Wesley College Wednesday: Boomsurfing, Inscribed Bricks, and Research Spaces

As the semester winds down, it feels like more and more things have to happen in less and less time, but even as I’m feeling pretty pressurized these days, I continue to peck away at the Wesley College Documentation Project. In fact, I’m going to be up in Corwin and Larimore Hall this afternoon trying to trace wall scars for the first floor of Corwin Hall.

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In the meantime, I’ve taken another swing at writing up the history and material culture of the fourth floor of Larimore Hall. This space produced a particularly rich assemblage associated with a group of rooms used as psychology research space. The entire floor was remodeled in 1979 when the central hallway was removed and the space reorganized into a series of experiment rooms, control rooms, and storage spaces.

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Superficially the space looks quite different from the series of well-organized dormitory suites flanking a central hallway, but a more careful examination of the walls shows how the original wall courses and sometimes the original walls continue to structure the arrangement of rooms.

Here’s a draft of my effort to document the fourth floor of Larimore Hall

Among the more interesting aspects of this warren of rooms is the assemblage of older furnishings and devices. In analyzing this assemblage, I’ve been a bit taken by Margaret Semons Pursers’ concept of boomsurfing recently summarized in the edited volume Historical Archaeology through a Western Lens (Nebraska 2018). She uses this term to explain the “oddly archaic, carefully curated assemblages of machine, tools, and structures and material culture on many Western sites, the logic of which lay in functional flexibility, localized maintenance, and portability rather than in state of the art sophistication.” 

While not all of this definition applies to the assemblage of outdated furnishings, obsolete computers and technology, and oddly reconfigured rooms, her idea of boomsurfing explains the strategies that both institutions like UND apply to construction, maintenance, and even demolition of buildings and individual faculty members apply to curating assemblages. As a Western institution, UND enjoys and endures the vagaries of economic boom and busts and the campus demonstrates the patch work of successfully negotiating the challenges of uneven and sporadic support. Individual faculty members, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, have long been boomsurfers as grant funding for research ebbs and flows in irregular patterns particularly when compared the more regular need for equipment, furnishings, and other resources. In this context, the diversity of the assemblage present in the research rooms on the fourth floor of Larimore Hall is more than simply hoarding, but likely reflects conscious strategies adapted to the syncopated pace of booms and busts in academia. 

(Anyone who has spent time in archaeological dig houses and labs will see similarly irregular assemblages comprised of new and old, curated and neglected, and oddly adapted equipment!)

Finally, thanks to one of our students, we were able to document some inscribed bricks from Sayre Hall. Located primarily on the southeastern corner of the building there are a series of inscriptions dating, it would seem, largely to the first third of the 20th century. The location of these inscriptions likely represents a rather visible and accessible place in the flow of people from the eastern entrance of Sayre Hall toward western part of UND campus following a well established path. 

The earliest inscription from the group that we can date is from 1909 and accompany the initials B.K.

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The other two datable inscriptions which name a H.R. Wold and a W.L. McEwen both of whom graduated from UND in 1930 (and then received B.S. degrees in medicine in 1932). Robertson Hall was constructed in 1929 and opened in 1930, and this made this little section of Sayre Hall somewhat less prominent. This suggests that these inscriptions were likely produced in 1928 or 1927.

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Another inscription is, in fact, obscured by Robertson Hall dating it to before 1929.

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For more on the Wesley College Documentation Project, go here.





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