Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s a fall Friday with family in town. So, my quick hits and varia are going to be a bit quicker and maybe less varia than usual. 


If you feel like you need more links to follow, then listen to first Caraheard Podcast of season 3.

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Adventures in Podcasting Season 3!

I know that some people expressed doubts over whether the Caraheard Podcasting Experiment ™ was over, but today should demonstrate that it was just a little delayed.

We were lucky enough to have Kostis Kourelis join us to talk about his summer, and Richard and I provided the usual tomfoolery and background noise.  

So, here is Caraheard, Season 3, Episode 1:

Richard and I talked a good bit about his work in the Corinthia including the area around Siderona. We also mentioned my work around Vayia which was published here. We also mentioned David Pettegrew’s important new book on the region, The Isthmus of Corinth: Crossroads of the Mediterranean World. (Michigan 2016). 

Kostis talked about his remarkable summer program in which students studied immigration both in the US and in Greece. You can read more about it here: “From Greek Village to the American City: Archaeology of Immigration,Franklin & Marshall College Alumni Magazine (Summer, 2016)

We then strayed almost immediately from the Mediterranean and talked a bit about defending housing from extreme commodification. We mentioned  David Madden and Peter Marcuse, In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis (New York: Verso, 2016).

We discussed Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, “Learning from Levittown” Studio, 1970, and its classic drawing of the semiotics of a suburban American house.

Richard talks about his traumatic experiences at the parade of homes and various forms of McMansion Hell including the expansion of junk space

This, more or less, led us to the classic essay on the biography of things

Igor Kopytoff, “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 64-94.

We might also add a similar note about semiotics, although not mentioned in the podcast: Jean Baudrilard, The System of Objects (1968).

From the edge of thingness, we return to sanity by discussing Philadelphia at Halloween.

At some point, we mention that archaeology of care.

Bill talked a bit about the North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Summit on Outrage which he live-blogged here

He also never misses an opportunity to promote The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and its newest book Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future which will be released next week. 


Copying and Copy Shops as Third Place

A couple weeks ago my colleague Sheila Liming gave a paper at our NDUS Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit in which she advocated for the development of third places (or third spaces) in downtown Grand Forks, ND. Following Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the third place, she argued that communities need places that are neither work nor home and provide an affordable, accessible place for conversation and socialization. 

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I’ve been reading – savoring really – Kate Eichhorn’s Adjusted Margin: Xerography, Art, and Activism in the Late Twentieth Century (MIT 2016). She describes copy shops as third places around which communities developed and which became centers of certain kinds of activism especially among groups who were traditionally marginalized for their politics, forms of cultural expression, or social class. Perhaps the book resonated with me because like many graduate students of my generation (Ph.D. 2003), I spent lots of time in copy shops desperately duplicating books and articles acquired from interlibrary loan and invariably due back sooner than was convenient. When I relocated the Wilmington, Delaware for a year after completing my Ph.D., I once again found copy shops a convenient home for making copies of vital research material and preparing handouts for the classes that I taught as an adjunct in the area.

Eichhorn also unpacked photocopying itself as a technology and considered its role in democratizing some forms of publishing. While, on the one hand, Eichhorn was clear that photocopying did not come to replace traditional publishing, but, on the other hand, it did offer a readily available tool to chip away at the edge of copyright and publishers seeming monopoly on the distribution of printed words. The appearance of ‘zines and other informal, photocopied publications revealed that a creative impulse and a market (however ephemeral) existed to produce and consume these kinds of works. 

In fact, this early photocopy culture – and its intersection with the punk rock movement – inspired my own venture into publishing that has leveraged a new set of technologies built on a similar digital infrastructure. For example, print-on-demand technologies allow books to be printed cheaply, to create economies of scale, and to eliminate inventory costs. Technology used to layout attractive pages and book length manuscripts is now (relatively) affordable, easy to use, and can run on an inexpensive laptop computer. In other words, the democratic potential of photocopying has become increasingly realized in the 21st century as new publishing models have emerged.

I hope that these new moves in publishing will created the kind textual third space/place where the margins and the center intersect in new ways. Our book on Punk rock and archaeology is a manifestation of this kind of third spacing that I envision. Not only did the idea bring together the margins and the center, but it also embraced a DIY style of publishing, the integration of blog posts, and a casual, but academic style. 

Almost Done: Mobilizing the Past and the Stack Test

I have something like 12 changes to make to the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s next book, Mobilizing the Past, before it can go live in both digital and paper formats.

Most of these changes involve little cosmetic fixes within the book and the addition of the book’s freshly minted LCCN (2016917316 for those of you keeping track at home!).

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The most important test though for a book, is the shelf or stack test. This involves how does the book look when set on a shelf or put into a stack. The logic here is that even the most battered copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses spends of its life in a stack or on a shelf. So a good book can’t just be good, it has to look good, shelf good, and stack good too.  

Mobilizing the Past’s stack mates this week are Kate Eichborn’s brilliant Adjusted Margin: Xerography, Art, and Activism in the Late Twentieth Century (2016) from the MIT Press and my newly arrived copy of the Journal of Roman Archaeology.  


Books from MIT press always look great, use well-considered fonts, and have just enough edge to make you feel like your reading something published by a press associated with a university on the cutting edge. They have a house style, but it never feels forced or overwhelming. And their books are affordable. (Read this 5 minute interview with Kate Eichhorn here).

Journal of roman archaeology

 The Journal of Roman Archaeology can only be described as aggressively anti-design. The cover only the smallest glimpses of what the reader should expect when he or she opens one of the two annual volumes. The text runs virtually from margin to margin on glossy paper and crowds inline images. The line spacing is dense and the font is some undistinguished member of Times family. This kind of design is not conservative or traditional, but assertively dull. 

The content, on the other hand, is so good, well-edited, and relevant that even a lapsed Roman archaeologist like myself looks forward the annual arrival of the JRA as the start of fall thinking season. So for all it’s design infelicities, the Journal of Roman Archaeology is indispensable.

My hope with volumes from the Digital Press is to make them both valuable and attractive, but I know that attractive books have more fun.

Ubik and Archaeology

As part of my ill-considered project to work through Philip K Dick’s novels in search for some kind of archaeological inspiration, I read Ubik this week. Largely regarded as among his most ambitious books, Ubik describes a future where the living and the dead can interact, individuals with special mental powers could read minds, predict the future, and even change the past, and it was a viable business to coordinate the labor of individuals who could block humanity’s expanded mental powers.

More prescient still is Dick’s world of autonomous things that constantly demanded payment for even the most routine functions like opening the door, turning on the television, or cooking food. While the “internet of things” promises world where every device from our refrigerators to our light fixtures and cars are seamlessly connected, Dick’s world is the dystopian vision of that reality. His integrated world allows for devices to conspire against their human owners and to negotiate and even deny their services. As technology creeps into everyday life from tractors to coffee makers, we are at the mercy of devices which are largely outside our control and mici-payments that nibble around the edges of diminishing income.

The story is convoluted. It involves a firm that employs individuals who can block psychic abilities. A specially assemblage group of the firms top agents was tricked into traveling to the moon to fulfill a lucrative contract. There, the group experienced a massive explosion which seemingly killed the firm’s president Glen Runctier. Joe Chip, Runciter’s right-hand man, tried in vain to discover Runciter’s murderer, but over the course of his grief-wracked investigate, reality began to change. First, Runciter’s image and name began to appear on objects including currency. Then, time began to slip in strange ways as the modern world (of 1992) begins to give way to earlier periods. First the the present started to give way to the relatively recent past, but then, the 1940s and 1930s. Like Dick’s alternate world in Time Out of Joint, the flickering past of Ubik created a world in which authenticity is always in doubt. Objects present the most obvious manifestation of this time slippage, although it also effected humans. The only remedy was the mysterious Ubik and only in the form of an aerosol spray. The novel concludes with Joe Chip pursuing Runciter’s murderer through 1930s Des Moines as his own life is subjected to the same chronological entropy as the world around him. Protected only by Ubik, Chip finally realizes that this slippage of time around him is evidence that he is, in fact, dead and Runciter is alive. The only complication to this is that, at the end of the novel, Runciter begins to find coins in his pocket with Joe Chip’s face on it.

Despite the convoluted plot, the continuous juxtaposition of the past and the present reflects Dick’s fascination with authenticity as a archaeological problem. For Dick, objects ground us in the world and anchor us in time, and distorted reality is not simply arbitrary hallucinations, but the displacement of objects in time. There is something archaeological here, of course. The relationships between objects and time structures reality and our ability to locate objects chronologically allows us to discern the authentic from the illusory.  

Friday Quick Hits and Varia

The leaves are falling from the trees, we had an apple pie, the heart of the college footballing season is upon us, and grant applications and letters of recommendation are piling up.

It’s really fall now.

As you enjoy some hot cider while listening to your favorite Bob Dylan album, please enjoy these quick hits and varia:


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As I spent the week working on grant applications and putting the final touches on a book, I’ve been thinking a good bit about words. 

This led me to ask Shawn Graham for a word cloud for The Digital Press’s soon to be released book, Mobilizing the Past:

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Dimitri Nakassis has produced a word cloud from the preliminary program of the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting in January.


Nothing to See Here

It’s mid-October, I have deadlines for internal grants, for external grants, and for a stack of reviews. I have papers to grade, books to read, and students to advise. I have a lot going on right now.

Since I can’t offer you any brilliant blog content, I’m going to point you in the direction of folks who can!

First, check out Kostis Kourelis’s blog. He’s on sabbatical right now, and his blog has come alive with some amazing content lately.

Then check out Shawn Graham’s stuff over at Electric Archaeologists, particularly his most recent distant reading of the soon-to-be-released Mobilizing the Past volume from The Digital Press.

Look at what we’ve been doing over at the North Dakota Quarterly webpage. We’re running a little series on the 50th anniversary of Elwyn B. Robinson’s monumental History of North Dakota with contributions from me, Jim Mochoruk, Michael Lansing, and Kim Porter

This week, the University of North Dakota inaugurated its 12th president, Mark Kennedy. This is what I wrote 8 years ago having watched the inauguration of Robert O. Kelley. I think much of what I said still stands.

Thanks for understanding that I needed a day off from the old blog! And thanks to my colleagues for keeping the interwebs interesting. More tomorrow! I promise! 

Placing a Digital Book on the Shelf

One of the fun challenges facing The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is getting our digital books noticed. This year, we’ve used social and traditional media, kept the website sharp, circulated a few books for review, and we’ll even do a little advertising for our most recent volume. The key is to get the news of the book out in front of as many people as possible.

For traditional publishers, this involves getting our books on the right book shelf, but since we don’t have the resources or the infrastructure for getting paper books stocked outside of a few very limited outlets, we have to find other ways to get our books on the right digital shelves.  

For The Bakken Goes Boom, we were lucky enough to have some global coverage in the popular media (Slate, Fast Design Co. and the Daily Mail as well as some recent coverage by the more specialized science press. We also got some nice publicity from the University of North Dakota. This coverage certainly raised awareness of the book and contributed to over 500 downloads and continued decent sales, but it remains to be seen if this kind of publicity results in the book getting cited consistently and having an impact in how both the public and scholars understand the Bakken.

The War with the Sioux is the Digital Press’s best seller and received both a proper book review in the public humanities media (in North Dakota History which strangely enough isn’t online!) and some strong word of mouth sales and downloads thanks to the hard work of the translators and their extensive network of local and regional connections. And this event. It’s a thing

Sometime in the next few months, the little guide that Bret Weber and I wrote to the Bakken is scheduled to appear from North Dakota State University Press. We have a website for it already and the hope is to use this book and its publicity to help us market The Bakken Goes Boom as well. As part of this, I have the idea of creating a “Bakken Bookshelf” with links various media – particularly books, but also articles – relevant to understanding the Bakken. Prominent among them would be a link to work by the Petrocultures collective at the University of Alberta, but also books and articles reviewed on my blog. By creating a virtual bookshelf, we can visually link our book to other significant books in the field.

For our next book, Mobilizing the Past, we are partnering with a the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s libraries to host a copy of the book and its chapter on their Digital Commons page (link coming soon!). Digital Commons is both highly visible to search engines, but it also has a kind of institutional imprimatur that will reinforce the academic character of the book and hopefully make it accessible to a wide audience. It will also be available from The Digital Press page and with any luck some future titles (and I have a couple in particular in mind) will help attract readers to the book. Finally, I’ve been talking with the book’s editors and we agree that getting the book up on our various pages will align the book with various scholars’ interests and provide a context for our work.

Situating our work in an appropriate context seems crucial for the long-term success of a book. When the first wave of downloads subsides and the bubble of sales deflates, the real fruits of publishing appear as the book moves into the scholarly or public conversation, gets cited, and circulates. Getting a digital book onto the right bookshelf is an important step to ensure the lasting impact of a work.

Philip K Dick and Archaeological Futures

I have this mediocre idea of reading a bunch of Philip K Dick and then using it to think about the future of archaeology. Bill Brown’s recently sweeping study of things in literature spurred my interest in Dick’s work and particularly his concern for the relationship between objects and things. Since this reading is for a paper that I am scheduled to give toward the end of November at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting in a panel on object biography, I thought that anything I could do to complicate the idea of objects having a biological trajectory through reality would make my paper an interesting contribution. 

This weekend, I made my way through Dick’s Time Out of Joint (1959). The main character in the novel lived in a town constructed to appear just as it was in 1959. In fact, he was not aware – at least consciously – that the year was not 1959, but 1998, until he discovered some buried magazines that described events and people with whom he was not familiar and started to discover slips of paper labeling the location of objects in his complex stage-managed surroundings. This provided material evidence that complicated his present by simultaneously providing glimpses of the real 1959 and the construction (literally!) of his own reality and led the main character to question the authenticity of his own surroundings. The tension between the present constructed to accommodate the main character who – as if anticipating the plot of Enders Game – played a newspaper strategy contest daily which allowed the world government to destroy incoming nuclear missiles fired from the moon. The reconstructed 1950s town represented a kind of delusional utopia constructed to manage the main character’s anxiety and the pressures of protecting the world from nuclear catastrophe. Dick’s work creates a tension between the perfect town with its past and the complicated, messy, and dystopian reality of the year 1998 with its real past.

In 200 pages, Dick offers a clever (and untheoretical in his particular way) perspective to the idea that time and things have a uncomplicated relationship. Pasts and presents exists simultaneously and in incompatible ways as archaeology offers glimpses of both unrealized futures (and presents) as well as impossible pasts. For the characters in the Dick novel, time does feel out of joint, but it speaks to a more disjointed experience of reality that archaeology encounters on a regular basis.

Our obsession with chronology and dating, in this context, is about trying to put time back into joint and to putting the world into an order that is recognizable and that makes sense. Philip K Dick’s Time Out of Joint, challenges us to wonder whether the 1950s town of the main character with its superficial consistency and manufactured is out of joint or the ostensibly more authentic reality of 1998.