The Archaeology of Oil Production

I have three projects on my schedule for the next six months. First, I’m writing a piece on teaching archaeology of the contemporary world. In the spring, I’m working on a piece with David Pettegrew on Corinth and its neighborhood in Late Antiquity. 

In between those two pieces, I’m writing a small piece on the archaeology of oil production for the Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Plastic. My chapter will play around a bit with the local and global and how the archaeology of the contemporary world’s particular ability to focus on capital and energy as objects of study. In this sense, I’m being influenced by Scott W. Schwartz’s new books, The Archaeology of Temperature: Numerical Materials in the Capitalized Landscape (2022). Hopefully, I’ll post a bit more on that book next week and more on this paper as it develops.

Here’s my abstract: 

The Archaeology of Oil Production

Modern oil production is fraught with contradictions. It is associated with national security and sovereignty, but orchestrated on a global scale. The need for oil is central to our daily lives, but its production and processing relies upon marginalized workers laboring in peripheral landscapes. The triumphalist tone of many histories of oil exploration obscures the tragedy of exploited workers, devastated environments, warfare, and climate change. Despite the crucial role that oil production has played in the establishment of the modern world, there is relatively little archaeological research devoted to its practice and legacy.

My contribution to The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Plastics will focus on the archaeology of Bakken oil field in western North Dakota, and show how a site-based approach to the extractive landscape, workforce housing, and the flows of capital, oil, and people, can shed light on oil production as a global phenomenon.


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