For some reason, this week has an end of the semester vibe. Maybe it’s the midterm exams and the due date for the first major projects. Maybe it’s the convergence of a couple deadlines that has left me breathing a bit easier. Maybe it’s the onset of chilly weather.
In any event, here’s a mid-semester three things Thursday
Thing the First
North Dakota Quarterly issue 87.3/4 went to our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press this morning. I’m as excited about this issue as any that I’ve had the pleasure of editing. First, it offers a particularly diverse range of poetry, fiction, essays, and reviews as well as a series of prints by artist Marco Hernandez. The issue also includes a piece of acoustic fiction from 80-year-old Richard Kostelanetz alongside work by some authors who are publishing for the very first time. Anyway, there are contributions from 103 writers in the issue and if you have the time and interest, I’d urge you to subscribe.
I will admit that this week, I felt a pang of anxiety when I got my paperback copy of Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day. At comfortably over 1000 pages, I couldn’t help but wonder who had the time to read such a book. In fact, I decided that reading such a book would be an almost violently bourgeois act as it would simply flaunt the luxury of leisure time in a capitalist world where more and more people are struggling simply to get buy (much less have the time to read a book of 1000 pages!) . More than that, reading a book of this length is undemocratic in that its very length and density excludes other books, other voices, and other encounters. It is explicitly monopolistic in its immersive narrative and ponderous length.
If long novels represent the most undemocratic and bourgeois aspects of literature, then short stories, literary magazines, poetry, and novellas are the antidote. A single issue of even the most loosely edited literary magazine reveals, if nothing else, an outpouring of human diversity and creativity. The length of the works alone fits our distracted, overextended, and often-frantic world and reminds us that works that demand our attention for hours or days also require us to have that much attention to spare.
Do read novels, and even long ones, if you have the time, but also remember that quality fiction comes in all shapes, sizes, voices, and political commitments.
Thing the Second
I’m getting excited about writing the next chapter in my start-stop book manuscript. Over the last few days I’ve been reading and thinking about the archaeology of contemporary American cities. I’ve been re-reading Laura McAtackney and Krysta Ryzewski edited volume, Contemporary Archaeology and the City: Creativity, Ruination, and Political Action (2017) and have noted their observation that despite the city representing the confluence of many elements of interest to archaeologists of the contemporary world, the city itself has yet to attract sustained attention. Shannon Lee Dawdy’s work Patina with it’s emphasis on post-Katrina New Orleans, appeared just a few months before McAtackney and Ryzewski’s book but it remains, as far as I know, the only book length treatment of the archaeology of the contemporary situation in any particular American city. Ryzewski’s work on Detroit is great, but so far limited to articles. An article or two by Laura Wilkie and Dan Hicks and April M. Beisaw’s piece in the McAtackney and Ryzewski volume deal with New York, and that appears to be about it. I suppose I’m excluding works like those by Larry Zimmerman and his collaborators on homelessness in Indianapolis and Paul Mullins work on urbanization and suburbanization in the same town, but Zimmerman’s work doesn’t foreground urbanism, per se, and Mullins’ work tends to have a bit more of a mid-20th century focus, which doesn’t take away from its significance, but puts it on the edge of what we might imagine to be the contemporary, post-industrial city. I suppose we could include more popular work: Christine A. Finn’s Artifacts: An Archaeologist’s Year in Silicon Valley (MIT 2001) and the awareness of the contemporary situation expressed in Adrian Praetzellis’s (and collaborators) work in Oakland, but it is not the emphasis of this work.
What’s enticing to me in particular is the overlap between work by environmental historians on particular cities (also here) and archaeologists of the contemporary world. This includes William Cronon’s masterful Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (1991), Mike Davis’s City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990), Andrew Hurley, Environmental Inequalities: Race, Class, and Industrial Pollution in Gary, Indiana, 1945–1980 (1996), Gray Brechin’s Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin (2006), Greg Hise, Land of Sunshine: An Environmental History of Metropolitan Los Angeles (2005), and Matthew Kringle’s Emerald City : an Environmental History of Seattle (2008). My reading list overfloweth!
Thing the Third
This semester I’ve enjoy a tale of two classes. One of my classes is going great with an engaged and even enthusiastic gaggles of history majors and minors. While it is easy enough to credit this to the self-selected students enrolled, it hasn’t always been a great class. In fact, last semester, prior to The COVIDs, it was rough enough sledding that I was considering an emergency redesign after only one semester with my new plan. (You can read about it here).
My History 105 class, on the other hand, has been a bit of a shit-show. Not only has my approach to hybrid learning – where I meet with class in 3 40-minute chunks each week – shown somewhat wanting, but I need to consider the pace and flow of work each week to make the course easier for students to manage in their week away from the classroom.
That’s right, I’m taking about workflow. WORKFLOW. We’re talking about workflow.
I underestimated how much regularly class meetings shaped the flow of work in the course and how regular meetings structure due dates, work to set priorities and to reinforce expectations.