Friday Quick Hits and Varia

This week has been the calm before the storm as the start of the semester looms in front of my like an early-fall thunderhead rolling across the Northern Plains. I like to imagine that I’m reading for it to hit, but I also know that I’m probably not. It’s a kind of liberating tension that will eventually lead to paralyzing fits of panic on Monday afternoon. Classes start Tuesday! Good times ahead!

Fortunately, I have plenty to distract me this weekend. Not only do my beloved Phillies face the hated Mets this weekend for a series that will could cast a long shadow over the Phillies efforts to make the the extended playoff setup. It’ll help that Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola are pitching on Friday and Saturday and Scherzer and deGrom are not pitching for the Mets.

The Friday night game is just an appetizer for the main event: the heavy weight championship of the world. Oleksander Usyk faces Anthony Joshua in a rematch of Usyk’s dismantling of Joshua last year. Then, as if that’s not enough, one of my favorite fighters Emanuel Navarrete faces Eduardo Baez in defense of his feather weight title. Navarrete as baffling to watch as Usyk is beautiful. 

On Sunday, the Cup guys race at Watkins Glenn which always seems to put on a good show and should be extra entertaining with retired F1 champion and all around baffling individual Kimi Räikkönen running in it. 

Somehow with all this sport to enjoy, I will need to keep chipping away at a few longer term-ish projects and find a moment to finish my syllabi before the my traditional Monday morning panic. 

As always, my rambling introduction will conclude with an awkward transition to my regular list of quick hits and varia:

A bit of a Milo story: this week, Milo developed the “yips” when going up the stairs. Typically he sleeps on the floor next to our bed. So the last few nights, he’s spent on his favorite “Elmo” door mat at the foot of the stairs. It’s clear that he’s not very happy with this situation, so Argie has been helping. He not only races downstairs to check on Milo when he hears Milo offer his good morning whimper and then come back up to wake me up, but is also being fairly attentive to his old buddy.

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Final Fragments of My Book

I know that I’ve probably taxed the patience of my regular readers by peppering this venerable blog with fragments from my book over the last few years. I did this for lots of reason, not the least of which is to give a window into how the academic sausage is made, to share some of my current research, and to make some more experiment (or at least “mental” writing) public.

I’m coming very close to sending back my revised book manuscript to my very patient editors and I’m adding final touches, checking citations, and wondering whether I did enough to address the not insignificant concerns of my reviewers.

As part of the final tweaking to my introduction, I add the follow paragraphs to try (a bit plaintively, I might add) to explain why the book has the priorities and limits that it does. You can read more about the book  here and my broader research here

Here’s my the very end of my introduction:

Because this book developed organically from the two case studies that appear in chapter one and chapter eight, it is in some ways limited in how it engages the field, in some ways, and perhaps more expansive than one might expect, in others. For example, the field of forensic anthropology or disaster archaeology largely fell outside the scope of my case studies, even though it often involves research that would fall into the fuzzy chronological limits of “the contemporary world” (Gould 2007). It has also developed its own disciplinary discourse and methods over the last three decades (Powers and Sibun 2013). Archaeology of race, gender, sexuality, and identity, while incredible fertile grounds for archaeological research in recent decades, does not appear in this book under distinct headings, but forms an obvious foundation to many of these chapters. As the archaeology of the contemporary American experience continues to develop as a field, I anticipate that it will contribute in significant ways to the archaeology of contemporary race and gender, but as yet, these important areas remain relatively unexplored. My book also presents an American experience that extends well beyond the boundaries of North America and entangles traditional approaches to American historical archaeology with the flourishing field of archaeological contemporary world in Europe. This is in keeping with the approaches championed by groups such as CHAT with its European and American membership, and my own sense that this is the best way to address pressing planetary situations such as climate change and environmental degradation on a global scale. This has then informed my decision to focus the potentially expansive remit of this book in the area where I have.

Of course, it is entirely possible that my reading of the field is wrong and that my oversights represent blinders imposed by my own sites, research priorities, and political anxieties. In fact, I expect that some readers will find this book to be inadequate or simply too idiosyncratic to be useful or helpful. My hope is that these readers, however, will recognize that for whatever its flaws, this book is only the first word in a rapidly developing field and this makes it quite distinct from many of the more narrowly situated works that have appeared in this series. It is my hope that future books on topics such as the archaeology of contemporary race, a queer archaeology of the modern American experience, and the archaeology of gender in the twenty-first century will fill in gaps, shift priorities, and consolidate the field in new and important ways.

Bakken Babylon, Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first part of an article that I have written about the Bakken as Babylon. It’s for a special section in Near Eastern Archaeology dedicated to the archaeology of climate change and edited by Omur Harmansah and Katie Kearns. In my post yesterday I’ve included links to earlier drafts of this piece. 

As is so often the case with academic writing, this piece is less finished than it is done, but I do hope that it is somewhere in the grey region between thought provoking and entertaining… 

Bakken Babylon (part 2)

Dustism

There was ample motivation to take even more unconventional approaches to understanding the contemporary Bakken oil patch in relation to contemporary climate change. Human created climate change is transforming our world. Extreme weather, rising sea levels, and faltering seasonal patterns are already producing droughts, flooding, and massively destructive storms that capture headlines for their economic and human costs. Less visible, but every bit as significant, is the slow violence inflicted on the other living things on the plant as we accelerate toward an inevitable series of mass extinction events (Nixon 2011). With the existential consequences to anthropogenic climate change well known, it is more than appropriate for archaeology to shift toward understanding planetary networks of agents and situations that created increasingly violent climatic conditions. Thinking about the wide range of agents acting on a planetary level provides us with some insight into how geography and cartography can appear increasingly fluid against the backdrop of planetary crisis.

A brief digression on dustism, a term introduced in Negarstani’s Cyclonopedia, provides a chance to understand how Parsani’s view of material and agency create the affordances required to make the Bakken and Babylon interchangeable. Parsani understood “dustism” as “the earth’s clandestine autonomy” which converts and subverts solar energy, or solar capitalism, into swirling, eddying, and irresistible clouds of matter that resist human control. Parsani argued, perhaps spuriously, that dust in Middle Eastern religions is pure and immaculate and its only when it begins to coalesce and clump that it becomes “an abomination.” This abomination in Parsani’s convoluted cosmology merges the autonomy of the earth with the fluidity of material to produce a mess. This mess — mud, oil, foaming muck — fertilizes the world and supports production, growth, and creation even as the sun continuously seeks to dry it out and return it to inert purity of dust. In this formulation dustism provides a framework that Bradley Fest understands to support a system of hyperobjects including dust and oil which exist beyond the temporal and spatial scale of human existence (Fest 2016). In Parsani’s narrative, the viscosity of oil allows it to become the narrator as it binds the disparate power of dust which seeks to continuously revert to its primordial and timeless form.

This is obviously obscure, but dustism is useful for understanding an archaeology of contemporary climate change. It embodies the “radical materialism” (Boscagli 2014) necessary for apprehending systems that operate in ways that remain unpredictable. Dustism and dust itself, like oil, lubricates the narratives that connects North Dakota’s Bakken to Babylon. The ubiquity of dust in the Bakken has, of course, attracted scientific research. One the one hand, the Bakken and Three Forks deposits of shale oil likely represent organic material trapped beneath thin layers of sand deposited by Quaternary dust storms. In contemporary North Dakota, truck traffic creates billowing dust clouds that mark the path of the region’s straight section line roads. Research during the height of the oil boom documented the impact of dust associated with oil development on vegetation, including crops, near roads as well as working conditions in a region long characterized as having three season: snow, mud, and dust.

Dust does not just operate at the scale of geological time and the contemporary in North Dakota. Dust serves as a historical link between the Bakken and the Middle East. For example, Frank Jungers, the North Dakota born Aramco (Arabian-American Oil Company) executive started his memoir which tells the story of his journey to Saudi Arabia and his future career, on his family’s Regent, North Dakota farm amid the swirling storms of the 1930s dust bowl (Jungers 2014). He compares the dust that ended his North Dakota childhood and sent him west to Oregon to the dust of Arabian deserts and framed his career in the oil industry. As Parsani would say: from dust to dust.

A parallel trajectory appears in Wallace Stegner’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943), which opens in North Dakota. Stegner spent part of his childhood in North Dakota on the edges of the future Bakken oil patch. The novel’s main character, Elsa, described the main street of the town of Hardanger as “a river of fine powder.” Dust punctuates the early pages of the novel and defines the forlorn town, the hard ground of the North Dakota prairie, and the footsteps of Elsa’s future husband, Bo Mason, at the baseball diamond. Whether Stegner deliberately anticipated Parsani’s concept of “dustism” or not remains unclear, but the appearance of dust early in the novel emphasizes Elsa purity and innocence. Stegner seems to understand dusts’ ability to transition from pure to toxic after a stranger offering to pay for his drink in gold dust inspires Bo Mason to embark on his nomadic journey throughout the American West in search of wealth and status. Dust is more than a metaphor in Stegner’s fictional town or in Junger’s life, and is as ubiquitous a feature in the Bakken oil patch as in Parsani’s Babylon.

For Jungers and Parsani and as we will see, Stegner, the combination of dust and oil contribute to the formation of self-organizing assemblages. These assemblages are global in scale and draw both human and non-human actors into their orbits. They also accelerate a kind of persistent nomadism that both reflects the geopolitical instability created by global climate change and relies on the mobility of populations that coalesce around the tension between dust and oil. Parsani recognizes the petro-nomads who travel from oil well to oil well drawn by oil. To their number, we might add another North Dakotan and Aramco executive, Thomas Barger whose journey from North Dakota to the Arabian peninsula in the 1930s and then from desert outpost to desert outpost likewise followed the lure of oil (Barger 2000). In the 20th and 21st century Bakken the petro-nomads likewise coalesced around the sources of oil and sought to navigate the dust from rural byways, agricultural harvests, and droughts that seems constantly to escape control. It is worth noting that there has been an outpouring of recent scholarship on dust in the Bakken that seems to appear as if to resist or even challenge the flow of oil and the arrival of the petro-nomads.

Petro-Nomadism

Stegner’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain tells the story of Bo Mason’s nomadic search for prosperity and the American dream and offers a framework for his account of the discover of oil in Saudi Arabia: Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil. (Salameh 2019; Vitalis 2007) The American oil company Aramco funded Stegner’s work in 1956 as an effort to promote an image of the company as a force for development in the Middle East and as a harbinger of new forms of hegemony that relied less on old models of military or diplomatic imperialism and more on the promotion the mutual, if asymmetrical, benefits of capitalism. By the mid-1950s, Stegner had established himself as a sensitive interpreter of the arid landscapes of the American West, and in 1954 had published his classic account of John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon. These credentials appealed to Aramco executives who enticed Stegner to write a literary history of the discovery of oil in the Arabian peninsula. 

Among the characters featured in Discovery! was Thomas Barger. Barger grew up in Linton, North Dakota and studied geology at the University of North Dakota. After graduation, he set out to Saudi Arabia in 1938 where he worked for Standard Oil and Aramco as a geologist. During this time, his team embraced life as petro-nomads and he traded the dust of small town Linton for the dust of the Arabian desert. The results of his nomadism was a version of the proverbial Big Rock Candy Mountain of Stegner’s great American novel: the massive Ghawar oil field which has accounted for nearly 50% of Aramco’s oil production. Barger goes on to become the CEO of Aramco in the 1960s and paved the way for another North Dakotan, Frank Jungers, whose dusty childhood in North Dakota led him to serve as president and CEO of the company from 1971 to 1978. The connection between North Dakota and the world’s largest oil company may well be coincidental, but the development of the Bakken oil patch certainly presented a shadowy parallel to the situation in the Middle East. While the 1970s boom in North Dakota almost certainly represented a response to the 1970s OPEC embargo which sought to penalize countries who supported Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The 1950s North Dakota boom was likely stimulated by nationalization of the Iranian and Iraqi oil industries in the early 1950s and growing demands by the Saudi government to share profits and control over Aramco profits. 

A peripatetic, petro-nomad, Thomas Barger anticipates the recursive arrival of the contemporary Bakken nomad who came to Western North Dakota in the second decade of the 21st century to develop its oil fields. Parsani’s Middle Eastern petro-nomads point to the rise in late-20th-century nomadism on a global scale critiqued in the US as “nomadland” and globally marked by the proliferation of camps and detention centers. A critical engagement with Parsani’s dustism and petro-nomadism, historical connections, and the capacity of oil to create viscous new geographies sustains the conflation of North Dakota with the Middle East and perhaps more specifically Babylon. The planetary distribution of oil and dust supports the entanglement of North Dakota’s oil industry with the oil industry in the Middle East. Oil and dust bind the arid landscape of the Northern Plains to the oil rich formations of the Persian Gulf. Oil lubricates the movement of dust-covered petro-nomads and the narratives the we tell about them.

Conclusion

Dr. Hamid Parsani’s talk proposed new forms of geography that leveraged new forms of narrative lubricated by the oil, traced by petro-nomads, and saturated with dust. These new ways of thinking about the relationship between oil and space reflects the planetary scale of contemporary petroculture and informs how we approach history and archaeology. These new narratives break down the modern geographies that structure archaeology and define regions such as the Near East. In its place have are emerging new geographies where once distinct places disappear, shift, and superimpose themselves amid a contemporary cartography of climatic crisis. To confront this condition, archaeology as a discipline has to continue to embrace its global remit and work itself out of the regional silos that support conventional narratives. As climate change in the past and in the present represents a matter of existential concern, it seems apparent that archaeology must investigate more thoroughly the kind of spatial transpositions proposed by Dr. Parsani’s unconventional talk. If the Bakken was Babylon, even for a brief period at the height of its oil boom, then it provides an unexpected window in the viscous reality of contemporary planetary change.

Bakken Babylon, Part 1

I know that I’m late today, but I’m working on a deadline that has already passed. The deadline is a for a short paper that I started to put together in the spring and like so many projects of mine lingered in the queue until slightly after the last minute.

The good news is that the paper is mostly done and, in my humble assessment, fun. It is called “Bakken Babylon” (or something like that). You can read my false starts and stumbles here and here.

But below is the first part of the draft that I’ve settled upon. Part two will drop tomorrow!

Bakken Babylon

Introduction

At a conference convened in Fargo, North Dakota at l’Institut pour l’étude du Dakota du Nord several years ago, the controversial Iranian academic Dr. Hamid Parsani presented a provocative paper titled “What if the Bakken is Babylon?” In it, he opined that global climate change confirmed an obscure theory that his research had pointed toward many years before: the Bakken oil patch in Western North Dakota and Babylon shared more than the same first and last letters of their names. Dr. Parsani indicated that a careful reading of Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia (2008) revealed that oil itself had the capacity to lubricate modern narratives including those constructed in contemporary cartography: “The cartography of oil as an omnipresent entity narrates the dynamics of planetary events. Oil is the undercurrent of all narrations, not only the political but also that of the ethics of life on earth.” This echoed the growing recognition that modern human culture is a form of petroculture, and this suffuses our geography, history, and imaginations. Our dependence on fossil fuels and their connection with contemporary climate change provokes new ways of thinking about the past, the present, and the future.

This article is an effort to explore the capacity of oil to fuel, pun intended, ”petropunk” interpretations of the Bakken informed by the geographical theories proposed by radical cartographers such as Renee Gladman (2017) and China Mieville (2009). Their works have concerned themselves with certain cartographic irregularities where two or more places exist simultaneously in the same space or, alternately, places themselves have become completely unmoored from their spatial coordinates. In some cases, populations have simply adapted to these situations such as the situation in Beszel/Ul Quoma where the residents of two cities superimposed on one another have simply learned to “unsee” one another during their everyday lives and the state otherwise maintains the spatial boundaries that persist between places associated with one or the other city. In the case of Ravicka, the occasional tendency of places to become dislodged from their spatial coordinates entirely has led to the development of state entities tasked with documenting these situations. Dr. Parsani’s work proposed that the proliferation of oil over the last century has introduced new geographic possibilities lubricated by the viscous globalism of fossil fuels which simultaneously reinforced certain political, cultural, and topographic boundaries while dissolving them. In this situation Babylon and the Bakken despite the differences between their locations in the historical narratives that support conventional political geographies have become so thoroughly elided to be indistinguishable in many ways.

This has significant consequences, of course, for our understanding of global warming, climate change, and archaeological interventions designed to understand the past, present, and future of these processes. Parsani’s paper began with the familiar refrain that the place of Babylon had become unmoored by antiquity and this unmooring became all the more visible during the events of the two Iraq wars. As Erin Runions has shown these wars combined figurative and literal concepts of Babylon to inspire messianic and popular support for the US invasion (2014). The opulence and immorality associated with Hebrew Bible’s description of the Neo-Assyrian city of Babylon on the Euphrates River in central Iraq which was the site of the Babylonian Exile, had become secondary to the imposing figure of the Whore of Babylon whose appearance in the Book of Revelation indicated that the place of Babylon has already broken free from its spatial confines and occupied Rome and Jerusalem. The appearance of a beast with ten horns and seven heads at the end of days would destroy the whore of Babylon and reduce its city.

By the 21st century, Babylon had taken on many guises. It had become the handmaiden of modernity, capitalism, and political violence, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, a kind of messianic metaphor for the force of evil in the world. Thus, in the Iraq War, the moralizing and messianic message found a home in the stories of the abuses of Saddam Hussain’s Bathist government in Iraq and this further wrenched the place of Babylon free from its Mesopotamian origins. That Babylon would end up in Western North Dakota, in the Bakken oil patch of all places, is neither completely unexpected nor entirely implausible.

Bablyon

There is only one explicit reference to Babylon in the Bakken: Williston is called the Babylon of the Bakken in Gary Sernovitz’s book on the “shale revolution” (2016). The connection between Babylon and the Bakken evokes a larger discourse of Babylon that is global in scope. The coincidence between the excavations at Babylon and elsewhere in the Near East and the emergence of industrial capitalism in the late 18th century produced what Nick Mirzoeff has called “Babylonian Modernity” (2005). For Mirzoeff, Babylonian Modernity represents the decadence, alienation, and complexity that exists at the heart of the modern experience. As early as the 19th century Babylon became a metaphor for rapidly expanding, industrial, urban metropolises such as London or New York City. It also stood in Black Christianity and Caribbean Rastafarianism as the place of exile and separation from Zion. The global displacement and alienation experienced by Black communities in the Americas made possible the development of the modern, globalized economy. In this context, Babylon embodied forces of colonialism, capitalism, and the state which sought to preserve economic and racial inequality in the name of political stability. Thus, Babylon could represent, on the one hand, the oppressive forces of the state and capital which sought to control the labor of displaced Afro-Caribbean and Black workers and the unfettered and dystopian results of unfettered modernity on the other. Critics like Mirzoeff and Runions who have traced the significance of Babylon in contemporary political discourse, however, recognize that despite Babylon’s modern guise, it is not entirely free from its ancient past. The First and Second Gulf Wars and US occupation of Iraq brought the literal site Babylon to our living rooms with stories of the looting of antiquities set against regular reports of human violence and skyrocketing price of oil.

In the context of a global Babylon, Parsani’s paper may seem unnecessarily specific in its effort to connect a spatially displaced Babylon specifically to the Bakken. That said, it is hard to deny that Bakken oil boom certainly evoked images of an American Babylon in the media. Media attention focused on the sudden wealth acquired by oil workers as well as the risks that they undertook doing the dangerous work of drilling, fracking, and transporting oil. The regular media attention to strip clubs, drug use and abuse, Ponzi schemes, and environmental abuses of the Bakken contributed to a view of the region as a zone of unchecked capitalism and immorality (Caraher and Weber 2014). The viscous fluidity of oil carried Babylon to the Bakken and hint at the origins of new cartographies and familiar moral narratives. It encouraged us to drill deeper into the narratives, cartographies, geographies, and chronologies that connect Babylon in its many forms to the modern Bakken. Parsani’s paper seemed to induce us to see these displaced places as key objects of study to understand the planetary consequences and history of contemporary climate change.

Music Monday: Two Singles

Jazz singles have always sort of baffled me. I mostly find them unsatisfying because I really enjoy the experience of listening to an album. Maybe this is because I feel very satisfied when an album works and songs flow into one another or react to one another across an entire disk (LP or whatever). More than that, most (but certainly not all jazz albums) feature a single group performing at a particular time and often showcase the range or character of a particular ensemble and moment. 

I suppose I also felt like jazz was one place where album preserved a certain amount of integrity (at least in the “LP” and post-LP era; I recognize, of course, that jazz music was released over a wide range of formats historically). 

Anyway, I offer two relatively recent jazz singles here that captured my attention. The first is tuba player Theon Cross’s version of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy.” Cross is part of the remarkable London jazz scene and I first came across him playing with Sons of Kemet. His version of “Epistrophy” is pretty great and it definitely has made me enthusiastic for the release of his next album!

The other single that I’ve listened to this weekend is Miles Davis’s version of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” I have a massive soft spot for Davis’s 1980s stuff (especially his version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”), and even as I’ve tried to distance my listening from Miles Davis in general (for vaguely formed ethical reasons), his 1980s output continues to be a guilty pleasure. Apparently this single is a teaser for a release of “bootleg” material of his from the 1980s.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

As we move from running the air conditioner at night to running it just a couple of hours to soften the heat of the day, we can tell that the autumn is coming here on the Northern Plains. In fact, if I look hard enough in just the right light, I can see the trees trying to change color and evening comes earlier and earlier. School starts again soon!

This weekend, then, marks the calm before the storm. There will be syllabusing, some book production work, and, of course, some final rest-and-relaxation (provided I make some progress on a pesky article that isn’t technically late, but shows no signs of being done on time). More importantly, I’m looking forward to the return of “The Take Over” (Teofimos Lopez) on Saturday night and another glimpse of Xander Zayas (maybe the next big thing). The Phillies play the Mets over the weekend, but may be without Kyle Schwarber who often accounts for about 60% of the Phils offense. This should be painful to watch. The Cup guys are at Richmond on Sunday which should be a nice distraction.

My pile of things that I should be doing, reading, and digesting is starting to get pretty intense. I figured I should share the love by offering up a short list of quick hits and varia:

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Teaching Thursday: A Practicum in Editing and Publishing

Next semester, I’m teaching a course once again in the English Department. This course is a practicum in editing and publishing and it will be taught in collaboration with North Dakota Quarterly.

Since I have nearly two weeks before classes start, I don’t have a very clear idea how I’m going to go about teaching this class, but I do know that I want it to be as much of a practicum as possible. This means to me that the course should be hands-on and give students as much real world experience as possible with actual projects. As a result, I’m laying out a series of editing and publishing related projects that intersect with NDQ. These range from the immediate and necessary to the rather more long term and ideal.

First, the most proximate concern is getting NDQ 88.3/4 out. This means not only handling author correspondence, but also, and more importantly, putting the manuscript in order for delivery to University of Nebraska Press.

Second, NDQ will publish a novella this fall which will require production checks and carefully reviewed page proofs. We will also need to produce a press packet: press release, marketing material, and so on.

Third, NDQ will contribute to a panel at the Northern Great Plains History Conference on “the state of the state’s journals” in September. It would be great to get the students involved in preparing this paper. 

These are three pressing and proximate responsibilities that I have as editor of the Quarterly this semester. 

The next three tasks are less pressing but represent the kind of work that publishers often take on.

First, we have archived MOST of the issues from volume 1 (1910) to volume 74.2 (2007). But we have not digitized the issues from volume 74.3-84. This is a thankless task, but one that is necessary to make sure that the digital archive of the journal is complete. We will need to digitize 24.1 (1954) and 57.2 (1989).

Second, there is the somewhat larger issue of creating a local archive of back issues of NDQ. Right now most of the archive exists at the HathiTrust and we have released these issues under a CC-ND license. What we’d like to do is download these volumes, extract each issue from the volume, and upload them to our local institutional repository. This is tedious, but important work.

Third, part of the challenge of the NDQ archive is its size. It is almost 90 volumes, hundreds of issues, and thousands of pages and contributions. Aside from an NDQ reader prepared a couple decades ago there is really no way to engage with this archive. A medium-term goal of the Quarterly is to produce some kind of guide to the archive that allows a reader to engage with the century of content that the Quarterly has published.  

Finally, there are those intermediate term projects that either need to happen regularly or should happen sooner rather than later.

First, there is the blog. Right now, myself or someone from my editorial board posts weekly on the NDQ blog. Mostly post a combination of announcements, new content, and archival gems with the occasional “new content” thrown in. What can the class do to add to the impact of the blog?

Second, there is promoting the Quarterly on campus and in the community. I continue to suspect that there are “low hanging fruit” subscriptions on our campus and that people simply don’t realize that the Quarterly still exists. How do we go about raising the profile of the Quarterly on campus and in the community? Are there fun ways to make it more visible?

Third, there is the issue of moving offices. We have at least two file cabinets filled with material relating to the recent history of NDQ that needs to either migrate to the UND archives or be discarded. Publishing, whether we like it or not, produces massive amounts of paper and figuring out how the manage this paper is part of our responsibility as a publisher and editor.

Finally, there is the challenge of “market research.” Whether we like it or not, publishing and editing is a competitive industry and understanding how NDQ fits into the “market” is part of helping us articulate a vision for the magazine going forward.

Book by its Cover: The Library of Chester Fritz

As the semester looms, I’m working to wrap up some publishing projects with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota Quarterly including two new novellas. One is entering typesetting soon but the other is almost ready for prime time!

The first should be out in time for homecoming at the end of September: The Library of Chester Fritz by Brian R. Urlacher. It’s brilliantly entertaining piece of University of North Dakota-themed Gothic horror! 

As a little sneak peek, here’s the current, almost complete, cover draft.

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Curious? 

Drop me a line in the comments if you want to see an advanced copy!

Digital Archaeology in Review

Over the weekend, I got a chance to read Colleen Morgan’s thoughtful review of digital archaeology published in the Annual Review of Archaeology this past month. The piece surveys recent trends in digital archaeology and, more important, urges the discipline forward toward a more reflective, ethical, and meaningful directions.

Unlike many approaches to digital practice in archaeology that trace the emergence and advantages associated with particular technologies, Morgan’s article steps back and focuses on how technology and practices produce new forms of knowledge (and new ethical problems and perspectives) for archaeologists to consider. To do this she focuses on four areas: (1) craft and embodiment, (2) materiality, (3) the uncanny, and (4) ethics, politics and accessibility, which she develops sequentially across the article.

The first two areas were pretty relevant to how I think. Her review of recent work that considered craft and embodiment, for example, makes clear how the changing skill sets associated with archaeological practice create new forms of archaeological knowledge. While my work, especially as associated with slow archaeology, has tended to view certain forms of technological change which shape our bodies in new ways and produced new forms of knowledge. On the one hand, this asks us to consider matters of commensurability between knowledge produced today and knowledge produced using older techniques and technologies. Morgan pushes this further to ask how contemporary digital approaches complicate our ability to empathize with people in the past and the present. The former are almost always the object of archaeological inquiry and the latter should be a concern of anyone working in archaeology especially as labor conditions in both academic and commercial archaeology have become a growing concern for the discipline.

I also very much appreciated her consideration of the materiality of digital practice. Not only does this force us as archaeologists to reflect upon the increasingly disposable character of the technologies that we use, but also the human costs of the networks of production and discard that make this technology possible. Here Morgan’s work intersects with both media archaeology and archaeology of the contemporary world. Her call for us to reflect on climate impact of digital archaeology is important. This not only involves the literal climate but also the social conditions necessary to produce the technologies (in their material and immaterial forms) that digital practices require.

The penultimate consideration of the article is perhaps the most provocative. Morgan considers the capacity of digital practices for creating uncanny encounters with the past. These uncanny encounters – manifest in their most simple forms as certain kinds of immersive digital environments and in more complicated ways as “deep fakes” – have the capacity to evoke emotional responses that range from the unsettling to the playful. How digital archaeology develops this heightened capacity for the uncanny will almost certainly exert a powerful influence over the future of the discipline.

Finally, Morgan explores the ethical and political landscape of digital practices. This is a complex matter, of course, that will invariably continue to exert a massively formative influence over discussions of digital archaeology for years to come. The gender make up of the field, our obligations to communities who don’t have access to the same technologies and skills, and the fate of digital data in both archives and online reflect the emergence of a new series of significant political commitments in the field. The capacity for digital archaeology to create “interventions” that allow indigenous communities to communicate their heritage and traditions expands on the potential for digital archaeology to produce politically meaningful knowledge. 

This article is short, but its utility and significance should be long. There is a tendency to see the landscape of digital archaeology to be a changing one and contributions to the field as ephemeral as the next technological leap. While the references in this article will not stand the test of time, I do suspect that Morgan’s framing of the debate will influence future discussions of digital practice for some time to come.

Music Monday: Archie Roach

As many people likely know, Archie Roach died last weekend. Unfortunately, there was a brief interruption in the ole blog as I was on the road. He is an important (and perhaps the most important) Aboriginal song writer who was the voice of the stolen generations.

It seems appropriate to post a few of my favorite Archie Roach songs (and to recognize that his family has approved folks posting images of him after he had died). I’m especially fond of the song “Charcoal Lane,” which he performs here live: 

(Here’s Courtney Barnett doing it with Paul Kelly (who is also a Australian music legend):

I also really like his song “We Won’t Cry” with its reggae influences. It’s the kind of song that brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Here he is performing it with Uncle Jack Charles, a well-know Aboriginal performer:

Of course, he is particularly known for his song “Took the Children Away” which helped catalyze public sentiment regarding the horrors of the forced removal policy that produced the stolen generations:

And, finally, here is his last recordings where he covers a series of Bob Marley songs and demonstrates his intergeneration reach: