Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s the time of year when weekends go from being filled with reading and writing to being filled with course preparation and grading for the upcoming week. Fortunately, I’m moderately excited about the classes I’m teaching this fall, so this won’t be too much of a sacrifice (although I’ll likely sneak in some research when no one is looking). 

The weather is getting cooler here on the northern plains with temps dropping into the upper-40s at night. The first frost is likely just around the corner. Fall has arrived and I’m looking forward to chili, football, and the arrival of fall colors!

This weekend also sees the Formula 1 guys at Spa (probably my favorite track in the current F1 calendar), the NASCARlers at Michigan (typically a yawnfest, but maybe moderately intriguing with the new aero package), and Australia will toil away in their one-day series in Sri Lanka. So there’s plenty of time for distraction.

Speaking of distraction, please do enjoy this list of quick hits and varia:

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Teaching Thursday: Technology, Narrative, and Practice

My first classes were this week, and as per usual, I left with a head full of ideas and challenges. I want to get back to doing a little blogging about teaching so I’ve put up a few of my thoughts after my first week back in the classroom.

1. Technology. I teach History 101 in a slightly thread-worn Scale-Up classroom here at University of North Dakota. The technological potential of this class is really impressive. For example, three-laptops at each of the 9-student tables can be routed to flat screen TVs at each table or larger projection screens in the corner of the room. This has the potential to facilitate collaborative work at each table and across the entire room, but with the complications associated with this technology come some real challenges. Unfortunately this did not work for about a quarter of the tables making it difficult for the entire group to share the work of the person on the lap top. This is not a deal breaker of course, but it put me in the awkward situation of navigating technology rather than teaching history or helping the students think through a complex problem.  

I recognize in a professional sense, taming the technology is not my responsibility, but once the class starts, some of this has to be navigated on the fly. I need to get better at problem solving classroom technology.

2. Narrative. The most compelling idea probably didn’t come from class, but from a quick chat with one of our D.A. students after class. We were discussing his History 103: US History until 1860 class and got to talking about whether one could design a compelling textbook using Wikipedia pages complemented by one of the numerous open access primary source readers for U.S. History. We got to talking about the role of narrative in teaching introductory level history courses. My History 101 course lacks basic narrative structure (although parts of the class do proceed chronologically) and focuses instead on the construction of historical arguments. The downside of this is that students sometimes feel unmoored from big picture patterns of historical causality and the systematic production of what we today call Western Civilization. Of course, these are the kinds of patters and processes that are often the most challenging for history students to understand. (In the past, I’ve blogged about the ironic situation where we teach the incredibly complex diachronic narratives to survey students and then present much more simple, focused historical problems!) Breaking the introductory level history survey course down into more manageable historical problems and giving up on the sweeping narrative and drive for coverage actually offers a better route to helping students understand the basic skills of historical analysis. 

3. Big Ideas and Little Learning. One of the most stimulating conversations that I’ve had in a graduate seminar happened yesterday evening. As per usual, I started my graduate methods course with the rather open-ended question “what is history?” I got a good range of responses from the highly analytical (making arguments from primary sources) to the expansive (storytelling). The conversation turned to the practical question of what do we need to learn as professional historians to become good stewards of the practice of writing history?

It was really cool to work between the big idea of History (as a way of thinking about the past) and as a professional discipline and to understand more clearly the “little learning” that informs how we confront big ideas. What was challenging was coming up with an assemblage of particular skills necessary to write our version of history. We certainly got the idea that writing and reading were important, but beyond that things were a bit hazy. Since the next 15 weeks will be concerned with historical methods (both in terms practical professional skills and the larger context of disciplinary practice as part of the 20th and 21st century university).

Dynamic Photographs (with poop)

After reading Y. Hamilakis’s and F. Ifantidis’s Camera Kalaureia (2016), I got to thinking how I could be a bit more vivid and dynamic with the photographs that I use to document, illustrate, and analyze my work. This is particularly significant for our work in the Bakken oil patch where we relied heavily on photographic documentation. As I note in my brief notes on Camera Kalaureia, the photographs in that volume move the viewers eye and invite close inspection. They are remarkably vivid.

While I certainly don’t have the “camera skillz” necessary to take these kinds of photographs consistently and tend to resort to a kind of documentary mode of photography, I began to play with using triptychs to demonstrate ranges of behavior or exempla of a particular phenomenon. The use of three images juxtaposes similar phenomena in a more engaging way and asks the viewer to consider the 

Here are two that I’ve prepared for an article that we’re revising for a Journal of Contemporary Archaeology forum.  

Fig 4

This image shows different types of architectural elaboration at a Bakken RV park ranging from a well manicured lawn and fenced yard to the a construction of a shell surrounding a small RV. 

Fig 5

This images captures various stages of abandonment in workforce housing sites in the Bakken. I think it’s fairly self-explanatory, but the last image to the right shows stuff left behind by squatters.  

 

George Starcher and The Future of the University

It’s the first day of classes here at University of North Dakota and the first semester for our new President Hon. Mark Kennedy. It could be an exciting new era here or it might not matter at all. The important thing is the we should all believe that it matters and look ahead to a new day here at UND. To celebrate this, I’m reposting a post for the North Dakota Quarterly page, which is, in turn, a repost of an article published in the 1956 volume of NDQ

62 years ago, the University of North Dakota welcomed George F. Starcher and two years later, North Dakota Quarterly awoke from its 23-year, depression-induced slumber. In the first volume of its return, NDQ featured an article by then President George F. Starcher titled the “Future of the University.” Starcher probably did more for UND as an institution than any president since Webster Merrifield, and while overshadowed by his popular successor, Tom Clifford, Starcher remade the university as a modern institution adaptable to the new responsibility and expectations of higher education in the post-war world. Whatever one thinks of the modern university, at the University of North Dakota, George Starcher set campus on that course. North Dakota Quarterly was part of that vision. For a retrospective on Starcher’s important term as president, check out the 1971 volume of NDQ where Elwyn Robinson tells the story of Starcher’s term in office. We wish UND’s new president Hon. Mark Kennedy the successes of George Starcher as he pilots UND into the heart of the 21st century. 

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George W. Starcher

It is never easy to look ahead and predict things to come. Yet it is essential that all of us at the University be continuously engaged in planning for the future. An educational institution, by its very nature, cannot stand still. Knowledge is ever growing, and ways of thinking change, too. Since we cannot know what new ideas the future may bring, we do not expect.a perfect blueprint for the University, accurate in every detail. But we can look ahead and see what the pattern will be like. If we are to meet the challenge that lies ahead, every step taken now must fit the larger pattern. Too often large complex institutions build only to meet a clearly evident present need.

We must always keep in mind our past history and the place of the University in the entire system of higher education in the state. The University was established by the territorial legislature in 1883 as the first institution of higher education in North Dakota. With the coming of statehood people felt the need for colleges distributed over the state providing specialized training. The Agricultural College, the School of Science, the School of Forestry and the five State Teachers Colleges all have special functions which we recognize as we plan for the future of the University. The founders of this University were interested in a “good education”, and from the beginning the people have insisted that emphasis be upon quality of education rather than upon size of enrollments or numbers of athletic contests won. The people who support a program of higher education of such variety and extent believe in the importance of all higher education to the state. The University will work with the other institutions in the state in seeking public support to strengthen and improve our total program, for what we all do is so interrelated that we can no longer afford competition for funds for one institution at the expense of another. Nowhere is it more important than in education to recognize that “the rising tide lifts all the boats,” for what helps one strengthens all. I believe the people will continue to support the Governor and the Legislature in any steps to continue the development of their University and Colleges along sound lines.

Good teachers and the excellence of their teaching are far more important than fine buildings in developing a great university. With this in mind, I believe that in the future higher salaries will enable us to meet the growing competition for distinguished professors who stand out as peaks of excellence in any university. The University will go farther toward relieving the faculty of concern for the future by securing added retirement benefits, insurance, and some form of protection against calamity.

The faculty will be spending even more time studying their courses and teaching methods. They will continue to search for better ways to do a better job and to keep· the unit costs of instruction at the lowest possible level consistent with an adequate program and effective teaching. Curricula will change – they need to if they are to be realistic and appropriate for tomorrow’s world. Better and more up-to-date equipment and teaching devices will be available. We shall probably teach fewer courses, always trying to improve the quality of our teaching rather than to multiply courses in a race to keep up with expanding knowledge. There will be more self-education by students Throughout the whole range of curricular and extra-curricular activities there will be more attention to character and responsibility as fundamental to the success, happiness, and usefulness of future University graduates.

Future Enrollments

It is always risky to venture a predic-tion of enrollments because so many factors, known and unknown, determine how young people will decide about their future. However, there are certain clear facts and signals we cannot ignore. We know that we shall have approximately 50 per cent more college- age youth in North Dakota by 1970. The increase in enrollment in all institutions of higher education in North Dakota in the fall of 1955 was nearly 20 per cent, while for the nation it was less than 9 per cent. If this means that a higher percentage of North Dakota youth of college age going to college, and/or that more of them are remaining in the state for their higher education, we can expect the trend to continue. If it does, we could have over 5,000 students at the University by 1970. This would be possible only if we have the housing and the facilities on campus to give them the education they will want and need. We are still a long way from realizing the aim of our founders – to make education possible for every boy or girl who has the ability and is willing to work. If we can see our student financial aids develop to the point where no worthy applicant is denied, then a prediction of 5,000 by 1970 is perhaps too low.

Student financial aid will grow. Many of our most outstanding schools have more than one-third of their students receiving scholarship aid, while state schools often exceed one in four. The people, who are concerned about realizing an equal educational opportunity for all, will see to it that there are more scholarships to be awarded on the basis of need to those able to profit from attending the University.

The physical plant will change. Fortunately, for more than thirty years a careful plan for campus development has been followed. There will be more attention to landscaping and many visitors will acclaim the campus one of the most beautiful in the country. We shall be dreaming of beauty achieved by appropriate placement of buildings and suitable landscape effects rather than by expensive architecture and elaborate horticultural displays not possible in the area.

A completed quadrangle unit of six dormitories can house one thousand men in the Hancock Hall area. A third dormitory for women west of Johnstone and Fulton Halls, with a dining unit, would give accommodations for a total of about five hundred women. Building in that section of the campus would force removal of the temporary service building. By that time we may be able to bring together all maintenance services in one unit.

A new administration building will add more than accommodations for widely scattered offices. It will permit better organization of administrative routines and provide facilities for procedures in accord with the best practices in university administration.

The future University may have a full day radio schedule and television outlet for educational programs produced on the campus. It is possible that North Dakota may undertake the support of a television network covering the state and carrying to schools and adults a systematic program of educational television. This would make it possible for every citizen to have access to the store of knowledge and cultural benefits from each of the state’s institutions of higher education as they share program time on the network.

An essential adjunct to the modern university is a program of convocations and performances that brings to the student body the constant stimulus of musical, dramatic, lecture, and other cultural experiences that require a large auditorium and a theatre.

Student Life

The future will see closer faculty-student relationships, better faculty counseling with students, and more student participation in committees. Custom will build traditions of greater student-faculty cooperation on committees concerned with fraternity and sorority affairs, athletics, social functions, radio and television. Students will participate in planning for their own welfare; and thus, they will know what is going on and have a part in it. They will seek advice of their elders, more than in the past and appreciate and respect even more fully the kind of responsibility that rests with the faculty and administration. The social life of students will be even better organized, with more emphasis on housing places as social units. Students will control themselves and be the means of achieving the basic aims of the University through their own concern for the intellectual and cultural life of the University, as well as for activities which develop social skills and cultivate habits based on sound character and a true sense of responsibility.

Academic Life

The future will see increasing emphasis on education for responsibility as a citizen. The development of personality and personal assets will be stressed both in extra-curricular activities and in the formal curriculum. Students will increasingly demonstrate that they want to prepare themselves to do worthwhile things rather than to pursue purely selfish and economic ends alone. They will want to include courses that emphasize character development and human relations skills.

The faculty will be continuously studying and revising their courses. Accelerating change will mean that lectures will have to be revised more often and be kept up-to-date. We shall get used to the fact that a course with a given title may be quite different from year to year. With a trend toward fewer and better courses, changing with knowledge, there will be modifications of basic degree requirements. Minimum requirements may be reduced in number, but there will be increased emphasis upon faculty advisement, as well as greater student interest in fundamental courses and in planning programs to give the best academic preparation for service in the world of tomorrow.

The University College will stress basic general education and preparation for specialization, but it will find two types of students not satisfied by present curricula. One is the student who is unable to meet the academic standards required for a degree. The other is the student who cannot or who does not wish to plan a four-year program, yet wants something that will permit two years’ preparation for some vocation. A two-year general and vocational edu- cation program in the University College is inevitable if we are to continue to meet the challenge of educational opportunity for all, on an equal basis, and at the same time maintain, high standards for our four-year degree programs. Moreover, a two-year program for some will help solve enrollment problems of the future by enabling certain students to complete their work in two years.

There will be new curricula and new emphasis in some of these we now have. Some programs will be curtailed. There will be a greater use of audio-visual aids and television in teaching. Discussion classes will be more common – perhaps combined – larger lecture groups. The case method of teaching, which was first adopted by the law schools, then taken up by the medical state and now by the business schools, will find its way more and more into the citizens undergraduate classroom as an effective way to teach certain courses. It will require a generation to develop the cases, to obtain the staff, and to secure general enough acceptance of the values derived from such teaching for us to have many of these courses. Curricula in areas now untouched will appear; for example, the appropriate program for the teaching of atomic physics and related phenomena will find an adequate place in our program.

Graduate work will develop. The state will see to it that we more nearly meet the demand for masters and doctors in North Dakota. Even if we are slow to fully recognize that this need is as important as others, we shall see that a program, comparable to what we do in the medical and law school for supplying these graduates is supported.

Summary

By the year 1970 the University will not be so large as to have lost any of its present advantages, but rather there will be more systematic attention to counseling and developing close faculty-student relationships both inside and outside the classroom. The physical plant – laboratories, shops, classrooms and lecture halls – will have to expand, with more attention being given to special-purpose classrooms. Funds appropriated for building in 1957 will not produce buildings ready for use before 1960. The first bulge from the increased birth rate, babies born in 1940, will be ready to go to college in 1958. If only half of an additional 1500 students need university housing, we shall have to add three large dormitories to what we have already scheduled.

Since the quality of what we do depends first upon the faculty, we must secure top people fully prepared for their tasks, with adequate personal and academic qualifications, from a market more highly competitive than anything we have ever faced. In addition to normal replacements we might have to add one hundred new staff members by 1970. The cost will represent an investment in the discovery and development of the most important natural resource the state possesses – its youth.

The road ahead must widen as the University grows in usefulness to the citizens of the state through curricula that will reach even more people and through increased research both pure and applied. The University has had a healthy growth; and it can now look to the future fortified in the strength of a sound administrative organization, a Board of Higher Education with vision and imagination dedicated to the ultimate good of the state, a well-prepared faculty, a vitally concerned student body, and loyal alumni. With the continued friendly interest and support of citizens, the respect of its institutional neighbors and the good will of the state’s elected officials the University will do its part to achieve the goal of a good education for more and more students.

 

Red Line Proofs and Vivid Figures

It’s the first week of classes and I am flailing about trying to finish up a few projects before the onslaught of the semester gets under way. For this week, I have three projects that need to be shoved unceremoniously forward before the creep of on-campus responsibilities brings my productive days to an end.

First, I got redline proofs from my book, The Bakken: An Archaeology of An Industrial Landscape on Friday. I spent the weekend being politely overwhelmed by the prospects of tidying up a 40,000 word text in less than a week, but, yesterday, I got on with the program in earnest. So far, I’ve been relieved the the text is pretty tidy, but like any text that has come into being over the course of a couple years, rather than a couple months, there are consistency and style issues:

1. Second Person or Impersonal. When I first started working on the the book, I allowed myself to use the second person a bit: “you will see on the left an important workforce housing site.” As the book went through various revisions, I decided that this was a lazy way to write and not particularly consonant with the style in the vintage tourist guides that I was trying to imitated. With each revisions, I’ve found a few more examples of second person to the stamped out.

2. Adverbs. My writing – particularly in early drafts – reads like an adverb truck dumped its contents all over the page. I use adverbs relentlessly (see what I did there) both out of habit and to add sparkle to my prose. But like Usain Bolt’s limited edition Hublot chronograph, there can be too much of a good thing. While ites, green, and gold go a long way to celebrate Bolt’s legacy, my adverbial bling makes for some mighty tedious reading. My book could lose about 60% of its adverbs with no ill-effect.

3. Details. At a picnic yesterday to welcome new and returning graduate students, we were discussing ways to get our students to pay more attention to details. I stood awkwardly silent because I am not a detail oriented person (as any reader of this blog knows). In fact, most of my career has involved me surrounding myself with people who’s attention to detail can compensate for my own inattentiveness. The copy editing to The Bakken is first rate, but there are matters of detail and precision throughout that I need to tidy up before the book is typeset. I can’t imagine catching all the little problems in the text, but I can certainly catch most of them.

My second project for this week is pulling together some images for a forum submission to the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology on the work of the North Dakota Man Camp Project (and this involves me studiously ignoring several larger, simmering projects like an Oxford Handbook contribution and an archaeological volume!). It’s basically the only thing I managed to write this summer and the thin line between a productive and unproductive summer writing season. We received some very specific and focused feedback from the forum’s editor, Yannis Hamilakis, and have tidied up the text and made it more engaging and vivid. 

The last thing to do is wrangle the images for the paper and this involved both finding a good (as in already drawn) map and  bringing together an appealing gaggle of photographs. One thing that I do want to work on is preparing some images that include multiple photographs to illustrate a larger point or to show a sequence of events. This involves using Adobe Illustrator and (excuse, excuse, excuse) will get done this morning before it gets too hot.

Finally (and, yes, I know that I only had two things on my list), I have a few gestating web projects that just need to be tidied up before the links can be circulated or the sites taken live. There isn’t much work to do here, but the work that has to be done is fussy enough that it’ll take me some time. So look for some live links later this week and some images from the Bakken and more the The Bakken book.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

The frog days of summer linger on, but the boys – the Mighty Milo and Eager Argie – seem to enjoy them. The semester starts next week, and, once again, I realize that the summer has slipped by without a vacation. No rest for the wicked, I guess. Fortunately, the autumn is my favorite season when NASCAR and Formula 1 race to crown champions, college and pro [American] footballing gets underway, and the boys of summer (in the land down under) get ready for their new home season. These are good times in our household.

We should also think back 154 years today to the Battle of New Ulm in the Dakota Wars. If you’re not familiar with the Battle of New Ulm, then you almost certainly should download or buy a copy of Karl Jakob Skarstein’s War with the Sioux. Don’t worry, it’s free! Or, if you have it handy, check out the review of the book in the latest issue of North Dakota History.

If you’re not up for adding another book to your reading list at this point of the year, then maybe a quicker read from my list of varia will appeal:

IMG 5353Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
This is not an interesting question in our house.

CAARI Monograph Series at the HathiTrust

Yesterday, I began messing around with sprucing up the venerable CAARI (Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute) website. As part of that I thought I’d put together some links to the full and open digital texts of volumes in the CAARI monograph series published by the American Schools of Oriental Research.

A few years ago, the ASOR’s Committee on Publications under the leadership of Chuck Jones took steps to make out of print books published by ASOR open access through the HathiTrust. The most recent volume, Cyprus and the Balance of Empires, edited by Davis, Stewart, and Weyl Carr, is only a couple of years old, so it hasn’t been released yet (see my comments in this fine volume here). Oddly enough, the first volume, Res Maritimae, from 1994, was not picked up in The Googles scanning net, but I bet no one would object to a digitized copy of this book being made available. Maybe someone at CAARI can oblige! 

(As an aside, we hope that my volume with David Pettegrew and Scott Moore, Pyla-Koustopetria I: Archaeological Survey of An Ancient Coastal Town (2015) will be available in a linked, open format sometime quite soon!)

The only bummer about these volumes is that they are released under a CC-By-ND-NC license. This is a non-commercial license meaning that you can’t use these books for any commercial enterprise. Because this kind of license has been read pretty strictly, some (let’s say) benign commercial entities like universities and academic institutions have been reluctant to allow for the use of material released under non-commercial licenses in their classes, for example.

This is a quibble though because the books remain valuable contributions to our understanding of the island and they are now available for individual researchers to use for free. 

No. 1. Stuart Swiny, Robert L. Hohlfelder, and Helena Wylde Swiny (eds.). Res Maritimae: Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean from Prehistory to Late Antiquity, 1994.

No. 2. Stuart Swiny (ed.) The Earliest Prehistory of Cyprus from Colonization to Exploitation, 2001.

No. 3. Diane Bolger and Nancy Serwint (eds.). Engendering Aphrodite: Women and Society in Ancient Cyprus, 2002.

No. 4. Stuart Swiny, George Rapp, and Ellen Herscher (eds.). Sotira Kaminoudhia, An Early Bronze Age Site in Cyprus, 2003.

No. 5. Charles Antony Stewart; Thomas W Davis; Annemarie Weyl Carr (eds.) Cyprus and the Balance of Empires: Art and Archaeology from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion, 2014.

Job Posting: Director of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute

The Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute has opened their search for a new director. For the past 15 years, CAARI has played an important part in my career as an archaeologist and historian, and the two directors of the institute played no small part in the success of my field project, the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project. Both the current director, Andrew McCarthy, and the previous director, Andrew McCarthy, have helped us extract ourselves from sticky situations in archaeological politics on the island and provided perspective on the complexities of both the Cypriot and the American archaeological community on the island.

Over the past couple of years, they’ve completed construction of an expanded library which will, apparently, house paper books. CAARI has also supported a vibrant community of fellows, regular academic lectures and conferences, and the annual summer archaeological workshop which brings together many of the archaeologists active on the island to present their most recent findings. While I’ve not done too much research in the library nor availed myself to the hostel or other amenities that CAARI provides for scholars, we have sent students to the library there on a regular basis and the library’s collection (including runs of some local and rather obscure journals) is a nice “one stop shop” for focused research on the material culture of the island.

I’m on the CAARI Board of Trustees, but I don’t know much about the job search or what the committee is “really” looking for. The list of responsibilities seem a bit out of sync with the qualifications. They seem to be looking for a building manager, event planner, administrator, and liaison who happens to also be an archaeologist. There is nothing, necessarily, that makes the responsibilities and qualification incompatible, but they seem to want two different things. 

In any event, CAARI is a good and valuable institution, they’re offering an attractive package of salary and benefits; here’s a link to the job announcement. Applications are due September 20th.

Undocumented Migration Project

This week I’ve become completely distracted by the work of Jason De León and his colleagues on the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP). I had known this project existed and had even skimmed some of their articles, but I hadn’t read their stuff carefully. With the semester looming and far more pressing projects (like writing syllabi), I decided to take a long look at this project’s publications. Check out the articles that De León has posted to academia.edu. This is his book on the topic, The Land of Open Graves (California 2015) appeared last year, and you can read reviews of it here, and here’s an interview.

Sites of Contention Archaeological Class pdf page 16 of 31

To summarize this project briefly, De León and company have been documenting the material remains of undocumented migrants across the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona. This route of undocumented migration is shaped largely through an official policy of “prevention through deterrence” which channels border crossers toward this forbidding desert route hoping that the immense challenge presented by this landscape will deter their efforts to enter the US. The result of this policy is hundreds of immigrants have died attempting cross the border through this desert and while thousands have made it successfully, the pain and suffering experienced in this landscape have left a material mark in the desert. De León documented over 300 sites of undocumented migration ranging from short-term shelter sites (themselves ranging from rest sites to camp sites), to religious shrines, humanitarian water drops, sites of death, and interception sites where the Border Patrol agents intervened in a border-crossers attempt. He complemented his archaeological data with ethnographic interviews and photography (including giving some border crossers disposable cameras to document their own trips across the desert with the extraordinary results). 

His work on the desert has given me serious project envy. Here’s why:

1. Archaeology of Care. Archaeology of the contemporary world has the unique opportunity of making the discipline of archaeology into an expression of care, interest, and concern. Richard Rothaus and I have termed this “the archaeology of care” and it emphasizes how the practice of archaeology created meaningful bonds between the archaeologists and the communities and create space for archaeology to create meaningful social change. The archaeology of care is a descriptive term that seeks to identify moments when archaeologists and communities identify shared priorities and commitments and work together to document experiences, sites, and objects in ways that build a view of the past that has both academic and social legitimacy. This shared process of constructing a meaningful view of the past allows communities to leverage archaeological knowledge production for their own ends and enables archaeologists to escape historical claims to paternalism or, worse, indifference to the communities in which they work. By documenting the material remains of immigrant crossings and working with immigrants to understand the challenges associated with these routes, the UMP produces a shared history of the border region and the communities for whom crossing the desert marks a significant moment in their history and experiences.    

2. Data: One of the long-standing challenges facing archaeology of the contemporary world is that that amount of material and data that we confront is overwhelming. As a result, many of the most exciting archaeological projects dealing with the modern world have been relatively data-poor, In fact, I’ve argued that the hyper-abundance of material has led to producing datasets that are both too complex for current archaeological approaches and equally abundant. De León’s team managed this data deluge as well as any project has dealt with the abundance of modern things. He not only documented numerous sites, but also documented and collected material from these sites to produce quantitatively meaningful assemblages. He then queried and analyzed this data in ways that allowed for more nuanced and sophisticated conclusions than impressionistic encounters would allow. This isn’t to say that De León’s work didn’t embrace qualitative arguments, but that it fortified these observations with an impressive dataset that I hope he makes available in the future.  

3. Sites. As a survey archaeologist, I am obsessed with sites. In fact, the definition of sites from surface scatters remains one of the great challenges of intensive pedestrian survey. The UMP’s sites in the Sonoran desert are interesting because they are rather well-defined scatters of material and the assemblages allow for the production of a significant (and meaningful!) typology of sites. The blurred edges of the typology, of course, form productive areas to queries the complex relationship between the material signatures left behind in the desert and human behaviors. 

4. Site Formation. One of the most useful and provocative observations appears in De León’s book. He states that formation processes are political. This is a simply statement, and difficult to refute, but for some reason I hadn’t thought about it in such a clear and direct way. De León was referring to efforts to “clean up” immigrant assemblages in the desert, the tendency to refer to material left behind from these desperate crossings as trash, and the refusal of some to see this work as archaeology at all, contributed directly to the production of the archaeological landscape in the desert.

In a recent short article that I submitted to a Journal of Contemporary Archaeology forum, I observe that political decisions concerning workforce housing in the Bakken oil patch will directly impact the future visibility of these sites in Bakken landscape. Calls for sites to be returned to their previous state (however “pristine” this was imagined) served to effectively erase workforce housing (and to some extent, the massive influx workers) from the Bakken landscape. This not only reinforced a view the oil just appeared from the ground to make North Dakotans wealthy, but also that permanent communities were somehow responsible for the oil wealth. It also has the unintended consequence of occluding the challenges facing the region during the Bakken Boom and embracing a nostalgic view of settlement in the region that ensures communities are unprepared for the next influx of population. The formation of sites in the Bakken, then, contributes to the production of a past for the region and impacts future challenges.

So, go read this stuff. It’s good. 

New Work at Isthmia: Old Excavations, Traces, and Memory

I was thrilled to see Jon Frey and Tim Gregory publish a lengthy article on their ongoing research at the site of Isthmia in Greece. In “Old Excavations, New Interpretations: The 2008–2013 Seasons of The Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia” (Hesperia 85 (2016) 437-490), Frey and Gregory re-examine decades old excavations around the Roman Bath and the Hexamilion wall at the Panhellenic sanctuary of Isthmia in the eastern Corinthia.

The article is remarkably rich and detailed (in the way that Hesperia articles can be) so there’s not much point for me to try to summarize it. Frey and Gregory identify some new buildings, they add to our scant knowledge about the earliest Roman phases of the re-established sanctuary, and, in general, offer evidence that makes Isthmia look more like a Panhellenic sanctuary. What is more interesting to me, is the big picture value of their work as a model for approaching older excavations without conducting massive new field work campaigns. Since I’ve started working at the site of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus where we have worked to publish 30-year old excavations, I’ve become convinced that the future of Mediterranean archaeology is in returning to old sites with new perspectives, questions, and technology.

So here are a few observations.

1. Notebooks. Excavation produce so much information ranging from physical evidence (architecture, ceramics, scarps) to illustrations and plans and notebooks. It is hardly surprising that these artifacts can support multiple interpretations of the history and archeology of a site. This kind of work reminds us that there is not a linear relationship between excavation “data” and archaeological knowledge production. Archaeological documentation is messy, copious, and complex making old excavations not “done deals,” but abundant sources for new interpretations and new analysis. 

2. Trenches. Frey and Gregory returned to trenches that had been excavated and neglected for decades. I visited Frey a few times while he was removing weeds and straightening scarps in a trench that I had walked by dozens of times without thinking much of it. His work in these trenches, however, revealed features that the original excavators overlooked allowed for new measurements, and recognized details that had received only inconsistent reporting. For example, he recognized evidence for looter pits that the original excavators had missed, connected architectural features across multiple trenches at the site to reveal an massive porticoed gymnasium building, and identified new evidence for early Roman work at the site that previous excavators had no reason to even note in their work.

When I first started working on the notebooks at Polis-Chrysochous, I had this naive idea that I could largely reconstruct the excavation of the site from the notebooks and various plans. As archaeologists, we imagine that our documentation preserves the site even as we “destroy” physical evidence through excavation. In fact, “preservation by record” policies reflect this basic assumption about how archaeology works. A recent article, for example, celebrates this very idea and suggests that digitization will help us overcome the reality with the title: “Excavation is Destruction Digitization.” Most archaeologists know, however, that archaeological excavation is not really destruction, but the production of archaeological knowledge. While field work will always will come at a cost (both literally and figuratively in the reorganization and physical displacement of material), it seems to me that the disciplinary arguments for excavation as destruction do more to occlude alternate interpretation grounded (literally!) in the same space and documentation than to discourage careless digging. After all, the irregularities in the excavation methods used even 30 years ago at Polis are as much a source for the sites interpretation potential and vitality as carefully excavated sites present their interpretations as the natural outgrowth of rigorous methods. There’s a certain irony that sites excavated in less rigorous ways then have the potential to create more archaeological foment than those produced through the hyper-confidence of methodological rigor. Isthmia would seem to be a good example of this.

3. Memory and Architecture. Jon Frey has done significant work on the study of spolia and construction practice in Late Antiquity (we talked to him about his book on the Caraheard podcast here). Lurking in the background of this article on Isthmia is the ghostly outline of a massive porticoed gymnasium associated with athletic events at the Panhellenic sanctuary. Frey argues that the Hexamilion wall, the massive 5th-century AD fortification wall that bisected the Isthmus of Corinth, followed the outline of the gymnasium and incorporated not only spolia from this building, but also part of its foundations and walls. The reasons for this would appear to be profoundly practical. The Hexamilion was a massive building project and any opportunities to take advantage of existing structures offered significant labor savings. The use of part of the gymnasium, then, reflected the practical realities of such a massive construction project, but at the same time, it the course of the wall preserved the imprint of the gymnasium through spolia and its shape.

I have tended to think of memory in antiquity as a conscious act to commemorate an earlier monument, ritual, event, or person. In the context of Isthmia, it may be that memory of the earlier monument is less a conscious act and more like the muscle memories that we develop as we type, ride a bike, or even go about our daily lives. We remember how to hit the brake pedal at a stoplight, but we don’t consciously think “I remember last time I was hear I moved my right foot juuuuust so to slow down the car.” Instead, we just act and move in a way that consistently produces certain results. The practical element of memory preserve the outline of an earlier building in the same way that a palimpsest preserved the record of an earlier text. This commemorative practice was not bound up in a series of conscious efforts to preserve the past, but in a kind of muscle memory embodied in the practice and contingencies of construction.

Just as excavations and their documentation produce evidence for past practices that do not necessarily lead inevitably to certain conclusions, construction practices in antiquity preserve the traces of past landscapes in unexpected and perhaps even unintentional ways. Frey and Gregory weave together these two kinds of practices – one modern and one ancient – in a paper that should serve as a model for archaeological work at old sites in the present.