Friday Varia and Quick Hits

A balmy midwinter is making the middle weeks of the semester seem just a bit easier here in North Dakotaland. It’s almost enough to make me overlook all the troubles in the world.

If you haven’t had a chance to download our book, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coast Town from the ASOR website, you should! Go here.

Also, be sure to check out next week’s Facebook Live cast with Eric Burin, editor of Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College from The Digital Press at UND. We’re going to broadcast from the book’s Facebook page starting at 1pm on Tuesday.

If that’s still not enough to keep you distracted over the weekend, here’s a little list of quick hits and varia:

Mila and The Barge
Milo, The Barge, and Sharkie

Three Good Reads

There has been a pretty entertaining and perhaps useful conversation about the future of Classical archaeology over the last few weeks and the blog posts and chat across social media and email has prompted me to read some things that I wouldn’t otherwise. (For a start on that, check out Dimitri Nakassis’s two part blog series here and here.)

First, check out Severin Fowles, “The Perfect Subject (postcolonial object study)” in the Journal of Material Culture 21.1 (2016). Fowles argues that the recent shift to objects as the focus for study in anthropology (but this could be expanded across the humanities and social sciences) is really a response to growing anxiety that speaking about and for other people (whether formally colonial or simply colonized by our academic gaze) has become ethically challenging. The article is a compelling critique of our recent fetishization of stuff.

Then, check out Susan Pollock’s “The Subject of Suffering” from American Anthropologist 118.4 (2016). It was the Patty Jo Watson lecture AAA annual meeting. This article circulated as we discussed the need for a new sense of ethical responsibility in Classical archaeology. Pollock argues that one aspect of this is the archaeology of suffering. In her discussion of the archaeology of a Nazi era site she emphasized the unexpected impact of objects associated with abject human suffering in her excavations and how this challenged long held ideas that archaeology should be objective, detached and scientific. It is an interesting contribution to our recent thoughts about an archaeology of care.

From the same volume of American Anthropologist, check out Mark D. Flemming’s “Mass Transit Workers and Neoliberal Time Discipline in San Francisco”. Flemming riffs on E.P. Thomspon’s well-known 1967 article “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” as he explores the plight of mass transit workers in San Francisco arguing that the city supported by local citizen groups used attitudes toward race, a widespread view of civic employees as unproductive, and unrealistic schedules to undermine organize labor. The result is more short-term and part time workers in the San Francisco mass transit system who do not receive the benefits as full-time union workers. For Flemming, this case study reflects a wider transformation of labor, time, and work-discipline to accommodate a set of neoliberal values that further commodify and fragment human labor. 

And, if you still need something to read, do check out the free download of our 2014 book in the ASOR Archaeological Report Series, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coast Town that I edited with my friends David Pettegrew and R. Scott Moore. Here’s a link to download the book. Every download makes a puppy smile!

Announcing the Digital Edition of Pyla-Koutsopetria 1: A Free Download

Over the past three years, I’ve been working with the good folks at the American Schools of Oriental Research (especially on the Committee on Publications) and Sarah and Eric Kansa at Open Context to produce a linked, digital version of our 2014 book in the ASOR Archaeological Report Series, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coast Town that I edited with my friends David Pettegrew and R. Scott Moore. 

Here’s a link to download the book. All you have to do is to become a friend of ASOR which free. Do it! 

Scott Moore and I worked to insert hundreds of links throughout the book to our data which we published on Open Context at about the same time as the book appeared. These links are permanent, persistent, and unique which is super cool. This allows a reader to “drill down” into our data. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, but I’ll expand some of the main points here This is good for our data and for our readers for a few reasons:

1. Every Sherd. Ok, well, not technically EVERY sherd, since we did group identical artifacts together into batches. But since the batch is the smallest level of archaeological analysis for our project, a reader can look at exactly those sherds that led to to make a particular argument. Here is a sample of the batch table, and here’s a link to a Roman period kitchen ware rim.

2. Every Unit. Our batches coincide with units which is the smallest spatial division of our survey area. Over the last couple of years Open Context has become much slicker in dealing with spaces in a survey project. So it’s now possible to attach particular batches of artifacts to particular spaces or to query particular places for the artifacts present there. Here’s Unit 39, and here’s Batch 29 (a Late Roman 1 Amphora handle).

3. Every Type. We organized our artifacts using the Chronotype system which provides a local typology for each artifact recovered during the survey. This typology can be extraordinarily broad (for example, a Medium Coarse Ware, Ancient History which is a sherd datable only to the historical period (i.e. 700 BC – Today) with a medium coarse fabric)  or rather more narrow (like a Late Roman 1 type amphora). These can then be viewed across the units in the survey area.

This kind of linked archaeological publication, however, is just the start. There are a few things that a future model for this kind of publication could do.

1. Links from Data to the Book. At present, it is easy and useful to drill down from the rather traditional archaeological monograph into the data. It is not possible, right now, to drill up (?) from the data to our arguments. 

2. Beyond the Book. There are also precious few opportunities (yet!) to go from our work and Chronotype typologies into other bodies of published data. One low hanging fruit would be the Levantine Ceramics Project data which could be linked to our PKAP finds data to expand both datasets. As we look ahead to publishing data from the excavation at Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla, we hope to be able to link to both our survey and excavation datasets in a born digital publication.

3. Better Digital Circulation. Right now, this is a trial balloon designed to show what is possible leveraging existing platforms and a little DIY elbow-grease (like, inserting a bajillion links!). In the future, we need to look toward a better way to circulate the digital manuscript and to ensure it’s stability and persistence. Obviously, the friction of having to add your email and join a list is not terribly great, but it remains a barrier to access. More significantly, ASOR’s Archaeological Report Series does not have a standard way to distribute digital content and to make it discoverable on the web, and this makes sense, since this is a proof-of-concept type project, but in the future, we hope for a more robust method to make digital publications available from ASOR with as low a barrier to entry as possible!

Anyway, these are all exciting prospects for digitally publishing of archaeological data and reckon that this is a great way to celebrate “Love Your Data Week 2017

ARS 21  PKAP Linked SM Page 003

A Facebook Live Event: Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is continuing to experiment with digital and new media by hosting a Facebook Live event with Eric Burin. He’ll discuss his recent edited book, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College which brought together over a dozen scholars from across the disciplines to discuss this history of the Electoral College and how it worked in the most recent election. Dr. Burin will be on Facebook Live to talk discuss the book and to take general questions and comments about the history and significance of the Electoral College in American politics.

To make this happen, we’re teaming up with our friends at the North Dakota Humanities Council. They suggested it, I’m working on figuring out how to do it, and we’re both going to promote it. A little prodding by the NDHC folks in Bismarck, and we’re moving into the social media world. Check it out, Picking the President has its own Facebook page now!

If it’s me, the Humanities Council, Eric Burin, and The Digital Press, then you definitely should participate, and here’s how:

First, go and download Picking the President for free at The Digital Press or if you really want it a paper copy, ordering on via Amazon.

We’ll be broadcasting on Picking the President’s Facebook page starting a 1 pm (CST) February 21st. To ask questions, use the hashtag #PickingthePres on Twitter or Facebook or comment here on this blog or over the blog post on this event on the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota web site.  

Here’s Dr. Burin with Abe Lincoln:

Burin and Licnoln

The Future of Classical Archaeology

My buddy Dimitri Nakassis is giving a paper in a couple weeks at a symposium at Smith College on the Future of Classical Archaeology. He (perhaps foolishly!) asked his rather large personal and professional network to chime in on what they thought he should include in a 40 minute treatment of this rather expansive topic.

I chimed in, of course, with a flippant reply on Facebook (complete with an imagined Apple advertisement). I’ve given it some more thought over the last few days and want to expand my thoughts below. As always, my view of the future of Classical archaeology is shaped by my view of the trajectory of higher education more broadly rather than particular disciplinary concerns. This probably gives it a bit of a fatalistic tone to my view of the future of our field which contrasts a bit with Jim Neward’s response to Dimitri’ prompt.

Anyway. Here are my thoughts (which sounded a lot better in my head this morning than they look on the page!):

1. Classical Archaeology and Higher Education in the U.S. At the risk of viewing Classical archaeology as a distinctly American field, I do think that changes in higher education in the U.S. will shape how American’s contribute to the field in the future. In fact, I think that the decline of Classics and the humanities more broadly at public, state institutions has the potential to create a less democratic discipline moving forward.

Now, I understand that Classics and Classical archaeology were not the most democratic fields in the academy from the start. At the same time, strong traditions in the humanities at publicly funded state schools did a wide range of students access to Classical education even at “second tier” state institutions. This was particularly significant for expanding access to Classical education in the second half of the 20th century. While the Classics and Classical archaeology is largely dead at the second or third tier level, political and economic pressures have pushed the humanities to justify their place at top-tier, publicly funded institutions as well. There are pressures on students as well. As state funding to public education declines, it becomes more expensive to attend state schools and students take on costly student loans to pay tuition, and this serves as a significant disincentive to study the humanities in which low starting salaries and decline in positions in Classics and Classical archaeology across academia will offer a significant disincentive. 

It goes without saying that Classical archaeologists trained at state schools of the various tiers have made important contributions to the field. If students are not exposed to Classics, Classical archaeology, and the humanities at these places, it will change the field (and, I suspect, basic aspects of American society).

Elite, private institutions will continue to produce Classicists and archaeologists and these individuals will likely come from upper-middle class and upper class families. They’ll have the opportunities to participate in excavations and surveys in the summer and refine their Greek, Latin, Ancient History and Art History in state-of-the-art classrooms with access to strong libraries, diverse technologies, and a socially homogeneous community predisposed to valuing traditional disciplinary learning. As much as I was one of these students, I cannot see it as being good for the field.

My concern is that students at these institutions (whatever our pious motivations) will represent the New Global Elite ™ who will look to replace the roots of Classics in Western colonialism, elitism and nationalism with variations on globalism and neoliberalism. It’s possible that I’m underestimating the culture of critique at elite private institutions (and I seriously hope that I am), but my fear is that the future of Classical archaeology will come to reflect the views of this global class with their skepticism of the the national project, technological solutionism, and openness to the free market as a model for the production and dissemination of knowledge. Maybe this is overly pessimistic, but it is hard to ignore the growth of (largely digital) practices designed to globalize archaeological knowledge at the expense of local communities and national interests that were initially established as bulwarks against colonial practices and now serving as barrier against a more recently version of a globalizing narrative.  

I suspect that I’m naive (or if nothing else, self serving) when I see public education in the U.S. as the basis for a challenge to globalization in our discipline. At the same time, I think that ensuring Classical archaeology has a more democratic and diverse base in the U.S. would serve at least to dilute the narrowing of perspectives, practices, and attitudes within our field.

2. Professionalization. While changes in the nature of American higher education may offer a less than rosy future for Classical archaeology, I think that we can take heart in the increasing professionalization of our field. It wasn’t that long ago (in academic terms) when the most significant projects in the Mediterranean world were funded by well-healed donors and conducted by wealthy (and largely male) excavators. While many of these men were fine and broad-minded archaeologists and scholars, there persisted an “old boys club” mentality in many areas of the discipline. Pressures from changes in American academia and the democratization of higher education has slowly pushed back against many of the worst abuses – from booze-drenched field projects to womanizing, backroom deals, and political intrigues – and slowly made archaeological field work and disciplinary practice more open, welcoming, and diverse.

At the same time, there is no doubt that we have more work to do. The dearth of women project directors, challenges faced by scholars with families and fieldwork, galling breeches of professional standards during job searches, interviews, and hiring processes, and the persistence of patronage networks that privilege personal academic connections over merit continue to bedevil the field. 

As the future of Classical archaeology is likely to draw from a narrowing pool of candidates, it puts all the more pressure on the discipline to put professional priorities ahead of personal ones to ensure that we can wring whatever diversity continues to exist from our discipline. If the increasingly democratic character of the American academy drove the the first stages of the professionalization project, the next stages of the process will require even greater intentionality among the future practitioners of our field.

3. Ethical Practice. Fortunately, there are some first-class people thinking about the ethical underpinnings of Classical Archaeology these days. In fact, I suspect that the future of Classical archaeology involves an even greater investment in what we could call the “ethical turn.” This involves more than simply challenging the historical basis for Classical archaeology, but also anticipating new challenges to the discipline which range from professionalization to the potential of digital practices, the growth of salvage and rescue archaeology, the threat of looting and the antiquities trade, and the storage crisis.

The interest in ethics is more than another “meta” discourses in Classical archaeology. My feeling is that future practice is as likely to be informed by a robust ethical critique as it is by the latest theoretical and social scientific approach. I think there is a growing awareness that practice in a fundamental way, and ethical practice in particular, is foundational to meaningful knowledge and not something limited to an archaeological ethics class or the requisite ethics panel at a major meeting. If we want archaeological knowledge to do good, then we have to do it in a good way.

So maybe the future of Classical archaeology has more to do with continuing the momentum that the field has enjoyed over the past 50 years to ensure that our work continues to reflect diverse and democratic approaches, professional behaviors, and ethical practices. Considering the challenges facing higher education and American society, that feels like a pretty tall task.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

After a chilly week it looks like we’ll have a bit of respite for the weekend with temperatures soaring into the mid-30s. I’m really looking forward to everything melting just a little bit and then refreezing in the morning into glistening ice. But it could be worse, my wife quickly reminded me.

The BoysLazy Sunday (Photo by Susie)

Altas.ti and the North Dakota Man Camp Project

For the past few years, I’ve been fretting about how to begin to analyze the large body of relatively unstructured data collected from our research in the Bakken oil patch. This includes thousands of photographs, hours of video, interviews, and various notes. Most of our preliminary analysis has drawn upon our field notes and selective and impressionistic readings of the data that we collected. This is not to suggest that our analysis is wrong, but it lacked a certain amount of nuance in part because we were overwhelmed by the quantity of data that our methods produced.

The issue is partly because we decided early on to collect data at the regional level largely because we we were not entirely sure what our sites would look like and how to best document them. After a few trips, however, we had identified over 50 workforce housing sites across the region that clearly housed workers associated with the oil boom, had a diversity of units (generally RVs) and approaches to life in “the patch,” and showed signs of change through time. We then used photography and video to document these sites over the course of numerous short field seasons of only a few days. The resulting archive captured the dynamism of the Bakken oil patch through time and a remarkable level of detail about individual workforce housing sites and units.

Over the summer, I had a few fascinating conversations with a Colorado Ph.D. student, Erin Baxter, whose dissertation research used Atlas.ti to organize and analyze photographs that formed the only historical record of a century-old excavation by Earl Morris in the American southwest. She explained to me how she used the software to track various features of the excavation through multiple photographs. Atlas.ti also made it easier for her to organize and analyze the photographs including certain features or chronological indicators that would allow her to reconstruct the history of the excavation. (I’m sure it much more complex than what I described, but that was my take away!) 

This prompted me to write a little grant and get a copy of Atlas.ti (which isn’t cheap!) and to begin to use it to code my photographs from the Bakken. This week, I ran a pretty basic trial of 70 photos taken in October 2014. These photos produce the following list of codes which correspond either to features or conditions visible in the photographs:


The code list is still in a bit of flux and will undoubtedly be expanded, but after even just 70 photos, it is a pretty good summary of objects and conditions associated with workforce housing in the Bakken.

The photographs that produced this code list are group according to date and camp number and when possible by unit in a camp. This will allow me to consider changes through time and across different camps while also controlling for our tendency to take more photographs of particularly interesting units or units with substantial number of associated features and objects. While we are not coding images to produce explicitly quantifiable data, it looks like we can use the grouping function in Atlas.ti to allow us to document the distribution of features proportionately across our study sites.

Finally, Atlas.ti will also allow us to code video and text which we can also group according to site. With any luck this allows us to connect more explicitly our evidence from interviews and systematic video with our photographic documentation. 

So, stay tuned as I explore how Atlas.ti can create a more nuanced image of workforce housing during the Bakken boom. 

Crisis, History, and Graduate Historiography

For the last couple of years I’ve been teaching our required graduate courses here in the history department at the University of North Dakota. I’ve post my graduate historiography reading list to the blog fairly regularly and written a bit about what I do in the introduction to historical methods class, which is less of a methods course and more of a sweeping survey of graduate education and a chance to introduce the new graduate students to my colleagues in the department. 

One of the themes throughout both courses is the “crisis in the humanities.” On the one hand, I have tried to demonstrate that discourse of crisis in the humanities is well over a century old and may, in fact, reflect certain basic incompatibilities between the structure of higher education and most (generally older) traditions of humanistic practices. In particular, the fragmented industrial design of the “modern” university runs counter to certain tendencies in the humanities toward synthesis, integration, and totalizing approaches to our world. The emphasis on skills at the modern university is challenging for humanists who tend to be ratter more agnostic toward any particular skill set and averse to methodology more broadly. The desire for universities to produce economically useful individuals finds little traction among scholars and students of the humanities who look beyond the economy for meaning. In other words, the persistent sense of crisis among humanists is baked into the poor fit in the university itself.

As a result, we should always acknowledge it, but avoid allowing the sense of crisis to undermine what it is that we do as scholars and students of the humanities. I tend to see our place within the university as an opportunity to offer sustained dissent and to resist pressures to take extraordinary actions that might undermine the basic integrity of the humanities project. For example, I don’t mind if students learn particular skills in my classes, but I refuse to articulate what I do as a skill-based discipline. Likewise, I don’t mind if my class or research has a massive impact on students or my field (it seems unlikely to happen though), but my goal is to grind away at small problems in a deliberate incremental way.

This is all well and good, on the one hand.

On the other hand, we learned last week that our graduate program almost certainly will be defunded for the foreseeable future. This is a bummer on many levels. It hurts existing students in our program the most, of course, but it also damages the university’s reputation as offering a strong base in the liberal arts. It worries me and my colleagues because it speaks to a lack of commitment to the humanities on campus, and a shift from a funded and supported graduate program to one based on unpaid overloads. 

It also undermines my claim that the humanities have always been in crisis because it makes the crisis real and personal to our students. 

So I played along and told them that I was willing to trash the current syllabus and revise the class to accommodate their (and our shared) sense of crisis, but they had to propose an alternative. After floating quite a few ideas – almost all of them intriguing – two major ideas came to the top. First, they clearly wanted more of a grounding in “classical” historiography. That is, they wanted to read some Herodotus, Thucydides, and other ancient authors, rather than spending so much time considering the historiography of the 20th and 21st centuries. Considering the entire class was American historians (more or less), I found this both heartwarming and a bit troubling. Was this a retreat from scholarship that was immediately relevant to our discipline today and a retreat to the comfortable and conservative confines of familiar faces? This is not to suggest that we can’t learn a tremendous amount from reading Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, and Tacitus carefully, but what specifically do they hope to take away? Do they hope to find a context for the suddenly very real 21st century crisis in the humanities?

The second, response was that in the place of an individual paper at the end of the semester, they’d prefer to write a kind of manifesto that articulates the value of graduate education in History at UND. I’m going to suggest that they do this in a public way and solicit comments from folks in our program and outside the program. So, stay tuned.   


Follow-Up on Mid-Career Convergence

I had some really enjoyable feedback on my blog post from yesterday. Some of it considered the arguments that I was making in the blog, but much more of it took as a point of departure my status as a mid-career faculty member. Putting aside the arrogance of assuming that my career would continue for at least as long as it has (and recognizing that this is most uncertain in days of declining budgets and interest in the humanities), I was interested in the number of folks who expressed similar anxiety that their research had proliferated around divergent lines over the first half of their career, and they were struggling to pull them together into a unified whole.

I don’t mean this post to ask anyone “weep for tenured, mid-career faculty in the humanities,” but to explore some of the realities that readers of my blog expressed to me. This is the situation as I see it:

1. Diversified Portfolios. When I reflect the activities in which my colleagues and I are engaged, they are remarkably diverse. As we discussed on a recent podcast, it’s not unusual at all for a mid-career faculty member to have research in a number of different locations, different periods, and different topics. We diversify for a range of reasons. Some diversity is grounded in intellectual growth. Some diversity is grounded in the economic and professional realities of needing to cast the net wide to get publications, grant funding, and opportunities for advancement. Whatever the motivation, most of us are doing more than one thing at a time.

2. Skills over Substance. Part of the challenge that mid-career humanities scholars encounter is that the humanities at many universities are seen as a package of transferable skills. These could be broad and ambiguous – like the dreaded critical thinking or the condescending “advanced writing” – or could be specific and focused like GIS, particular languages, or computer coding. As a result, university culture often pushes mid-career humanities faculty to represent themselves as having particular skills, whereas disciplinary culture continues to privilege content expertise. Over time, this contributes to a fractured professional identity where what we know and what we can “do” tail off in seemingly divergent directions. For example, I am a content expert in the archaeology of Late Antique Greece and Cyprus, but I can “do” GIS, digital publishing, database management (of a very simple sort), and archaeological method.

3. Foggy Futures. When meeting with prospective majors, I tell them that a humanities education prepares them for jobs that “haven’t been invented yet” (which I always thought was a reference to a Darryl Dawkins quote about having “dunks that haven’t been invented yet” but I can’t seem to find that reference). I have no doubt that what I’m telling students is true, but as I move through the middle of my academic career I find the foggy future of academia and the humanities genuinely disconcerting. I have no idea if I will be valued for the skills that I have or the area knowledge or if I just show up on time, edutain students, and always wear pants. While I’m loath to let the whims of the university administration direct my career trajectory in its entirety, I’m not opposed to doing more to anticipate how to do my job well. The problem is, of course, no one knows what the future of the humanities holds in American universities. The devaluing of the humanities in the modern university is almost certainly a phase, but the future of the humanities is anything but clear.

Whatever one thinks of my view of convergence, the various comments that I got from colleagues across history has suggested mid-career faculty find themselves in a dynamic, if a bit confounding place in the academy. They have no lack of interests, expertise, and experience, but often find themselves bedeviled by a lack of professional direction at the very moment when they’re best poised to make a contribution to their field, their students, and their institutions. There are real efficiencies to be gained by working with mid-career faculty and helping them achieve, recognize, or just promote a kind of convergence in their work and their academic worlds.