Three Figure Friday

One of things that separates me from “real archaeologists” is my deep distain for images in my publications. In fact, I’ve never really understood how images work in publications which isn’t to say that I don’t recognize their value. Perhaps this is what distinguishes me from my colleagues who spent their graduate school years pouring over slides upon which to base their lectures. Instead, I was thinking about what texts to use in my history surveys. 

In celebration of my inability to use images properly, I share with you three images from an article that I just submitted on the archaeology of petroleum production. You can read a draft of the article here.

Figure 1

Figure 1. View west with south and east elevations of the central powerhouse of the South Penn Oil Company, Mallory Lot 6 Lease, Watsonville Field, Klondike, McKean County, PA dating to approximately 1939. Photo by John Nicely. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/pa3552.photos.360884p/

Figure 2

Figure 2. Clarence Iverson No. 1, the first successful commercial well in North Dakota (source: James N. Holter, Williston, North Dakota)

Figure 3

Figure 3: Three pump jacks in Hess Corporation colors stand outside of Manitou Township in the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota in 2016. Photo by William Caraher.

Three Things Thursday: Plagiarism, Laptops, and the End of Antiquity

I submitted grades, my summer plans are coming into focus, and I’m almost ready to decamp for the Mediterranean for the first time in two years. I feel like everything is going on at once, and this is more or less a good thing and it feels like a solid backdrop for a Three Things Thursday.

Thing the First

Earlier this week, there was a moderately interesting long Twitter thread in response to an incident of plagiarism in academia. The situation was discovered at the peer review stage and other than a bit of outrage, the harm seems to have been minimal. That said, whenever someone talks about plagiarism in academia, they tend to complain about the crime rather than the underlying system that makes plagiarism both unethical and problematic. To be clear, I’m not condoning plagiarism and I realize that I’m writing from a position of privilege. At the same time, I wonder whether our tendency to become outraged at incidents of plagiarism serves to reinforce a system that is fundamentally toxic. Stoking outrage at incidents of plagiarism in academia reinforces as system that seeks to commodify knowledge and connect the public good that might come from new ideas, processes, and products to private gain.

Of course, we all like it when a colleague recognizes our contribution to our field and citation, in its simplest form, represents a kind of acknowledgement. Unfortunately, over the past seventy years, institutions and the market has weaponized this gesture of collegiality and turned it into a way of measuring and even quantifying impact, reach, and significance. As is so often the case, publishers and institutions have found ways to leverage our desire for collegiality and recognition to support a system designed to generate profits and prestige. The rise of i10 scores, h-indices, and journal rankings that leverage citations to track impact and influence is yet another effort to sort and rank academic labor and to find new ways to profit from both the media through which scholars gain influence and the tools that measure such influence and reach. Plagiarism in this context is as much an economic crime as a breach of scholarly decorum.

By sounding off about plagiarism, then, we both reinforce an age old system of academic recognition, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but also bolster system that allows individuals and institutions to profit from the working of scholarly networks. To my mind, over the last 30 years, the tail has come increasingly to wag the dog with the desire for measurable accomplishments increasingly shaping the landscape of academic work. At the same time, academics celebrate the call to be “against cop shit” in our classrooms and finding ways to subvert the status quo. We also have brought critical attention to the way that the COVID pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in the world. Maybe it’s this recent willingness to consider burning it all down that has made social media outrage over plagiarism ring a bit hollow or at least leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Thing the Second

You might not be able to tell, but I’m writing this post on a Dell laptop rather than my trusty MacBook Pro. For better or for worse, I’ve been an Apple guy for the last 15 or so years and have appreciated the tidy integration between my phone (and especially its camera) and my laptops. Each summer, though, I switch over the my PC which I need to run Microsoft Access and ESRI’s ArcGIS which don’t have native Mac implementation. Usually, I bring along a MacBook Air when I go to the Mediterranean and use it for writing and blogging and to access my Apple ecosystem more easily and natively. My MacBook Air is pretty long in the tooth these days and while it can do what I would like it to do, it’s battery is no longer what it was, its pre-Retina screen is pretty underwhelming, and it’s tiny hard drive makes it more like an early-21st century netbook than a modern laptop. I just wonder whether this year is the year that taking my PC and using it for my writing.

This is a bit nerve wracking because I can’t help but feel that abandoning my Mac will make some part of my work more difficult, even if I’m not entirely sure what part of my work it will negatively impact. I suspect this reflects the success of the Apple ecosystem in making us feel dependent (or at very least comfortable) in their world. What is the most remarkable thing to me is how it descends to the gestural level. My years of working on Macs has shaped how I interact with the keyboard, touchpad, and applications and these habits are profoundly hard to break!

Thing the Third

Yesterday, I posted my annual “Summer Reading List” post and a number of friends reached out and said, in various ways, “whoa! so little ancient history!” This was mostly an oversight. I have considered reading Jack Davis’s new book: A Greek State in Formation: The Origins of Civilization in Mycenaean Pylos (2022) which is available Open Access from the University of California Press. I also want to read Alex Knodell’s newish book: Societies in Transition in Early Greece: An Archaeological History (2021). If I had all the time and energy in the world (and just a modicum of discipline), I would certainly read Nathan Arrington’s latest: Athens at the Margins: Pottery and People in the Early Mediterranean World (2021) from Princeton.

California has also continued its long tradition of publishing novel and significant works in the study of Late Antiquity and Early Christianity. Since it’s open access, I’d be keen to check out Mary Farag’s What Makes a Church Sacred: Legal and Ritual Perspectives from Late Antiquity (2021).

I also have a copy of Michele Salzman’s The Falls of Rome: Crises, Resilience, and Resurgence in Late Antiquity (2021) from Cambridge which is not open access, but would help me think about my class for next spring on Late Antiquity.

Summer Reading List 2022

Almost every summer, I put together some kind of summer reading list. They usually a combination of books that I want to read, books that I should read, and books that I have to read, and they are almost always aspiration rather than prescriptive. 

You can check them out here: 2021202020192018, 20172016201520142013, and 2011.

This year, the top book on my reading list is Marlon James’s Moon Witch, Spider King (2022) which is the follow up to his Black Leopard, Red Wolf. This book is long, but if it is in keeping with the first book in the trilogy, then it’ll move along smartly and read much shorter than its 600+ pages implies. This feels like the ideal book for my long flight to Cyprus next week.

I also have sitting on my Kindle the three late-1980s novels from George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen Cycle: When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss. These novels are set in a futuristic Middle East and represent landmarks of the cyberpunk genre that use exotic locales to bridge the gap between the past and near future. 

I have a couple of things to read as well with archaeological themes: Don DeLillo’s The Names (1982), Cynthia Ozick’s Antiquities (2021), and Andreas Karkavitsas’s The Archeologist and Selected Sea Stories translated by Johanna Hanink (2021). This feels like good reading before my afternoon siestas.

I also want to read some things related to teaching. My brother recommended Stanislas Dehaene’s How We Learn: Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine . . . for Now (2020) and Joseph McDonald, et al., The Power of Protocols: An Educator’s Guide to Better Practice (2003).

I’m teaching a class on editing and publishing in the fall and I need to find some books to use in that class. I have a few that I like that I need to review. There’s the classic Gerald Gross edited volume Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do (1993). It could complement Peter Ginna’s slim volume: What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing (2017). I might also add  
Travis Kurowski, Wayne Miller, and Kevin Prufer’s 2016 edited volume, Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century (2016). 

Finally, I want to read Catherine Keane’s dissertation on Early Christian ecclesiastical complexes in Cyprus. And I’m excited to read Chris Gratien’s The Unsettled Plain An Environmental History of the Late Ottoman Frontier (2022) and the late Clive Foss’s book The Beginnings of the Ottoman Empire (2022). And, I need to re-read Michael Roller’s An Archaeology of Structural Violence: Life in a Twentieth Century Coal Town (2018) for a review.

This list of works is obviously ridiculously ambitious, but it hopefully it serves its aspiration purpose well!

Editing and Publishing: Trust, Shared Authority, and the General Public

There was a bit of a dust up last week on Twitter in which an editor and an author had it out, in public, over a rejected book review. I won’t go into detail about the reasons for the dust up or its aftermath, but it prompted me to think a bit more critically about being an editor (and publisher). This is particularly useful because next semester, I’m teaching a class on editing and publishing, and I need to begin to pull together the things that I’ve learned over the last half-decade into something like a coherent student experience.

The Twitter dust up reinforced three things in my head about being an editor. Just to be clear, I’m not writing this to tell either party that they did something wrong or to deliberately ignore the substance of their dispute (which I wasn’t able to grasp entirely via the narrow window that social media provided). Instead, I appreciate the public character of the conversation which, albeit in dramatic fashion, opened a window into “how the sausage is made” behind the scenes in publications seeking to bridge the gap between academia and the wider public public.

First, various critics often preach that academics should write for a broader audience or “the general public.” I’ve written about this critique a good many times on this blog. I’ve noted that this is hard, considered our responsibilities in this area, and even suggested that it is important. That said, despite being an editor of little magazine and publisher of a press hoping to capture a broad audience, I hadn’t thought much about how editing work intended for a general audience is different from editing work intended for our fellow academics. In my experiences (other than a brief, traumatic, and entirely necessary experience early in my professional career at the hand of a very patient journal editor), editors have exerted a remarkably light hand on my work, and as readers of this blog know, this is not because my work is well written. I suspect it is because academic style is often regarded as secondary to argument and unadorned or even clunky academic prose might even represent a kind of efficient expression. After all, the goal of most academic writing is not to entice, entertain, or even instigate a reader, but to contribute to established and usually well-known conversations. 

Writing for a non-academic audience means understanding that most people won’t be familiar with the conversations to which we want to contribute. Moreover, many people in the general public won’t care about these conversations per se even if they care about the implications that these conversations might have on the broader state of knowledge. This also means that writing for the general public is less likely to have a ready-made audience of individuals already invested in a particular debate. Thus, as an editor I have to do more to get writers to make the significance of their contributions understood in the name of creating an audience for their work. This often means urging them to de-emphasize parochial, technical, and specialist debates (which often suffice to attract narrower academic audiences) and encouraging them to prioritize the bigger picture. This can be tricky business because academics often have deep attachment to our specialist knowledge (indeed, this is often where we hang our professional hats as experts) and communities in which various forms of specialized knowledge develop. Asking academic writers to step away from these commitments often means asking them to shed their credentials and community in the name of broader cause.

Second, one of my favorite editorial comments in a modernist magazine appears on the cover of the short-lived Dadaist journal The Blindman edited by Marcel Duchamp, Beatrice Wood, and Henri-Pierre Roché, which reminds their readers: “The Second Number of The Blindman will appear as soon as YOU have sent sufficient material for it.” In other words, editors of little magazines or other public facing publications recognize that our contributors are often our readers. Or at very least our contributors dictate the subject matter, tone, and direction of our publications as much as our editors do. Ideally, our contributors and readers overlap sufficiently to ensure a constant flow of relevant material, but not so tightly that we can’t expand our audiences. In fact, it seems to me that the best editors recruit contributors not only to expand their readership but also to expand the character of contributions. This involves walking a tightrope between shaping the publication from the top down and creating conditions for the publication to develop from the bottom up. 

It also means accepting the unexpected, the less than ideal, and the complicated in the name of expanding the reach of the publication and diversifying its content. As the editor of a little magazine that occasionally publishes content that doesn’t feel particularly compelling to me or lands a bit wide of the mark, I’ve come to accept this as part of the long game of allowing contributors to “share authority” in producing the publication that I edit.

One of my most regular critiques of academic journals that celebrate the presence of or bemoan the lack of particular kinds of contributors (e.g. women, POC, early career writers, or whatever) is what percentage of one’s submissions come from the groups that you’re trying to attract. If the number of submissions from a particular group is high, but the number of published contributions remains low, then the problem seems to be with the editorial process. If the number of submissions is low, however, then the problem might well be the audience for the publication. Finding ways to get a journal in front of people who you would like to contribute means targeted marketing, soliciting submissions, and, perhaps most importantly, sharing authority with the groups who you’d like to see as readers and contributors.

As an editor and publisher, I’m still working on this in part because I’m very personally invested in my editing and publish projects, but I also know that they’re almost always better when I lead from behind my contributors. 

Third, one of the hardest things that I’ve had to learn is the value of trust between the editorial team, my copy editors, and my contributors even when (and maybe especially when) they make me feel uncomfortable. In the Twitter dust up, without getting mired in specifics, it would appear that trust between the writer and the editorial team broke down. 

In my experiences, I recognize that the editing and publishing process can be intense especially with the stress of deadlines, the need to maintain workflows and processes, and the desire to produce a final product that advances larger goals. Moreover, COVID has added a layer of stress to every thing we do and the confluence of semester schedules and press deadlines often creates delays and complications that reverberate throughout the publication processes. Maintaining transparency and trust during these times feels as important as it can be potentially fraught. Again, I’m not suggesting anything about the specific case that occupied Twitter, but as for my process, I’m trying to think more carefully about what I need to do to ensure that people who contribute their work, time, and effort to my publications feel like they can trust my editing. More than that, I’m trying to remember that I need to also trust their critical boundaries and recognize how their voice and vision are part of what makes the publications that I produce unique and important.

Music Monday: Keith Jarrett

Yesterday was Keith Jarrett’s birthday and so it felt like a good day to revisit one of the most iconic sounds in late 20th century music. The challenge with a guy like Jarrett is that he simply recorded so much music from the late 1960s to the early decades of the 21st century. 

To celebrate his distinctive sound, I decided to (digitally) spin recordings done with his classic trio of Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette and released by ECM. First, I enjoyed the single release compilation of his live albums recorded in 1983 at the Blue Note in New York. These were originally released as Standards Vol. 1, Standards Vol. 2, and Changes. They embody a sound and sensibility that feels to me like it established the crucial territory for late 20th century jazz: virtuosic in its execution, but perhaps a bit traditional in his horizons?

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I then spun this trios 2001 recording from the Montreux Jazz Festival which is splendid in the balance between its immediacy and refinement. Jarrett’s trio had played together for over 20 years at this point and their deeply sympathetic playing was visible throughout. His performance of “My Foolish Heart,” after which the album is named, evokes Bill Evans and his famous trios in the 1970s and by doing so he feels like he’s marking out similar territory through this trio’s commitment to standards. 

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Finally, I listened to the six volume release of his trio’s 1996 performance at the Blue Note in New York. The album is 7 hours of music and I’m not sure I have it in me to listen to it straight through, but it begs to be put on shuffle and to power me through the rest of my grading and into the summer.

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Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s finally feeling like spring here in North Dakotaland and the flood waters are receding. In fact, today we’ll see highs in the 60s and it looks like the trees and our gardens are finally waking up from what felt like a very long winter.

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We also appear to be on North Dakota’s infamous 7-day rain cycle where we get showers on the weekends which clear out during the week. Fortunately, I have plenty of grading, reading, and packing to do this weekend to keep myself busy. Plus I’m looking forward to see the Formula 1 guys race in Miami for the first time and watch the painful, but not entirely unexpected conclusion to the 76ers 2021-22 campaign.

And, of course, there are some quick hits and varia:

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Teaching Thursday

Today is the last day of classes for the spring semester. As is so often the case, my eyes were somewhat bigger than my stomach and I taught too many classes and let my enthusiasm for various topics exceed reasonable expectations for student attention spans, workloads, and energy levels.

I also had fun despite the long tail of the pandemic, my typical lack of confidence in my knowledge, preparation, and pedagogy, and endless winter weather. And I developed some ideas on how to make my classes better, at vary least different, in the future. 

Here are those thoughts: 

1. Model Thinking. It took me almost 20 years of teaching to understand that even the best explanations on how to do something are likely to be inadequate if not combined with some demonstrations on how to implement these explanations. In the past, I’ve tried to do this by integrating examples into my classes, but this tended to generate a series of cookie cutter projects and papers that cleaved too closely to the exemplar. 

In a conversation with my brother — who is a K-12 educator — he suggested that instead of giving a student a fish or even telling them how to fish, that I walk them through the process of fishing and discuss with them the decisions that I make when selecting a rod, bait, and a location to cast my line (obviously, I have no idea how to fish so this metaphor is breaking down). In other words, instead of telling students how to produce a product or showing students examples of the final product, walk them through the myriad little decisions involved in production. This not only gives students insights into how to accomplish an often complex task at a very practical level, but also humanizes the process by showing them that most academic work is not intuitive, but the product of a series of little and often confusing steps.

[I am aware of the irony that I struggled to implement this kind of thing in my classes despite running this blog for over a decade. After all, part of the point of this blog is to make my research, teaching, and professional processes more transparent.]     

2. Focus on 12 Weeks. One of the good things that happened during this semester is that we had snow days. I think I lost about 2 weeks of class time in my Tuesday-Thursday afternoon classes and this gave both students and me an unexpected (if not entirely unanticipated) break. 

It reinforced in my mind the need to build more flexibility into my classes and consider whether the standard practice of 14 weeks of content spread over a 16 week semester might be a good bit too optimistic. Losing two weeks to snow this semester essentially forced me to reduce my 14 weeks of material to 12 and I’m feeling that this might be the right amount for the average semester. Of course, my sense for this is largely impressionistic, but my Greek History class remains active and interested and my Historical Methods students continue to show up for class even on “optional” days. This suggests to me that my students have sufficient energy, enthusiasm, and time to manage 12 weeks worth of work and as I design two new classes for next year, this might become the model.  

3. The Death of the Lecture. My Greek history course is a bit of a dinosaur in my rotation. It harkens back to a day when the “lecture/discussion” format was a kind of cutting edge pedagogy. In other words, this class continues to feature a good be of “sage-on-the-stage” time despite my commitment to more “guide-on-the-side” methods of teaching in my other classes. Some of this has to do with the inadequacy of available textbooks and the like, but most of this has to do with this class dating to the early years of the 21st century and drawing on late 20th century precedents.

The results haven’t been particularly disappointing in large part because students simply ignore my efforts to lecture. Instead, they interrupt me, ask questions, pursue tangents, and engage in discussions. I regularly find myself stranded behind the awkwardly designed “teaching station” trying to get the class back “on track.” 

I had always assumed that the lecture would die because students would simply check out and stare blankly at me as I babbled on ineffectively about this or that topic. Instead, students are taking the lead in killing the lecture by making it impossible in the classroom. 

4. Balancing Production and Consumption. One of my buddies observed this semester that students like to produce things and balancing between production (writing, making, crafting) and consumption (reading, listening, viewing) was a challenge in the humanities. I have started to think about in my own professional life where I frequently find myself out writing my reading.

As I look ahead to my teaching in the fall, I have three classes that all ask students to produce things: a prospectus in my methods class, a textbook in my World History I class, and an anthology of sorts in my editing and publishing practicum. But all these efforts to produce something rely on the students patiently and critically consuming content and this presents a real challenge as students’ eagerness to go “hands-on” and start to craft on their own challenges their ability to slow down, to read, and to think.

It seems ironic that in an era where consumption has almost become the equivalent of culture that teaching has to nudge students to drag the brake on their eagerness to produce.  

5. Accommodating Resistance. Finally, I want to continue to recognize and validate student resistance, even when its inconvenient and awkward. Like many faculty, I have a tendency to see things like poor attendance, disregard for deadlines and class policies, and poor performance as laziness or defiance. I have to keep reminding myself that very, very few students don’t want to learn in college and when students resist learning, they usually do it to send a message (even if they’re not entire sure what that message is or should be).

I need to keep trying to listen and work with my students to figure out why something isn’t work.  

Semi-Final Draft of Mildly Anarchist Teaching Encounter

This past week, I’ve made some revisions on a paper that I wrote about a class that I taught exploring the two Wesley College buildings that formerly stood on the University of North Dakota campus. It’s for an edited volume that will survey teaching the archaeology of the contemporary world.

The paper is titled: Documenting Wesley College: A Mildly Anarchist Teaching Encounter.

You can download a copy of it here.

I basically committed almost every mid-career, guy-scholar, sin in this paper. First, it overshot the word limit and then I included too many images. Today, I’m going to submit my revised version of the manuscript (which is still a bit long and includes too many images) in an effort to avoid the cardinal sin, which is turning the paper in late.

The paper considers the “mildly anarchist” approach that I used teaching the Wesley College class which not only eschewed formal grading and course design but focused on experiences and encounters rather than outcomes and objectives. The results were good even if the model that I present here was not readily adaptable to other, more formal, teaching environments.

That said, I’ve adapted some of what I did in this class to what I’m doing this semester in my “Thinking with Things” graduate seminar in the English Department. I hope to also take some of what I did in this class to my editing and publishing course next fall. So… stay tuned (or not… it’s really up to you!).

The Late Byzantine Landscape

Last week I finally finished Foteini Kondyli’s recent book, Rural Communities in Late Byzantium: Resilience and Vulnerability in the Northern Aegean (2022). It’s really quite brilliant and offers a model for the kind of intensive regional study that is possible as the result of slow, deliberate, careful research across archaeological survey, texts, architectural study, and digital techniques.

The book considers the strategies rural communities on Lemnos and Thasos used to survive during the tumultuous 14th and 15th centuries. Kondyli anchored her argument in an extensive survey of the islands where she used surface ceramics to help date surviving churches, the remains of settlements, and the various towers and other sites that have left traces in the landscape. She supplements these with data from the Athonite monastic archive which provide insights to land tenure practices and the structure of settlement across the island. In this context, Kondyli is able to outline some of the strategies families used especially in the aftermath of the demographic changes visited on these islands during these convulsive centuries. These ranged from marriage strategies and other forms of bonds between families, settlements insulated from the presence of pirates in the surrounding seas, cooperation in the construction of military fortification such as towers and spiritual fortifications such as churches and monasteries, and forms of cooperation with the Byzantine state (and even Ottoman) state.

As per usual, I’m not going to really review the book, but highlight a few things that I stuck out to me.

First, I thought Kondyli’s emphasis on resilience is in keeping with contemporary conversations about continuity and change in the ancient and Medieval worlds. Of course, resilience has emerged as a key way to think about Late Antiquity and the degree to which a community could survive, rebuild, and persist amid economic, military, and political disruptions is crucial for understanding how deep structures which are not always readily visible in textual or archaeological sources held societies together at challenging times. Kondyli’s emphasis on resilience and social strategies is appropriate for the Late Byzantine period as well which endured its share of disasters.

Our attention to resilience, I think, shifts how we think about matters of continuity and change in the past. In this context, continuity and change represent strategies rather than evidence for a kind of absent minded persistence of existing social structures and institutions and change becomes a way to understand how communities adapt to circumstances that may well be beyond their control rather than the arrival of new circumstances themselves. As a result, and as Kondyli so cleverly shows, focusing on resilience foregrounds everyday life at the level of the community and how they respond economic, political, and military events.      

Second, for most of my career, I’ve been a bit of an evangelist for intensive, pedestrian, siteless survey. And I still think it’s the best way to do to field survey in the Mediterranean. 

That said, I’m becoming a bit more willing to see the value in intensive survey. Perhaps I should credit my new found appreciation of modern extensive survey to Yannis Lolos’s extensive survey of Sikyonia. I can add Kondyli’s book to the list of influences that are expanding my perspective on the value of modern extensive survey projects. In particular, I admire her willingness to identify the function of specific sites. One of the challenges facing intensive survey work is our tendency to produce vast carpets of artifacts that blur functional (and chronological) borders of sites until they are essentially disappear. To be clear, this is a rather uncharitable reading of siteless survey, but I suspect there is a kernel of truth to it. Kondyli’s willingness to build arguments on the chronological and functional identification of sites – with a certain amount of caution and perspective – opens the landscape of Aegean islandscapes to the kind of historical interpretations that our siteless survey sometimes resists. 

Third, Kondyli balanced her awareness of how islands function as islands (she avoid the term  “islandscapes” but the concept suffuses some of her arguments) with a strong sensitivity for local landscapes. I’ve participated peripherally in several recent conversations about islands and island archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean and this got me thinking a good bit about whether models for understanding islands in historical periods add much to our understanding of the Mediterranean, in general. For example, the mountainous landscape of Thasos exerted a far more obvious impact on settlement patterns than its situation as an island. This isn’t to say that its insularity didn’t play a role in the organization of settlement on islands, but that it might not be the dominant, determining role. 

This understanding feels consistent with the growing interest in microecologies or microregions which often function at level far below that of an island. If we regard the Mediterranean as a patchwork of microregions, then certain larger regional characterization of spaces—from islandscapes to administrative districts—might contribute less to how we understand resilience of communities than we might expect.

As readers of this blog likely know, my excitement for the archaeology of Greece ebbs and flows with my commitments to field work and my (declining!) ability to formulate research questions that keep me engaged. Kondyli’s book when set alongside other recent-ish books such as  Effie Athanassopoulos’s Nemea Valley Archaeological Project II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside (2016, blogged about here) and John Haldon, Hugh Elton, James Newhard, Archaeology and Urban Settlement in Late Roman and Byzantine Anatolia: Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü and its Environment (Cambridge 2018, blogged about here) has got me once again thinking a bit about how we understand the Late Roman and Byzantine countryside in the Eastern Mediterranean. I’m looking forward to getting back to the Mediterranean this summer and thinking in more in situ ways about issues introduced in these works.

Music Monday: Mingus

This past week was the centenary of Charles Mingus’s birth and it coincided with the release of a concert recording from Ronnie Scott’s in London in 1972. By 1972, of course, Mingus’s playing was not necessarily what it was a decade earlier, but the album is tight and enjoyable with Mingus’s characteristic balance between the raucous and the spiritual. I don’t really know the performers on this recording (other than Mingus and a vague familiarity with trumpeter Jon Faddis from his time in the mid-1970s with Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra). 

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This got me thinking about Mingus’s catalogue and flipping (digitally, of course) through my collection of his albums and thinking about why I’ve always had a kind of excitement about Mingus, but also tended to manage my listening with him. For me, there was always a time and place for listening to his music (and the centenary of his birth was definitely one of those times and places).

My favorite Mingus is Oh Yeah from 1961 in part because I love the interplay between the member of his band. I’m particularly fond of Roland Kirk and Booker Ervin. I could do without Mingus’s singing and his absence on bass is notable, but “Hog Callin’ Blues” is one of my favorites. And the cover art is great.

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Like most people, I love Blues & Roots (1959) and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963) which feel like they bracket Oh Yeah in some ways. Obviously, Blues & Roots (1959) features an all-star band and digs deep into Mingus’s background in the blues and gospel. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963) seems to take these some of these same ideas and infused them with Ellington, modal music and Spanish influences. As most music critics agree, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963) is a masterpiece and a dense and rewarding listen.

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I need to go back and listen to Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1964) which features one of his greatest bands and swings without abandoning its roots in the blues. “Mood Indigo” followed by “Better Get Hit in Yo’ Soul” is just a great sequence!

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At the same time, I’m drawn to Let My Children Hear Music (1972) which, like me, turned 50 this year, and offers a compelling window into in Mingus’s large ensemble thinking at the same time as his live show at Ronnie Scott’s. Let My Children Hear Music is not without a certain amount of weirdness. “Don’t Be Afraid, the Clown’s Afraid Too” features animal noises that perhaps meant to evoke a circus (or Jurassic Park). 

The rest of the album, however, takes turns swinging, honking, and blaring and more delicate passages. Through the entire thing, even when we might feel that the overdubbing and editing is a bit heavy-handed for our contemporary tastes (I’ve been also listening to the Bill Evan and George Russell album from the same year which is… difficult to appreciate), the magic of Mingus is audible.