Friday Varia and Quick Hits

After what seemed like two months of intolerable cold, we’re finally looking forward to some milder weather this weekend with the high in mid-20s and some light snow to tidy to tidy up the neighborhood.

This week was hectic, but a mild weekend offers a great chance to hunker down, read, write, and recharge for another busy week. 

In the meantime, here are some quick hits and varia:

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The Wesley College Documentation Project

In about a half hour, I start my one-credit class designed to document the two buildings on the University of North Dakota’s campus associated with Wesley College: Robertson/Sayre and Corwin/Larimore halls. I’ve christened this project the Wesley College Documentation Project

1. Research Questions and Goals

The project has a number of overlapping research questions that focus on how buildings make manifest the history and changing priorities of an American university and its campus. In particular, I am interested in how the architecture of Wesley College, the innovative relationship between Wesley College and UND, and the organization of space within the original buildings reflects the negotiation of campus priorities between the two institutions over the 50 years of their co-institutional existence. 

I am also interested in abandonment, however, and want to understand how the material manifestation of the abandonment (and demolition) of these buildings manifests the complicated relationship between university financial strategy, budget cuts and austerity, faculty, staff, and students needs in the 21st century, and the construction and preservation of historical memory at UND. 

These research questions boil down to three goals:

1. Study the history of Wesley College in the context of Robertson/Sayre and Corwin/Larimore Halls.

2. Document the historical architecture, spaces, and memories tied to the physical fabric of Wesley College and UND’s Robertson/Sayre and Corwin/Larimore Halls.

3. Document the process of abandonment throughout these buildings as evidence for 21st century university life.

2. Methods

This course will focus on the careful examination and documentation of both the architecture of Robertson/Sayre and Corwin/Larimore, but also how the university adapted these buildings over time to serve new functions for campus. From their origins as dormitories to their final days as classroom, offices, and labs, R/S and C/L halls have functioned as quintessential university buildings and have both preserved traces of their pasts uses and their present abandonment.

The best way to recognize these changes and the history of these buildings is looking carefully at the physical fabric and what was left behind. To do this, we will document carefully rooms across both buildings noting what is in the rooms now, whether the rooms have been changed or transformed, and how the various transformations provide clues to their functions across time. We will use photography, video, sketch drawings, and textual descriptions to document the life of these buildings on site as well as some time with archival descriptions, photographs, and plans.

The Archival Research

The University Archives in the Department of Special Collections at the UND library has a good collection of Wesley College Papers some of which describe the construction and funding of Robertson/Sayre and Corwin/Larimore halls and some describe life in these buildings. While creating a digital collection of papers related to these buildings is not as pressing a priority as documenting the buildings themselves, it is something that we should start this semester.

There are also published and unpublished works similarly tell the story of Wesley College and its buildings. We should look to create a bibliography of these works over the next two months.

Oral History

Memories are often linked to space and places. Engaging long time denizens of the Wesley College buildings and encouraging them to tell stories about their time in the buildings will be a key aspect of our work. Creating an oral history archive to accompany our archival research and archaeological and architectural documentation will ensure that memories tied to the physical fabric of the buildings is not lost.

Archaeological Procedures

Most archaeological knowledge is based on careful observation and systematic documentation. The core of our work in these buildings is looking carefully and documenting what we see.

In many cases, the rooms in Robertson/Sayre and Corwin/Larimore are still filled with stuff. This stuff is the detritus of years of use as offices, dorm rooms, classrooms, and associated spaces, and in many cases reflect a distinct moment of the abandonment of these buildings.

The plan is to create two-person teams, each with a phone, a camera, a notebook, and a floor plan.

1. One team member takes a video with their phone of the room starting at the doorway and then moving systematically through the space using smooth, even, and deliberate movements. The video should be at least 30 seconds long and might be much longer depending on the size of the room. Once the video is complete, record the file number in the notebook.

2. The second team member starts to describe the entire room in the notebook starting with the ceiling, floor, and window, and then moving counter-clockwise around the room one wall at a time noting (1) any evidence for changes to the fabric or organization of the room over time, (2) all of the rooms features including power outlets, ethernet boxes, light switches, nails in the wall, (3) all furniture with whenever possible, the name of the furniture manufacture, (4) all pieces of technology, (5) all other objects or signs of use (papers, stickers, trash).

3. The first team member sketches the room onto the “one-line” drawing making sure to position the furniture and objects accurately in relation to the architecture.

4. When the sketch and drawing is done, one team member photographs the room systematically making sure that each side of the room is photographed in such a way to capture all the objects and features of the room. The number of photographs for each room will vary depending on the size and organization of the room, but more photos are always better then fewer photos.


Just last night, I had a conversation with Richard Rothaus, a collaborator on this project, and he nudged me to think about how we can commemorate the lives of these buildings through performance. As we toured the buildings last week, we talked about having the letters between Wesley College President Edward Robertson and one of the major donors to the university A.J. Sayre, after whose late son Sayre Hall is named. The letters, particularly after Sayre’s son died in WWI are sad and personal and it makes clear that Sayre’s contribution to Wesley College were grounded in early 20th century ideas.

We also talked about doing something with Maxwell Anderson’s 1911 senior play, The Masque of the Pedagogues. Anderson was a resident of Sayre Hall and the characters in his play trace the experiences of a student early 20th century UND in a humorous and irreverent way. I have an idea who could play the part of Orin G. Libby…

I also think that the Wesley College spaces could be used, on last time, to perform music. 

For more on the Wesley College Documentation Project, go here.


Writing up the Excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus, Part 1.

A few weeks ago, I boldly complained (in my head) that this is the February of Pyla-Koutsopetria. Since then, my colleagues and I have been working frantically to get the second volume of our work at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus completed and ready for submission. The second volume documents our three seasons of excavation and a couple of seasons of early excavation at the site by the Department of Antiquities on Cyprus.

I was tasked with wrapping up the conclusion while I have most of the basic summary work done, I’m working this week on the historiographic components of the conclusion that frame my more summary remarks. I’m arguing that contemporary archaeology of Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine Cyprus is primarily concerned with three things: first, it continues the tradition of placing Cyprus within the economic and political context of the Roman East; second, it has expanded from being a largely urban archaeology (with a few notable exceptions) to an archaeology invested as much in the landscape and countryside as in the monumental urban centers; and finally, work on Cyprus has contributed to the growing interest in the “long Late Antiquity” in the Eastern Mediterranean that argues from continuities between the 5th and 8th or even 9th centuries there.

This is how I started this section today (and please excuse the incomplete and, perhaps, inaccurate citations!):

Historically, urban archaeology has dominated the study of Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine Cyprus. The impressive urban sites of Paphos, Kourion, Salamis, Soloi, Amathus, and even Polis-Arsinoe have received the majority of archaeological attention. This has largely followed long-standing interests in the Iron Age kingdoms of the island and the island’s reputation as one of the most urban landscapes of the Eastern Mediterranean. For Late Antiquity, this attention to urban contexts produced a bumper crop of monumental Early Christian basilicas and excavations at Paphos, Amathus, Kourion, and Salamis revealed multiple examples of elaborate Christian buildings. The emphasis on urban sites and Christian buildings contributed to argument for long-term continuity of settlement on the island from the Iron Age into the Roman and Late Roman periods. Moreover, it provided archaeological evidence for the antiquity of these urban episcopal sees that represented the famously autonomous Cypriot church in antiquity and demonstrated ecclesiastical continuity into the modern period. The archaeological attention received by monumental Christian architecture exerted a formative influence over the trajectory of Late Roman and Byzantine archaeology on the island. Church plans, architectural typologies, and less frequently decorative techniques, particularly mosaic and wall painting, formed the basis for interpreting the place of Cyprus in the both the history of Late Roman and Byzantine architecture, and in the Eastern Mediterranean. From G. A. Soteriou’s ambitious arguments for the central role of Cypriot churches in the development of Byzantine architecture more broadly (1935; see Davis and Stewart 2014) to A.H.M. Megaw’s famous article that asked whether Byzantine architecture on Cyprus was metropolitan or provincial (1974) and Slobadon Curcic’s 2000 reformulation of that question as provincial or regional, architecture, floor plans in particular, provided evidence for the relationship between Cyprus and the rest of the Mediterranean world. Unfortunately, in many cases, these urban churches remain little known beyond their plans (and their impressive remains) with few receiving careful publications and only two, the Episcopal Basilica at Kourion and the South Basilica at Polis, resting on a thorough study of stratigraphy supported by the analysis of small finds and context pottery. As a result, these buildings remain difficult to date archaeologically. Moreover, in many cases, these buildings remain detached from their larger urban contexts as excavators either focused their attention on monumental architecture or chose primarily to publish the results from this work. There are obvious exceptions to this, of course, at Salamis, Paphos, Kourion, and Polis, but the overall unevenness of both publication and excavation has made it difficult to contextualize Cypriot architecture and urbanism within the larger Roman and Late Roman world.

Recent work on Cyprus has looked to recontextualizing the archaeology of in three basic ways. First, archaeologists have sought to continue the long-standing effort to locate Cyprus within the larger Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine worlds. G. Hill’s and T. Mitford’s argument that Cyprus was a quiet backwater of the Roman East, based largely on historical sources, has been fundamentally challenges by the work of Dimitri Michaelides (e.g. 1996), John Hayes’s publication of the ceramics from the House of Dionysios at Paphos (1991), and the work of John Lund (xxxx). These scholars and their younger contemporaries (Leonard xxxx, Gordon 2012, xxxxxx) have demonstrated that during the first seven centuries AD, that Cyprus was deeply embedded in the economic life of the Roman East, trading extensively with their neighbors, reflecting wider trends across the empire, and exploiting their natural and agricultural resources for both public and private expressions of power and wealth. In the 21st century, recent work on connectivity, globalization, revised ideas of insularity, and hybridized culture have shaped our view of Roman Cyprus as a sphere for distinct forms of cultural and economic interaction that extend far beyond monumental architecture. The quantitative analysis of imported and local ceramics, evidence from shipwrecks and ceramic production sites, and survey and excavation at small harbors, emporia, villages, and non-monumental buildings have all contributed to a view of Cyprus that is deeply embedded in the Roman and Late Roman world.

NDQuesday: Odds, Ends, and Convergence

NDQuesday is always pretty exciting around here, and this week is even more exciting because NDQ is taking some some dramatic, but important steps to secure its future.

For now, I can’t really talk about it, but hopefully by next NDQuesday, they’ll be something cool to announce!

Meanwhile, we’re expanding our web presence a bit by rolling out some contributions from the last print issue 84.3/4 including a serialized version of a novella, To Acknowledge Distance  by Chris Wells. This follows up on last week’s post of W. Scott Olsen’s photo essay “The Speed of Nostalgia.” I love the idea of serialized essays and fiction both because it evokes the traditions of little magazines in the first part of the 20th century when leading authors would serialize their work over various issues of Harper’s or The Atlantic, and also because it encourages a kind of slow, reflective reading where each installment of a story becomes an object to contemplate and savor.

I’m also really excited to very quietly announce the print publication of the first NDQ Supplement published in collaboration with The Digital Press. Don’t tell anyone about this, yet because I want a more formal roll out, but this might be the start of something particularly exciting for both NDQ and The Digital Press. 

BillCaraher 2018 Feb 18

Finally, as I get ready to wander over to Corwin/Larimore Hall for the morning to do some archaeology of the contemporary world, I find myself thinking a good bit about the humanities (and the university) in the age of austerity. We received a nice little gaggle of contributions for this digital volume and I’m particularly excited to think about how my archaeological interest in these two buildings and my little essay fit together. Better still, Mark Sanford, the chair of the North Dakota legislature’s higher education funding committee, will come to my class on the UND budget cuts. Convergence!!

The Archaeology of Wesley College at the University of North Dakota: Some Preliminary Thoughts

On Friday, I did a walk through of two buildings on the University of North Dakota campus that are slated for demolition this spring. While their fate is sealed, I’m excited to collaborate with students and colleagues on documenting these buildings as part of a one-credit class. Our work will obviously focus on these buildings as historical structures associated with Wesley College, an experiment in co-institutional education from the early 20th century, and as examples of a Beaux Arts university plan that failed to materialize.

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The walk-through on Friday, however, reveled a different, and more archaeological, aspect to our research. The buildings are still filled with stuff (or to use a more appropriate term, borrowed from Philip K. Dick “kipple”). In the case of Corwin/Larimore and Sayre halls, built between 1908 and 1910, the departments and programs housed in this building departed before the start of the academic year. This has led me to several research opportunities:

1. Surplus. The departing departments and programs left behind a remarkable assemblage of “stuff” designed for institutional repurposing through centralized surplus. It just so happens that as part of a greater reorganization of UND’s space and campus services, centralized surplus storage and redistribution is no longer available at scale for UND’s campus. As a result, this material is stuck in limbo. It had so little value that it was simply discarded in place by the departing faculty and staff, and there is no institutional infrastructure for recycling or repurposing this material. At present, it simply remains in place, awaiting documentation as evidence for the abandonment of these buildings.

2. Trash. The rooms and spaces also contained a remarkable amount of material that has very limited value as recycled goods. We can best designate this material “trash.” The trash ranged from stacks of papers scattered across a table that hinted at their former order to damage furniture, obsolete equipment (VCRs, CRT monitors, tangled masses of cables, et c.), easily replaced personal objects like pens and pencils, posters, and articles of clothing.

While the presence of surplus equipment represents both institutional priorities and the intermediate character of the abandonment of these buildings, trash represents permanent discard. There is no intention of collecting this trash and it will likely remain in situ as the building is physically destroyed. Moreover it tells a different story of abandonment as a process.

3. The Percolating Past. The attention to the present and abandonment as part of the history of the building is not meant to obscure the past of these buildings, but to make it clear that the creation of the past in these buildings is part of an ongoing process that reshapes the structures through time. What we encounter as the historical aspects of these buildings, including the traces of their original floor plans, evidence for past modifications and updates, and hints of successive functions in each space, is the same as the evidence for their abandonment. The past percolates (as Shanks and Pearson once quipped) through the present and the present will see similar filtering practices to constitute a future. Our work to document the present and past of these buildings speaks directly to the complex system of interventions, priorities, and agents at play in shaping our material reality. While any hope of dis-entangling these networks of past and present agency, objects, and situations maybe misplaced, getting students (and myself) at least to recognize the various ways

4. Global Buildings. The buildings and their contents represent a dense network of relationships the span the continent and the world. Of course, it will only be possible to sketch out these relationships on a very basic level, but some of the most intriguing ties are between the funds to build these buildings and various west coast timber interests. Frank Lynch and A.J. Sayre both supported Wesley College, in part, through donations supported by their ownership of lumber rights in California and British Columbia respectively. Agricultural wealth from the Larimore and Sayre family likewise bolstered Wesley College coffers. The architect, Wallace McCrae hailed from New York City where he goes on to build brownstones for the wealthy and famous of the Gilded Age. The buildings themselves embraced the Beaux Arts tradition that was similarly cosmopolitan. The students who frequented these halls for over a century intersected with these global currents.

Today, the buildings participate in another network of global relationships the fill these spaces with objects that originate across the U.S. and the world to create functional assemblages only depleted by these building’s abandoned state.

5. Modernity. Finally, it’s hard not to think of these buildings as the embodiment of the long-20th century starting with their Beaux-Arts design and continuing to their eventual fate as victims of progress. As Kostis Kourelis has been teaching us, Beaux Arts campuses of the early 20th century represented the cutting edge of campus architecture, and the (largely unrealized) plan for UND, which by the second decade of the 20th century had committed to College Gothic architecture. There is something remarkably optimistic about these buildings.

The destruction of these buildings embodies a similar spirit that looks beyond the bricks-and-mortar and their persistent, draining expenses, and toward a leaner, more digital, more efficient university that leverages whatever technology we’ve decided to see as the solution to whatever problem we’ve decided to prioritize. As I’ve argued elsewhere the demolition of these buildings is fully in keeping with an effort to display the university as an efficient, forward looking, in unsentimental, institution. As the kids would say, “This is a ‘billboard move,‘ brah.” Whether it’s the right choice or not, will come out over the long term.

I’ve created a Wesley College category for these and other posts like it.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

After Wednesday was a balmy 33 degrees, today’s 2 degree morning felt downright disrespectful even for North Dakotaland. So I’m looking forward to spending some quality time in an unheated, soon-to-be-demolished building on campus this afternoon, but plan to hunker down for a weekend of books, writing, and NASCAR after today.

I find there’s almost nothing better to fortify me over a long weekend than a little gaggle of varia and quick hits:

IMG 1906The boys are ready for their shot at gold in tandem napping.
(There is a slight deduction in form).

Teaching Thursday: Two Old Buildings on Campus

I have come to realize that I’m more or less addicted to one too many things on my plate, one too many adventures to be had, one too many ideas, one too many books, and one too many causes to champion. Maybe it’s the adrenalin rush or the welling up of anxiety that makes you feel like you’re on the edge of losing it with your mind skipping from idea to idea like a rock skimming across a flat pond. In fact, for me, I suspect, it’s the tension between flat pond and the skipping rock that draws me back to being over-extended day after day, week after week (well, that and the prodding (and encouragement) of friends like Richard Rothaus, Kostis Kourelis, and Bret Weber. They all at various times feel like the academic equivalent of that friend in college who convinces you to start drinking at 1 pm on a Thursday.)

This is a long introduction, to introduce my first effort at a one-credit pop-up class.

HIST 300

History 300 will focus on two (actually four) old buildings on campus of the University of North Dakota: Roberstson/Sayre Hall and Corwin/Larimore. They’re both hybrid buildings with one part built in the first decade of the 20th century and one part built in the 1920s. They offered housing and classroom space for a hybrid institution: Wesley College. Wesley College grew out of Red River University which had branches in Fargo and Whapeton. In Grand Forks, it worked in symbiosis with UND and offered classes in music, art, and religion. Some of the most famous graduates from UND came through Wesley College in one way or another including Maxwell Anderson. The college functioned as a residential unit that also offered classes and in that way, it worked a bit more like today’s residential colleges in the UK and, say, at the University of Toronto. In 1965, it was absorbed formally by UND and since then, the buildings have served as the homes to various department and university units.

Earlier this year, both buildings were slated for demolition and Corwin/Larimore is empty. Robertson/Sayre is almost empty as well. Because I can’t resist the temptation to document, explore, and investigate, I created a one-credit class to get some students into these buildings before they’re are gone to study and document them. While the outsides of the buildings are on the way to becoming pretty well documented, I’m interested in getting the students to help me notice the traces of use left in buildings that have stood on campus for over a century. The class will focus on the history of the buildings based on archival documents in UND special collections, the history of the architecture of the buildings (and the UND campus, which Kostis Kourelis is already developing), and, more importantly for me, the careful autopsy of the buildings.

Since the class is only one-credit, I can’t expect too much from the students in terms of reading, but I can’t resist including some recommended readings (and I suspect that Richard and Kostis will add to this list!):

Shannon Lee Dawdy’s Patina: A Profane Archaeology (2016).
Laurie A. Wilkie’s The Lost Boys of Zeta Psi: a historical archaeology of masculinity in a university fraternity. (2010)
Timothy Webmoor, “Object-oriented metrologies of care and the proximate ruin of Building 500”in Ruin Memories ed. Bjørnar Olsen and Þóra Pétursdóttir (2014).
Richard Wilk and Michael Schiffer, “The Modern Material-Culture Field School: Teaching Archaeology on the University Campus” in Modern Material Culture: the archaeology of us. Richard Wilk and Michael Schiffer eds. (1981).

Two Abstracts for the European Association of Archaeologists Annual Meeting

My morning today was filled with finish abstracts from the EAA annual meeting. Since I can submit two and was kindly asked to contribute to two panels, I put together two abstracts that look to similar topics. These abstracts are pretty raw and the ideas should be both familiar to readers of this blog, but also slightly rougher and more incomplete. I’m thinking of them as prompts for me to develop as much as abstracts that summarize completed thoughts.

The first abstract is for Colleen Morgan, Catherine Frieman, and Marta Diaz-Guardamino Uribe’s panel titled “Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies”. I blogged about it here.

Here’s the abstract:

Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care

Recent research has emphasized the significant impact that digital technology is having on archaeological practice. Over the last decade, my work has tried to come to terms with post and transhuman archaeology. First, I proposed a “punk archaeology,” which looked to rawness and immediacy of punk rock music as a model for a disruptive interest in the performance of archaeological work. Later, I became intrigued by the popular “slow foods” movement as well as in the work of diverse scholars on the rapidly accelerating pace of modernity as a model for a “slow archaeology” that sought to trace both the rhetoric surrounding and practice of digital technology in field practice. Recent work by Eric Kansa and Ömür Harmanşah have pushed me to recognize that slow archaeology may well offer a solid foundation for critiquing the growing influence of neoliberal expectations in the use of digital tools in archaeological work.

This paper draws on field experiences doing intensive pedestrian survey in the Mediterranean and the archaeology of the contemporary world in North Dakota to consider how digital tools mediate and transform not only archaeological information in the field, but also the experience of fieldwork. Critical reflections on these processes have shaped an archaeology of care that considers more than the efficiency, accuracy, and convenience of digital tools and analysis, and, instead, shifts the focus how the archaeologist and these tools creates a meaningful space of archaeological practice. Archaeology of care foregrounds the constitution of the archaeological field team, interaction between archaeologists and communities during field work, the location of archaeological analysis, and the experience of archaeological knowledge making to expand our sensitivity to the ways that digital technology is transforming our discipline.


The second abstract is for Rebecca Seifried and Tuna Kalayci’s panel and titled “”The “Geospatial Turn”: Critical Approaches to Geospatial Technologies in Archaeological Research.” I’ve blogged about it here.

And, here’s my abstract:

Slow Spaces: Big Data, Small Data, and the Human Scale

Fernando Braudel famously demonstrated in The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, that historical data analyzed at various scales are not necessarily comparable or commensurate. In other words, history written at the chronological and spatial scale of the longue durée need not inform history written at the scale of the individual or event. On the one hand, this appears to be a common sense conclusion and corresponds well to our experience of purchasing suggestions produced by algorithm, the music choices of Pandora, or any number of predictive models that falter when ground-truthed.

On the other hand, archaeologists regularly seek to work between scales as they both collect information in the field in a tremendously granular and detailed way and seek to use so-called “big data” to understand lived experiences. To make data collected at the small scale commensurate with both data and research questions articulated at a larger scale invariably involves standardization practices that obscure the agency of the individual archaeologist. In this way, our sense of scale in argument influences, in some ways, the limits of agency in practice.

My paper today will briefly explore the intersection of slow archaeology and space in archaeology. Slow archaeology offers a critical approach to digital practices in field archaeology and emphasizes the irregular and unstructured nature of archaeological knowledge generated through experience. These slow spaces represent a distinct form of archaeological knowledge making because of their incommensurability with the spaces of big data. These are not space that can or should be reconciled with the conventional approaches of spatial analysis.

NDQuesday: Hybrids

Anyone who has read this blog over the years know that I love hybrids and hybridity. It probably speaks to my fundamental lack of discipline or, perhaps my abiding insecurities, or, at best, my eclecticism but I’ve always been drawn to shambolic, hybrid beasts that shade in and out of clear focus.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve taken the helm at North Dakota Quarterly and struggled a bit to find my footing as the editor of a journal that is equal parts a public humanities magazine and literary journal. As one of our editors pointed out, the world of magazines divides in some ways into two types: (1) newspapers where a strong editor and editorial board (and writers) produce or solicit content for readers according to their tastes and priorities and (2) literary journals where the readers submit material to the editors who, in turn, winnow and shape the content on the basis of their reader’s (and their own) interest and tastes. 

As someone who prefers the hybrid to the dogmatic, I can see the value in both of these approaches. On the one hand, I believe that academics should have a voice in the public sphere (not just speaking to specialists) and that we should cultivate platforms for this voice. On the other hand, there is a tremendous appeal to the idea of an organic, generative, reciprocal space where readers and writers, write and read for each other. At their best, both models offer a space for collaboration and conversation, but at their worst, the former offers a vision of bleary monoculture dominated by a limited group of privileged, droning voices, and the latter, the tragedy of the commons where the symbiosis between audience and contributors falls out of balance. 

Moreover, varying interests and approaches on the editorial board also promote a kind of hybridized space. Some editors want a hands-on approach to soliciting material and others want to winnow a constant stream. Some want to incentivize submissions through the use of technology, contests, and personal appeals whereas others feel like content begets content.

There is also the challenge of presentation. My instinct, as the first-generation of born digital computer dwellers, is to build a robust, eclectic, dynamic, and bustling space on the web where quality content can thrive and writers and readers can build audiences. Other value the quiet churn of paper production where there’s space to think, to winnow, and to shape. (Lest one thinks I’m privileging the former at the expense of the latter, I’ve updated the NDQ website with a stable front page that emphasizes the paper version of the journal and moves the digital content to a “blog” tab. I also plan to promote more content from NDQ so that the web and the paper version coincide better (and this is in keeping with the interest of our authors to disseminate their work widely.) Check it out here.).     

The web produces another form of hybridity. There is a deep love for paper among NDQ editors and contributors (and me)! As a result, I’m committed to preserving the paper version of the journal, but I also want to make sure that we don’t shun the digital both because our authors want it and because it is an inexpensive and expansive way to expand our readership). At the same time, we need to make sure that the NDQ web presence and the larger mission of the journal do not diverge unnecessarily so that it ends up stifling our wildflower garden beneath a carpet of public humanities monoculture. 

The challenge, of course, is whether such a hybrid beast can survive. Can we simultaneously be a viable platform for the public humanities and a literary journal, a digital destination and a paper publication, a productive field of grain and a natural prairie… 

And last but not least, a financially sustainable project and an honest reflection of our shared to commitment to the little magazine.  

Pencils and Pixels: New Perspectives on Digital Illustration

On Friday, I read with great excitement Colleen Morgan and Holly Wright’s very recent article in the Journal of Field Archaeology titled “Pencils and Pixels: Drawing and Digital Media in Archaeological Field Recording” (and here too). It’s worth reading for quite a few reasons, but I want to highlight a little gaggle of observations here (that don’t entirely reflect the scope and character of the article, but do represent my own interests in it).

1. The Heroic Archaeologists. A few years ago, I became enamored with the idea that there was a heroic age of archaeology based on a bit of a cheap parallel with the heroic age of science. These heroic archaeologists have names that are associated with their notebooks (Blegen’s notebook), their sites (Wheeler’s excavation at the Great Palace), and who game name and form to their discoveries (Schlieman’s discovery of Priam’s Gold). To this we can add, following Morgan and Wright, their plans and drawings like Aubrey’s drawing of Avebury and Wheeler’s illustration of Segontium.

Morgan and Wright complicate this, of course, by pointing out that these drawings did not always spring from the impartial pens of master excavators, but from rather less known draftsmen, associates, and even, as in Wheeler’s case, the archaeologist’s wife.  Indeed, the work of Pitt-Rivers, Piggot, and Wheeler was informed by industrial, or in some cases, military practices and organization of labor which involved specialists with specialized skills, but also preserved elements of the “heroic archaeologists” vision of both methods and the sites themselves. In other words, even my heroic archaeologists, with their elegant and idiosyncratic, and sometimes signed illustrations, represent an already industrialized organization of archaeological practice (one that nevertheless allowed for a good deal of latitude and imagination, as Kostis Kourelis has recently noted regarding Georg Vinko von Peschke’s work around Corinth). In fact, the tension between the elegant plans and industrial practices are a defining feature of early 20th century archaeology.

2. The Ethnography of Archaeological Practice. One of the key strengths to this article is that Morgan and Wright draw effectively on the small, but growing body of work on the ethnography of contemporary archaeological practices. By using not only their own experiences as well as the immensely valuable and overlooked work of Matthew Edgeworth and others (although oddly not Mary Leighton’s work, which I’ve found very useful), they enter into the every day practices that define archaeological knowledge make at the edge of the trowel or the click of the mouse. 

This kind of work is not only incredibly important for understand how the tools that we use shape the knowledge that we produce, but also lays bare the complex and – to my mind – often problematic world that our technologies inhabit. The affordances that condition our use of digital tools are increasingly complicit in dense entanglements of exploitative practices in ways in which writing in a notebook or drawing on a piece of graph paper are not. This isn’t to suggest that the latter is beyond reproach or innocent, but to point our that what we do and how we do it constantly forces us to embody a dense organism of political, economic, social, and cultural relationships that do have consequences. The shift from analogue practice in the field to digital practices may or may not be a paradigm shift in terms of the incommensurability of knowledge, but, I’d argue, does reflect a paradigm shift in terms of practice and the range of affordances that shape those practices. Greater attention to practice, then, in the field allows us to unpack these relationships in productive and, to me, socially responsible ways.

(What’s more, here, is that Morgan and Wright have some of the ethnographic details to back up the sort of idealized generalizations that have tended to inform my work on slow archaeology. What I write, seems “right” based on my memories and experiences, but it certainly doesn’t have the rigor to support it that genuine ethnographic practice would 

3. Embodied Knowledge. On Saturday, I read a copy of a paper that Ömür Harmanşah generously provided that, in thoughtful ways, explored the significance of embodied knowledge, informed by the senses, in archaeological practice (among other things). Morgan and Wright’s treatment of the embodied knowledge of drawing in the field articulates in really smart ways ideas that I’ve struggled to understand over the past five years. Not only is the act of drawing with a pen or pencil on paper an act with definable and distinct cognitive significant, but it also opens onto ways of seeing archaeological contexts that more efficient, more streamlined, and invariably more digital methods do not support.

I like this way of thinking because reflects my experiences, particularly after this summer when I spent time documenting a series of fortifications on the basis of drone photography and structure-from-motion and ortho-rectified photographs. In some of my 20th century archaeological work, I worked with archaeologists who taught me how to illustrate by hand and it was tedious, long, hot work that provided remarkable (and sometimes illusory) familiarity with buildings. In contrast, drawing from a ortho-rectified series of drone photographs allowed me to produce a detailed plan much more quickly than work in the field and also made it much easier to scale my encounter with the site (i.e. by zooming out for context or zooming in for a detail), but I certainly feel less familiar with the site. Again, some of this a sense of familiarity may not be real (and I can’t help but extend the sense of possession, paralleling, perhaps, the work of heroic archaeologists, of a site where I spent countless hours drawing stones), to my sense of detachment from a site that I visited 8 or 10 times to ground-truth plans drawn from drones. 

The sense of place that develops from the act of manual drawing and illustration goes well beyond (in probably crazy ways) what Morgan and Wright explore in their article and is probably an effort to make their article into something that I want to say, but to me, at least, it is a useful point of departure for continued musing on the rise of digital field practices.  

For my work on these topics go here and here.