The Bakken Bookshelf

One of my long simmering projects is to pull together a bibliography of works relevant to the study of the Bakken oil patch and the most recent boom. Part of the challenge facing the state of North Dakota is a remarkably fragile historical memory. Events even in the recent past tend to give way to political rhetoric, economic contingency, and social expediency. While some of this “blind eye toward history” is commendable because it allows us to avoid a kind of fatalism that traps the state in its past, it can also be crippling when it prevents us for anticipating challenges.

The Bakken bookshelf has another goal, as well, and this is to encourage the state to engage more fully in recent conversations on petroculture and the impact of oil on politics, economics, the environment, society, and culture more broadly. I’d love for the bookshelf to come to include some teaching material – whether syllabi or just reading lists – to guide teachers, students, and the interested public through this material. 

Here’s how I imagine some basic organization. The works fall into four categories:

1. New Research. 

I’m really excited that my colleagues Kostis Kourelis, Richard Rothaus, Bret Weber, and I published our first journal article on the North Dakota Man Camp Project in Historical Archaeology (hit me up for an offprint, if you want one!) In many ways, it’s the evolution of work that I had published in the volume that I edited last year with Kyle Conway, Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota. what prompted me to write about this today. I’m also anticipating the appearance of my The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (NDSU Press 2017) and Bret Weber’s Voices of the Bakken (The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, 2018) which will be a curated and lightly-edited collection of interviews from our work in the Bakken. 

These works could be joined by some recent research from across the state including Matt Jones recent dissertation in criminal justice at UND titled, “Anomie in the Oil Patch?” and Clarence Herz’s 2013 M.A. Thesis on the history of petroleum exploration in North Dakota prior to 1951, as well as the various white papers published at NDSU (e.g. Nancy Hodur’s and Dean Bangsund’s reports on the oil and gas workforce) and various other organizations. In addition to these academic works, there are significant contributions from non-academic works like Lisa Peters’ Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil (Minnesota State Historical Society Press 2014) or even Richard Edwards’ Natives of a Dry Place (South Dakota Historical Society Press 2015).

2. Historical Research.

There are some fantastic historical documents available on the Bakken  From Robert B. Campbell, ed. The Williston Report: The Impact of Oil on the Williston Area of North Dakota” (1958) to D. Schaff’s 1962 M.A. thesis, “The History of the North Dakota Oil Industry,”  Robert Chase and Larry Leistritz’s “Profile of North Dakota’s Petroleum Work Force, 1981-1982,”  and John P. Blumle’s The 50th anniversary of the discovery of oil in North Dakota (ND Geological Survey 2001).

As we develop the bookshelf project more, I hope that we can excavate a slightly more substantial list of significant historical research on oil in the specific context of North Dakota.

3. Official Documents.

One of the interesting things about researching oil both in North Dakota and on a global scale is that there is a good bit of official discourse about extractive industries ranging from debates in the legislature to technical reports like William M. Laird and Clarence B. Folsom Jr.’s North Dakota’s Nesson Anticline (ND Geological Survey 1956) or cit. While it is clear that official documents and research will blur into each other, with documents like the City of Ray’s Comprehensive Plan (2015) fitting as easily into one category as the next, but to collate these documents in a single place would be come a useful resource. 

4. Petroculture.

Finally, there is an expansive and growing body of academic work on petroculture. The work is situated at the fertile intersection of literature, history, social sciences, and technical and scientific disciplines. At its best, petroculture creates a bridge between individual consumption practices, extractive industries, global economics, and the consequences of modernity. Winnowing down this work into a body of essential texts is a challenging prospect, but, in some ways, the key component of making The Bakken Bookshelf relevant outside our region and state.  

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