, their wisdom will pay off: if it busts anytime soon, those communities will have failed to heed the lessons from previous booms and be left with bills for infrastructure.

The previous week, Bill and I had already noticed a relative dearth of the most ad hoc and ephemeral Type III camps. Indeed, on that reconnaissance trip we ‘speculated on an hypothesis’ that perhaps Type IIIs were a component of the ‘edge’ of the boom where it was newest. Consequently, we drove several hours south and east to the front of the expanding boom, but only found more of the Type I & II camps that we were seeing elsewhere in the patch. Taking greater time on this survey trip and looking at the camps more closely I realized that areas that had been almost completely full of camps as recently as last summer have since been cleared for shopping malls. Additionally, Tioga and Watford City have built hundreds of units of permanent housing. If this boom continues for a long time, their wisdom will pay off: if it busts anytime soon, those communities will have failed to heed the lessons from previous booms and be left with bills for infrastructure.Let me back into that discussion by first revisiting the surveys. One of the questions on the surveys was whether workers owned or rented their housing—we had set up this question imagining that it would provide a quick metric to distinguish whether people lived in a Type I or II camp. However, very quickly we realized that we had neglected a key and obvious alternative—housing provided by an employer. Indeed, most of the workers in Type I housing did not either rent or own their rooms, instead, ‘housing’ is simply part of the contract for working out in the patch. This caused us to think about the responsibilities of ownership in Type II camps. While not all RVs or trailers parked in Type II camps are directly owned by the residents, it seems to make sense that there would be a much closer relationship between occupants and owners in the Type IIs. This leads to a broad array of other considerations: who is responsible for paying for weatherization (which, we found out, is a big business in the patch, generally costing about $2,000 per trailer)? What about when lights burn out or pipes freeze? This, we think, is an additional distinction between Type Is & Type II camps that deserves further consideration as we prepare for the August Field trip after Bill returns from the Mediterranean.

The Greek Orthodox Church in Grand Forks

May 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Since this is the Monday after Easter for my Greek Orthodox friends, I thought it was a good time to post something on the Greek Orthodox church in Grand Forks, North Dakota. One of the first things that I noticed when I got to know something about the community here in Grand Forks was the conspicuous absence of any substantial Greek population. There was no Greek church (or any kind of Orthodox congregation) and no obvious Greek names in community lore (and no Greek restaurants, businesses, or organizations). Despite the far reach of the Greek immigrant community, Grand Forks appeared to be one of the few places that did not attract a Greek population.

The agricultural economy of the region, the absence of manufactory and extractive industries, and the inhospitable climate probably could explain the absence of substantial Greek community (although one does exist in larger communities in the region like Winnipeg to the north and Duluth to the east and a church dedicated to St. Peter the Aluet serves the Greek community (as well as others) in Minot to the west.). It is worth noting, however, that the state did see Syrian, Lebanese, and Jewish communities around the turn of the century.   

Moreover, a little digging in the archives at the University of North Dakota by Daniel Sauerwein, indicated that a Greek community did exist in town, even though few traces remain. In the process of researching for a book, Daniel found a few images of the Greek church. The church was apparently moved to the corner of 4th Avenue and Walnut St. in 1958 and it functioned until 1990. 

We’re pretty sure that this is an image of the building’s interior.

GOCInterior

The building itself was wood-framed, as one might expect, and modest in size and adornment. It is difficult to know for certain whether the Greek Orthodox community built the church new or moved into a structure built for another congregation. The absence of a steeple suggests that it might have been build for the Orthodox congregation. The church stood in the neighborhood known as Churchville and was immediately adjacent to the much more imposing United Lutheran Church and nearby the Beaux Arts (with more than a few hints of Byzantine influence) Christian Science Church. My guess is that this little church served the entire Orthodox community in the area. 

GOCExterior1

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I am sure some members of the community can add to what we know about this building and it congregation (since we know next to nothing!). I have to think that some of the reason that we know so little about this church and its community is that the building has vanished.

 So, if you can add more to the story, leave a comment or hit me with a tweet. Thanks to Daniel Sauerwein for keeping his eyes peeled for information on this little community and their church! (And you’ll be hearing more about Daniel’s researches in the fall, so stay tuned!)

Field Finds

May 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

The snow is finally gone leaving behind all sort of finds.

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More Thaw in 2013

April 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sometimes the thaw doesn’t take and you have to start again:

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But it always happens (2013201220112010, 2009)

Dusk

April 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

The North Dakota sky at 9 pm when my night class lets out. Not a glorious photograph, but enough to get the idea. 

Dusk

The Great Thaw of 2013

March 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Every year (so far) we have thawed (201220112010, 2009).

MeltingND

Three Things for Tuesday

March 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

The next two weeks are busy, but pretty exciting ones for me. So I thought I would use todays post as an advertisement for myself and some of these cool events.

First, I head east on Friday to Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC for their spring colloquium on Byzantine archaeology. This spring it will focus on survey archaeology in a Byzantine context. This is the third colloquium focusing on Byzantine archaeology. My notes on the second colloquium are here, and Kostis Kourelis’s notes on the first colloquium are here. This year’s colloquium will be more focused on a specific practice and its relation to Byzantine archaeology rather than on the field in general or its relation to long standing institutions. Here’s a link to the colloquium and the program. It will be interesting to hear whether the field of Byzantine archaeology manifests at particular distinction or cohesion at the level of practice. 

On my return to North Dakota, my buddy Bret Weber and I head south to North Dakota State University in Fargo to present on our research on man camps in the Bakken oil patch. This talk will be our first formal academic talk as a research team (rather than just on our own) and will hopefully present a more advanced state of our research than any point before. The talk is on April 3rd from 2-3:30 in MU Rose Room.

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Finally, on Friday April 5th, Prof. Sam Fee from Washington and Jefferson College will come via the internets to the University of North Dakota to present on his work with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (PKAP) on creating a web and tablet application for collecting archaeological data in the field. We alpha tested the cleverly named PKApp (get it?) this summer and wrote a short technical piece on the application this spring for Near East Archaeology. Sam and I will run the talk like conversation exploring the technical aspects of trench-side data collection, the practical concerns, and the future directions of this technology. Sam was one of the great early bloggers and technologists in Mediterranean archaeology. Check out Sam’s blog here. Sam’s talk will be at 1 pm in the Working Group in Digital and New Media lab in O’Kelly 203 at the University of North Dakota.

Domesticity and the Man Camp in the Bakken Oil Patch

March 25, 2013 § 1 Comment

As many of you know, Bret Weber and I have been working on a study of the man camps associated with the North Dakota oil boom with some amazing colleagues. We call our project the North Dakota Man Camp Project. On Saturday, Bret and I had our first writing day. For about 11 hours, we sequestered ourselves to brainstorm and write.

ManCampBrainstorm

Over that time we managed to produce a rough outline for an article, work through some of the historiography and literature review (which includes literature on social policy, archaeological theory, the New West historians, and vernacular architecture!), and start to produce actual analysis of our data. 

The section included below is fresh from the document produced on Saturday and undoubtedly full of stylistic, proofreading, and thinking issues. On the other hand, it is probably our most sophisticated statement to date on our work in the Bakken. 

Domesticity and Workforce Housing in the Bakken

Mobile homes, recreational vehicles, campers, travel trailers, and other forms of mobile housing form the bulk of workforce housing in the Bakken oil patch. From the elaborate modular housing units characteristic of the Type 1 camps operated by Target logistics to the most modest “fifth wheel” travel trailer tucked into a tree line or parked in a farmer’s field, the dominant form of workforce housing in the Bakken. While the units themselves all make varying concessions to architectural expectations associated with domesticity, units in Type 2 and Type 3 camps tended to see architectural modification designed to accommodate the temporary residence in the Bakken. Type 1 camps, in contrast, tend to be more architecturally standardized and sterile with only limited opportunities for the modification of space.

Work and Life

Historical ideals of domestic space emerged during the industrial revolution. Industrialization saw the gradual decline of the putting-out system where families took parts of the manufacturing process into their homes. The emergence of the factory and, later, the office as the site for work stood in contrast to the space of the home as the civilizing retreat. The creation of company towns attempted to manage strictly the division between domestic space and work space represented a very formal manifestation of this division and demonstrated that the ideal of domestic space was not a form of resistance to the demands of labor, but a complementary to the needs of management to produce well-ordered employees. The corporate control of company towns like the “Fordvilles” set up to house Ford employees emphasized the civilizing character of an idealized, middle-class domestic life. Historically, temporary housing for resource extraction often followed some of these same rules with restrictions of alcohol consumption and divisions based on rank, salary, and occupation ensured that the camps rules enforced ideals associated with proper society. In the physical work of construction and resource extraction, the all-male workforce contributed to a perceived need for order as the employees lacked the civilizing touch of women and families.

This type of strictly managed division between place of work and domestic space typified the arrangement of Type 1 camps. Often set up to house the workers from a particular multinational corporation, they maintain a rather strict rules with regard to alcohol consumption, cleanliness, and behavior. In one particularly well-appointed Type 1 camp, on entering the facility, there is a mudroom where residents would shed their dirty work clothes and prepare to enter an area separated from work life. Once inside, small, standardized rooms provide a modicum of privacy, comfort, and personal space. The space around the camps are clean, austere, and without public space for unstructured interaction. Trucks from the various companies working in the Bakken fill the well-light and graveled parking lot in neat rows. Like the corporate suburbs from the first half of the 20th century, the structured and consistent environment presented by these camps mimics the structured workforce housed within its walls. As an informant at one such camp told us, men come here to work, sleep, and eat. Working takes place on site and sleeping and eating in the Type 1 camp.

Type 2 and 3 camps represent a different model of workforce housing. Irregular in organization and allowing for substantial individualization, the camps often represent the breakdown between domestic and work space. Some camps grow up around work sites. Camp ##, for example, housed the employees at a truck maintenance shop on a major thoroughfare. Another camp housed construction workers at a nearby site. This arrangement, however, is not particularly unusual in the context of workforce housing where the proximity of labor to the worksite represented one of the major advantage of creating work camps.

At the same time, Type 2 and 3 camps show a far deeper integration of work and domestic space. RV parks housing workers often sit next to idling trucks waiting for the next shift. Tired, equipment, and tools litter the space around the units indicating the some maintenance took place in the immediate vicinity of domestic space. The tendency for more residence of Type 2 and 3 camps to be independent contractors rather than employees of large multinational companies likely accounts for the use of domestic space as places for work. In fact, the separation between domestic and work places has largely been a product of corporate culture.

Domestic Space and Identity

If traditional ideas of work-life separation characterizes the organization of space in Type 1 camps, these spaces also tend to provide the least space for the expression of individual identity. The small size of the rooms, their regular shape and organization, and policies that limit significant modification to the basic fabric of the units limit how individual residents can present themselves. The practice of individuals staying in the Bakken for four to six week, leaving the area for two weeks off, and then returning to a different room within the Type 1 camp (or a different camp entirely) limited the opportunities and the incentive to individualize space.

Type 2 and 3 camps, in contrast, offer remarkably substantial pallets for self-expression. In some cases, self expression could be as simple as parking one’s car or motorcycle in front of a unit. Living for an extended period of time in the same unit encouraged a sense of ownership. Having space around individuals unit also made it easier to individualize one’s environment. In some cases, individuals modified their space to accommodate practical needs related to oil patch work. Plywood mudrooms with shed roofs leaned against the side of the RV provide a place to remove dirty clothing prior to entering the unit. Built storage units provide additional space for tools and personal effects, and pathways made of plywood or shipping pallets marked the route from where a vehicle is parked to the door of the unit.

Beyond these practical modifications to their living spaces, residents in Type 2 and 3 camps had opportunities to create distinctive living space around their units. Numerous units included elevated decks, grills, tables, awnings, and camp chairs arranged for spending time outdoors. Units had small garden plot which included vegetables as well as ornamental plants. Evidence for pets was not usual ranging from kennels set out of the sun to area set apart with ad hoc fences. In August, there were signs of kids play areas in some units including small pools, bikes, toys, and other aspects of family life. Some particularly elaborate units featured grass lawns.

In many Type 2 camps, individuals own their units and this allows for a particular freedom to customize and individualize their living areas. They also tend to rent the lots which included some space for parking, equipment storage, and recreational space around their unit as well as access to a mast for electricity and hook ups for water and sewage. Rules enforced by camp owners at Type 2 camps and by state and local laws dictate the extent to which space can be modified. For example, it is no longer legal to enclose one’s unit completely in freestanding architecture in a Type 2 camp. An indoor RV park – a particularly elaborate version of Type 2 camps – allows an individual to part their RV in a climate controlled garage, but also severely restricts the kind of modifications on can make to a unit that space. Type 1 camps, in contrast, are more like hotels where individuals pay for a room or bunk. Type 3 camps, as I will discuss later, may include squatters who do not pay rent and do not have a clear set of guidelines established by camp owners or management.

Material and Community

A Type 3 camp nestled amid a shelter belt near the town of Tioga demonstrated a tendency to pool resources to support communal ideal of domesticity. Unlike Type 2 camps, where individuals arranged their units to accommodate their practical needs and identities. The freedom to control the space around one’s unit mimicked the individualized houses in a modern American suburb or, perhaps better still, small town and demonstrate a sense of personal space and perhaps even ownership. A Type 3 camp that we visited stood in a shelter belt near a construction site. The units did not have masts, water or sewage hook-ups. Without the access to these services restricting the arrangement of the units, the residents located their units, which included a tent, around common space where they prepared food and socialized as a group. They also had carved a horseshoe pit out of the undergrowth in the shelter belt with a bobcat borrowed from the local construction site. The assemblage in the common area included numerous coolers to preserve food, insulated jugs for water, tables, several grills for cooking, pans for cleaning dishes, dishes, and an area for a camp fire. We first visited this camp in August 2012, when we returned in February 2013, the residents had departed quite recently. Left behind where coolers filled with food and beer, pallets used to support a truck bed camper. Since the residents were most likely squatters, there were no requirements to remove discarded objects from the site and judging from the goods left behind, perhaps little opportunity.

Conclusions

Since the 19th century, ideas of domesticity and labor have gone hand-in-hand. Domestic space, no less than the space of work in factories or offices, has represented a space of control linked, in part, to the production of reliable, consistent worker to provide labor in a highly structured industrial economy. The organization of Type 1 camps embraced this division between space of work and highly regulated space of home. Type 2 camps provide residents with greater freedom of expression and use of space. The assemblages associated with these camps are more dynamic and diverse, and the architectural diversity evokes the modern suburbs or small towns where each home expresses something about the identity of the owner. At least one Type 3 camps, in contrast, offered an alternate, vision of domestic life that was both less formally structured by access to utilities and, at the same time, organized around shared space reflecting certain communal aspects of everyday life.

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