Punk Archaeology Update

Punk Archaeology is getting closer to a reality. I put this short introduction together on my last day in Cyprus. 

Since, I’m on Ashes duty (and rebuilding my front porch with help from some friends: “I have an MFA, how hard could it be?”).

So, enjoy a sneak peak at our latest project:

Punk Archaeology Introduction

Punk Archaeology always requires a bit of explanation. The little volume is meant to be a step in that direction. My hope is that the book will serve as a prompt to spur reflection on the coincidence of punk rock music (or rock music more broadly) and the study of the past.

The idea of a punk archaeology developed from a series of blog posts by Bill Caraher and Kostis Kourelis prepared from 2008 to 2011. These posts mostly appeared at the blog Punk Archaeology and the best of those posts have been collated as part 2 of this book. We began with the observation that quite a few archaeologists had some interest in punk rock music. This coincidence prompted us to think about how punk rock music – and the larger aesthetic and lifestyle associated with that musical form – influenced archaeology. We followed these thoughts in direction ranging from the archaeology of rock music to parallels between the punk and archaeology as practical and creative processes. The results was a kaleidoscopic manifesto called Punk Archaeology. Encouragement from friends and colleagues prompted us to consider turning the blog into something more. It felt vaguely like being asked to turn our live shows into a record.

This is where Aaron Barth, a Ph.D. Candidate in history at North Dakota State University and an archaeologist, stepped in. He and I had conversations about Punk Archaeology over the course of some collaborative fieldwork, and he finally persuaded us to take Punk Archaeology from the provisional space of the blog to more tangible space of a colloquium in Fargo. This happened on February 2, 2013.

When we started to spread the word about this colloquium, a great group of scholars stepped forward to contribute. Richard Rothaus signed on to talk about his experiences of visiting Turkey in the immediate aftermath of devastating earthquakes. Josh Samuels probed the limits of archaeological responsibility when the studying fascist architecture in Sicily. Peter Schultz presented a challenging epistemological intervention that connected punk rock to European intellectual movements. Kris Groberg anchored out punk inspired musings in the very local and intimate while Aaron Barth took the local in universal directions. Andrew Reinhard concluded the spoken word section of the program with a reminder that this is also about the music. The papers here offer some of the flavor of the night.

We combined these eager contributors with an intriguing group of bands including on fronted by archaeologist Andrew Reinhard and locked down by drummer Aaron Barth and Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Music and electronic music revolutionary Mike Wittgraf. The chaos of the night was urged along by musicians from the Fargo Punk band Les Dirty Frenchmen and What Kingswood Needs. Local indy-music icon and philosophical ruminator, June Panic gave depth to the evening with a brilliant acoustic set. Panic’s cover of the Ex Pistols’s “Revolution in the Classroom” brings to mind questions of authenticity and authority. “Power is the order of the day”, right? Andrew Reinhard’s archaeological themed set showed that punk rock could express the anxieties of archaeology as a discipline, a profession, and as practice just as well as it could express suburban, urban, political, or class dissent. What Kingswood Needs returned to the core product of punk by blending entertainment and challenges.

In keeping with the broadly popular attitudes of punk rock, we presented our papers at a public venue, the Sidestreet Grille and Bar in Fargo. The presenters sat in the audience, were introduced by a bullhorn, and the papers and music were recorded (as Tim Pasch details in this volume). As the papers in this volume attest, the first Punk Archaeology conference provided everyone in attendance with an opportunity to interrogate the borders of the academy, popular culture, and loud, chaotic, and confused social critique. We asked that the papers be kept short – in the spirit of punk – and we even encouraged our contributors to present their ideas in as raw a way as they felt comfortable. We also invited a few papers from veteran punk archaeologists, and a few overcame their skepticism to contribute to our modest volume: Mike Laughy, Colleen Morgan, Heather Waddell Gruber, and R. Scott Moore.

Any venture like this requires significant gestures of appreciation. First and foremost, Aaron Barth did most of the footwork required to organize the conference, arrange for music, and shepherd the receipts through proper channels. The North Dakota Humanities Council and Tom Isern’s Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University served as our patrons of punk and provided funding and logistical support. Joel Jonientz from the University of North Dakota’s Department of Art and Design (an individual of deeply punk leanings) provided the art work and moral support. Tim Pasch (of the University of North Dakota’s Department of English and Communication Program), Caleb Holthusen, and Chad Bushy from the University of North Dakota who took time out of their weekend to provide expert sound and technical support. The bands who entertained us and my colleagues who presented papers and came out to support our adventure gave me hope that what we were trying to do could make sense.

Andrew Reinhard deserves special thanks. He and Aaron Barth were the only two people to bridge the gap between punk as performance and as bundle of ideas, influences, and inspirations. Just as at the conference he’s provided a healthy dose of punk in his embrace of this book’s open access, DIY process, but at the same time, he’s been an efficient professional as he shepherded this volume through the editing and publication process. Like an editorial Rick Rubin (or John Cale), Andrew managed to bring these papers and blog posts together without weakening their spontaneous character.

He is also to thank for posting the music and talks from the night to Sound Cloud. I hope that these communicate the exuberant spirit of that cold February night in Fargo and serve as a perfect accompaniment to these essays.

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