Friday Varia and Quick Hits

After a snowy few days, it feels like spring is returning to North Dakotaland with temperatures set to soar into the mid or even upper 50s today. Remember to wear your sunscreen, stay hydrated, and limit vigorous outdoor activities until your body adjusts to the warmer temperatures!

I’m planning to take lots of little breaks in front of the ole TV this weekend, catching the Formula 1 guys back in action, Cup in Richmond, the Sixers at home against the Clippers and the Phillies series against the Cards. If there were more hours in the day (or night), I might even catch an IPL match or the Sheffield Shield final, but I suspect any free time will be spent cleaning up the mud the dogs have tracked into the house from the garden.

Or, you know, doing my job. 

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

IMG 0312

Three Things Thursday: New Book, Teaching, and

It’s a Thursday at the end of the semester and I’m thinking about a new book that is neck deep in production, another book that is getting some good attention, some teaching situations that are amusing me, and …

Thing the First

This weekend, I’m wrapping up final edits on a new book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota: Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook edited by Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson. The book is due out in “early May” and is published in collaboration with the Rural Women’s Studies Association and will be featured at their meeting next month.

Here’s the blurb:

Sharing recipes is a form of intimate conversation that nourishes body and soul, family and community. Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook integrates formal scholarship with informal reflections, analyses of recipe books with heirloom recipes, and text with images to emphasize the ways that economics, politics, and personal meaning come together to shape our changing relationships with food. By embracing elements of history, rural studies, and women’s studies, this volume offers a unique perspective by relating food history with social dynamics. It is sure to inspire eclectic dining and conversations.  

Stay tuned for a landing page!

Thing the Second

The National Hellenic Research Foundation (Το Εθνικό Ίδρυμα Ερευνών) is hosting a digital conference next week on Mapping settlement desertion in Southeastern Europe from Antiquity to the Modern Era (the program is here and you can register here). The conference starts next Thursday and in the afternoon (8 pm EEST/12 pm CDT), there’ll be a presentation by Rebecca M. Seifried on the most recent title from The Digital Press: Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean, edited by Seifried and Deborah Brown Stewart.

This will be a great chance for Seifried to bring the amazing work in this volume to a larger audience. I can’t stress enough both how impressed I am by the work in this volume and satisfied with my own contributions. If you haven’t downloaded a copy, you should here! Or, better still, grab a paper copy here.  

Thing the Third

As the semester has wound down, I’ve taken to thinking a bit about end of the semester work in my classes. In my introductory level history class, I use a few assignments to close the loop and to try to get students to reflect critically on the skills that they’ve learned in the class.

The class revolves around a series of group exercises which bring together individual work into more synthetic essays and projects. The best groups have a system in place “to workflow” this process and are now producing consistently high quality work.

My favorite late semester assignment involves asking students to rank the other groups’ work. These rankings are kept private, and there’s an essay required from each student that explains their rankings. The goal of the assignment isn’t so much to rank other students’ work, but to demonstrate that they can read each others’ work critically. 

The upside of this is that the best students who have really understood what I’ve been prattling on about all semester tend to do a nice job.

The downside is that by the end of the semester, so many students are struggling with workloads in other classes, burn out after the full school year, and the temptation of warming weather, summer break, and even graduation. As a result, just when my students are at a stage where they could start to reinforce (or at least demonstrate) how well they’ve understood the methods and approaches that I teach in class, they are also at the point where it’s hard for them to find the time and energy to do it.

The result is unsatisfactory, with the best and the worst students (who often reappear at the end of the semester with heroic promises and struggle mightily) performing to expectation, but the broad middle ground of students presenting a muddled mass which doesn’t really tell me much (and probably does even less to accomplish my pedagogical goals). It’s always frustrating when the best made plans crash against the reality of a complicated classroom.   

Archaeology of the Contemporary American Experience: An (almost) Final Bibliography

I’m almost done my second draft of my book manuscript and as part of that work, I have an almost final bibliography for my book. Readers of this blog know that my book is on the archaeology of contemporary American culture and you can check out the first drafts of most of the book’s chapters here.

The book has a pretty significant bibliography as one might expect from this kind of survey. While there are better, or at least more focused, bibliographies available. I’d recommend the bibliography of Alfredo González-Ruibal’s An Archaeology of the Contemporary Era (2019) or even Rodney Harrison and Esther Breithoff’s recent article-length review in the 2017 Annual Review of Anthropology 46(1): 203-221.

In any event, I think that my bibliography is a bit different from theirs and might be of interest to a graduate student or someone just dipping their toes in the field. At the same time, it is very much a works cited.

You can download my bibliography here in all its 36 page glory!

NDQuesday: A New Issue’s Cover

I don’t remember whether NDQuesday is a thing or not, but it does appear as a category for this blog and, so, it’ll be a thing for at least one more week.

Yesterday, we received page proofs from our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press and this included three options for the cover. The cover art is based on a series of prints by our art editor Ryan Stander called “Pursue _______________:” The sentiments on the panels were crowd-sourced and printed using a letterpress.

With a little big of luck, the issue should be out in early May, just in time for summer reading!

Here are the cover design options:

1.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 1

2.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 2

3.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 3

4.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 4

Do you have a preference? Let me know in the comments!

Music Monday: Some Sun Ra Notes

This weekend, I started to think just a bit more seriously about writing something on Sun Ra and the relationship between his work (both in music and writing) and Orientalism. I’ve toyed with some ideas related to this topic a few months ago, and you can read some of them here. I’m not entirely sure where this project is going, but I wanted to get some momentum behind it.

To help this project along, I took a dive into Kevin McGeough’s massive and impressive (and massively impressive) The Ancient Near East in the Nineteenth Century: Appreciations and Appropriations (Sheffield Phoenix Press 2015). I was particularly interested in the final chapters of volume 3 which deal with the Theosophical movements of the late 19th century and, then, in the final part a quick tour through some of the early 20th century legacies of 19th century views of the Near East with special attention to Freud and H.P. Lovecraft.

McGeough’s attention to Helena Blavatsky’s work drew my attention both because her works appeared in Sun Ra’s library and because she located the source of an ancient and unchanging wisdom in ancient Near Eastern (particularly Egyptian) sources. While Blavatsky’s understanding of the Egyptian, Near Eastern, and Classical texts left much to be desired, her work nevertheless reflected a growing popular and academic interest in the Near East that had fomented over the 19th century. Oddly, her most famous work Isis Unveiled (1877) does not appear in Sun Ra’s library but her subsequent book, The Secret Doctrine (1888) does. Connecting Sun Ra’s rather eclectic esotericism to theosophy of Blavatsky may be useful in disentangling some of the pseudoscientific elements of his thinking which are explicit in both his poetry and his fascination with the space age.

Sun Ra’s library also contained books by Gerald Massey, the eccentric 19th century poet and playwright, who wrote a number of works that sought to trace Biblical origins to the Nile valley. In particular, Sun Ra owned a copy of Massey’s A book of the beginnings : containing an attempt to recover and reconstitute the lost origines of the myths and mysteries, types and symbols, religion and language, with Egypt for the mouthpiece and Africa as the birthplace (1881).   

I also want to try to understand works like Oahspe: A New Bible by John Ballou Newbrough which is a mystical text that was dictated to Newbrough while in a trance. It evokes both Biblical and Egyptian motifs in its spiritualism and likewise appears in Sun Ra’s collection. Similarly Sun Ra’s library contains works of James M. Pryse, another late 19th century Theosophist. 

The other aspect of Sun Ra’s work that has fascinated me is his connection with African American writers who looked to connect Black culture and race, in various ways, to Egypt, the Near East, and Biblical narratives. The most prominent of these was George G.M. James‘s work, Stolen Legacy: The Greeks Were Not the Authors of Greek Philosophy, But the People of North Africa, Commonly Called the Egyptians (1954) which anticipated some of Martin Bernal’s arguments in Black Athena and famously attracted the critique of Mary Lefkowitz

James’s work represents a key early text that we might associate with Afrocentrism. And I’d like to try to understand similar 19th and early 20th century works in Sun Ra’s library. For example, I was not familiar with Boston Napoleon Bonaparte Boyd whose work appear among Sun Ra’s books. His work, Search light on the seventh wonder; x-ray and search light on the Bible with natural science; discoveries of the twentieth century,  from what I gather, attempted to link Biblical and historical narratives to the condition of Africa and Blacks in society and the need to reclaim lost knowledge to restore true wisdom to the world.

Similarly, I’m fascinated by the work of Theodore P. Ford, especially his God Wills the Nego (1939) which sought to locate the history of Black people in Ethiopia and Egypt as a way to restore their status in mid-century American society. (There is one line of thinking that connects Ford with Wallace Fard Muhammad, the mysterious founder of the Nation of Islam.)

Finally, I want to understand a bit more about his relationship to the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the shooting of certain scenes from Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise (for a review of it, see here). 

Friday Quick Hits and Varia

It feels like the beginning of the end, at least of the semester (maybe of the world, but I’m not entirely qualified to say). 

That said, it also means baseball season is starting, the NBA season is starting to get a bit more serious, and NASCAR (and, eventually, Formula 1) will start to roll. The Cup guys are in Martinsville on Saturday night, the Fightin’ Phils are on ESPN Sunday night, and Joe Smith will take on Maxim Vlasov for one or another Light Heavyweight belt in Tulsa on Saturday. In other words, there’s a lot going on for a lazy April weekend!!

Looking for something to watch tonight? I heartily recommend the Laurel Tree Theater’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. It’s called A Doll’s House 20/20 been running digitally for the last couple of weeks, but TONIGHT is the last night. Go here for a trailer and here for tickets.

Fortunately, I have a book to finish and some grading and writing of my own to do so that I won’t become too relaxed by the abundance of entertainment. Gotta keep my edge!

In the meantime, here is a very small gaggle of quick hits and varia:

Make Room

Three Things Thursday: Teaching, Sevareid, and Rolex

It’s been a long semester and a long (academic) year, but I’m still here, slogging and blogging toward its conclusion. I have the amazing good fortune to have my plate full of exciting, interesting, and stimulating  things to think about this morning and this weekend. Some of these things are probably formative, some of these things are curious, and some are just plain frivolous. In that spirit, I offer this modest Three Things Thursday. 

Thing the First

One of the big things that I’ve been trying to do in my classes this semester is to be more transparent in my pedagogy. In other words, I’m trying to explain why I made choices of material, organization, and assignments in each class. At the same time, I’m trying to give the class a clearer sense of when they achieve certain learning benchmarks. For my intro-level history class this includes things like marshaling specific evidence for their arguments rather than relying on broad generalities or reading primary sources with a kind of sensitivity to authorial voice and perspective.

So far, this approach, which seeks to reveal some of the “mystery” of teaching and learning, seems to be working for the students in my intro-level class. While the hybrid method of teaching, where some students are online and some are in the classroom, presents certain challenges, it is clear that students are developing key historical skills in a more orderly way than in the past when I relied on less transparent approaches to teaching. 

That said, I still worry that making my limited pedagogical goals so clear, leads to students focusing too much on the next step in the learning process rather than a more wholistic view of education. Am I creating an environment where students expect learning to be a series of rote steps rather than the chaotic diversity of encountering new knowledge?

Thing the Second

Right now, North Dakota Quarterly is caught in a liminal state. The next double-issue is at the publisher for typesetting, but we have yet to receive page proofs. This is both an exciting time, in that much of the hard work is done, but it’s also frustrating because I like to synchronize publicizing the new issue with its imminent publication. So what should I be doing to keep NDQ in the public eye?

At the same time, my colleagues and I have been clearing out our offices and stacks of North Dakota Quarterlies have periodically appeared in the hallways. This has led me to leaf through past issues and to sample some of the articles. This week, I read a piece published in 1970, that was the text of a speech given by famed journalist Eric Sevareid at UND’s spring commencement. 

The article is titled “The National Crisis” and reminded me that the current sense of crisis is not new and that there were always voices calling for moderation and order which, intentionally or not, have tended to dampen the spirits of those calling for urgent reform. At my weakest moments, I find myself among those who have decried violence at the expense of understanding its causes. In this regard, Sevareid’s view made me distinctly uncomfortable especially as he counseled caution surrounding some of the very issues—race, economic inequality, and political representation—that have been flashpoints in contemporary society. 

You can read Sevareid’s piece here (with some of my additional commentary).      

Thing the Third

From the deeply social to the entirely frivolous! The watch world is agog at the new version of the iconic Rolex Explorer. To be clear, I’ve never really seen myself as a Rolex guy. Of course, I have admired their design language, their history, and their commitment to producing durable and accurate mechanical watches. At the same time, I’ve often found them to be a kind of “tweener” brand: their cases are not as tech-forward as, say, (LVMH’s) Zenith, (Swatch Group’s) Omega, or Grand Seiko; they do not dabble in the exotic complications of Vacheron, Patek, or Lange; and their designs are not not as flashy or sophisticated as any number of Swiss high end brands. Instead, they’ve tended to trade on their iconic forms and solid mechanics. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great watches, but I’ve never managed to muster quite as much excitement about them as I do other brands (such as Richmont’s Jaeger-LeCoultre or Grand Seiko). 

This week’s release of a new version of Rolex’s iconic Explorer (the watch famously worn by Sir Edmund Hillary on his ascent of Mt. Everest) actually got me excited. While I’ve not seen one in the metal (and it seems unlikely that I ever will considering the idiosyncratic nature of the Rolex distribution practices and the generally middle class character of most of my friends and colleagues), I’m honestly smitten by the single press photograph released by The Crown. The deep black lacquer dial, the 36 mm size, the very solid (if unexceptional) movement, and the slight reduction in price make it something that I’m sure I’ll covet for many years to come. For the record, I’m ambivalent about the tone-town variant. I like that it exists, but I have no need to see it.

Check it out here.

Writing Wednesday

Throughout most of the COVID pandemic, I’ve been slogging through writing and revision of my overdue book manuscript. Earlier this week, I released the first draft the final chapter (and the second draft of that chapter is almost complete). You can get a sense for the book here.

This was my first effort to write a buttoned-down academic book rather than an archaeological report or some kind of weird pseudo-academic book like my Bakken tourist guide. Among the many things that I learned is that I’m not really a book-length thinker or writer. As I’ve reflected on this over the last few months, I thought I might put together a little blog post that highlights some things that I might do differently if I had to write another book (and I sincerely hope that I never do).

1. Have a better plan. I started my book with a pretty “high level” outline that was part of the book proposal. This did not, however, provide much structure for the individual chapters. As a result, the structure of each chapter developed organically and by the second half of my book, I had settled on an organization for the chapters. Each begins with a 300-500 word “lede” and then a proper introduction of similar length before preceding to the chapter’s argument. The downside of this approach is fairly obvious. I am now attempting to retrofit my approach onto earlier chapters and this is not only a good bit of work, but also risks making the retrofitted chapters less effective. 

2. Figures. Despite being an archaeologist and ersatz architectural historian, I still struggle to deal with figures and images and their relationship to text. As a result, my book right now has no settled figures and only a handful of likely candidates. I am dreading the process of going through each chapter and figuring out where to located the 30-40 figures that I’ve requested for the book.

I realize that this was a classic rookie mistake and probably connected as much to my tendency in archaeological publications to write text on the basis of working figures (e.g. produced through GIS software or drafted in Illustrator) that serve more to visualize an argument in my own head than to convey visual information in a consistent and clear way to a reader.    

3. Citations. From the start of this book, I sought to be more deliberate in my citation practices (for some of my thoughts on this see here). At the same time, I struggled a bit to come up with a policy on how to register different levels of citation. For example, a citation associated with a sustained discussion of a work is different from a citation that merely recognizes the existence of a scholar’s work. I now have a bit of a mess where I will essentially have to run through my entire manuscript one more time to figure out the citation levels for various kind of scholarship and scholars. 

This carelessness on my part not only has made more work for me, but also prevented me from being actively reflexive in who and what work I cited. I remain committed to the value of citations as a way to create a more inclusive academic community and, in particular, recognize the value of citations in work like mine, which is largely a survey, to direct readers to an emerging body of scholarship. I hope to have some data to share in my citation practices (and perhaps to include in the book itself) in the future. 

4. Length. My book manuscript is too long. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how this happened. Partly it is because my bibliography is longer than I expected and partly because my tidy 5000 word chapters tended to creep longer during revision. I suppose that I didn’t realize how many more words were necessary to take stand-alone chapters and make them into a coherent(ish) book.  

My hope is that the reviewers can make some suggestions on how to tighten up the manuscript in general.

5. Doing too much. I suspect the real problem with length is that I’m simply trying to do too much in this book and, as a result, it is not only over length, but also unsuccessful at doing anything. Originally I had this idea that the book would present a narrative arc that would begin with the excavations in Alamogordo where we documented the recovery of Atari games from the local landfill and conclude with our work in the Bakken oil patch. Between these bookends would be a series of chapters that expanded upon various aspects of these projects. 

I think this structure was too clever by half and left too much to the reader’s imagination. As a result, the book is not only too long, but also awkwardly organized! 

Finally, I never realized prior to working on this book how much writing and revising a book can take over everything. This book wiped out two semesters of other research and work, stalled various publishing and editing projects, and regularly competed with teaching for my attention.

In effect, book writing requires a kind of intellectual selfishness that I didn’t realize until its was too late. I cringe thinking about how my obsession with this manuscript has made me appear to my colleagues and collaborators on other projects.   


Over the Easter weekend, I worked a bit a long simmering project on the Early Christian baptisteries of Greece. Since it seems likely that, initially, baptisms occurred primarily during the Easter vigil, it felt appropriate.

IMG 6080

The project includes a brief overview of the archaeological and architectural evidence and then a short catalogue of known buildings. At present, we don’t have much to say that would be unfamiliar to folks who have spent some time on these building. At the same time, there are few things that I hadn’t noticed before. My dissertation did not deal with baptisteries specifically as part of my study of Early Christian churches more generally, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, some of the most interesting buildings come from the Dodecanese which were both outside my dissertation’s specific purview and outside the Diocese of Illyricum Orientale. As part of the Diocese of Asia and the Prefecture of the East (at least until the early 6th century), it also seems likely to have enjoyed different liturgical traditions than regions in the Western facing Diocese of Illyricum Orientale.

Here are my random thoughts:

1. Baptisteries of Kos and Rhodes. There are at least eight known Early Christian baptisteries on Kos. This is an impressive total even for this relatively large island. It’s a bit hard to understand why a single place would require so many baptisteries if they all functioned more or less simultaneously and if the tradition was for the bishop to conduct baptisms only once per year. It may be, of course, that multiple bishops—representing multiple variants of Christianity—functioned on the island. It is also possible that not all the churches and baptisteries functioned simultaneously. Rhodes likewise has seven baptisteries which once again suggests either diverse communities or a rite administered by someone other than the bishop.

Considering that both of these islands are near the edge of an ecclesiastical diocese, this would bring them in contact with rites and practices common to both the Aegean (and the West) and the diverse Christianities present in Asia Minor.   

2. Locating the Baptistery. Athanassios Mailis observed in his short article on the baptisteries on Crete that baptisteries in the Dodecanese tended to appear more frequently on the eastern side of the churches. In mainland Greece, however, baptisteries tended to appear as annexes attached to the narthex or atrium. If I had understood this more clearly when I was writing my dissertation, I might have been able to connect this location of the baptisteries themselves to the movement of catechumens during the baptismal rite (or even during the weekly liturgy). If we assume that the narthex and atrium served as buffers between the “profane” space of the outside world and the sacred space of the church’s processional axis as well as staging areas for the various liturgical processions, then the presence of baptisteries adjacent to these liminal zones would reflect the liminal status of participants in the baptismal rites. More over, it might allow for a post-baptismal procession from the baptistery into the church.

The location the baptistery in the eastern part of the church associates the baptistery spatially with the bema and suggests a rite that may do less to emphasize the liminal status of the participants and more to emphasize the liturgical or even sacramental character of baptism and the baptismal font. While it’s hard to necessarily make any particular claims on the basis of the location of the baptistery, it is suggestive that the two regions understood the place of the rite in different ways both ritually and, perhaps, practically.

3. Multiple Fonts. I had always found the two fonts present at the Lechaion baptistery outside of Corinth pretty interesting. It was impossible to know whether the second, smaller font, represented a change in ritual or perhaps a supplement to the more monumental font in the center of the baptistery proper. 

I was struck when I came to realize that on Kos a number of churches have a similar arrangement with a smaller secondary font associated with the larger main font. This suggests to me change in liturgical ritual, perhaps associated with the development of infant baptism. By this logic, the larger central fonts likely reflected the requirements of adult baptism (and the functioning of an adult catechumenate). This, to me, indicates ongoing conversion of adults into the 6th century which is the latest possible date for many of these buildings and the emergence of infant baptism (which would represent second generation Christians) only sometime after this. We can allow, of course, for a certain amount of architectural conservatism in the design of baptisteries, but I still think that appearance of smaller secondary fonts is worthy of note.


It’s been a pleasure to return to material and ideas that I explored over 20 years ago as I was working on my dissertation. The time away has ensured that the buildings, rituals, places, and arguments are a bit more fresh to me but still oddly familiar. I’m excited to share more about this small project in the coming weeks of Eastertide!     

Afterword: COVID, George Floyd Protests, and the Capitol Riots

Today’s blog post is a bit later than usual because it contains the final draft of a chapter for my book on the 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 first drafts of all ten 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

Chapter 8: Extractive Industry, Housing, and Climate Change in the Bakken

Afterword: COVID, George Floyd Protests, and the Capitol Riots

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