Abandonment and the Bakken Again

This weekend we’re heading back to the Bakken oil patch to look at some of our long-term study sites. As folks know, the Bakken has seen a steady decline in activity over the last two years with oil production slipping to under 1 million barrels per day this month, for the first time since 2014 (this is an interesting table (pdf)) and has only 36 active rigs this month down from 194 in 2014. We already know that many of the temporary workforce housing sites in this region which supported the massive influx of workers needed at the height of the boom are now closed, abandoned, or well below capacity. We anticipate a Bakken landscape that has preserved irregular traces of its bustling (and recent) past.

As a fortuitous coincidence, Kostis Kourelis has been posting about slightly more distant, but still modern abandonments over at his blog and reflecting on the traces left behind by the massively disruptive, but ultimately short-lived military activities associated with World War Two and the Greek Civil War. He cites the work of Dimitris Papadopoulos on the region of Prespa lakes in Macedonia. Papadopoulos documented the abandoned villages preserved in a the large, transnational nature preserve that extends into Greece, Albania, and Macedonia. These villages were abandoned as part of the final stages of nation building in this region as beginning with the transfer of the areas Turkish-speaking Muslim population in the 1920s and concluding with the departure of the Slavic speaking population during the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). 

[As a digression, the Prespa lakes area of Greece is one of the most stunning parts of the country and the region. I had the great fortune of scouting this area at a leisurely pace for an American School of Classical Studies trip in September of 2007. I guess I was writing my blog back then, because I have some great photos (who took them? me? is that even possible?) from my travels including a freak mini-blizzard while crossing the mountains west of Florina! Check it out here. I wish I had known of Papadopoulos’s work then.]

For Papadopoulos, the work of abandonment was embedded in a complex process of nation building, demarcation of borders, and internal colonialization which led to acts of erasure across the dynamic landscape. This may seem quite remote from the processes at play in the Bakken, but I’d argue that economic practices – particularly those associated with large scale and industrialized resource extraction – create similar landscapes of abandonment and erasure. The desire to render processes invisible to history (and archaeology) by disguising or removing the physical manifestation of the work. In most cases, the removal of temporary equipment, housing, and the workforce reflects the pressures of efficiency and economy, but this should not diminish the visual and ideological value of these actions. Temporary housing is only remarkable, for example, because we expect housing (or the home) to represent a permanent investment in a place. The arrival and departure of specialized equipment and workforce reflects the centralized nature of both capital and technology and the peripheral or even marginal nature of many (but certainly not all) extractive practices in the global landscape.    

At the same time, they scar the landscape in indelible ways that preserve the absent presence of the past. My soon to be published tourist Guide to the Bakken is filled with chimerical images that will blink in and out of the viewers gaze when, book in hand, they transit the Bakken region. This weekend, I’m going to be particularly attuned to the present-absences in the Bakken and the ways that these traces mark and define the landscape. 

Open Access Week Musings

This week is #OpenAccessWeek which is one of those fake holidays like Halloween or University Educators Day. But like those other two celebrations, this week has a beneficial goal (as well as supporting a growing number of Open Access Week cards and gift): to promote open access publishing.

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This week also marked the release of the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s newest book: Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology. If you haven’t checked it out yet… why not?

With about 3 days under our belt, I can report on some of the early statistics for the book. So far, we’ve had just under 550 downloads of the book or parts of the book. 53% of those downloads were of the entire book, and no other chapter really set itself apart as the leading individual chapter download. Contributors have started to post their contributions and the entire book onto their Academia.edu pages and institutional repositories. So my numbers will only reflects the most centralized points of distribution. The real circulation takes place far from the center. There are no originals! 

We’ve sold a handful of paper copies, but the real circulation impact will likely come from digital downloads. And that’s fine with me, but I do wonder whether this book will lag in paper sales compared to downloads. Punk Archaeology, for example, which has well over 2000 downloads, has never sold more than handful of copies (52, to be exact). In contrast, The War with the Sioux, has had about 900 downloads and sold 232 copies. The Bakken Goes Boom has had about 1000 downloads and has sold 115 paper copies. We were particularly excited to see it appear on the Standing Rock Syllabus project and hope that its open access status makes it useful to folks on the front line of the Dakota Access Pipeline debate. What’s interesting is that Punk Archaeology – perhaps anticipating Mobilizing the Past – has been cited more times and more widely than my first official monograph which appeared in the same year, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: An Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town (2014). This is despite PKAP I appearing in almost 70 academic libraries and Punk Archaeology appearing in … like 4. I’m sure that over time, this will level out, but considering Punk Archaeology was published as the first book from a new press, I think this speaks to the potential of open access scholarship to reach new audiences quickly.

As we look ahead to the next year with The Digital Press, we are making plans to continue our open access and digital trajectories with both new “conventional books” but also some interactive or serialized works that develop as conversations over time and then crystalize – to some extent – into a formal volume later before once again heading off into the world under an open license (CC-By 4.0). So stay tuned! 


More on Adjusted Margin

Readers of this blog can probably tell that I’m enamored with Kate Eichhorn’s Adjusted Margin (MIT 2016). The book traces the history and use of xerography and argues that it offered a medium for folks at the margins to find a voice. I’ve blogged a bit on her argument that copy shops and photocopying in general serving as a third space, for today, I’d like to think a bit about how xerography served as an archaeological predecessor for digital practices.

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Eichhorn looks at the role the xerography played in the ACT UP movement to raise the awareness of the ravages of the AIDS epidemic especially, but not exclusively among gays in the 1980s. She examines how photocopies allowed this group to produce and distribute posters, to create graphically interesting media  designed to generate awareness (like the printed money that they rained down on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when they occupied that building in 1989), and to distribute information to people suffering from AIDS, their supporters, and the medical community. Eichhorn described the weekly newsletters prepared by ACT UP organizers that summarized the media stories, promoted events, and generated a sense of community. She also discussed the stacks of photocopied articles, fliers, and other media arranged on tables at ACT UP meetings and quickly circulated among the attending activists. Many activists credited the rapid and expansive distribution of ACT UP media to their access to photocopiers either in the ACT UP office or in their places of work (often in the publishing world). In other words, production of photocopied media was at least partly decentralized. 

Zines provided an opportunity to explore how xerography promoted the rise of decentralized distribution networks. While most Zines had a place of origin – usually on the East or West Coast – they circulated widely and often co-promoted other Zines by including the mailing address of other Zines in their pages. This allowed for the formation of dendritic networks where Zines led to Zines. Anyone who was interested in music in era before the internet understood the importance of these kinds of informal associations for discovering new bands and understanding the culture associated with, say, punk rock music.

I got thinking of these decentralized networks of distribution because, on the one hand, they anticipated the the hyperlinked networks of associations that came to dominate the distribution of digital media through the internet. In fact, xerography allowed for the development in paper form of such common internet structures as links, blogs, and memes. As someone with a growing interest in publishing, I’ve thought about how Zine culture – with all its imperfections and irregular distribution – provided a model for publishing on the web and in digital media. As Eichhorn states throughout her book, with xerography, there is no need for an original and, as such, no need for a definitive point of origin. This likewise seems to anticipate open-access, digital publishing which depends upon a community and an ecosystem for media to circulate, but does not depend as heavily on the originating point of the publisher. Without a center there are no margins or, more properly, the influence of the center diminishes rapidly as it becomes less vital to the circulation of a work.

New Book from The Digital Press: Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future

The best days are book release days. I am super excited to announce the publication of Erin Walcek Averett, Jody Michael Gordon, and Derek B. Counts, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology. Grand Forks, ND: The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. 

This is the culmination of months of hard work by the editors, contributors, and various other people committed to making Mobilizing the Past and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota successful. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to them and my excitement for this publication.


Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

The study of the ancient world requires the most modern tools. In the 21st century, archaeology is no longer the domain of picks, pith helmets, and sharpened trowels, but a high tech enterprise. Archaeologists now take high-powered laptop computers, tablets, drones, and sophisticated software and workflows in the field with them. In Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology, Erin Walcek Averett (Creighton University), Jody Michael Gordon (Wentworth Institute of Technology), and Derek B. Counts (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) brings together 17 papers authored by the most creative thinkers on technology and archaeological field practice. Introduced by a sweeping survey of the intellectual and practical issues surrounding digital practices in archaeology and anchored by two critical reflections, the volume is more than merely a survey of new technology, but stands as an enduring monument for a discipline undergoing rapid and dramatic changes. 

Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future emerged from a workshop (funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities) held in 2015 at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston that convened many of the leading practitioners of digital archaeology in the U.S. for a weekend of dialogue. The papers and conversations from this workshop formed the basis for the case studies presented in this volume and demonstrate the tremendous diversity in the digital tools used in archaeological field practice. From drones in the Andes to iPads at Pompeii, digital workflows in the American Southwest, and examples of bespoke, DIY, and commercial software, technology now provides solutions and crafts novel challenges for field archaeologists. 

Our method of releasing this book is also the most sophisticated yet attempted by my little press. The book itself appears in three places:

1. The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s website.
2. Digital Commons at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
3. Amazon (in paper).

Each site provides access to supplemental material hosted by Mukurtu.net and this multi-site approach makes it possible to download or link to a specific article or the entire book. We hope this multi-site approach offers the widest possible platform for the book’s distribution.

It is also exciting that this is Open Access Week (#OpenAccessWeek) which I hope will give our work at this book and The Digital Press a little more national visibility. On campus, there are open access events and the like, and while I’m not involved in any of them, I hope this book is part of the conversation.

So, please check out the book! Tweet out this announcement or the pages linked above and use the hashtags: #MobilizingthePast #DigitalArchaeology #Archaeology or #OpenAccessWeek. Please help us spread the word!

Feel free to grab these cover photos to enliven tweets or whatever:

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Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my article on “Slow Archaeology” in the book… check it out!!

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s a fall Friday with family in town. So, my quick hits and varia are going to be a bit quicker and maybe less varia than usual. 


If you feel like you need more links to follow, then listen to first Caraheard Podcast of season 3.

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Adventures in Podcasting Season 3!

I know that some people expressed doubts over whether the Caraheard Podcasting Experiment ™ was over, but today should demonstrate that it was just a little delayed.

We were lucky enough to have Kostis Kourelis join us to talk about his summer, and Richard and I provided the usual tomfoolery and background noise.  

So, here is Caraheard, Season 3, Episode 1:

Richard and I talked a good bit about his work in the Corinthia including the area around Siderona. We also mentioned my work around Vayia which was published here. We also mentioned David Pettegrew’s important new book on the region, The Isthmus of Corinth: Crossroads of the Mediterranean World. (Michigan 2016). 

Kostis talked about his remarkable summer program in which students studied immigration both in the US and in Greece. You can read more about it here: “From Greek Village to the American City: Archaeology of Immigration,Franklin & Marshall College Alumni Magazine (Summer, 2016)

We then strayed almost immediately from the Mediterranean and talked a bit about defending housing from extreme commodification. We mentioned  David Madden and Peter Marcuse, In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis (New York: Verso, 2016).

We discussed Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, “Learning from Levittown” Studio, 1970, and its classic drawing of the semiotics of a suburban American house.

Richard talks about his traumatic experiences at the parade of homes and various forms of McMansion Hell including the expansion of junk space

This, more or less, led us to the classic essay on the biography of things

Igor Kopytoff, “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 64-94.

We might also add a similar note about semiotics, although not mentioned in the podcast: Jean Baudrilard, The System of Objects (1968).

From the edge of thingness, we return to sanity by discussing Philadelphia at Halloween.

At some point, we mention that archaeology of care.

Bill talked a bit about the North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Summit on Outrage which he live-blogged here

He also never misses an opportunity to promote The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and its newest book Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future which will be released next week. 


Copying and Copy Shops as Third Place

A couple weeks ago my colleague Sheila Liming gave a paper at our NDUS Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit in which she advocated for the development of third places (or third spaces) in downtown Grand Forks, ND. Following Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the third place, she argued that communities need places that are neither work nor home and provide an affordable, accessible place for conversation and socialization. 

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I’ve been reading – savoring really – Kate Eichhorn’s Adjusted Margin: Xerography, Art, and Activism in the Late Twentieth Century (MIT 2016). She describes copy shops as third places around which communities developed and which became centers of certain kinds of activism especially among groups who were traditionally marginalized for their politics, forms of cultural expression, or social class. Perhaps the book resonated with me because like many graduate students of my generation (Ph.D. 2003), I spent lots of time in copy shops desperately duplicating books and articles acquired from interlibrary loan and invariably due back sooner than was convenient. When I relocated the Wilmington, Delaware for a year after completing my Ph.D., I once again found copy shops a convenient home for making copies of vital research material and preparing handouts for the classes that I taught as an adjunct in the area.

Eichhorn also unpacked photocopying itself as a technology and considered its role in democratizing some forms of publishing. While, on the one hand, Eichhorn was clear that photocopying did not come to replace traditional publishing, but, on the other hand, it did offer a readily available tool to chip away at the edge of copyright and publishers seeming monopoly on the distribution of printed words. The appearance of ‘zines and other informal, photocopied publications revealed that a creative impulse and a market (however ephemeral) existed to produce and consume these kinds of works. 

In fact, this early photocopy culture – and its intersection with the punk rock movement – inspired my own venture into publishing that has leveraged a new set of technologies built on a similar digital infrastructure. For example, print-on-demand technologies allow books to be printed cheaply, to create economies of scale, and to eliminate inventory costs. Technology used to layout attractive pages and book length manuscripts is now (relatively) affordable, easy to use, and can run on an inexpensive laptop computer. In other words, the democratic potential of photocopying has become increasingly realized in the 21st century as new publishing models have emerged.

I hope that these new moves in publishing will created the kind textual third space/place where the margins and the center intersect in new ways. Our book on Punk rock and archaeology is a manifestation of this kind of third spacing that I envision. Not only did the idea bring together the margins and the center, but it also embraced a DIY style of publishing, the integration of blog posts, and a casual, but academic style. 

Almost Done: Mobilizing the Past and the Stack Test

I have something like 12 changes to make to the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s next book, Mobilizing the Past, before it can go live in both digital and paper formats.

Most of these changes involve little cosmetic fixes within the book and the addition of the book’s freshly minted LCCN (2016917316 for those of you keeping track at home!).

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The most important test though for a book, is the shelf or stack test. This involves how does the book look when set on a shelf or put into a stack. The logic here is that even the most battered copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses spends of its life in a stack or on a shelf. So a good book can’t just be good, it has to look good, shelf good, and stack good too.  

Mobilizing the Past’s stack mates this week are Kate Eichborn’s brilliant Adjusted Margin: Xerography, Art, and Activism in the Late Twentieth Century (2016) from the MIT Press and my newly arrived copy of the Journal of Roman Archaeology.  


Books from MIT press always look great, use well-considered fonts, and have just enough edge to make you feel like your reading something published by a press associated with a university on the cutting edge. They have a house style, but it never feels forced or overwhelming. And their books are affordable. (Read this 5 minute interview with Kate Eichhorn here).

Journal of roman archaeology

 The Journal of Roman Archaeology can only be described as aggressively anti-design. The cover only the smallest glimpses of what the reader should expect when he or she opens one of the two annual volumes. The text runs virtually from margin to margin on glossy paper and crowds inline images. The line spacing is dense and the font is some undistinguished member of Times family. This kind of design is not conservative or traditional, but assertively dull. 

The content, on the other hand, is so good, well-edited, and relevant that even a lapsed Roman archaeologist like myself looks forward the annual arrival of the JRA as the start of fall thinking season. So for all it’s design infelicities, the Journal of Roman Archaeology is indispensable.

My hope with volumes from the Digital Press is to make them both valuable and attractive, but I know that attractive books have more fun.

Ubik and Archaeology

As part of my ill-considered project to work through Philip K Dick’s novels in search for some kind of archaeological inspiration, I read Ubik this week. Largely regarded as among his most ambitious books, Ubik describes a future where the living and the dead can interact, individuals with special mental powers could read minds, predict the future, and even change the past, and it was a viable business to coordinate the labor of individuals who could block humanity’s expanded mental powers.

More prescient still is Dick’s world of autonomous things that constantly demanded payment for even the most routine functions like opening the door, turning on the television, or cooking food. While the “internet of things” promises world where every device from our refrigerators to our light fixtures and cars are seamlessly connected, Dick’s world is the dystopian vision of that reality. His integrated world allows for devices to conspire against their human owners and to negotiate and even deny their services. As technology creeps into everyday life from tractors to coffee makers, we are at the mercy of devices which are largely outside our control and mici-payments that nibble around the edges of diminishing income.

The story is convoluted. It involves a firm that employs individuals who can block psychic abilities. A specially assemblage group of the firms top agents was tricked into traveling to the moon to fulfill a lucrative contract. There, the group experienced a massive explosion which seemingly killed the firm’s president Glen Runctier. Joe Chip, Runciter’s right-hand man, tried in vain to discover Runciter’s murderer, but over the course of his grief-wracked investigate, reality began to change. First, Runciter’s image and name began to appear on objects including currency. Then, time began to slip in strange ways as the modern world (of 1992) begins to give way to earlier periods. First the the present started to give way to the relatively recent past, but then, the 1940s and 1930s. Like Dick’s alternate world in Time Out of Joint, the flickering past of Ubik created a world in which authenticity is always in doubt. Objects present the most obvious manifestation of this time slippage, although it also effected humans. The only remedy was the mysterious Ubik and only in the form of an aerosol spray. The novel concludes with Joe Chip pursuing Runciter’s murderer through 1930s Des Moines as his own life is subjected to the same chronological entropy as the world around him. Protected only by Ubik, Chip finally realizes that this slippage of time around him is evidence that he is, in fact, dead and Runciter is alive. The only complication to this is that, at the end of the novel, Runciter begins to find coins in his pocket with Joe Chip’s face on it.

Despite the convoluted plot, the continuous juxtaposition of the past and the present reflects Dick’s fascination with authenticity as a archaeological problem. For Dick, objects ground us in the world and anchor us in time, and distorted reality is not simply arbitrary hallucinations, but the displacement of objects in time. There is something archaeological here, of course. The relationships between objects and time structures reality and our ability to locate objects chronologically allows us to discern the authentic from the illusory.  

Friday Quick Hits and Varia

The leaves are falling from the trees, we had an apple pie, the heart of the college footballing season is upon us, and grant applications and letters of recommendation are piling up.

It’s really fall now.

As you enjoy some hot cider while listening to your favorite Bob Dylan album, please enjoy these quick hits and varia:


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