An Update on The Tourist Guide to the Bakken

This has been a busy week. On Monday, I finished laying out a book for The Digital Press (and I’m giving it a few days to marinate before I push the publish button). For the rest of the week, I’m focusing on one more major revision of the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch. The goal is to get this manuscript submitted before classes start and go into the new semester with only a few, moderate-sized projects on the docket.

Those of you who have followed the Tourist Guide project know that it began mostly as a hobby project. My initial goal was more “proof of concept” than final product. As I worked on it in my spare time, it started to take on a life of its own and by the end of last spring, it was a full-fledged, book-length project with a proposal and a substantially complete draft manuscript. So far only one press has taken serious interest in the project, but you only need one press to publish, so I’ll move forward with some confidence that the stars will align and I’ll have at least one thing to show for my sabbatical year.

For the final revision, I am making 7 changes to the manuscript:

1. Consistency and Symmetry. The main body of the tourist guide is organized into routes and each of these routes was meant to be largely self-contained. Each route included at least one vignette which introduced some aspect of the route in greater detail and typically with a short section of narrative. For example, the route from Tioga to Crosby, makes a stop in Noonan to tell the story of the radioactive filter socks. As the manuscript underwent various revisions, however, the number of these vignettes increased and the symmetry of the composition took a bit of a hit as some sections had more sections of narrative than others.

As I make my final revisions, I am being far more deliberate in noting the number and kind of vignettes present in each section. At present I have four types of short digressions: (1) historical, (2) environmental, (3) commemorative (see below), and (4) personal (see below). I want to arrange these in an orderly way throughout. 

2. Populating the Bakken. One of the critiques that the series editor offered is that the landscape I described was strangely devoid of people. As I’ve reread parts of the manuscript, I agree with him entirely. The genre of the tourist guide to historical sites has tended to emphasize landscapes (and especially the picturesque), historical sites, and a kind of distance between the reader (as individual) and the scene produced by the careful arrangement of objects. In fact, the presence of “locals” (see below) outside particular circumstances might detract from the integrity and authenticity of the historic landscape (and they were only included when they reinforced the picturesque historicity of the touristic experience). At the same time, industrial tourism tended to include more people, particularly workers; in fact, middle-class, industrial tourism relied upon the sympathetic viewing of workers by tourists to created an integrated world and to break down the distance between the “other” and tourist.

So, over the next few days, I plan to populate the tourist guide with anecdotes and individuals from our three years or research in the region.

3. Commemorative Landscapes. On Monday, I blogged about the commemorative landscape of the Bakken, and how the presence of various memorials served to produce a subtle landscape of resistance to the changes taking place across the region. My research on these landscapes has just begun so, right now, I don’t have enough, different examples to include one with every route, so I will pepper them through the book as a starting point on a larger project. 

4. Route 7. One of the goals of our most recent trip to the Bakken was to research the final route for the guide. This route runs from Watford City to Killdeer, departing the route from Watford City to New Town at Johnsons Corner where the guide’s route will head east and, then, south toward Killdeer and Dickinson through the Ft. Berthold reservation. This route has a bunch of historical sites which intellect in curious ways with the modern industrial history of the region. The culmination of this route will be the forest of stored drill rigs just north of Dickinson.

Here’s another photo, because it’s just that cool:

IMG 3658

5. Locals. Another critique of the manuscript from the series editor is my use of the term “local.” He suggested that the term could be read as part of a false dichotomy between local/newcomer with the implication being that the local was somehow in a superior position of authority, knowledge, understanding, or even entitlement. By using this term, I am reinforcing this division between longterm and short-term residents. Of course, identifying someone as a “local” could also locate their knowledge in a subordinate position to the knowledge of the tourist (or author!), and reinforce the idea that local knowledge is somehow inferior to “universal” knowledge. Finding an alternative to the term “local” throughout will be a good opportunity to think critically about how the guide treats the people of the Bakken. 

6. Locating and Theorizing. Right now the final section of the guide is basically a short academic article on the use of tourism and tourist guides as a way to view historic and archaeological landscapes. It interweaves recent developments in industrial archaeology, tourism studies, and critiques of landscapes into a justification for using this approach to understand, critique, and document the Bakken. It is written for an academic audience, but my series editor thinks that I should make this section more accessible to non-academic readers. I agree, more or less, considering the tone of the book, but I’m a bit terrified by the prospects of revising this section. I’ll take a stab at it and see how accessible I can make my work and leave it to discretion of the series editor and my peer reviewers to determine whether I’ve gone far enough to making this section more engaging and understandable. 

7. Prefacing. Finally, the book needs a preface that sets the readers expectation for the volume and helps the reader recognize how the volume is organized and argued. This should be a fun opportunity to articulate the myriad of small editorial decisions that I’ve made throughout and lead a tourist, historian, and reader through the book’s different registers. 

I only wish I had more time to spend with this project… but if I want it to appear before the memory of the heady days of the Bakken Boom have faded, I need to get it to the publisher now!

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