Friday Varia and Quick Hits

We’re enjoying a bit of a respite from the biting cold of North Dakotaland this week with daytime high temperatures surging to the mid-30s and with the possibility of the upper 30s next week. Ironically, if this were centigrade, it would be about the same temperature that Australia and India are enduring in Perth as the commence the second test of the Australian summer. With the NFL season essentially over and the NBA season playing its way through into the mid-season lull, cricket is king!

With my grading for the semester done, some longer and more leisurely writing projects underway, and my reading schedule for the holidays taking shape, it’s a pleasure to share some quick hits and varia:

IMG 3469

Writing the Western Argolid

Over the last few days, I’ve been working on a preliminary report for the Western Argolid Regional Project. I mentioned on Monday how writing a preliminary report is always a bit of a fraught exercise, but when actually writing, it is easy enough to put that out of your head and focus on the words on the page.

As part of writing the report, I re-read some of the rather scant ancient sources on our survey area. Pausanias 2.25.4-6 discusses our survey area specifically and twice he notes that there isn’t much to see. In general, Pausanias sees the Inachos valley as an extension of Argive territory and a route between Argos and the neighboring city of Mantinea in Arcadia. This same lack of interest shaped how 19th century travelers treated the region with none that I have encountered venturing beyond the Venetian (?) period fort at the site of Skala where the Inachos valley widens out onto the Argive plain. 

Later scholars – namely Kendrick Pritchett – attempted to reconcile Pausanias’s description of the site of Lyrkeia being 60 stades from Argos and Orneai being 60 stades from Lyrkeia. This involved him poking around the sites of Melissi where the French excavated some Mycenaean chamber tombs in the early 20th century and Chelmis, where there is a substantial scatter of Classical period material around a church dedicated to the Panayia. Since Pausanias’s notes that Lyrkeia was in ruins by his day and suggested that it was destroyed before the Trojan War, and hence, was left out of the the catalogue of ships in the Iliad, Pritchett is content to identify it with something in the vicinity of the Melissi tombs rather than in the neighborhood of Chelmis. More than that, he suggested that Chelmis does not seem to be on a major route through the area so seemed to be an unlike stop for Pausanias who seemed mostly concerned with sites along the Inachos river bottom. Greek scholars, Ioannis Pikoulas and Ioannis Peppas, have explored the region a bit more thoroughly but also tend to follow the routes along the valley bottom that Pausanias’s traced in his sojourns from Argos.

The entire effect of the tradition from antiquity to modern times is that this region is peripheral to Argos and a mostly a travel corridor from the Argive plain to points west and north. Our project essentially tested this hypothesis both by exploring intensively the valley bottom and surrounding region to determine whether Pausanias’s somewhat laconic description was justified, and by considering the region in its own right to understand whether networks of settlement and movement functioned independently of the “central places” of the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern world.

As a hint, we have found some evidence that this was, indeed, the case and the Pausanian landscape suffered from his general (and well-documented) lack of interest in post-Classical sites, but also the tendency of central places and their political and economic networks to overwrite and obscure patterns of settlement and movement in the landscape that reflect decentralized and more local traditions. As Tom Gallant noted 25 years ago, these decentralized networks of relations supported a kind of social insurance for communities by allowing them to diversify the risk that came with overly strong ties to central places. While these networks are pretty hard to see in archaeology, there are signs that they exist throughout our survey area and not only help us understand the presence of sites that don’t conform to the Pausanian itinerary but also reflect a dynamic countryside that was more than simply the productive coda to the consumer city.

Reading Rednesday: Historical Archaeology

This past semester, my extracurricular reading was focused around two topics. First, I read a good bit on time in archaeology, and, more recently, I’ve been reading about in the world of Historical archaeology.  In January, I will officially start writing a book on the archaeology of contemporary American culture and my introduction will think about both time (and what it means to be contemporary) and the tradition of historical archaeology in the U.S.

The challenge for me is that while I do read in historical archaeology, I tend not to read very systematically and as a result, I don’t necessarily have a feeling for the scope or even big-picture direction of the field. Over the past few months, then I’ve turned my attention to various surveys and textbooks in the field. Starting with Barbara Little’s little book Historical Archaeology: Why the Past Matters, enjoying Mark Leone’s Critical Historical ArchaeologyCharles Orser’s Historical Archaeology, as well as various big edited volumes like the Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology, Hall and Silliman’s Historical Archaeology, and the Encyclopedia of Historical Archaeology and the massive series from Springer, Contributions to Global Historical Archaeology and University Press of Florida, The American Experience in an Archaeological Perspective. The volumes of the journals Historical Archaeology and the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, likewise produce useful guides to the field. 

In part, my goal is to feel along the edges of world archaeology and American archaeology and determine the lines of influence and coincidence and departure. For the history of the archaeology of the contemporary world seems to proceed along two interrelated but separate lines: one in the U.S. and the other in Europe. While the historical reasons for these separate lines of development are a mix of historical experience – particularly the archaeological responses to post war reconstruction of European cities – and the different traditions of historical archaeology practiced in both contexts. 

In general, this stuff is pretty exciting and it reminds me reading for my comprehensive exams as work to balance between the intriguing character and arguments of individual works and the need to read “for work” and to come away with a broader perspective on the field without losing nuance. More than that, I’m working on re-learning how to read efficiently and to re-hone some professional practices developed in graduate school and then left neglected in the face of professional realities that tend to require on depth rather than breadth. 

Getting the Brand Back Together

I really dislike the concept of branding. In particular, I dislike the idea that brands have value and that there is a responsibility to the value inherent in a brand particularly in the humanities. Over the past few years, I’ve been confronted by a number of individuals who view the brand as major part of their responsibility toward public humanities institutions. To my mind, the investment in the brand – whether financial, intellectual, strategic, or emotional – has produced a kind of conservatism.  While I’d never suggest that these individuals valued the brand above content, there is a tendency to use the concept of the brand and its definitions as a way to create barriers to collaboration or even prioritize risk taking because, in the end, social and historical capital that has accumulated around the brand matters.  

At the same time, as I take on the role of editor of North Dakota Quarterly and sit in an office surrounded by 85 years of the journal and am incredibly aware of the history and legacy of the publication. As we move from being self published to being published by University of Nebraska Press, we have a chance to refresh our cover and interior design. I intentionally asked that we try to evoke some of the design elements during the Quarterly’s heyday under Bob Lewis in the late-1990s and early-21st century. (This is a nice example of it). Despite liking some of our more adventurous approaches to layout – including columns and a volume designed “Tête-bêche” – I got into my head that a more consistent approach might make the journal easier to understand and consume… in other words, ugh, branding.

Coverfinalgrayspine2

I also really liked the cover of our recent issue (84.1/2) dedicated to Transnationalism with it’s full width image and was pleased that UNP looked at that cover as a possible template for future NDQs. We need to find a cover image that has the same appeal as Marc-Antoine Frébutte’s “Waiting for the Train,” but I think that’s possible. UNP also played a bit with the NDQ logo while keeping its iconic Davida font. Here’s one example of what they’ve shared:

NDQ Cover Sample

Before I knew it, I was thinking about BRANDING and what was important to preserve in NDQ’s identity so that our readers and contributors recognize that despite the changes, we are going to maintain as much of the traditional NDQ identity as possible. I still don’t like branding or the idea of investing in the brand, but I suppose in this case it has a function of reassuring our audience that the core values of the Quarterly will remain intact. 

 

 

 

I still hate branding, though.

Writing WARP

Over the last few months, I’ve been hiding from a line in a minutes from an early June meeting of the Western Argolid Regional Project: Preliminary Report… “ideally ready for submission by Christmas.” I had volunteered to take the lead in writing it and to marshal the contributions from various other folks on the project including two case studies. Needless to say, this hasn’t happened.

What makes it worse is that I’ve been thinking a good bit about how archaeologists write and archaeological publishing more broadly. Just this weekend, for example, I re-read Rosemary Joyce’s “Writing historical archaeology” in the Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology (2006). I also read Rachel Opitz’s recent contribution to the Journal of Field Archaeology titled ““Publishing Archaeological Excavations at the Digital Turn” (which I blogged about here), Amara Thortons,  Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL 2018)  (blogged here) and thinking a bit about Ian Hodder’s well-known article from AntiquityWriting Archaeology: Site Reports in Context.” While these works all offer different angles on the archaeological writing and publishing, they did reinforce to me that archaeological writing and publishing are undergoing some pretty significant changes, but that these changes are also situated grounded in the goals of archaeological work. (In fact, I’m going to try to marshal some of my ideas on that in a paper that I’m giving at a conference at the University of Buffalo next year.) 

At the same time, I spent a few hours wrapping up the layout of volume two of the Epoiesen annual which should appear from The Digital Press before the end of the year. The Epoiesen annual is an interesting challenge because it is publishing a web publication in paper (and PDF form). Instead of thinking of the paper format as a degraded representation of a web version, I’ve tried to think of it as a transmedia opportunity to take something that was originally imagined in one media (i.e. the web) and reproduce in another. While we don’t take many risks in how we present Epoiesen on paper, the potential is certainly there and the very act of translating from one media to the next forces us to think about how entangled ideas and material are and how the paper (or even PDF version) of Epoiesen will offer readers a different experience than the online version.

Advertisement! You can get the first volume of Epoiesen at the low, low price of $6. SIX DOLLARS. That’s cheaper than a beer in New York City or about half the things on the Starbucks menu. 

A similar challenge will face my little press as we work on our next major project – a volume in collaboration with ASOR that presents a digital catalogue of votive figurines from Athienou on Cyprus. We will present these artifacts both through a traditional catalogue and high-resolution 3D scans presented both as a 3D PDF and through an online catalogue published by Open Context. It’ll be a big project full of challenges at the intersection of the paper codex and dynamic media.

While this might not seem immediately relevant to writing a preliminary report for WARP, it will push me a bit think about what kind of information is most appropriate for a print report and what kind of information is better to publish as data later on. 

IMG 3456

On top of that, I took a couple nice long walks with the dogs this weekend and those always give me a chance to think about big and small picture stuff. I started to think about the challenge of writing a preliminary report as a problem of definition. When is a project sufficiently complete for a preliminary report to offer provisional, but relatively secure, observations on method and results? On WARP, I get pretty anxious when I think of all the work we have left to do to make sense of our data; at the same time, I know that the artifact and main data collection phase of the project is over. What we have now is going to be the basis of both what we say in the final report and future analysis. Preliminary reports are hard to think about because of their liminal status. Archaeologists like to be authoritative in what they say about their work and analysis, and a preliminary report acknowledges that this is not the final word on the area and its material. 

Finally, there is a fear of the blank page. Fortunately, WARP has published a good bit already – here and there – so there is a kind of basis of already-written material upon which the preliminary report can draw. At the same time, there is the additional pressure of taking our analysis and presentation to the next level. This means more bibliography, more analysis, and more conclusions. This also means making sure that the voices of everyone on the project (and to be clear, folks will help me with this report!) will have space in the report even when we don’t all agree on how and what our analysis mean.  

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s the end of the semester here in North Dakotaland and nothing more than a pile of grading, a bunch of projects, and some cricket to get through before the end of the year. 

If you’re thinking about holidays gifts, I’d nudge you to check out a subscription to North Dakota Quarterly or any of the great books from this blogs “sister project” The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

2560px Flag of Delaware svg

It’s also a good time for some quick hits and varia!

IMG 3443

Three Things Thursday: Epoiesen, The Bakken, and NDQ Supplements

It’s the end of the semester and that means a time to look back, but also to look ahead to the break and beyond to various little projects on my slate for the next couple months (and beyond!).

While I have a good many odds and ends of my own to wrap up in the near future – including a peer review, an article draft, and the first words of a new book – I’m also looking forward to doing some work with projects from The Digital Press. 

Here’s what’s going on in that department. 

1. Epoiesen 2. Last year, I had the privilege of publishing a paper version of the first volume of Shawn Graham (and co.)’s journal Epoiesen. I thought of it as the Epoiesen annual and it is a total gem of a volume. (Download it here or buy it for $10 here). Over the next month or so, we’ll complete layout of Epoiesen 2 which will include this brilliant comic, Sympathy for the Devil, by H. Laurel Rowe.  It’ll also push us to continue to explore the relationship between print media and digital media in how we think about academic and artistic content and to consider the work of mediation to be part of the creative engagement with the content as well as the field of publishing archaeology and art in a digital/analogue hybrid world. We already have a great piece of art for the cover of the volume thanks to Katherine Cook

2. Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota, 1958–2018. Kyle Conway and an impressive gaggle of scholars are working in this project right now. It is a republication of the 1958 Williston Report, a relatively obscure, but nevertheless significant report on the impact of the first Bakken oil boom on communities, the economy, and infrastructure across western North Dakota. The book itself will interleave chapters from the Williston Report and updated chapter from a range of authors on related topics recontextualized in light of the 21st century boom.

3. North Dakota Quarterly Supplement 2. I’ve started to think a bit more seriously about the North Dakota Quarterly supplement series. 2018 saw the publication of a small poetry collection call Snichimal Vayuchil as the first NDQ supplement. For 2019, we’ll have another small volume of translated Maya poetry thanks to Paul Worley connections in the region and tireless energies. This should appear in early 2019 as NDQ Supplement 2. 

This past week, I received an email from an author inquiring whether I might be interested in publishing a collection of short stores. This got me thinking about whether I should formalize the NDQ Supplement series as annual volumes that either expand or focuses in some way what the Quarterly already does. I’m sketching a plan out in my head that could include collections of stories, essays, poems, or even complete novels or non-fiction works that are available in a range of different (and varying) formats from open access to more limited, print-on-demand formats. 

Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more on all these projects over the next few weeks as I get some momentum. I can’t promise that any of them will be available for the holiday season, but there’s always a chance a few of those industrious elves can help me get more done than I expect!

Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care: Prepublication Draft

Readers of my blog know that I’ve been struggling with an article that comes from a paper that I delivered at this fall’s European Association of Archaeologists annual meeting. The paper brings together a number of different strands of thinking and the broader concept of transhumanism to speak to the potential implications of a digital archaeology.

For those of you familiar with my work, much of this will seem familiar, but I also hope that I’ve added some nuance to my thinking incorporated the works of Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, and Gilles Deleuze.  

The paper is also punk rock. It’s rough. The ideas are not fully formed and sometimes it will read like a concept album that was scrapped during production and then released anyway, because no one really gets concept albums anyway. Other times, it’ll read like a dystopia fueled by a teenager’s fascination with Philip K. Dick. The only thing I will stand by, however, is that this article is honest. It represents my thinking at this moment in time with its inconsistencies, feedback, and distortion. 

I’m not sure when, or if, I’ll get back to these topics in such a focused way (if ever), but if you want to know how punk archaeology and slow archaeology turn out … download the paper here.

A New Memorial Union at UND

I was pretty interested in the recent vote to fund the construction of a new Memorial Union on the campus of the University of North Dakota. By a fairly narrow margin, students agreed to fund a new union through a $14 per credit fee that increased 2% per year between 2020 and 2059. The new union, it’s been said, will cost about $80 million and the incentive to do this now is that the existing union, aside from being dated in style and design as well as increasingly inadequate as a center for student life, has about $40 million in “deferred maintenance.” Traditionally, students have carried part of the funding for the union and its maintenance through various fees and had a fair amount of control over how the union worked and funding priorities.

The fee increase has to go through the state legislature and the state board of higher education, and there is some concern that a fee increase to fund the new union will make it more difficult to increase fees for other needs on campus should they arise over the next 40 years (gulp!!). As a result, some legislators with ties to UND have asked around a bit to get a sense whether this is a good priority for UND and whether it should see backing in the legislature.

Because I’ve been thinking a bit about how university budgets work in the age of shifting priorities, I chimed in and my response to a social media post has been banging around in my head for a week or so now. So, I thought I would share a revised version of it here.

First, the more that I thought about it, the more that I’ve come to think that the $40 million in deferred maintenance is a bit of a McGuffin. From what I understand, the formulas used to calculate deferred maintenance are not as simple as saying there are $40 million worth of things needing to be fixed in the existing union. These figures include depreciation and replacement costs that accumulate over time, and, generally, represent the amount of money that needs to be available to accommodate repair and replacement of the physical plant of the building. A new roof, for example, will start to generate deferred maintenance expenses from the moment it is installed as well an HVAC unit or a light bulb. Ideally, the university would start to save money to replace the roof from the moment that the roof is installed, but this is neither realistic or practical.

Of course, if UND spent $40 million, it would reset the deferred maintenance “clock” to zero in the same way that replacing the oil in your car every morning would reset part of your car’s deferred maintenance bill. But this isn’t necessary a rational decision. One of the Wesley College buildings, Sayre Hall, still had the original wood-framed windows from the early 20th century. These would have been racking up deferred maintenances expenses for nearly a century (if we assume a window is designed to last 20 years), but they were never replaced. It stands to reason that, in general, larger, more complex, and more expensive buildings generate deferred maintenance costs more quickly than small ones. I also suspect that the rate of increased for deferred maintenance trails off as buildings get older. In other words, building a new union will only defer (heh heh) the rate of increase for deferred maintenance for a little while before it begins too accumulate again and every bit as quickly (and perhaps even MORE quickly in some nightmarish scenarios) as the old union does.

More than that, if the issue is that the university doesn’t have sufficient saved funds to cover future maintenance on campus, then building a new building will neither make this better or worse. Eliminating deferred maintenance expenses on the two old Wesley College buildings didn’t “save” the university money, it just eliminated potential future expenses. But more to the point, he entire system of budgets on campus create deferred maintenance expenses because saved money is frequently seen by both administrators and the legislature as surplus capital that isn’t being used productively and an example of inefficiency at a public institution to be “punished” by austerity. In fact, the entire federal grant system now works along these lines with less and less money provided to pay for the maintenance and depreciation (indirect costs) of the original investment (direct costs).

In other words, talking about deferred maintenance as a reason to build a building isn’t the language of fiscal responsibility, but the language of austerity. The language of deferred maintenance is meant to make the university look like an irresponsible institution (whether this is the case or not) and often results in funding cuts purported to enforce more efficient operation, but actually designed to penalize public institutions (and to case-build for privatization). For example, the legislature has proposed several times to make resources available but only if a significant part of the funds would go toward deferred maintenance. Covering deferred maintenance costs on campus isn’t always or eve often responsible thing to do. It hurts students.

That being said, there are two compelling reasons – at least to me – for approving the students’ request for funding a new union. 

First, there has been a good bit of talk about the union attracting new students as well as  vague statements that the union is the “heart” or the “core” of the campus. I don’t disagree with either of these things, but I wonder whether they’re overly narrow. To be clear, I’ll admit to finding NDSU’s union building very attractive and functional. I also have had the privilege of traveling to other campuses quite regularly over the past few years and, in comparison UND’s union, is both limited and outdated.

As an aside, this one of my favorite hallways on campus (it’s not technically in the Union, but rather in Swanson Hall, but is more or less in the Union complex):

IMG 3452

Despite this hallway and the appeal of the union to prospective students and visitors, it isn’t really the best argument. What is more compelling to me is the growing awareness that campus buildings play an important role in the coherence of the campus community and this plays a role in academic performance and retention of students. Like many state schools, UND attracts students from a wide range of backgrounds. The presence of spaces on campus that encourage students to socialize and interact is particularly important at a school like ours not because our “posh” or privileged students expect it, but because having appealing and functional spaces on campus levels the playing filed for our diverse student body. This is part of the mission of public universities and something that a well designed campus should accomplish.

We know, for example, that first generation students, minorities, and students from less advantaged backgrounds often struggle to integrate into the campus community and this has an impact on academic performance. They tend to study alone more, they tend to find campus to be an alienating place, and they tend to see their academic work as more separate from their “real life.” With the growth of private dormitories and the continued strength of fraternities and sororities, historically disadvantaged students also have fewer spaces to interact with other students outside the classroom. If they do look to the union as a common space, it’s dingy and spent vibe tends to reinforce these students’ position as marginal. Conversely, an updated and appealing union may well expand the impact of what faculty and students do in the classroom by creating inclusive spaces for informal interaction and to eliminate – for the time being, at least – a real dichotomy of opportunity across our diverse student body. In short, this is not a building that is being built instead of things that would improve academic life on campus is a false dichotomy.

Second, voting “no” on the new union will continue a policy of austerity that involves the withholding of funds – or even support for policies – that do not adhere to a top down strategic vision implemented by legislators, administrators, alumni, and various other stakeholders on campus. This situation and initiative reminds the bosses that students ARE stakeholders, and they have every bit as much the right to shape campus in a respectful and deliberate way as the legislature, the administration, or the faculty. In fact, while I don’t necessarily agree with building of a new union per se, I’d go to the wall to protect students’ rights to raise the funds to build a union. If the state isn’t going to support the university system in a reasonable way, then they lose the right to tell students not to take matters into their own hands.

In the spring of 2018, I taught a class on the UND budget and what was clear was that students DO have strong opinions about the current fiscal situation on campus and do have priorities that administrators, faculty, and legislatures doesn’t always recognize. More than that, they want a voice. This is their voice. And the argument that “only” 2400 students participated and “only” 1300 students wanted the union speaks more to a condescending attitude toward students than a legitimate concern. Over my time at UND, the last 15 years, far less representative groups have raised fees on students or made decisions that directly impact the quality of education and experience. The decision, for example, to eliminate music therapy was made by one administrator. When my class pressed senior administrators to explain the cuts to baseball and Women’s Hockey, their responses were evasive and guarded. It was clear that students were not only uninvolved in these decisions, but would not always be given access to the processes that produced these decisions. In general, student input on most matters of campus policy, curriculum, and administration is often limited to one or two students on committees, at best. That 1000+ plus students made their voices heard in a relatively transparent way through this vote is enough for me to support them.

Humanities in the Age of Austerity: A Case Study from UND

I finally submitted my little article on the humanities in the age of austerity that uses the University of North Dakota as a case study. It will appear in a special section in North Dakota Quarterly volume 85.

Many, many people contributed to this article not the least of whom were students in a graduate seminar on historiography who produced a book length response to the de-funding of UND’s graduate program in history and then, some of the same students worked with me to create a class on the UND budget. The undergraduates in that class sharpened my thinking about how budgets worked and how priorities were established. These classroom experiences pushed me to confront a wider range of political perspectives, to read more deeply, and to listen to various participants in high level decision making.

At the same time I was doing this I had the pleasure to serve on UND’s Senate Budget Committee, the Graduate Committee, and to attend various ad hoc gatherings associated with the development of a new strategic plan on campus and various other new initiatives. Whatever modest contribution I made to these committees, I was able to benefit by learning a tremendous amount about administrative attitudes, the views from my colleagues in other departments and programs, and the process of priority setting. While this has been a rather difficult time across campus with people losing their jobs, programs being terminated, and a general sense of anxiety and insecurity, it has also been a particularly intriguing one. Times of instability, it would seem, pushed people to put their cards on the table, to visibly operate the levers of power, and to make statements and take actions that they could otherwise hide behind various gradualist strategies and the slow grind of consensus.    

My colleagues on campus and on social media pushed back on various parts of this piece and demanded that I clarify or revise my thinking. In some cases, I did. In other cases, I left the ambiguity as a more honest expression of my thoughts than anything else. Finally, in some cases, I just disagreed or forgot to make changes. 

It’s pretty scary to publish something on the humanities and austerity in part because I’ve been thinking about this for a long enough that I no longer can see the issue clearly and, in part, because people much smarter than I am are on both sides of this debate. If the article does anything, I hope it stimulates some more conversation about the impact, goals, and motives of various austerity measures in higher education.

You can download a pre-print here.