Myth of Origins in the Bakken

November 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

I am once again in the Bakken, but this time on business with my wife rather than on my own research adventures. That being said, I did have a chance to visit a few sites that had eluded me including the monument marking the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well which initiated the Bakken boom in 1951 and the rather more obscure site of Temple where sweet North Dakota crude was first transported by rail to markets back east.

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This got me thinking about the myths of origins in the Bakken. The name of the play derives from the Henry O. Bakken #1 spudded in July 1951 and completed less than a year later in April of 1952. The Iverson #1 was, of course, earlier, but Mr. Bakken’s name graces the famous North Dakota oil play.

Some trace the origins of the most recent, fracking inspired oil boom to work in the Elm Coulie oil field in eastern Montana where horizontal drilling and fracking demonstrated the potential of these techniques as early as 2000, almost a decade before the current boom was touched off by a horizontal fractured well west of Williston.

I talk a good bit about the various origin stories in my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch and this morning published Route 5: Williston, ND to Sidney, MT which looks west for the origins of the most recent boom.

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.2. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

P1090294As the kids would say #nofilter

 

Objects, History, Conflict: Cyprus, Atari, The Bakken

November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

This has been a hectic week, but I did have the chance to get a little bit of reading done. I particularly enjoyed Rebecca Bryant’s recent article in American Ethnologist 41 (2014), 681-697 titled “History’s Remainders: On Time and Objects After Conflict on Cyprus.” 

The article looks at objects looted, left behind, and sometimes returned after the conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots in the 1960s and 1970s. The displacement of families from their homes on both sides and the occupation of new homes whose residents were displaced created a series of object biographies that traced the outlines of the conflict itself. Necessity often compelled Cypriots to loot commodities from the homes of their displaced neighbors during lulls and in the aftermath of the conflict. These objects represented the spoils of the conflict and rarely had lasting emotional value. These Bryant refers to as “remainders” whose everyday – mundane – existence communicated an uncanny quality for both the current and past residents of Cypriot homes. Their familiar, yet ambiguous and displaced existence, evoked a disturbed sense of home and belonging (from the belongings).

Bryant called “remains” objects that had clear and intimate connections to the home’s previous owner, and these objects tended to have less ambiguity and be treated with greater respect. Bryant describes photographs, dowry chests, and wedding gowns that evoked the shared humanity of both the resident and displaced “other”. In some cases, these objects were destroyed by the new residents who made efforts to suppress the humanity of their displaced adversaries. In other cases, these objects were preserved or even returned their displaced owners as a gesture of shared humanities.

Both remains and remainders carry with them the burden of history and objects often represent conflict both in a tremendously immediate way and through their complex associations with past events. This emphasizes the temporal character of these objects and their potential both to create a sense of belonging in history and to generate anxiety about an uncertain future. 

At the same time that I was digesting this complex and compelling article, I was following the auction of the games from the Atari landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Without trivializing the history of objects and experiences of people on Cyprus, these games also emerged through a moment of conflict and continue to carry the ambiguous potential of an uncertain future. For some, these games represent the folly of our hyperactive media cycle which can impart value almost instantly and withdraw it almost as quickly. They also invoke the tumultuous history of the gaming industry in the early 1980s. The history of these games, then, rests at the intersection contemporary media culture and the fragile economy of the early 1980s.

Today, I’m heading out to the Bakken oil patch one more time with an updated draft of my Tourist Guide in hand. I’ve been thinking a good bit with Dean MacCannell’s The Tourist (1976). He argues that one of the goals of tourism is to unify the fragmented world of modernity and the subvert the alienation so characteristic of the modern world. This is particularly the case of tourism focused on industrial sites, factories, and the like. The position of the tourist, above and outside of the fragmented experience of industrial labor, allows them to understand the universe of work and the production of objects as all part of the same experience. Rebecca Bryant regarded objects as uncanny owing their ambiguous relationship with time. Tourism must produce a similarly uncanny encounter with the world as the tourist stands outside of the fragmented temporal rhythms of everyday industrial life, but nevertheless still in contact with this experience and its products.

The temporal displacement encountered through tourism and through objects associated with conflicts, the fickle whims of the media, and booms (like the Bakken) makes for a good topic for reflection recently as I spent time in various timezones and observe the world from and increasingly distant and detached perspective. Strolling through airports, truck stops, or streaming by outside a car window has given me pause to consider whether the “unified” world view has any more relationship to our lived experiences than some cheaply made “souvenir”  from an airport gift shop.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

November 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m still in snowy Boulder enjoying warm hospitality despite the low temperatures. I am always impressed by mountains, even if people tell me that they’re just really nice hills.

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My hectic week has impinged a bit on quantity of varia at my disposal, but I still mustered a nice little list, I think, to keep my loyal readers entertained over the weekend:

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IMG 4622Blanket and Elephant 

Another Route from the Tourist Guide to the Bakken

November 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

One of my favorite drives in the Bakken is from Williston, ND to Watford City, ND. The route takes you south over the Missouri River and through the the Little Badlands before turning east south of Alexander, ND with its mighty bypass. The intersection of US Route 85 and ND Route 23 has become a settlement in its own right with workforce housing accommodating over 1000 people around the iconic Bakken Buffet. 

Then you follow US 85/ND Route 23 east, past Arnegard before descending onto the Madson Flat just west of Watford City. On the south side of the road is the imposing Madson grade which was meant to bring the train onto the flat toward Watford City. For my time and energy, the drive from Williston to Watford For more on this, go and check Route 4 in my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch.

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For people into this kind of thing, Google Earth now has Landsat images from late September 2014 available. 

Here is the current table of contents for 

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.2. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

Architecture and Assemblage at the Site of Polis-Chysochous on Cyprus

November 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

 I’m in snowtastic Boulder to give a talk about Cyprus today. If you’re in the area, you should come and here it.

Even the snow is better in Colorado (here’s Grand Forks, for reference; compare the grills):

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Here’s the info:

Caraher flyer

And, if you’re not able to make it to Boulder tonight, here’s the talk:

http://mediterraneanworld.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/first-snow/

Another Installment of the Tourist Guide to the Bakken

November 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m running out of blog titles for my serialized Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, but here is the next installment (IV. Route 3: Tioga to Williston). 

With any luck, I’ll be taking a visitor out to the Bakken next week and doing the Minot to Williston run. This will be another chance to ground truth the Tourist Guide. I’ve also been working to understand some small part of the literature on the tourist’s gaze and the relationship between tourism and other forms of mobility in contemporary culture. I’m not sure that any of this will impact the nuts and bolts of the guide, but it will certainly help me articulate how tourism and tourist guides create a space for the critique of contemporary culture.   

As per usual, I’m posting this because I think it will entertain people, but I have an ulterior motive; I also want some feedback before this manuscript gets its final revision and is sent off to the press for review.

I have a couple specific issues that I’m messing with. First, I’m trying to figure out whether to include small character sketches of some of the people we’ve met out in the patch. We have these great interviews with folks and the people we’ve met add to the character of the patch, but character sketches are not strictly part of the tourist guide genre. Next, I have this overwhelming desire to include a series of hand-drawn maps of the Bakken. And I suspect that I can convince Kostis Kourelis, Richard Rothaus, and Bret Weber to do it, but I’d like to get two more people involved so each route comes with its own map. Anyone interested in preparing a hand-drawn map for my book? The only criteria is that you’ve spent some time in the Bakken. 

I also continue to be interested in the readerly experience with Medium. I like the aesthetics of the site and I find it very readable, but I wonder whether everyone sees it the same way? I also have been thinking about it as a venue for some aspect of the Digital Press. 

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.2. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

The Anatomy of the Atari Auction

November 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

The last week has been pretty exciting for people who have followed the excavation of an assemblage of E.T. Games from the Alamogordo landfill last spring. I participated in the project as one of the archaeological observers and was charmed by the participants and the community. 

This past week saw the start of the auction of 100 of the excavated Atari games. My colleagues and I have expressed some reservations about selling excavated materials. In general, I think it’s a bad idea, but I’ll concede that it is not a cut-and-dry as these objects may well have cultural value only through their association with media-feuled “fake archaeology.”

Last Friday, things got exciting when bit-by-bit the auction of games began to disappear from Ebay. My colleagues and I watched the number of games slowly decrease from 100 to only 19 over an hour. We speculated wildly about the cause. Perhaps Ebay had thought better about selling objects that had been in a municipal landfill for three decades. Perhaps there was dissent among the sellers of the games which would benefit the city of Alamogordo and the local historical society. There had been an election after all! Perhaps the rapidly increasing prices at the auction seemed suspicious with E.T. game in box topping out at over $700.

It ended up being just a procedural issue on the part of Ebay as the seller had updated the images associated with a few of the games, but our fascination and almost giddy panic encapsulated something fundamental about the entire undertaking. The “mystery” surrounding the games themselves a combination of corporate efforts to obfuscate the fate of returned or damaged games, the lack problematic state of Atari corporate records, and the good fiscal decision to bury the games in an economical way. In other words, the mystery surrounding these games and their fate was not a traditional archaeological mystery, but a “fake mystery” fueled by internet debates and lack of access or interest in tracking down documentary records or first-hand accounts which could have set the record straight.       So cynics can celebrate how a fake archaeological project solved a fake mystery.

My eBay Watch list

The media coverage of the auction itself has been bizarre as well. As the games continue to increase in value, with a boxed E.T. game up to $850 at present, Joe Lewandowski, the name behind the historical society’s auction continues to equivocate over the games’ value. He reminds the press that another 750 games will go up for auction after this lot is sold, and that the hundreds of thousands of games still in the landfill would be cost-prohibitive to excavate.

The math is baffling: the current auction has already raised close to $15,000 from 100 games (approximately $150 per game), and the prices will almost certain increase quickly as the auction nears its closing date. If the 750 additional games perform similarly, the auction should raise over $100,000. Even if the next auction does not receive the same bidding and excitement, the reserves on the first round of games were at least $50, so the auction should raise over $40,000 if all the games sell. So, it’s unclear what the city’s strategy is: are they telling bidders to hold on until the 750 new games appear in subsequent auctions? Are they cautioning bidders that the several hundred thousand (and perhaps million games) left underground will sit there to insure the value of their investment? The message is, at best, mixed, and, at worst, disconcerting.

Archaeology of the modern period is tricky because the processes that serve to occlude archaeological objects (whether fake or otherwise) from our site continued to function. The complexities of value, the market, and – to be exceedingly simplistic – modern waste disposal obfuscate the forces that shape artifact histories even as archaeologists work to scrutinize both the objects and processes themselves. Depending on your position, this works to undermine the viability of archaeology in the contemporary world because it makes true critical distancing from the objects under study impossible. Or, it provides a good reason for us to continue to attempt to use archaeology to unpack the workings of objects in our world.   

In the meantime, the auction will go on and people will bid on games. I have. My current plan is to put together a nice little collection of games and gift them to the St. Louis chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America on the condition that they never sell them. Maybe I’m kidding.

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