Archaeology of Control: Military Camps and the Contemporary College Campus

As the summer winds down and we approach the famous “frog days,” I’m desperately trying to wrap up a few outstanding projects that I had hoped to complete before shifting my attention to finalizing my classes and preparing for the up coming semester.

Top on my list is completing another chapter of my ongoing (slow going?) book project. This chapter (chapter 6) will deal mainly with the archaeology of military camps, the Cold War, and the contemporary college campuses. Like many of my chapters, it’s an awkward pairing in large part because the archaeological work focusing on the contemporary period on military bases and college campus differs in emphasis.

At the same time, there are certain similarities between college campuses and military bases that make this comparison appealing. In the introduction to this chapter, I’ll unpack some of my rationale for this grouping. 

Here’s a very rough and incomplete draft of my introduction:

Camps, Campus, and Control

The archaeology of military spaces contributed in significant ways to the origins of the archaeology of the contemporary world. As early as the 1990s, archaeologists became aware of the ephemeral nature of installations associated with World War II in Europe. As these installation passed the 50-year threshold for eligibility as heritage, archaeologists began to consider criteria that would allow them to determine their eligibility for national landmark status. The scale of World War II sites, which included entire theater of the war such as the North Atlantic or the South Pacific, their diversity, the often irregular, hasty, or lost documentation associated with their construction, and their tendency to be repurposed or destroyed made identifying, locating, and evaluating these sites challenging (Schofield 2002). It also prompted a series of wide-ranging discussions that occurred at series of academic conference and across a range of publications that sought to explore the potential of military sites as both places of heritage and memory as well as to add to our understanding of the war itself (e.g. Schofield, Johnson and Beck 2002; Schofield 2005; Schofield 2009; Moshenka 2012). While most of this work has focused on the UK and Europe, a number of projects have sought to document some of the home front work particularly as it related to Japanese internment (e.g. Skiles and Clark 2009, Farrell and Burton 2001, 2019), prisoner of war camps (Thomas 2011) and matters related to the development of the atomic bomb (McGehee et al. 2003; Schiffer 2013, 145-148).

These considerations coincided with the end of the Cold War and such dramatic public events as the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the complicated conversations related to the preservation of this monument (Dolff-Bonekämper 2002; McWilliams 2013: 45-65). At the turn of the 21st century, archaeologists began to recognize that Cold War military installations exist in large numbers, but also had some distinctive characteristics that speak to larger late-20th and early 21st century phenomenon on a global scale. Taking inspiration from the work of Paul Virilio, for example, archaeologists have increasingly viewed the post-War and Cold War period as a time when the potential for nuclear conflict not only shaped the extent and character of military installations, but also non-military architecture, objects, and material culture as well. Virilio’s iconic Bunker Archaeology (1975) argued that the World War II concrete bunkers and towers erected along the French coast by the Nazis were already becoming irrelevant in the context of aerial bombardment of German cities. Instead, they served to define the territory that could function as a new Nazi state defined as much by the speed at which its parts could communicate with one another as traditional definitions of culture or territoriality. The persistence of these bunkers into peacetime anticipated Virilio’s arguments for “pure war” (1983) in which the militarized state intersects with all aspect of life. In this way, Virilio’s ideas echo those of Manuel DeLanda who argued in his War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991) that military technologies especially the rise of logistics have shaped contemporary economic, political, and social life.

This understanding of the post war and Cold War period has, of course, informed how we understand life and work of universities in the U.S. The post-war growth of American colleges emerged partly on the back of the GI Bill which provided returning soldiers from World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, and the two Gulf Wars as well as veteran who have served during the time between these conflicts with credits toward a college education. University research funded through federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and NASA combined with private sector resources to support the growth of both the US economy, but also national defense portfolio. In fact, these two systems were deeply intertwined as the Cold War increasingly became a war centered as much on national economies as a war based on nuclear weapons and deterrents. More explicitly, college campuses embraced concrete modernist and even Brutalist architecture that reflected the influence of efficiently produced and durable concrete structure on military bases and civil sites. The interest efficient delivery of university education, which continues to shape political and education policies today, traces the convergence of military and civilian concerns for logistics that emerged in the post-war period. In short, the influence of the Cold War was particularly strong on college campuses which justifies the combination of military bases and college campuses in this chapter.

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