A Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch

October 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

This morning I posted a draft of the introduction and conclusion to my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch to the online publishing site Medium. I’m just a bit excited about the experiment and will almost certainly publish drafts of the rest of the Guide to Medium over the next few days

I used Medium, rather than my trusty WordPress blog for a number of reasons. First, it seems more suited to long form reading and while none of the individual sections of my guide are long by Archaeology of the Mediterranean World standards, they are just on the edge of tl;dr status on a typical blog. So I wondered whether the clean interface on the Medium would make it easier to read.

More importantly than that, Medium allows readers to comment on specific paragraphs rather than just comment at the level of the blog post. This is a very helpful way of collating comments on a longer manuscript and allows readers to post their immediate gut reactions to a particular section.

My plan is to use the comments assembled at the Medium to revise my manuscript prior to submitting it for peer-review and publication. As readers of this blog know, this project places me a wee bit outside of my traditional, academic comfort zone, so I’m particularly eager to get some feedback on how I do as a historian of North Dakota, as a commenter on our modern, industrial condition, and as an author of something more popular than scholarly (although this work has clearly academic goals).

I intend to serialize my tourist guide over the next couple of weeks, but for this first group of posts, I have focused on my introduction and a fairly rough draft of my concluding comments. More of the tourist guide proper will follow, so please stay tuned!

A Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch

Table of Contents

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.1. 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



On Books and Blogs

October 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

This is the 1000th post on the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. About 950 of them, I’ve authored and the other 50 or so were penned by my remarkable colleagues and contributors.

My average post length is about 300 words, which puts the entire endeavor at around 280,000 words or so. That’s a lot of words. These words have had about 145,000 page views and average around 1000 views per week. I think this is a sustainable clip for me as the author, and, I hope, for you as readers.  

I’ve posted a number of times on how blogging fits into my daily workflow and its benefit to me as a writer and scholar. It ensures that I write every day and smooths the transition from the jumbled nest of ideas in my head to (what I try to pass off as) linear arguments. As readers of this blog know, my posts tend to be messy and unedited and filled with inconsistencies, but I trust my readers to filter out what makes sense and what doesn’t and to cull the good from the posts here and discard the crazy. I hope, on the measure, that my posts produced more wheat than chaff.

If the threshing process is too time consuming, you can, of course, go right to the main coarse of bread. Yesterday afternoon we got the cover image for the book that I wrote with David Pettegrew, Scott Moore and a few other remarkable colleagues.


I love the cover image because it humanizes our work as archaeologist and stands in contrast to recent covers in the series which tend to focus on objects or buildings. It fits our volume because we spend many pages talking about the interaction between the human work of archaeology and analysis that this work produces. The invisibility of antiquity on the cover reminds the reader that archaeological knowledge is not out there waiting to be discovered, but is generated through the relationship between humans and the landscape. The presence of modern artifacts – electrical wires, metal signs and other features – highlights the diachronic nature of our survey work on Cyprus. All this is to say that the cover of our book shows that knowledge production is a messy process and this has fine parallels with the blobs of words that my dedicated readers frequently encounter here. I think this cover really makes our work stand out!

We’re optimistic that the book will available for Christmastime shopping (and everyone’s life is better with a bit of Koutsopetria!), and if it’s not available yet, you can always make it a Very Punk Archaeology Christmas!

I have a few experiments in mind for my online word-making projects in the next couple of weeks, so please stay tuned. And, while it goes without saying, thanks for reading! 

Curationism and Academia

October 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

This week, I read David Balzar’s Curationism which was an entry in Kostis Kourelis’s expertly curated reading list. I’ve been vaguely interested in the concept of curation since UND’s 2013 Arts and Cultural conference titled Cultures of Curation. Anyone who reads the interwebs in even a superficial way comes across the language of curation applied to almost anything.

As Balzar explains, curation in the art world is a comparatively new idea, and it relates clearly to the idea that by combining art from various artists, the curator adds value to the works. This, of course, remains a controversial issue among artists who typically feel that their art has intrinsic value. As a result, curators have worked increasingly hard to demonstrate the unique value of their skills to the art world, while, at the same time, the concept of curation has become appropriated by any individual or corporations who assemble art (or any object).  As celebrity curators, appropriate the term to attract attention to their collections, the value of the term slips from the hands of professionals in the art world. The popularization of curation has made opportunities in the art world for aspiring curators both less lucrative and increasingly few, and called into question the value of the entire profession. 

Balzar associates, then, the deskilling of curation as a product of both its proliferation (which stems, in part, from lack of consensus as to what curation actually is and how it works to create value), and from the growing power of social media tools which allow any individual or group to curate content.  

The deskilling of the curators craft has obvious parallels with concerns among academics – particularly in disciplines like history which have come to celebrate their skills in organizing disparate bodies of data into a cohesive argument. The popularity and quality of sites like Wikipedia which is community curated and lacks the authority of single, known, credentialed artists, reflects the awesome potential of crowd sourcing knowledge and the potential to undermining the authority of the historian’s voice. 

The response to this, at least among some celebrity curators, is to emphasize industry and volume of production. The most famous of these curators is HUO, Han Ulrich Obrist, whose frenetic lifestyle involves almost continuous travel and work. While this clearly reflects the character of the individual as much as anything, Balzar makes clear that it represents an argument against the deskilling of the curator’s craft. The industry, professionalism, professional stature, and dedication of Obrist alone demonstrates the value of and demand for a skilled curator in a world filled with impostures. 

The increased pace of the curators life and the need to appear (if not to be) busy at all times to fit into a 21st century model of professionalism has certainly spilled into the humanities. The pace of life and work of a historian has come to represent value in the eyes of many both within the discipline and outside it. The constant refrains of “I’m so busy” marks out the professional academic as having particular value. (And perhaps serves a contrast to the dilettantish amateur can lavish attention on an obscure project of only personal importance.) At the same time, academic programs dedicated to curation have developed to prepare curators for the challenges of a career in the art world. This step toward professionalization occurred in the humanities during the late 19th centuries and helped to fortify a clear division between amateurs and professionals in an effort to ensure professional historians particular value in the emerging, modern university. Obrist, despite his celebrity, emerged from a preprofessional world of curation and learned his craft through apprenticeships at leading galleries and museums.   

The relationship between professionalization, pace, and value in the world of curation, then, has obvious parallels with the development of academic disciplines in the humanities. History faces the same struggles that the world of curating does with amateurs or crowd sourced alternatives taking more and more attention away from academic practitioners. It remains to be seen how and whether historians can regain their exclusive, professional authority or whether the discipline will succumb to the relentless pressure of popular perception.

What is Punk Archaeology?

October 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Over the last few weeks, Punk Archaeology, both the book and the movement, have received some good press. This weekend, in fact, it was included in a feature length article on the Spanish Huffington Post which grouped the punk archaeology a group of punk scientists like Greg Gaffin from the band Bad Religion who earned a Ph.D. in biology at Cornell. This was flattering.

El Huffington Post última hora noticias y opinión en español

Later this morning, I’m chatting with a local reporter from the Grand Forks Herald and while I’ll stress that we’re really big in Spain (that video makes me very uncomfortable) right now, I still feel like I’ll need to define punk archaeology somehow. In my previous engagements with the media, this has been a bit of stumbling block for me. Typically, I tell the story of how Kostis Kourelis and I had some conversations in 2007 or 2008 about how quite a few Mediterranean archaeologists have punk rock associations. Kostis, I think, then compiled a list of punk archaeologists and maybe posted it on his blog (although I can’t find it) or maybe he posted it on Facebook. At some point after the famous list appeared, we created the Punk Archaeology blog and began writing short essays that explored the intersection between punk rock and archaeology. Most of my essays looked at archaeological methods and how punk and archaeology shared a do-it-yourself ethic, a kind of irreverence toward received tradition, and an interest in abandoned spaces. Kostis’s contributions tend to focus on the archaeology of music or the biographical and intellectual links between archaeologists and avant garde. After a few years of blogging, Aaron Barth and Andrew Reinhard took on the mantel of punk archaeology and the former organized a conference in Fargo and the latter shepherded a book focused on the blog posts and conference through the publication process. This is a great way to describe the origins of a band, but not a very effective way to describe what punk archaeology actually is.

So, I’m sitting here in my decidedly unpunk kitchen this morning, drinking coffee, and trying to figure out how to respond to the reporter who will invariably ask “what is punk archaeology?”

I am sorely tempted to say that it is an effort to disrupt the traditional structures, institutions, and practices of archaeology, but the word “disrupt” has been appropriated by capitalism, and I’m not sure that we’ve been very disruptive. In fact, I am skeptical whether punk rock music was disruptive. The bands sometimes were, of course, with their stage antics, rowdy lyrics, and mercurial fame, but the music itself was pretty conservative. Most of it derived from pop music and, with a few exceptions, had a verse-chorus-verse structure. In fact, punk pioneers like Lou Reed made money writing endearing pop ditties before embarking on the more ambitious project of the Velvet Underground. The tendency of punk rockers to cover pop standards, albeit in unconventional ways, and to gravitate toward folks and blues music (e.g. the Knitters, Jack White) reinforces the strongly conservative strains in punk rock. Maybe that punk archaeology originated in Mediterranean archaeology, which has long been a rather traditional branch of the discipline of archaeology, accounts for the conservative character of punk archaeology (at least in form). But even if I accepted this take on the punk archaeology, I’m not convinced that it is ideal for journalistic consumption.

Maybe it’s better to rely on the simple explanation that the punk archaeology movement uses punk rock music as a tool to think about archaeology in different, more playful ways. For example, both punk rock and archaeology offer unconventional, yet familiar, ways of providing social criticism of the present. As I have been thinking a good bit about my almost completed tourist guide to the Bakken and how has parallels to a punk rock approach to the North Dakota landscape. It takes a familiar genre of work – the tourist guide – and applies it to an unconventional place and set of circumstances – the modern oil patch. The message of the guide will be ambiguous and situated between a post-ironic earnestness and a space for the critical distancing conducive to both contemplation and escape.

I’ve also thought about the Atari excavations in New Mexico and wondered whether encountering and presenting the buried games as archaeological artifacts likewise had the effect of providing some distance from the familiar and opening these objects up to new forms of critique. 

So maybe I need to emphasize how punk archaeology is a tool that encourages us to approach the familiar in unconventional ways. It complements conventional archaeology which likewise provides a distance for critically understanding objects from the past, but in most cases these objects are already unfamiliar to the modern viewer. Maybe I need to emphasize how punk archaeology makes the familiar and everyday unfamiliar.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

October 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

The lovely fall weather seems to be inclined to linger here in North Dakotaland, and we’ll take every day more that we can get. Right now, however, the weather doesn’t matter because my eyes are glued to our so-called “internet television” watching Australia’s first test match of summer: Australia v. Pakistan in Dubai. At the time of this writing, Pakistan seems to have Australia on the ropes. 

I think I’ll watch the extra length second session (extended because of time off for Friday prayers), and contemplate my quick hits and varia. Don’t worry, though, they’ll be ready for your weekend reading.

IMG 2178Watching the Cup Race. 

Connectivity in Cyprus and Corinth

October 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

Over the last few weeks, David Pettegrew and I have been working on an article that compares finds data from the Corinthia and from our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. We were particularly interested in understanding how the types of ceramics that we can identify in survey assemblages shapes the types of economic relationships we can recognize in the Eastern Mediterranean. As one might expect, our focus has been on the Late Roman world, and we have been particularly interested in the difference between the kind of economic relationships manifest in assemblages comprised of highly visible amphoras and those manifest in highly diagnostic Late Roman red slip wares. The entire project is framed by Horden and Purcell’s notion of connectivity and that’s the unifying theme of the volume to which this paper will contribute.

The paper is exciting because it represents a step beyond the work that David has been doing on his book on the Isthmus of Corinth. I’ve read a draft of the book and it’ll be exciting. It also represents the next step for our work with the Pyla-Koutsopetria data. It is significant that all of our survey data upon which this paper is based, is available on Open Context. Our book should be available in time for the holidays. 

The draft below is 95% of the way there with only a few niggling citations to clean up. Enjoy and, as always, any comments or critiques would be much appreciated!

Ethnicity and Archaeology in Modern Methana

October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hamish Forbes has had a productive retirement. It seems like hardly a month goes by without some significant article from the tip of his pen. I finally got around to reading his article, “Archaeology and the Making of Improper Citizens in Modern Greece,” in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 27.1 (2014).

Forbes argues that many Methanites, who are Arvanitika speakers, do not relate to the national archaeological narrative constructed by the Greek state which have tended to celebrate the ties between modern Greece and Classical Antiquity and the monuments of Athens. Arvanitika speakers who settled in Greece at some point between the late Medieval period (say 13th century?) and the Ottoman period have stood outside of the national narrative in Greece that has been slow to recognize the existence of “ethnic minorities” typically defined by language. In fact, Forbes makes the point that there is no official capacity to recognize ethnic minorities in Greece, and this might be partially the result of conflating issues of ethnicity with desires for alternate national identities (ethnoi), partially the result of periods of hyper-nationalist political rhetoric, and partially the desire of the Greek state to distinguish itself in the European Union.

Forbes notes that Arvanitika speaking communities are common in Boeotia, Attica, and across the Northeastern Peloponnesus, but have generally found ways to hide their identities from outsiders and the unsympathetic gaze of the state. On the Methana peninsula, this has manifest itself in the community’s lack of interest in the ancient ruins on the peninsula, and attention to a fort dated to the Greek War of Independence. The fort was apparently constructed by the French philhellene Charles Fabvier to train Greek troops. Today, the fortification, visible on the narrow isthmus that separates Methana from the northern coast of Troezene, bears a large Greek flag painted on its flanks and this explicitly connects the site to a national identity. At the same time, the national identity manifest in this 19th century ruin, however, is nevertheless outside the main archaeological narrative promoted by the Greek state. In other words, the 19th century ruin provides an opportunity to locate the Arvanitika-speaking community within a positive narrative of the Greek state.

Forbes discusses the way in which local communities articulate their archaeological landscape and how it often differs from the interest of national or foreign archaeologists. He cites Susan Sutton’s description of the communities around the archaeological site of Nemea who associated more closely with a cave in a nearby hill that they relate to the den of the Nemean lion. Methanites likewise recognize the antiquity of a cave set high on the slopes of the volcanic peninsula, and Forbes notes that these natural features often provide points of reference in the landscape that allow local communities to establish regionally meaningful archaeological identities.

This article caught my attention for two reasons. First, on the Western Argolid Regional Project this summer we documented a fortification associated with the Greek War of Independence. Without getting into too much detail, graffiti festooned a number of parts of this rather visible fortification allowing individuals to locate their names within the archaeological landscape. This linked the nearby community of Lyrkeia very closely to a historical place. It is interesting to note that the nearby ancient ruins did not attract similar attention. The fort on Methana will also be a useful point of architectural comparison for our fortification in the Argolid although our fortress has far less august a historical pedigree. 

I was also interested in reading that Forbes did not mention the inventio story associated with the church of St. Barbara. According to Forbes’ monograph on Methana, a local resident had a dream which led the villagers to excavate and discover the bones of St. Barbara and St. Juliana who helped protect the island from the influenza epidemic in the early 20th century. I’ve blogged about it here. What’s interesting about this story is that it presents indigenous archaeology as more than simply the recognition of ruins or sites by a community, but the actual excavation of sites of particular significance. As Arvanitika speakers and Greek speakers in Greece share the Orthodox faith, it is significant that both communities have used these same methods to create locally meaningful archaeological landscapes (if not in the strictly scientific sense) that resonate with national narratives emphasizing the Orthodox (and Byzantine) roots of the Greek nation. This narrative is distinct from the national narrative that privileges Classical antiquity, and perhaps provides another alternate space for the forging of historically significant national identities.   


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