Friday Quick Hits and Varia

It was a busy week here at Archeology of the Mediterranean World Headquarters. The North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit is in full planning mode, Mobilizing the Past is in final review, and the Eagles are 2-0. Unfortunately, the news isn’t all good as two disturbing, racial incidents on the University of North Dakota’s fine campus have marred the arrival of fall.

Most of what’s going on here in Grand Forks, ND, can serve as a learning opportunity for our community and our university, but the same probably cannot be said of my quick hits and varia:

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Outrage: First Draft of Opening Comments

I spent this morning working on a draft of some very brief opening comments for the 2016 North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Summit. The topic is OUTRAGE. My comments will be very brief and introduce UND’s new president Mark Kennedy.

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The first word in Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, is μῆνιν, wrath, and with it begins the Western literary tradition and, in some ways, our current disciplines of humanistic inquiry. The anger of Achilles drives the Iliad through the violence of the Trojan war. Wrath is the subject of the poet’s work. 

My specialty is the late antiquity during which many of the the Western world’s social, political, and cultural institutions emerged. This was also a time of barbarian invasions, civil wars, the sack of cities – even Rome – and, perhaps most significantly, violent and vigorous religious disputes. These disputes spurred outrage both among prelates, provincials, and, of course, the Emperor, his court, and his army. As the great bishop Gregory of Nyssa observed “If you ask for your change, someone philosophizes to you on the Begotten and the Unbegotten. If you ask the price of bread, you are told, “The Father is greater and the Son inferior.” If you ask, “Is the bath ready?” someone answers, “The Son was created from nothing.”

These most outrageous of times had a lasting impact on Christian theology, political boundaries, and the cultural landscape of Europe and the West and continues to shape conflicts “at the edge of Europe” today.

Closer to home, outrage has a significant role to play in contemporary political and social conversations across the US, in North Dakota, and across the NDUS. In fact, I corresponded a bit with Robert Kibler from Minot State, and he argues that the first Liberal Arts Summit in 2001 originated in a series of tense conversations between various state board members, university presidents, the chancellor, and Kibler who pushed publicly for a liberal arts summit to complement more technology and business oriented research summit convened by the NDUS. Perhaps these tense conversations did not achieve the standard of outrage…

Nevertheless, anger, frustration, and passion are potent creative and generative forces from the dawn of Western literature, the formation of Europe, and the recent foment at the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest Camp at Cannoball, among the faculty and students in Music Therapy here at UND, and in the myriad smaller – and certainly less significant events – that cause spasms of outrage to punctuate our daily lives. I can’t help but thinking that without outrage our world would be a far less vibrant place.

Slow Reconsidered

This week, for various reasons, I’ve started to re-think my position on “slow.” As readers of this blog know, I started to use appeals to the slow movement as an endearing and popular hook for some of my ideas about archaeological field practice, technology, and even teaching in the last few years. I co-edited a volume of the public humanities journal North Dakota Quarterly on slow and have published a pair of articles on “slow archaeology.”

At the same time, I’ve thought a good bit about speed and teaching and recently enjoyed Michael Serres book, Thumbelina which argues that millennials have profoundly different ways of engaging the world and that we should embrace and celebrate this. Serres views runs counter to folks who see “slow teaching” as an antidote to the quickening pace of every day because it sees the pace and connectivity of the world something that a problem that teachers need to solve, rather than an opportunity that we should embrace. At its most insistent, the need for slow teaching blurs with calls for reform in academia more broadly. Margie Berg and Barbara Seeber offer a flawed, but well-meaning treatment of academia as a blurred space of slowness (and I review this book here and here). 

A very recent article by Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine prompted me to revisit these ideas. Sullivan was one of the first new media superstars and this thoughtful article reflected on the toll that his immersion in the 24-hour news cycle and the hyper-connected online world took on his mental, physical, and spiritual health. It makes a compelling case for us to slow down. At the same time that I am making final revisions on an article on slow archaeology slated to appear in this book. My own arguments for a slow archaeology and my immediate (non-slow!) appreciation of Sullivan’s article feel like they contradict my desire for fast teaching and enthusiasm for Serres’s view of the millennial generation. While I have some tolerance for contradiction in my thought, I took a walk yesterday convinced that this contradiction could and should be resolved.

Here’s what I thought:

First, I’ve increasingly come to appreciate slow archaeology as less of an issue of archaeological practice and more of an ethical issue. In other words, digital practices will continue to influence how we do archaeology in the field, but our entanglement with digital tools and a vastly complex ecosystem of commercial products is no less challenging that the legacy of colonialism, sexism, and economic inequality that shaped archaeological practices for the last century. Just as archaeologists have critically engaged  these complicated legacies in an effort to create a more ethnic and responsible discipline, we should also engage critically our approach to technology. These are lessons about digital tools in our discipline and the structure of our discipline more broadly that I’ve learned from Eric KansaÖmür Harmanşah, and Richard Rothaus. I’m not sure that I understood this aspect of my argument very well in the last two things that I’ve published on slow archaeology, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’m getting it now. The spread of digital technology into our field and publication practices is not just about how we document material culture and produce archaeological knowledge, but also how we engage a commercial ecosystem that has values which often run explicitly counter to those associated with our discipline.

Second, critical resistance to technology is not the only way forward, of course. Our students, for example, have grown up immersed in this technology and thrive in a connected, accelerated, and global world. While there is nothing wrong about asking students to put down their phones, close their laptops, and unplug, we should be aware that our students life with technology is fundamentally different from our own. Sullivan observes as much when deeply immersed in a meditation retreat, he reconnects with a childhood full of emotional trauma and largely devoid of technology. As a result, Sullivan sees a world of bird songs, tree bark, and mottled sunlight as “real.” Our students today largely grew up with technology and just as crowded neighborhood eateries, well-worn woodland trails, and freshly-mown suburban lawns represent the real world to my generation, a digitally-mediated existence reflects the reality for our students. The pace of a digital world that makes those of us who worked to normalize the pre-digital “life of the mind” feel disoriented and overwhelmed, may not influence our students in the same way.

Finally, the idea that we need to slow down to be critical of how we engage the world is something that archaeologists and teachers should attend to. The pace of digital life makes the siren call of efficiency and speed in archaeology unavoidable. As archaeology is always the work of translation and mediation between material traces of the past and the present, our view of the past is shaped not only by the tools that we use, but our fundamental view of the world. As digital technology has become implicit in how we see the world – particularly the millennial generation who have grown up without whatever idyllic conceits we reserve for “reality” – it is inevitable that our archaeology will become more digital. At the same time, maintaining critical awareness of these changes will preserve an awareness of our disciplinary lens without invalidating the experience of the next generation of scholars. 

This is not a situation that leads to a simple resolution. Rejecting slow teaching runs the risk of putting “pre-digital” faculty in an uncomfortable and inauthentic position, alienating a generation of students who are already prone to resist our pedagogy, and forfeiting a critical opportunity to understand how technology shapes our world. Rejecting slow archaeology, carries fewer practical problems (as the tradition of slow archaeology (pre-digital and otherwise) persists throughout the world) and more ethical challenges as it risks normalizing efficiency, speed, and precision as crucial considerations for archaeological knowledge production.

An Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus

Over the last six months or so, Jody Gordon and I have been working on a survey article on the archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus for the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. I think the draft is more or less ready for sharing.

We’ve titled it “The Holy Island: An Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus” and here’s the abstract:

The archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus represents one of the most significant case studies of how early Christianity developed because of the island’s unique geohistorical background and the diverse nature of its material remains. When combined with local hagiographical resources, Cyprus’ material culture illustrates the gradual development of a unique form of Early Christian society between the fourth and seventh centuries CE that drew on both local and imperial influences. This chapter contributes to such perspectives by offering an introduction to Early Christian Cyprus’ archaeological corpus vis-à-vis the island’s unique Late Antique eastern Mediterranean context. It examines basilicas, baptisteries, mosaics and church décor, funerary structures, coins and seals, metalwork, epigraphy, and ceramics to reveal the discipline’s main research foci and suggests topics for future investigation. 

I’ve uploaded a draft to my academia.edu page here.

It might be fun to read this paper with a unpublished paper that I wrote with R. Scott Moore on the history of settlement in Cyprus in the 7th and 8th centuries. I’ve posted that paper to academia.edu as well.

If I was ambitious and had time and energy, I could imagine these two papers being the start of an archaeological history of Early Christian Cyprus.

Mobilizing the Past: The Blurb for the Book

I’m pretty excited that Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future is almost ready and will appear next month from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We’re sorting through some last minute edits, getting the online component finalized, and starting to spread the word.

As part of that, do check out the book blurb and the table of contents below the cover. 

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Mobilizing the Past is a collection of 20 articles that explore the use and impact of mobile digital technology in archaeological field practice. The detailed case studies present in this volume range from drones in the Andes to iPads at Pompeii, digital workflows in the American Southwest, and examples of how bespoke, DIY, and commercial software provide solutions and craft novel challenges for field archaeologist. The range of projects and contexts ensures that Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future is far more than a state-of-the-field manual or technical handbook. Instead, the contributors embrace the growing spirit of critique present in digital archaeology. This critical edge, backed by real projects, systems, and experiences, gives the book lasting value as both a glimpse into present practices as well as the anxieties and enthusiasm associated with the most recent generation of mobile digital tools.

This book emerged from a workshop funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities and convened in 2015 at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. The conference brought together over 20 leading practitioners of digital archaeology in the U.S. for a weekend of conversation. The papers in this volume reflect the discussions at this workshop with significant additional content. Starting with an expansive introduction and concluding with a series of reflective papers, this volume illustrates how tablets, connectivity, sophisticated software, and powerful computers have transformed field practices and offer potential for a radically transformed discipline.

Edited by Erin Walcek Averett, Jody Michael Gordon, and Derek B. Counts
With contributions by Rebecca Bria, Bridget Buxton, William Caraher, J. Andrew Dufton, Steven J. R. Ellis, Samuel B. Fee, Eric C. Kansa, Morag M. Kersel, Marcelo Castro López, Christopher F. Motz, Eric E. Poehler, Brandon R. Olson, Adam Rabinowitz, Matthew Sayre, Adela Sobotkova, Matthew Spigelman, John Wallrodt, and Steven Wernke

Table of Contents

Introduction. Mobile Computing in Archaeology: Exploring and Interpreting Current Practices
Jody Michael Gordon, Erin Walcek Averett, and Derek B. Counts

1.1. Why Paperless: Technology and Changes in Archaeological Practice, 1996–2016
John Wallrodt

1.2. Are We Ready for New (Digital) Ways to Record Archaeological Fieldwork? A Case Study from Pompeii
Steven J. R. Ellis

1.3. Sangro Valley and the Five (Paperless) Seasons: Lessons on Building Effective Digital Recording Workflows for Archaeological Fieldwork
Christopher F. Motz

1.4. DIY Digital Workflows on the Athienou Archaeological Project, Cyprus
Jody Michael Gordon, Erin Walcek Averett, Derek B. Counts, Kyosung Koo, and Michael K. Toumazou

1.5. Enhancing Archaeological Data Collection and Student Learning with a Mobile Relational Database
Rebecca Bria and Kathryn E. DeTore

1.6. Digital Archaeology in the Rural Andes: Problems and Prospects
Matthew Sayre

1.7. Digital Pompeii: Dissolving the Fieldwork-Library Research Divide
Eric E. Poehler

2.1. Reflections on Custom Mobile App Development for Archaeological Data Collection
Samuel B. Fee

2.2. The Things We Can Do with Pictures: Image-Based Modeling and Archaeology
Brandon R. Olson

2.3 Beyond the Basemap: Multiscalar Survey through Aerial Photogrammetry in the Andes
Steven A. Wernke, Gabriela Oré, Carla Hernández, Aurelio Rodríguez, Abel Traslaviña, and Giancarlo Marcone

2.4. An ASV (Autonomous Surface Vehicle) for Archaeology: The Pladypos at Caesarea Maritima, Israel
Bridget Buxton, Jacob Sharvit, Dror Planer, Nikola Mišković, and John Hale

3.1. Cástulo in the 21st Century: A Test Site for a New Digital Information System
Marcelo Castro López, Francisco Arias de Haro, Libertad Serrano Lara, Ana L. Martínez Carrillo, Manuel Serrano Araque, and Justin Walsh

3.2. Measure Twice, Cut Once: Cooperative Deployment of a Generalized, Archaeology-Specific Field Data Collection System Adela Sobotkova, Shawn A. Ross, Brian Ballsun-Stanton, Andrew Fairbairn, Jessica Thompson, and Parker VanValkenburgh

3.3. CSS for Success? Some Thoughts on Adapting the Browser-Based Archaeological Recording Kit (ARK) for Mobile Recording
J. Andrew Dufton

3.4. The Development of the PaleoWay Digital Workflows in the Context of Archaeological Consulting
Matthew Spigelman, Ted Roberts, and Shawn Fehrenbach

4.1. Slow Archaeology: Technology, Efficiency, and Archaeological Work
William Caraher

4.2. Click Here to Save the Past
Eric C. Kansa

5.1. Response: Living a Semi-digital Kinda Life
Morag M. Kersel

5.2. Response: Mobilizing (Ourselves) for a Critical Digital Archaeology
Adam Rabinowitz

Friday Quick Hits and Varia

 Fall has come to North Dakotaland with football, school, and what passes for foliage in these parts. Formula 1 is in Singapore, the NASCAR crew is in Chicagoland, Ohio State travels to Oklahoma and the Eagles are on Monday Night Football. Should be a good weekend to sit back and contemplate the mysteries of the universe and catch up on some quick hits and varia:

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Oil Patch Patina

I generally don’t blog about a book until I’m done reading it, but I am pretty excited about Shannon Lee Dawdy’s recent book, Patina: A Profane Archaeology (Chicago 2015). There are some good reviews on the interwebs for anyone interested in getting a broader sense of the book.

What drew me into this book was Dawdy’s exploration of the concept of patina in the first chapter or so. In New Orleans, patina has long described the slightly thread-worn, faded, and polished character of the city. The patina is maintained, Dawdy argues intentionally and after Katrina, an additional and significant layer of “Katrina Patina” has linked places and objects explicitly to the storm and recovery.

These ideas fascinated me on two levels. First – and most whimsically – I’ve been interested in the conversations around vintage watch collecting. What’s drawn me to these conversations is the combination of technical details (and remarkable craft) and signs of wear. It appears, for example, that collectors have rather strict criteria for the development of patina on the watch. For example, evidence for interventions – such as polishing or re-applying lume to the face – are generally seen as negative, but the gradual fading of the face and the lume, particularly if it is uniform and reveals colors or patterns less visible in the original colors and design of the watch. The more interesting and uniform the patina, the more appealing (and generally pricey) they watch. For example here and here and here.

What drew me to Dawdy’s book, other than recommendations from some trusted colleagues, is that she thinks about the tension between the past and present in New Orleans, in a way reminiscent of Michael Herzfeld’s treatment Rhethmenos on Crete. I have started to wonder a bit about how things will play out in the Bakken oil patch now that it has well and truly entered the bust cycle. My experience out west is that the Bakken towns had accumulated patina during the boom. The signs of habitual wear, in Dawdy’s definition, mark the roads, buildings, and landscapes of the Bakken leaving it with a patina that lacked the romance of the old New Orleans, but is clearly visible. The worn boot scrapers at hotel and restaurant doors, the rutted roads, and the bruised and burnished tables and bars at local watering holes all carry forward evidence for the boom. This Oil Patch Patina becomes the persistent reminder of the cycle of boom and bust and the wear exerted on communities, objects, and buildings during the boom lingers on as the resources to overwrite the patinated landscape dissipates with the end of the boom. 

Teaching Thumbelina

On the recommendation of a commenter on this post, I read Michael Serres’s Thumbelina: The Culture and Technology of Millennials. (2014). As readers of this blog realize, I’ve been struggling with the growing gap between my expectations as a teacher and the expectations of my students. In particular, I have come to recognize more and more of the daily annoyances – refusing to read, refusing to follow directions, irregular grammar and style, modest levels of classroom engagement – have less to do with laziness, lack of preparation, or even just apathy, and more to do with active strategies of resistance. I find the approach to teaching has led me become more sympathetic with student attitudes and less likely to devise strategies that undermine their autonomy as learners (even if I find that their learning styles run counter to my own expectations in the classroom). In short, I’ve become more inclined to meet students where they are – bored, restive, resistant – than force them into a form that I have created.

Serres’s book is empowering because it recognizes the remarkable character of the millennial generation and suggests that it should be celebrated. In particular, he embraced the desire of millennials to be connected and to talk to one another and work and plan together rather than to lectured. For Serres, Thumbelina talks with thumbs that blur across mobile phone and table screens. Chats with multiple people simultaneously and exists within a dense network of connections. Unlike Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, which presents a desperate and isolated generation only superficially connected through digital media, Serres offers a more uplifting view of a densely networked generation and any superficiality intrinsic in this form of networking as a generally positive rejection of such superficial identifiers as race, nationality, and even – to some extent – economic disparity.     

More importantly, this densely networked generation has a world of knowledge at their fingertips (or thumbs) and is no longer anxious to be told things by authorities. In fact, they are eager to discover connections – links if you will – on their own using their own networks to bring together disparate bits of information into a unified whole. In other words, they don’t need us to tell them what to do because they already do it. So when they are chatting away on their phones and laptops during our lectures, they’re not distracted, they’re working. They’re figuring life out, creating connections, and de-centering knowledge that we remain desperate to re-center.

In fact, Serres indicts the generations that constructed the modern university as the same who brought (in my words, not his) war, colonialism, neoliberal ideologies, and authoritarianism. Our students are actively resisting systems that privileged the authority of the teacher as the keeper of the knowledge and while we grow frustrated talking at them, the students are building new communities of knowledge on their own in defiance of our droning voices heavy with the past. What we need to do is meet our students where they are and enter their networks as legitimate partners in learning. (This is easier said than done in that we carry the burden of generations of privileging and commodifying access to information and we still claw at the vestiges of authority fortified by these practices, but Serres (and I) think it’s possible. In fact, it’s necessary because the next generation with their tools, techniques, and communities will continue to subvert how we do things.)

The book is short and has done more to fuel my imagination than to solidify some particular line of argument. More than that, it’s overwhelmingly positive. I’m increasingly fatigued by articles that tell me that I need to slow down (and to realize that I contributed to this is painful), to read less, to say “no,” and to savor the moment. I wonder if I share more with my students than the authors of these works. I want to read more. I want to speed up. I want to do less with more things. And most importantly, I just want to do stuff. I get tired to talking about things, building skills, practicing, planning, and learning. Maybe this is why I found Serres work so refreshing.  

Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline

It seems like quite a few of my colleagues have been following with interest the Dakota Access Pipeline crisis and the protest initiated by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that has quickly garnered international attention. The issues at stake involve North Dakota’s mercurial petroleum economy, the challenge of extracting, moving, and using oil without damaging the environment, the need to recognize and understand a range of cultural sensitivities, and the role of archaeology in managing material cultural resources of the entire community (not just when its convenient or when it fulfills one’s cultural explanation).

Needless to say, I feel profoundly unqualified to address any of these issues much less their complex intersection that gave rise to the Cannon Ball protest camp. Fortunately, my colleague Sharon Carson, over at North Dakota Quarterly, compiled a wide range of links that provide a range of (largely sympathetic) perspectives on both the Cannon Ball protest camp and the larger DAPL crisis. 

So go read her post today and surf around the links that she provided!

The Digital Press is Growing Up

One of the most rewarding parts of my job lately is bringing academic publishing back to the University of North Dakota. This morning, I submitted the first advertisement for books by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. It’ll appear on the inside cover of the academic program for this fall’s American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting and will promote our newest title which should arrive in a few weeks: Erin Walcek Averett, Jody Michael Gordon, and Derek B. Counts, Mobilizing the Past: The Potential of Digital Archaeology.

To be completely honest, I find it a little depressing to pay to advertise for my press. I guess I had naively hoped that the social media energy behind each title would provide a kind of de-centered targeting advertising. But at the same time, it is exciting to be able to respond to the concerns of my authors and to provide the best opportunity to get their work to the largest possible audience. Fortunately, I also had financial support from my authors and advice from volunteers as well as professional graphic designers, and a good bit of patience from everyone involved. The advertisement will also lead to a rejiggering of The Digital Press homepage to advertise our three archaeology related titles.

I feel bit bad not including K. J. Skarstein’s War with the Sioux on this page, but I reckon it was a bit too far a field for ASOR. To make up for it, I’m very pleased to announce that our little press has moved over 1000 copies of this title (750+ downloads and 200+ in sales). If you haven’t downloaded and enjoyed this title, you should do it now!

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When I first started this project, my good friend and co-conspirator Bret Weber encouraged me to do more research into how presses actually functioned. I still think that this was great advice and as our catalogue of book creeps inexorably to the double digits (heady times for a one-man show!) and I’m getting more pressure and expectations from my authors, I might have to actually do something about it. Putting together a book and distributing it digitally is one thing, figuring out how to make these processes sustainable and to expand our reach is another. Stay tuned for more from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.