Chapter 7: Industrial Ruins and the City

This has been a challenging month. I have too much on my plate and too many competing priorities. I did, however, manage to produce a very rough draft of a chapter for my slow moving book project. Below is my standard post on why I’m sharing book chapters and a link to Chapter 7.

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A couple of years ago, I watched one of my buddies here at the University of North Dakota write his book. When he completed a chapter draft, he dutifully hung it by a binder clip on a bookshelf in his office. This gave him a nice visual reminder that he was making progress toward his goal. 

I’ve struggled a bit to embrace this feeling of progress with any project lately. The COVID-19 situation hasn’t helped, but even before then, I felt a bit like I was stuck on a treadmill writing the same thing over and over just using different words. I suppose this is part of what happens when the desire to write exceeds the time, space, or ability to produce ideas. In any event, in place of an impressive display of dangling chapters, I’ll post chapters here to my blog from time to time. 

To date, I have completed seven chapters of a book that I’m writing titledThe Archaeology of the Contemporary American Experience. These are very, very rough drafts. The citations are not entirely complete and they’re about 1000 words shorter than they’ll be when they’re folded together to make a coherent(-ish) book. This also includes working on transitions between the chapters and filling out the references. 

You can read a very rough outline of my book proposal here. The book is about 60% survey and 40% a cultural and methodological study of the archaeology of the contemporary American experience. As a result, a significant part of the book will tend toward the descriptive. My hope is that the 40% of the book where I try to do some cultural history isn’t so far off the mark (or so mundane) to be uninteresting or, worse still, produce an archaeology that is merely illustrating well-known history from texts.  

Here are the seven of the first eight chapters with the latest in bold:

Chapter 0: Introduction

Chapter 1: The Alamogordo Atari Excavation

Chapter 2: The Archaeology of Garbage

Chapter 3: Things, Materiality, and Agency

Chapter 4: Media Archaeology, Archaeogaming, and Digital Archaeology

Chapter 5: Borders, Migrants, and the Homeless

Chapter 6: Camps, Campus, and Control

Chapter 7: Industrial Ruins and the City

As always, if you have observations, constructive criticism, or just unmitigated hatred of everything that I’m doing here, please do let me know!

Compassion, COVID, and Scholarship

Over the last few months, I’ve been asked to read and review more manuscripts than ever before in my career. I expect that this is because the COVID situation has upset the traditional reviewing ecosystem and pushed editors to dig a bit deeper into their Rolodex of reviewers.

In an effort to do my part doing these challenging times, I’ve agreed to review these manuscripts, but I have to admit that my attitude toward writing and reviewing has changed. Whereas a few years ago, I might have been highly motivated to suss out any potential flaw in a manuscript or to nudge an author to track down bibliographic loose ends or polish off any rough edge, over the last six months, I’ve been far more inclined to emphasize the good in manuscripts, overlook their bibliographic, forensic, or stylistic shortcomings, and actually to enjoy the diversity of approaches to writing and thinking during a pandemic. As a poetry editor that I admire quipped as he worked his way through a mountain of poetry submission, “we are in a goddamn pandemic.”  

I feel like our political situation, the COVIDs, and a summer full of protest, anxiety, and anger has made me value compassion. This isn’t to say that I’m always a compassionate reader or grader, but for the first time in my professional career, I am inclined to read with an eye toward what already exists in a manuscript, a paper, or a creative work without dwelling too much on a what a work could be. Along similar lines, I’ve worked hard to be more patient with authors, reviewers, colleagues, and students who have struggle to meet deadlines and fulfill expectations. For many of us, the world has been turned upside down with the specter of personal or family illness only heightened by the anxiety-inducing rhetoric that emphasizes how what were once personal decisions have an impact on the health of our friends, neighbors, and the entire community. I’m less worried about getting sick myself and far more worried about getting others sick, letting them down by not being able to function fully, and burdening already overtaxed support systems.

I suspect that I’m not the only scholar who has embraced a more magnanimous position over the last six months and have started to wonder whether what has passed for disciplinary rigor, in fact, relies on unsustainable expectations. Social media constantly demonstrates how The COVIDs has strained many of our colleagues who have suddenly found themselves managing home schooling, caring for ill family members, and juggling new teaching and professional responsibilities. 

The emergence of Zoom meeting culture and the endless series of Zoom-based colloquia, conferences, and workshops with their attendant social and professional responsibilities creates a feeling of academic claustrophobia. This is heightened by many of these events leveraging our shared sense of ethical and academic urgency and a responsibility to participate in creating a more just discipline, field, and academy. Not only that, but many of the zoom events are putting forward amazing line-ups as they bring together on the screen scholars that would only rarely have opportunities to share a podium at an academic conference. Obligation and opportunity converge to produce a zoom-mediated hyper abundance of events that run simultaneously, everyday, from the earliest morning CDT to well after my bedtime.

Finally, the COVID induced economic downturn has already led to more budget cuts in higher education which will further limit our ability of even those of us who manage to keep our position as our teaching loads increase, library and research funding decline, and service obligations both in our field and at our institutions rest ever more heavily on fewer faculty. That being said, my own position as a tenured faculty member is relatively more secure than the uncertainty faced by many of my tenure track or contingent colleagues who might be facing the loss of their jobs and access to even basic resources necessary to do their work.

As a friend pointed out the other day, the feeling of fatigue with COVID, with politics, with the situation at our institutions, in our communities, and in society more broadly is, for many of use, the weight of our own privilege. I’m a white, male, tenured faculty member who has benefited from generations of unearned wealth, opportunities, and influence. I know and understand my continued obligation to change even during difficult times and recognize that I have it much easier than most.

All of this invariably informs how I read as a reviewer, how I write as a scholar, and how I teach. How we deal with the pressures of 2020 will shape the kind of scholarship that emerges from the new normal. For my part, this work will be less exhaustive in bibliography, less rigorous in argument, and less tidy and polished. From what I’m reading, it’ll also be more creative in engagement, more generous in tone, and more personal. Whether these changes are enough to shift scholarly conventions toward a more open and diverse forms of academic knowledge, I remain skeptical, but in a time where optimism is in short supply, I certainly hope so. 

The Ecology of Cities

I’m still flailing away at the penultimate chapter of my book on the archaeology of the contemporary American experience. The last month or so has been among the most hectic in my life as I’ve struggled to balance teaching, service, new opportunities, and old obligations. During this time, I’ve been chipping away at my book, but the chips are getting smaller and the coherence of the various chapters more tenuous. There will be distinct difference between chapter written pre- and post-COVID. A more creative author than I am would be able to make this a feature rather than a bug. 

In any event, here’s the final chunk of chapter 7 which ostensibly considers industrial archaeology, ruins, and cities. You can read earlier chunks of it here, here, here, and here. My goal today, between grading, course preparation, some reading, and a committee meeting is to file down some of the rough edges and then call it a chapter draft. On November 2nd, I start the next and final chapter draft. My deadline is January 31st for a completed manuscript. 

Cities provide particularly visible spaces for protests in the 21st century in part because they are epicenters of change in the post-industrial world. The mid-20th century role of American and many European cities as manufacturing centers that transformed raw materials into consumer goods has steadily declined in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The rise of global supply chains and distributed and just-in-time production practices has transformed both the urban landscape in the United States and Europe. The rise of suburbs, “white flight,” and the decline in tax revenue available to increasingly impoverished cities contributed to economic, regional, and racial tensions. As we have seen, cities such as Detroit or the South Bronx section of New York have become iconic as much for its industrial ruins and poverty as its once storied past as a manufacturing and cultural centers.

The decaying industrial landscapes of these cities form an appropriate backdrop to not only the economic and racial protests, but also environmental concerns. The incipient interest among historical archaeologists in the environmental impact of industrial practices and urbanization (e.g. Benjamin 2017 [2020]; Dawdy 2010). As Jeff Benjamin observed contemporary industrial ruins are not just a commentary on the limits of capitalism, but also an opportunity to consider ways to escape from the environmental legacy of our industrial past. Dawdy’s understanding of the ruins of post-Katrina New Orleans offers both new ways of seeing the city and disasters. When hurricane Katrina destroyed the levies holding back the waters of the Mississippi, the literal boundary between the city and river collapsed. The clean up and remains left behind after this disaster preserved the blurred line between the ordered space of the city, the devastation of Katrina, and the natural and political forces that constituted destruction and recovery. For Dawdy, the ruins revealed the inequalities in economic, social, and political power within the city that dictated which sites were rebuilt, when they saw attention, and how they were rebuilt. Ruins also cultivate the emergence of alternate forms of social and material relations as Anna Tsing (2014) has argued in her study of the matsutake mushrooms which thrive in landscapes produced by industrial logging and abandoned intensive agriculture. As Edensor (2005) and DeSilvey have observed among industrial ruins, these spaces blurred any number of social and ontological divisions that define our world (2005). The natural and the cultural, the industrial and the rural, the past and the present, and the neatly ordered and chaotic, all coincide in the space of ruins.

By blurring the division between the natural and the human, these critiques of ruins open onto a larger critique of the relationship between humans and their environment. While the archaeology of the contemporary urban world remains in its infancy, it seems inevitable that the thriving field of urban environmental history will exert a significant influence. The work of William Cronon, especially his epic study of Chicago, Nature’s Metropolis (1991), recognized the relationship between cities and their often expansive hinterlands. Rather than envisioning these connections as spokes on a wheel or a series of connections and nodes, the ontological blurriness that describes the character of ruins might likewise apply to the categories of cities and their hinterland. For example, A. Beisaw’s article on the archaeology of the New York City massive water supply parallels David Soll’s recent history (2013) of the network of watersheds, reservoirs, aqueducts, communities, agencies, and policies that bring New York its fresh water. The requirements and habits of the New York residents have shaped the landscape and ecology though dams, reservoirs, and watershed conservation designed to ensure the security of New York’s water. These efforts, however, have limited the opportunities among upstate communities to develop economically despite their access to lakes and natural space. Amahia Mallea’s work (2018) on the relationship between Kansas City and the Missouri River locates the city and its policies along the longest river in North America at the messy intersection of social, economic, and regional attitudes. The protests associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline’s route beneath the Missouri River not only reflected local concerns for the pipeline’s route, but emphasized the massive reach of the Missouri’s course and the diverse communities impacted should the pipeline become compromised. The dense web of infrastructure that allows contemporary society to function continuously redefines the character and extend of urban space and transgresses the limits of traditional demographic and administrative divisions. For example, Andrew Needham’s environmental history of Phoenix, Arizona (2014) goes beyond the blurry “Crabgrass Frontier” of the southwestern city’s suburbs and follows the high-current power lines to the coal mines and power plants on the Navaho reservation which made Phoenix’s Post-War expansion possible. Matthew Kingle’s environmental history of Seattle begins and ends with the journey of the Pacific salmon whose annual efforts to return to their spawning grounds invariably take them past Richard Haag’s Gas Works Park. The preservation of industrial ruins forms a backdrop to more recent efforts to restore the ruins of city’s waterways.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s Friday and I’m very much looking forward to the weekend. The weather isn’t supposed to be particularly nice and other than the start of BIG 10 football, there’s isn’t anything in particular that’s getting me excited. All the same, fall weekend have a particular vibe. The fall light feels just perfect for napping or reading something that I probably could allow to sit on my bookshelf for a few more months until the urge passes.

I hope that all my readers have escaped the recent uptick in COVID cases and are surviving the bumpy road to the election next week. 

Please be safe, stay sane, and enjoy this little gaggle of quick hits and varia:

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Writing Clearly

One of my favorite twitter dust ups in recent memory has centered on a strange book review by John Henderson in the BMCR. Apparently all of his reviews are similarly awkward in style, formatting, and language (and perhaps content, although, to be honest, I don’t know enough about the Augustan age to judge his analysis), but this one seems to have a touched a nerve in the social media. Without trivializing the response in any way, I suspect our collective rawness from the COVID, American politics, and the dreadful state of the NFC East, contributed to the reaction to this review. 

Folks on twitter fumed that the review was too opaque to be useful and amounted to little more than an author flaunting his elitism and privilege. As a casual reader of this review, I suspect this is the case. The oddly placed footnotes, the strange parenthetical, use of italics, and strangely personal style suggested an author both confident in his idiosyncratic form of expression and the tolerance of the BMCR’s editors. 

I also recognize that a book review, particularly one in the BMCR, has a particular place in the academic ecosystem. The BMCR represents the discipline’s crib sheet. It’s often the first place to review a book, it doesn’t require a subscription, and despite the occasional controversy, generally produces no-nonsense reviews that are long on description and short on critique. At its best, the BMCR is a democratizing force in Classics and Ancient History as it allows even the most forlorn, overworked, and library-deprived member of the Classics diaspora to keep abreast of the publications in the field, their content, and on a superficial level their significance. The no-nonsense reviews featured in the BMCR, then, coincide with its accessibility of this publication (which is all the more important as library budgets are being cut). Henderson’s review, in contrast, clearly falls outside of what one would expect to appear in the BMCR and, this, invariably, contributed to a share of the criticism on social media. The review is opaque and idiosyncratic, and it seemed appropriate to note that the BMCR may not have been the appropriate venue for such a review.

What interested me more, however, was that many of the critiques were not narrowly contextualized as to what is appropriate for a publication like the BMCR. Instead, academics asked the question whether opaque, complex, and even awkward prose is appropriate for academic writing in general. This is a complicated matter and I’m confident that many who fumed about the Henderson review has thought more carefully about this than I have.

At the same time, I got a bit worried that the call for clarity in academic writing isn’t just a simple matter of making sure that we’re understood. After all, most of us accept that being understood can be overvalued, specialist language and knowledge is important, and in the probably apocryphal words of Einstein “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” We also recognize that what we regard as simple and clear language is not politically, racially, or socially neutral. Criticism of opaque language is most frequently leveled against authors writing from rather more radical or marginal political positions. It has been a charge directed in particular at scholars working in gender theory, critical race theory, and post-colonial studies. These scholars are more likely to be women and BIPOC (or particularly invested in issues related to the situation of woman and BIPOC communities) and the critiques tend to emanate from white men. At their most disturbing there is a vague echo for calls for a kind of normative “standard English” that has often been used to suppress the distinctive voices and identities of diverse communities both in the US and globally.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Henderson’s rather strange review deserves some kind of protected status or that he is simply writing in the style of his community. I also understand that the BMCR is a bit like a baseball boxscore. It’s meant to be legible at a glance and this function encourages a familiar and standard appearance and discourages creativity or innovation. Instead, I’m trying to understand how and whether we should cultivate and develop clarity in scholarly writing. 

I remember last year at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting, I attended a roundtable of scholars talking about writing for the general public. The roundtable was sponsored, I think, by the NEH Public Humanities Project. The speakers were all scholars who had enjoyed some success writing for wider audiences and were in their scholarly primes. As I noted at the time, it was clear that these scholars imagined the general public not as a particular type of person, but as a market for their works. In other words, the public scholar is the scholar who caters to an existing market for ideas, books, and writing.

In many ways, this panel reminded me of how music labels often encouraged artists to produce more commercially viable music and how this trend became more and more stifling as a more homogeneous consumer culture for music (and, I’d contend, literature) emerged in the post-war period. The burgeoning purchasing power of the post-war suburban, largely-white, middle class swept all culture before it and produced a more and more limited range of commercially viable forms. This homogenization of culture not only made it difficult to record more experimental work (or music of interest to narrower audiences), but also made us less tolerant of work that refused to conform to commercial expectations. 

I got the feeling that certain advocated of public scholarship saw it not as work that connected with group who are underserved, marginalized, or ignored by academic writers, but with the largest possible audience. Or, as I regularly hear, our (white, middle class) grandmother or mother who is really interested in “archaeology.”

It goes without saying that writing designed to appeal to the widest possible audience is also writing that conforms to certain social and cultural expectations. This isn’t to say that the writing can’t be politically and personally challenging — as recent scholarship on race has shown — but it has to do it in familiar and recognizable ways. This is why so much of the most moving and significant popular literature on race over the last few years (Ibram X. Kendi,  Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kiese Laymon, for example) ground their calls for racial justice in deeply personal stories. This is effective, affective, and familiar to mainstream audiences. It’s part of what makes these books accessible even if they make arguments that should make their white audiences uncomfortable. 

Part of the reason that I’m thinking about this is that I often find myself pushing students to write in more formal ways. I’m regularly telling my students to obey the rules of grammar, to write more simply, and to embrace a traditional style. I’ve even found myself mouthing the desiccated platitude that you need first to understand the rules before you can violate them.

At the same time, I frequently scold my students when they complain that a book or an article is hard to understand. I encourage them to think about the difference between poor and challenging writing and to recognize that new ideas and specialist literature will often demand more of our attention.  

What I rarely do is encourage them to write and to use language in ways that are comfortable and familiar to them. Like most folks, when I feel inconvenienced by the way that a student writes, I push them back toward the comfortable pabulum of convention. I  worry a good bit that I’m doing more reinforce the status quo than I am to encourage the emergence of distinct voices and valuing a narrow view of clarity more than a more expansive view of writing as art.

In the end, I do think that our world would be better, more interesting, and even more inclusive if we valued clarity a bit less and diversity a bit more.  

Unfolding a Mountain

One of the particularly challenges that we faced on the Western Argolid Regional Project was how to understand a site at a rock shelter known as Daouli. The site featured a series of fortified rock shelters complete with cisterns and what we interpreted as “gun slits” (actually loopholes) that overlooked the Inachos River valley in the neighborhood of the village of Lyrkeia in the Argolid. The fields around these fortifications produced some Late Roman and Final Neolithic pottery as well as modern material. The fortifications themselves proved difficult to date; they are likely 19th century, but graffiti in the plaster of at least one cistern included dates from the 1940s.

Last weekend, I finally finished Niels Henrik Andreasen, Nota Pantzou, Dimitris Papadopoulos, and Andreas Darlas’s Unfolding a Mountain: A historical archaeology of modern and contemporary cave use on Mount Pelion. (2017). A used copy is available now for $21 on Biblio.

The book is really great. 

It describes a two year survey of caves on Mt. Pelion and considered the range of recent and contemporary uses of the caves through a variety of lenses ranging from archaeological survey, ethnography, epigraphy, and regional history. Mt. Pelion is the rugged and beautiful stretch of mountain that extends roughly southeast of Volos. There are a number of villages on the island, a narrow gauge railroad, orchards, overgrown terraces, stone mansions, and caves. 

The book does a few things that were really helpful. 

First, they demonstrate the wide range of ways that caves have been used in the modern and contemporary period. These range from a field hospital during the Greek Civil War to occasional shelters for shepherds, temperature stable storerooms, hermitages, and even periodically for housing new arrivals on the peninsula. The varieties of use reflect the cave’s location, their shape and size, and the changing political, economic, and social situation on the peninsula over the course of the 19th and 20th century. 

Second, they document the caves, related material culture, and graffiti carefully. Historical archaeology in Greece remains in its infancy, and while many projects recognize the significant of modern and contemporary material culture, most continue to document it in a rather less systematic and intensive way that ancient or medieval material. In Unfolding the Mountain, modern graffiti and stacked stone walls are documented with almost the same care that an ancient inscription would receive. Joanita Vroom’s study of the modern and contemporary ceramics emphasized that we still do not have the same chronological resolution for modern pottery as we do for certain periods in antiquity or, more accurately, other sources of evidence for the recent past offers more precision than we can extract from the long-lived ceramic forms.  

Graffiti on the other hand, often included specific dates or, at very least, years, which provided the authors with a more precise, if not entirely consistent, proxy for cave use during the 19th and 20th centuries. While they did acknowledge that the epigraphic habit changed over time, with certain decades less well represented than others, graffiti nevertheless offered insights into the broad patterns of cave use on Mt. Pelion.

The ebb and flow of resources, migrants, and challenges (including Italians, Nazis, Allies and the combatants in the Greek Civil War) shaped the use of the mountain over time. The agricultural practices and the construction of the railway drew Albanian migrants to the mountain and these workers left their marks on caves where they sometimes resided during their short-term stays in the region. Resistance fighters during the German Occupation and the Civil War used the caves to hide weapons, command posts, and hospitals. Miners and shepherds modified caves in various ways when there were markets for goats (and their cheese) and Pelion stone. 

What’s more striking, in their account is how today many of the caves have slipped into obscurity. Their informants described the mountain as “closed” and even denied the existence of caves in its rugged heights. The absence of grazing goals and cultivated fields outside the immediate vicinity of the villages has allowed the caves to disappear into tangled webs of vegetation. Pave roads, the end of transhumant practices, and fewer large flocks have also resulted in access to the caves being impossible. The authors readily acknowledged that their sample of caves only represented a fraction of what likely existed but was lost to knowledge or now too difficult to access.

As someone who has spent a good bit of time at the margins of the cultivated area in the Argolid and Corinthia, I’ve found it impossible to miss the signs – terraces, buildings, cisterns, wells, paths, et c. – that early modern agriculture and habitation was once far more extensive than it is in the 21st century. As a result, our intensive survey methods, wedded as they are to the flatter, more open, and often still cultivated fields of the valley bottoms and lower slopes around modern villages, can produce a pretty distorted view of the earlier land use. In fact, our tendency to conclude that modern and pre-modern land use and settlement were similar often owes itself, at least in part, to the part of the landscape that we can easily sample. 

The Pelion team does a nice job connecting this sampling bias to larger regional trends and demonstrating how the mountain, its villages, caves, and fields responded to larger regional and transregional trends, which, in turn, defined how archaeologists can understand the mountain today. 

FestivalCHAT and a New CHAT Book Series

Over the last few months, I’ve become a member of a new community by serving on the  Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory standing committee. 

I was a pretty late addition to their number, so I am still trying to figure out what it’s all about, but I do know that they (or we?) are running our regular conference (virtually!) starting this weekend. It’s called FestivalCHAT and you can get the diverse and intriguing line up of events, presentation, Twitter sessions, and the like here.

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The festival is largely being hosted in the UK and Europe, but most sessions start late enough in the day to be reasonable for folks in CDT and EDT. It’s free!

We’re also excited to announce the inauguration of a new book series in partnership with BAR Publishing. The series is called the BAR series in Contemporary and Historical Archaeology and it’ll be edited by me and Rachael Kiddey. We’ve assembled a brilliant and diverse editorial board and are beginning to think about themes that we’d like to see featured in submissions while at the same time being open to anything that comes our way.  

You can visit with me and Rachael at FestivalCHAT next Tuesday from 11-12 am CDT. Come and hang out, pitch us a book idea, and contribute to the conversation!  

Here’s the general description of the series scope:

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This series embraces all forms of theory in contemporary and historical archaeologies, and particularly those which increase our understanding of how the past can be a mode through which values of equality, human rights, and social justice may be redefined to shape the present. Since the 1960s, archaeologists have periodically sought to bring their particular expertise to landscapes and material culture of the historical and very recent past. Such Contemporary and Historical Archaeologies have, since 2003, have had a home in the form of the annual Contemporary and Historical Archaeological Theory (CHAT) conference. While contributions to CHAT have been wide-ranging in terms of fieldwork locations and methodological approaches, they have consistently, and probably necessarily, sought to address the political climate in which they are practised.

The series will publish theoretically oriented excavation reports and object studies, conference proceedings and revised doctoral theses. To ensure academic relevance, we encourage conference proceedings to be published within two years of the conference session taking place. Manuscripts from those originating from and working outside the regions of North/West Europe and North America are particularly welcomed. We will publish in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

You can download a copy of the series brief here.

Archaeology and Graffiti

For those of you interested in my ongoing book project, here’s a bit more about the archaeology of contemporary graffiti. It’s part of a chapter on industrial ruins and cities which I’ve posted about here, here, and here

Below is the most recent chunk. More on this later in the week.

A similar interest in the archaeology of 21st century protests has emerged surrounding the protests that occurred in the wake of George Floyds murder in the 2020 and the related efforts to remove or destroy monuments associated with racist figures in urban areas. As Simms and Riel-Salvatore (2016) noted in their efforts to document the material signature of the Occupy Denver movement, the speed at which many of these protest occurred, their diverse and widespread nature , and the ephemeral character of some of the transformations have required innovative approaches to documenting the protests and their changing manifestations in the urban fabric. The Philadelphia-based Monument Lab project, for example, is developing performing a National Monument Audit n an effort to document and understand the changing monumental landscape of American cities (https://www.monumentlab.com/projects/national-monument-audit). The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is collecting artifacts associated with the 2020 protests against police brutality in Washington, DC’s Lafayette Square (https://nmaahc.si.edu/about/news/statement-efforts-collect-objects-lafayette-square). Artists Terry Kilby used drone photography in July of 2020 to produce 3D model of the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia and posted it to the 3D viewing site Sketchfab (https://skfb.ly/6TtSV). Kilby’s model preserved the spray painted sentiments expressed by protestors which ranged from expressions of anger, love, unity, and racial solidarity to calls to “tear it down,” revolution, and anarchism. The sheer volume and variety of messages jostling with each for attention on the monument embodied the diversity of the protestors, their motivations, and goal. Absent, of course, were the equally dramatic messages projected on the statue at night which left no material trace. The techniques employed by Kilby and any number of other historians, journalists, archaeologists, and community members to document the protest were both similar to those used during archaeological field work (e.g. Murray and Sapirstein 2017) and also reflect the need and opportunities for ad hoc approaches to recording the often ephemeral remains of protests. While there is no doubt that the protests against racism and policy brutality and the removal of racist monuments marked a significant moment in the history of both race and urbanism in the United States, the traces of these protests particularly in the urban fabric continue a tradition of practices, including graffiti, tagging, and street art, that is fundamental to modern, global urban experience.

Oliver and Neal (2010), for example, locate the origins of contemporary interest in graffiti in the economic and racial turmoil in major urban areas in the US in the 1970s — New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. In this context, graffiti represented a challenge to the urban order for whom it represented vandalism and an assault on private and public property. Since that time, archaeologists, anthropologists, and a wide range of urban explorers and photographers have documented graffiti and street art as windows into the communities, identities, rituals, and tensions that define urban life. Schiffer and Gould’s seminal 1981 book, Modern Material Culture, includes a C. Fred Baker’s chapter analyzing graffiti in bathrooms in and around the University of Hawaii. He notes that the use of racial and ethnic insults directed toward white, Japanese, and native Hawaiians, confirms the role of liminal places as spaces for the public expression of transgressive language that, ironically, reinforces social norms. In other contexts, however, archaeologists have argued that graffiti play a role in place making activities that challenge hegemonic views of what constitutes liminal or marginal places. Gabriel Soto, for example, argued that the presence of graffiti in box culverts along roads in the Sonoran desert is a form of place-making along in an otherwise sterile and indistinct landscape. Similar practices appear to have characterized the graffiti found on a bridge over the Ilissos river in Athens, Greece, where migrants transformed an otherwise marginal space in a place to mark their ethnic identity, commemorated their journeys and place of origin, and perhaps even created a place for worship (Lenakis 2019). In effect, the shared experiences communicated through the graffiti transformed a marginal space into a place made familiar offering comfort to individuals encountering an intense form of displacement in an unsympathetic and often hostile urban landscape. On the one hand, the use of graffiti to create a sense of places at the margins of the city echoes its place in classic works in Teun Voeten’s Tunnel People (1996,2010) which explores the life of residents of New York City’s abandoned railroad tunnels. The use of graffiti as part of the 21st-century protests, then, represented a varied and well-established strategy to stake claim to urban spaces. By challenging the social and political order’s control over public spaces, graffiti represents a significant form of resistance to hegemonic forces that use violence and other forms of social, economic, and institutional power to marginalize groups, suppress dissent, and appropriate public space.

First Snow

I had to wait a bit this morning for there to be enough light to catch the first snow of the season. It’s pretty uninspiring, but it was snow.

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I’ve posted a photo of the first snow (or what I considered the first snow…) pretty regularly since 2007. Here they are: 2019 (October 1), 2018 (October 4)2017 (October 26), 2016 (November 22), 2015 (Nov. 5), 2014 (Nov. 8), 2013 (Oct. 20), 2012 (Oct. 4), 2011 (Nov. 10), 2010 (Nov. 21), 2008 (Oct. 28), and in 2007 (Sept. 11).

Friday Quick Hits and Varia

It’s a fall Friday here in North Dakotaland, but we’ve been warned … snow is in the air! We’ve tested the furnace, fired up our (gas powered) fireplace, and even had the preliminary discussion about putting the snow tires on the car. It is officially late autumn.

The late autumn does bring certain advantages though. Flurry filled cook outs, pots of chili, and the annual countdown to when the Eagles are officially eliminated from the playoffs. The summer cricket season is under way in Australia, the NASCAR guys have entered the home stretch, and an invariably asterisked baseball season is getting closer to the World Series. (The Big 10 football season starts next week, which is too bizarre for comment). None of this really matters, though, because Saturday night is Lomachenko-Lopez, the first great fight of 2020. 

This gives me the daytime to wrap up some proofs, do some yard work and finally get back to reading the books moldering on my “must read” pile.

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

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