Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual

It is my pleasure to announce the publication of the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Written and compiled by Guy Sanders, Sarah James, and Alicia Carter Johnson as well as other longtime contributors to the Corinth Excavations, the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual is the first major field manual published from an American excavation in Greece and among a very small number of manuals published from the Eastern Mediterranean in the last generation.

The book is available under a CC-By 4.0 license as a free download as are all the forms used at Corinth Excavations. Download it here and should be available in glorious paper by the end of the week!

CEM CoverDIGITAL

The appearance of this book is timely as there is a growing interest in field methods and the history of excavation practices throughout the discipline of archaeology. Moreover, Corinth Excavations has long held a special place in American archaeology in Greece as the primary training excavation for graduate students associated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. As a result, the field manual has had a particular influence among American excavators and projects in Greece, among Mediterranean archaeologists, and in archaeology classrooms.

Published as a technical field manual, an archival document, and a key statement of practice from a major excavation, the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual presents a guide for daily procedures at the Corinth Excavations, a complete record of documentation forms used in the field, and a practical glimpse into the functioning of a complex, major, project. The manual is a landmark text appropriate for the university student, the scholar of methodology, and the working field archaeologist.

Drones, the University, and the Making of an Institute

Yesterday I attended a UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) summit meeting on the campus of the University of North Dakota. The meeting was the first step in the establishment of the IUAR, the Institute for Unmanned and Autonomous Research. While the name of the institute sounds a bit like a dystopian fantasy where research happens without researchers and following some kind of formulaic diktat, it actually refers to various kinds of autonomous vehicles (drones, in particular, but broadly construed as well).

The meeting was “World Cafe” style, where people rotated through groups in 25 minute intervals brainstorming around a series of questions. I participated in three groups, one geared toward the future of these kinds of technologies (ancient historian as futurist!), one on data flow, and one on policy. The conversations at these roundtables were brisk, well-moderated, and productive, but they were also short!

So I’ve taken to the ole blog to respond more thoroughly to my experiences at the event. To be clear, I’m not really responding to the idea of IUAR in particular, but instead thinking about how people were talking about this initiative and how its place within my own developing thoughts about higher education.

1. Billboard or Factory?

One of the interesting themes in the conversation yesterday was the impact of the IUAR on the University of North Dakota’s reputation on a regional, national, and global scale. The presentations from administrators advocating for this institute were a curious mix of asking us to produce something (like a factory) and promoting what we already do (like a billboard). Now, I recognize that most good initiatives in higher education are part factory (promoting collaboration to produce new things) and part billboards (advertising what it is that we’re doing), but the current conversation around IUAR on campus seemed curiously skewed toward the billboard side of the equation.

The question that kept popping into my mind is whether this initiative is designed produce reputation or new knowledge? And if it is the latter, what kind of knowledge and technologies and approaches and ideas is it designed to produce? Or, in a more academic way, what problem is the IUAR designed to solve (see point 4 below)?

2. Surplus Energy.

One thing that interested me a good bit about the summit yesterday was how few faculty in the room worked on UAS technology or application as the main focus of their research. Many of us, however, had thought a bit about drones or used them in the field, but few of us considered ourselves experts in the field of UAS (although to be clear there were some folks with that expertise in the room).

For an institute like the one proposed to thrive, it will have to rely on surplus energy found in small pockets across campus. This surplus energy derives from faculty who have some, modest interest in some aspect of UAS technology, policy, or application, but not enough interest to shift our academic focus to UAS exclusively or even devote the majority of our time to the technical and political complexities of these devices. To make an institute like IUAR work, however, campus leaders need to convince us to dedicate some small part of our energies to the greater good of the institute. It is not quite as simple as taking whatever percentage of our energies we dedicate to drones and the like and shifting that to the work of the institute. There is a kind of friction that happens with a collaborative endeavor where energies are spent in organizing, adjusting our research agendas, institutional work, and other small exertions to, ideally, reap the greater benefit of shared labor.

There is always a balance and whatever the institute becomes has to do enough for those people investing in it to make it worth the exertion of energy. This is all the more vital for individuals who dedicate only a small percentage of their time to main focus on the institute. For someone like me, the benefits will have to be comparatively large in comparison to the small investment of time that I make thinking about UAS technology to be worth it.

3. Models for funding.

I’m intrigued about funding models in higher education. Recently a longstanding project on campus was critiqued and de-funded because it lacked a sustainable business model. At the same time, it is clear that not all parts of a university have to be self-sustaining. Some part of the university are so close to the university’s core mission that they needn’t have sustainable funding model to be vital to what a university does. For example, a library does not have to raise its own funds through fines and fundraising (let’s pretend) to fulfill its basic functions because a university without a library is hardly a university at all.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, universities often act like venture capitalists in supporting innovations in basic and applied research because they recognize that new ideas are often fraught with economic risk and uncertainty and are rarely structured with sustainability as a goal. The funding in this case tends to be entrepreneurial funding and focused on small pilot projects the demonstrate proof of concept or emphasize one step toward a larger goal.

The IUAR project is a bit of a hybrid. It is a top down project initiated by the president, so it has some of the characteristics of projects so deeply embedded in the core of the university to not require a sustainable funding model and perhaps amenable to funding through direct allocation of resources. On the other hand, the absence of a large number of on campus stakeholders (for example, I was the only person from the humanities in the room and maybe there were only three or four faculty from the largest college on campus, Arts and Sciences), suggests that this is a kind of a niche project that perhaps would directly benefit a small number of faculty and develop best through a funding model that emphasized the focused nature of the research rather than its broad standing across campus. These kinds of project either derive from entrepreneurial activities and receive funding like venture capital and then shift to a grant funded or “soft money” model later.

What was strange, is that there was clearly no plan for sustainable funding presented at this meeting. In fact, the participants were asked to help imagine ways to fund this initiative. While this was fine as the meeting was an informal brainstorming session, it did make me wonder whether this kind of project might have been better initiated with a small number of researchers doing very focused research. Or, alternately with a bucket of money for a certain length of time to support its broad mission. In the meeting, it felt betwixt and between, not broad enough to be part of the core mission of the university, but also not focused enough to be entrepreneurial.

4. Technology or Problems?

Part of the issue, of course, is that the institute as currently imagined will focus on a technology rather than a problem. Most academic research focuses around solving a problem and collaborations tend to focus around various aspects of a problem rather than technical knowledge. Hence, entrepreneurial funding goes to groups of collaborators who begin to develop a solution to a particular problem. The IUAR initiative appeared, at least from the meeting yesterday, to lack a clear focus on a problem. There were problems, to be sure, that ranged from technological challenges – battery life, lifting power, ands so on – to policy and perception issues, but none of these stood at the center of the conversation.

I wonder whether a new, academic, research institute should start small, use an entrepreneurial model, and focus on specific problems established by industry practices and application or basic research challenges would be both an economically better move on the part of a cash-strapped university as well as resonate more fundamentally with the way researchers approach technology.

5. Outcomes and Trajectories.

I wonder how an institute oriented around a particular technology will fare compared to an institute focused on solving a particular problem. On the one hand, it might be that an institute focused on a kind of technology persists more readily in the modern university climate and has greater opportunities to reward the initial investment in its development. Their mission is ambiguous enough to allow them to be flexible in a dynamic world.

On the other hand, I’m always interested in how we can evaluate the success of such institutions when they are not focused on contributing to the solution of a particular problem. If the IUAR is designed to be a billboard to advertise good work already done at UND, then that allays some of my worries, but if it is a factory, I worry that the lack of a clear product will make its viability pretty contingent.

Finally, as I’ve blogged about at other times, I’m curious how the proposers of this institute see its trajectory, and this involves both its growth and its decline (and termination). Baking the end of an institution into its origins offers a way to keep the the institution focused on its present mission, subverts the exhausting task of “strategic planning” or other forms of “continuous improvement,” and ensures that resources, personnel, and energies don’t become pooled in places by dint of tradition rather than productive outcomes. For an institute focusing on technology, establishing a trajectory might be more fraught, because the ultimate development of a particular technology through time is not always well anticipated, but it might also be particularly useful, because it would manage the intermediate term investment in something that might be short-term trend or represent a short-term need in the development of a particular set of technological challenges.

To be clear none of this is to criticize the IUAR before it even gets started. And, of course, I recognize that building consensus across a diverse campus is tricky and the origins of any new project is almost always a messy process. What remains interesting to me, however, are the moments of ambiguity that I encountered at the summit yesterday, and it will be intriguing to see if these are issues that the institute can resolve moving forward or fatal flaws in its conception.

More Mobilizing the Past

With all the exciting new stuff happening at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, I’ve let some updates on (slightly) older projects slide. So here’s a bit of an update.

Copies of Erin Walcek Averett, Derek B. Counts, and Jody Michael Gordon eds., Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: the potential of digital archaeology (2016), went out to reviewers this winter and the first reviews are coming in. Benjamin Ducke of the DAI in Berlin offered a largely positive review of the book for the German journal Archäologische Informationen here. He concludes by saying that while “Zu den inhaltlichen Mankos einiger Beiträge gehören der kaum hinterfragte Einsatz proprietärer Software und Serverdienste zur Datenprozessierung und -speicherung, welche einer Blackbox gleichkommen, sowie eine zu autodidaktische Herangehensweise bei der Suche nach technischen Lösungen,” Mobilizing the Past “repräsentiert den Stand des Wissens am Übergang zur Phase der vollständigen digitalen Dokumentation archäologischer Feldarbeit. Since this is what the authors really set out to do from the start, we’re pretty happy with that assessment.

The editors of Mobilizing the Past funded the conference and the book through a NEH grant, for which they have written a final report. Read alongside Ducke’s review, this report confirms the fundamentally practical motivations for the conference and accounts from the practical character of many of the papers. When I decided to publish this book, I regarded this as a good thing because it offered a state-of-the-field (Stand des Wissens) perspective which will give it longevity as both a historical document and a critical reflection on a moment of particularly creative and accelerated change in field practices.

Finally, the book has been downloaded over 1500 times and we’ve sold a steady number of volumes in paper as well. Interestingly, the numbers for this book are almost identical to The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota (2016).

Download a copy of Mobilizing the Past here or buy it in paper here.

  

A Survey of Archaeological Excavation Manuals

In the lead up to the publication of the Corinth Excavation Archaeological Manual, I surfed the web a bit and found pulled together this little list of about 25 manuals that I could find doing simply Google searches on the internet. Of this group, only 6 are published manuals (in the broadest sense) included the classic J.P. Droop manual from 1915 and the frequently cited Dever and Lance manual from the late 1970s. Droop, Badè, and the Blakely, O’Connell, and Toombs’ manual are available online.

The rest of the manuals in this list are more or less grey literature in archaeology and, at least from my perspective, fairly ephemeral. To do my part, I pointed the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine at all of the manuals that might have a less than stable URL to create a little bit of an archive. Of particular note are the state manuals for various kinds of archaeological and cultural resource assessments. Each state has their own manuals that include the various procedures for producing official reports on archaeological sties, historical buildings, and landscapes. I’ve chosen to include just a few in that section. If there are particularly exemplary state manuals that my colleagues working in CRM and in the U.S. might recommend, I’d really like to add them,

Finally, the project manuals are a genuinely mixed bag and I’m under no illusions that these are somehow representative of the field (although I do think that they are basically representative of what is readily available on the web). I am interested in expanding this list especially for projects in the Mediterranean archaeology and in Italy and the West. For now, I think emphasizing manuals in English will manage to keep this collection reflective of broad trends in Anglo-American archaeological practice, but I could be convinced otherwise. It is notable that there are only two easily discoverable manuals from Greece (Corinth and Ayia Sotira) and only one from Cyprus (the TAESP survey manual from 2003, but the PKAP Manual, should we find it; I did find our useful lexicon of PKAP terms, though.) Notable among the project manuals is the MoLAS manual and a manual compiled by Gavin Lucas for work on the Fornleifastofnun Íslands.

Finally, this page is largely exploratory, but it is also to test the waters for the idea of a series of published excavation manuals from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. While I think that the great flurry of work in archaeological methodology (fueled, in part, by New Archaeology) has perhaps passed, I still think that elevating some particularly representative or even exemplary manuals from the realm of grey literature might be justified.

Thought?

Additions to the list?

Drop me a line or make a comment! 

 

Published Manuals:

J.P. Droop, Archaeological Excavation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1915.

W. F. Badè, A Manual of Excavation in the Near East: Methods of Digging and Recording of the Tell en-Nasbth Expedition in Palestine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press 1934.

K. R. Fladmark, A Guide to Basic Archaeological Field Procedures. Burnby, BC: Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, 1978.

Jeffrey A. Blakely, Kevin G. O’Connell, Lawrence E. Toombs, The Tell el-Hesi Field Manual. Cambridge, Mass. : American Schools of Oriental Research, 1980.

Martha Joukowsky, A Complete Manual of Field Archaeology. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, CA. 1980.

W. Dever and D. Lance, A Manual of Field Excavation: Handbook for Field Archaeologists. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1982.

S.J. Dockrill, Old Scatness Excavation Manual. Lerwick: Shetland Heritage Publication 2007.

G. J. Tassie and L. K. Owens, Standards of Archaeological Excavation: A field guide to methodology, recording techniques, and conventions. London, Golden House 2010.

Thomas R. Hester, Harry J. Shafer, and Kenneth L. Feder, Field Methods in Archaeology. Seventh Edition. Milton : Taylor and Francis, 2016.

 

State Manuals

Scott Anfinson, SHPO Manual for Archaeological Projects in Minnesota (2005).

Oregon State Historic Preservation Office. Guidelines for Conducting Field Archaeology in Oregon. Salem, OR 2007.

Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Guidelines for Conducting Historical Resources Survey in Virginia. Richmond, VA. 2011.

Archaeological Resource Management Section (ARMS) of the Heritage Resources Branch. Avocational Archaeology Field Manual. 2nd Edition (Saskatchewan Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport. 2008) 

Parks Canada. Archaeological Recording Manual: Excavations and Surveys. Version 1.0. 2005.

 

Project Manuals:

Museum of London Archaeology Service, Archaeological Site Manual. Third Edition. Museum of London 1994.

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center Field Manual. 2001.

Gavin Lucas ed., Archaeological Field Manual: Fornleifastofnun Íslands. 3rd Edition. 2003.

Survey and Excavation Projects in Egypt, SEPE Recording System. 2003.

Michael Given, Ian Evans, Tracy Ireland, Vasiliki Kassianidou, A. Bernard Knapp, Carole McCartney, Nathan Meyer, Jay Noller, Paul Pelosi, Luke Sollars, Neil Urwin, Kristina Winther Jacobsen, and Sevina Zesimou, Troodos Archaeological and Environmental Survey Project: Field Manual. Fourth Season. 2003.

Stanford Excavations at Monte Polizzo, Sicily. Project handbook. 4th edition, 2004. (Website).

Greg Jackman and Richard Tuffin, Archaeological Procedures Manual. Port Arthur Historical Site Management Authority. Version 1. 2005.

Tel Gezer Excavation Manual. Unedited and Preliminary Draft. May 2006.

Todd W. Bostwick and Steve Swanson, South Mountain Rock Art Project Field Manual: Recording Rock Art as Archaeology in the South Mountains, Arizona. Revised Edition 2007.

Corinth Excavations, Archaeological Site Manual. 2008.

Scott Brosowske, Texas Archaeological Society Field Schools: Ochiltree and Roberts Counties, Texas. Revised May 2009.

Surrey Archaeological Society: Excavation Recording Manual2010.

Larry G. Herr, Excavation Manual Madaba Plains Project. 2011.

Norvic ArchaeologyThe ROMFA Archaeological Recording Manual. 2011.

Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (Cyprus), Field Manual. 2012. 

Todd W. Bostwick, Verde Valley Archaeology Center Field Excavation Manual. Verde Valley Archaeology Center. Camp Verde, AZ. 2013.

Brett A. Houk and Gregory Zaro, The Chan Chich Archaeological Project Field Manual. First Edition. Papers of the Chan Chich Archaeological Project, Number 9 Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work. Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas. 2015.

Totah Archaeological Project Field School: Excavation Manual. N.D.

Mary K. Dabney, Nemea Valley Archaeological Project Field Manual for the Ayia Sotira Excavation. N.D.

 

The Bakken, Petroculture, and the Anthropocene

Last week, like many folks, I’ve been thinking a good bit about science and the humanities. The march for science has prompted some of this, but so has some recent reading on petroculture and the Anthropocene for my graduate historiography seminar. I read Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement (2016); Bob Johnson’s Carbon Nation: Fossil Fuels in the Making of American Culture (2014); Dipesh Chakrabarty’s seminal “Climate of History: Four Theses,”; Bruno Latour’s “Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene,” and Timothy LeCain’s “Against the Anthropocene: A Neo-Materialist Perspective.”

All of these are fine works by people a good bit smarter than me. 

They’re fueling my thoughts right now on how to bring my long-term research in the Bakken oil patch, which primarily focuses on workforce housing, into a meaningful conversation with recent work on petroculture, agency, and the Anthropocene. It seems like many of these authors write with sweeping perspectives and gestures, and this makes sense because the scale of the Anthropocene and modernism pushes historians to think on both expansive time spans and immersive levels of culture. In particular, they interrogate agency in ways that sever it from the immediacy of human experience. The agency of the Earth, for example, is not something that can always been encountered in a life time, a century, or even a millennium.  Climate change, geology, and even the place and aspect of the Earth in its orbit around the sun contribute to our experience of life at widely varying degrees of immediacy. We may encounter the impact of climate change in our lifetime, but the history of climate change and the role of climate and human actions on shaping our world unfolds over many generations. As several of these scholars have noted, the time spans involved in understanding these phenomena and the complexities of agency alone challenge conventional historical methods.

My work in the Bakken, in contrast, has been much more granular and detailed and focused on a tiny sliver of modernity and petroculture as well as a small window into some of the mechanisms that have contributed to the creation of the Anthropocene. My hope is that by doing this on the local level, we can encounter more readily the intersection of modern labor regimes, domestic practices, work habits (and taskscapes), and technologies (as sophisticated as fracking and as longstanding as railroads). Local perspectives push us to articulate the points of contacts between human and non-human actors in the modern world. Further complicating this is the pace of modernity which accelerates experiences and makes certain moments of interaction particularly ephemeral and generates a tension between the dense networks that allow agents to interact and the episodes of interaction.

My current projects have looked to engage this in two distinct ways:

First, in a book that should appear this fall, I’ve tried to describe the Bakken through the perspective of the tourist. Tourism offers a distinctly modern way of viewing the landscape of petroculture. The imagined tourist to the Bakken participates in a way of viewing (the so-called Tourist Gaze) that relies upon both modern technologies of travel as well as modern ways of organizing space, time, and labor. The neatly organized tourist itineraries punctuated by sites of historical importance and bookended by regular meals, accommodations, and packaged amenities. The Bakken tourist is both within and separate from the world of labor, and this reinforces certain ways of organizing experience that produces divisions between what we can see – an objective reality – and who we are. By making this dichotomy known and apparent, we make the barriers between ourselves and the world susceptible to increased scrutiny. The divisions between the tourist and people, sites, and events that the tourist sees is not so radically different from the division between our gaze as humans and “nature.” And this division has been the target of so many recent critiques of our modern fate and the Anthropocene.     

My research in the Bakken offers that opportunity to bring in human voices, not at the level of society or even in some other meaningful aggregate way, but at the level of the individual. Next year, my colleague Bret Weber will publish a massive collection of interviews with residents of the Bakken. While these interviews are wide ranging and don’t speak to a single moment or issue, they offer an immediately human perspective on petroculture and the mechanisms that have shaped the Anthropocene. If the Bakken provides a circumscribed spatial context to dig deeply into petroculture and place, then the interviews offer a human scale for the interaction between people, extractive industries, and the landscape. The challenge will be to see if I can extract (pun intended!) petroculture and the workings of the Anthropocene at the level of the individual interview and trace our own place in the late modern world in the Bakken workforce.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s a sunny Friday here in North Dakotaland as the semester winds to a close. I’ve begun to slowly transition my thoughts from the academic year to my summer research carefully compartmentalizing the avalanche of grading over the next few weeks and the bevy of projects that demand to pushed across the finish line (not to mention the gaggle of end of semester meetings that will fill up my time as well as fine weather and social temptations!).

Before you check out the quick hits and varia, do go and read my earlier post today on the third anniversary of Joel Jonientz’s passing and the newest book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, Haunted by Waters: the Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997.

So as I brace for end of semester chaos, enjoy some quick hits and varia:

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We store our dogs this way.

Joel Jonientz and the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

I’ve been thinking a good bit about by late friend Joel Jonientz this week. He died three years ago yesterday. One of the projects we were working on when he died was Punk Archaeology and it was to be the first book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.

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It was fitting then that I spent part of the evening at a book release event promoting and celebrating the appearance of the seventh book from The Digital Press: Haunted by Waters: the Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997 edited by David Haeselin and students from his writing, editing, and publishing class in the Department of English. The event featured a filmed roundtable hosted by the City of Grand Forks including a little Facebook Live segment which received over 1000 views since last night! We also received some nice local media coverage on the event.

This stuff got me thinking of Joel’s work with the Working Group in Digital and New Media, and, in particular, his efforts to develop a video game called Rhythm Planet in collaboration with students. He eventually launched a (unsuccessful) Kickstarter campaign for the project, and in an effort to promote that, we discussed the game and his method in a two part interview in 2013. Read it here and here (and even if you don’t feel like reading it, do go and check out the art or, better still, check out the video here). I paid pretty close attention to what he was doing in this class and how he motivated students to go beyond a contractual understanding of education and to put their heart and mind into the project. Some of it was probably his infectious enthusiasm and his own willingness to put in time and energy into a project. Some of it was probably his willingness to give students access to the tools to succeed or fail and then the space to allow them to do it. Some of it was probably that he attracted motivated and ambitious students. I muse about his collaborative spirit in a post here and was pretty proud to help keep some of it alive last night.

The biggest thing with Joel is that he embraced an expansive vision of what was possible. In fact, his encouragement and conversations helped me realize that The Digital Press was possible. So last night, I tried to communicate that spirit to the students who worked hard to make Haunted by Waters happen. I pointed out that Joel and I didn’t really have any experience as publishers, but we figured out how the make The Digital Press happen. And if we could do it, they could, and they should embrace the potential of digital media and do their own thing!

Book Day: Haunted by Waters

Please do join me in congratulating David Haeselin and his students in the Writing, Editing, and Publishing program at the University of North Dakota for their first collaboration with The Digital Press: Haunted By Waters: The Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997.

The book is now available for FREE download from The Digital Press’s page. Originally we had decided to release a teaser for the book during “flood week,” but for some crazy reason, David Haeselin and I decided to accelerate production to get the digital version of the book out this week. So it is READY.

The project is a great example of a kind of local, civic-minded, public, digital humanities project. The students, who had no memories of the flood, explored the archives, the earlier literature on the flood, and constructed a book that spoke to the social memories of the flood that they encountered through their time at UND and in Grand Forks. So the book is both a reflection of their experiences and a contribution to the mediated memory of the flood.

Download it today! 

HbW Caraher CoverPostcard 01

Speaking of Universities

One good thing about traveling is (especially on “smaller regional jets”) is the opportunity to read. The seats and tray tables are really too small to do any substantial work on a laptop and my new MacBook Pro has a solid hour of battery life. So I had no excuse to do anything other than read.

I colleague recommended that I check out Stefan Collini’s Speaking of Universities (Verso 2017) because of my general interest in higher education policy and my specific interest in how people talk about higher education. I am also beginning to put a class together on the budget cuts at the University of North Dakota (based very loosely on a series of blog posts here) and their historical context both in higher education in the state and nationally.

The book is a pretty quick read in part because it is a compilation of previously published articles, reviews, and papers which are redundant and, in part, because Collini lays out his arguments very clearly at the start. He is writing in the immediate context of the sweeping changes made to higher education in the England and Wales in 2012. While some of the book does deal with the particular details of these reforms, the book remains a useful read for American academics because of a few salient take aways:

1. Speaking about Higher Education. At a recent meeting on campus, I suggested that part of the challenge facing UND isn’t so much the budget cuts, but how we talk about budget cuts. A couple weeks ago, it was announced that we’d cut our women’s hockey program and the arguments made to defend this move were largely economic ands budgetary. At the same time, the response to the cuts were largely emotional or grounded in arguments about university values. The asymmetries in the arguments made the university look bad because instead of talking about what a university means, UND administrators end up talking about relatively technical aspect of higher education administration (i.e. Title IX, cost/benefit, et c.).

Whatever the realities of these technical constraints are, people nevertheless look to universities to talk about values and leadership. In other words, even as UND faces significant budgetary issues, there remains a responsibility to talk about what a university means, if for no other reason than this is what the public expects.

Collini stresses the need to focus on how we talk about higher education and to resist the temptation to think of higher education as a business or an economic enterprise and communicate with that language. While there is no denying the economic constraints on higher education, Collini argues that the way we talk about about decision making, priorities, and value should reflect things that go far beyond the economic value or realities of the university. After all, we rarely talk about the truly important things in life using economic terms. 

2. Systems, Problems, and Competition. When academics are presented with systems and problems, our general approach is to try to break the system and try to solve the problem. The educational reforms in England and Wales involve a complex equation for how universities are funded. From the introduction of this system, universities sought ways to maximize their funding, in part, by playing within the rules of the system and, in part, by finding ways to subvert the system to their benefit. This is a product of both deep-seated academic practice of problem solving grounded in a healthy skepticism that any particular system of knowledge will, necessarily, provide the answers to particular problems. In other words, part of the process of exploring a problem and posing solutions is identifying the systemic causes for the problem and breaking the system when necessary.

This approach to academic problem solving is further amplified by competition. As administrators and legislators push universities and programs to compete with one another, it is natural that they will increasingly attempt to subvert the various systems set to manage or constrain that competition. This is simply the nature of academia (and I’d suggest that it is not radically different from the behavior of interests in a market economy). Various systems put in place to measure academic productivity will be broken by academics.

3. Higher Education and Markets. At the end of the day, Collini takes great pains to emphasize that competition, the language of business, and economic motivations will not work because universities do not do their best work when they are not chasing the market. Unfortunately, this is where Collini’s work falters a bit. He does little to offer a clear definition of how we know that universities are doing their best work.

This issue, of course, is the crux of Collini’s argument. It is fine to suggest that we talk about higher education in ways that more authentically reflect the motivations and practices that take place across university campuses, but it is another thing to come up with a compelling discourse, narrative, or even basic language that embodies the wide range of successful outcomes across the modern university campus. The modern university has developed in parallel with the changing economic forces, managerial attitudes, and market structures, and these cultures have shaped in uneven ways the development of disciplinary attitudes across campus. In other words, the main challenge facing how universities speak may not be an adversarial relationship between the world of higher education and the world of policy, markets, and politics, but the deep interpenetration of these worlds has done more than add a layer of “edu-speak” jargon to higher education, but transformed it at the base.

Collini’s work reflects one strand of the higher education conversation that tends to see the rarified air of pure science and the humanities as the authentic academic discourse and the language of applied science, managerialism, and markets as somehow external to the university. While I tend to agree that higher education should speak about things other than markets, business models, and competition, I also think that the strongest future for higher education involves a public language that embraces a plurality of views and discourses. 

The Northern Great Plains History Conference and the Bakken

Next fall, the Northern Great Plains History Conference will be in Grand Forks. So my colleagues and I put together a panel proposal on the Bakken.

Here it is:

The 21st-century Bakken Oil Boom in Historical Perspective

While the Bakken Oil Boom may have gone into momentary abeyance, its long shadow continues to extend over both the economy and the cultural and political imagination of North Dakota. The papers in this panel consider the technological innovations that led to the increase oil production and population, the historical context for violence in the region, and the structure of the Bakken work force as a manifestation of the 21st-centurty concerns with precarity. The final paper presents a broadly synthetic attempt to frame the Bakken at the intersection of late modernity, petroculture, and the tourist’s gaze upon an industrialized landscape. These papers offer a distinct local and early effort by historians to understand the history of the Bakken Boom and to reflect on contemporary and future challenges facing the state.

North Dakota’s Super Boom:  How Fracking Changed Production in Bakken
Clarence Herz, Department of History, North Dakota State University

From Prohibition to Safe Harbor: Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of North Dakota’s Commercial Sex Laws
Nikki Berg Burin, Department of History, University of North Dakota

Tales of Murder and Mayhem: Historical Violence in the Bakken
Richard Rothaus, North Dakota University System 

Aliens in the Bakken: Precarity and Workforce Housing
Bret Weber, Department of Social Work, University of North Dakota

The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of an Industrial Landscape
William Caraher, Department of History, University of North Dakota