Test Cricket is Back!

For those of us who enjoy our sport, the spring and summer has felt particularly strange. It is therefore cause for celebration as one-by-one, for better or for worse, sport is returning to the television. Boxing came back about a month ago, fighting from a secure bubble in Las Vegas. NASCAR without fans returned at about the same time. Formula 1 sputtered back into action last weekend for a busy summer schedule of playing catch-up. I’ve heard that European leagues have started soccer as well. 

This morning, proper test cricket returns with the England vs. West Indies at the Rose Bowl in West End, near Southhampton, England. Since 1963, the two sides play for the Wisden Trophy. The rivalry between the two sides is legendary and dates to before Caribbean independence (the West Indies are a multinational team largely made up of former British colonies). The rivalry intensified in the 1970s as the West Indies behind confident batting and fierce fast bowling became the best side in the world and racial tensions from protests against Apartheid South Africa to the reverberation of the American Civil Rights movement and a growing sense of national and post-colonial identity in the West Indies. 

There is something significant about this rivalry being the first test series to take place in a world shaped by both the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the global reverberation of George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement. As the great Trinidadian intellectual, politician and writer C.L.R. James recognized in his 1963 book, Beyond a Boundary, cricket in the West Indies has always been about race. In 1960, the West Indies named Frank Worrell as their first black captain, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica gained self government in 1962, and Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. In the context of the game itself, the mid-1960s were a time of significant change as well. Not only did cricket emerge from a particularly dull spell in the post-War decades, but 1960s saw the emergence of such superstars as Barbadian Sir Gary Sobers who energized both 5-day test match cricket and the emerging shorter form of the sport. As recent commentators on James’s work have noted, the 1960s offered a parallel to the emergence of organized cricket in the mid-19th century and the emergence of the legendary English batsman W.G. Grace in the same decades that saw the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, US Civil War, as well as Dickens and Thackery whose works shaped James’s view of his own life and development and the sport.

One wonders, then, against the backdrop of a global pandemic and focused attention on racial injustice and racism, whether the England-West Indies Test series may once again be about more than cricket. The recently released report on the British government’s treatment of the “Windrush Generation” and the rise of populist and xenophobic politics that contributed to Brexit provides a British backdrop to the racism that still requires our full attention.   

For a particularly stirring treatment of the West Indian Cricket in the 1970s, check out the 2010 documentary Fire in Babylon. In 2013, Duke University Press, who have become the leaders in scholarship related to C.L.R. James in the US, published a new edition of his Beyond a Boundary. In the same series, David Featherstone, Christopher Gair, Christian Høgsbjerg, Andrew Smith edited a volume titled Marxism, Colonialism, and Cricket: C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary (2018) which offers a nice historical introduction to James’s work. Kenneth Surin does as well in his “C.L.R. James and Cricket” in A. Batemen and J. Hill’s Cambridge Companion to Cricket (2011).

I woke up around 5 AM excited to see some live cricket, but true to stereotypes of the English summer, rain delayed the start of the match. Eventually, England won the toss and decided to bat. In the second over, West Indies quick bowler Shanon Gabriel took the wicket of England opener Dom Sibley. You can follow the ball-by-ball here

An Archaeology of Structural Violence

This weekend, I read Michael Roller’s An Archaeology of Structural Violence: Life in a 20th Century Coal Town (2018). It’s a pretty compelling book that considers the history and archaeology of Lattimer No. 2 (later Pardeesville), Pennsylvania from its origins as a company town for a local coal baron to its late 20th and 21st century history as a community struggling to adapt to changing economic realities. The book is pretty complex and it contributes to quite a few of my ongoing research areas from life in boom and bust communities to archaeology of the contemporary world, borders and immigration, and the role of modernity in creating contemporary labor regimes.

While this book deserves a formal review, I simply don’t have time this week (and it’s really short enough that it deserves to be read in full). So here are some of my key take aways:

1.  Immigrants and Identity. The residents of Lattimer No. 2 largely consisted of Southern and Eastern European immigrants and their status as immigrants had a significant effect on their economic and social status. Roller linked the late-19th century process of national building and borders as a key step in defining the status of these groups. During the process of immigration, individuals lost identities bound up in their social and political status in the old country, and entered the US as individuals defined by their passports and their names inscribed on ship manifests, immigration ledgers, and, ultimately employment paperwork. Following the work of Giorgio Agamben (and others), Roller understand this transformation as a key step in creating the modern individual as “bare life” who the state can transform through a new set of political and economic relationships experienced in part through the immigration process. 

Organized labor in Pennsylvania coal country and the role of the state in suppressing the power of labor to resist the economic imperatives of mine owners represented another step in the process of redefining the social and political status of residents of Lattimer No. 2. In this context, the Lattimer massacre, when the local police supplemented by deputized mining company managers opened fire in striking immigrant workers killing several and wounding many others. Efforts to break the power of organized labor reinforced the atomized economic and political status of labor in relation to the mining companies. This prepared the way for the late-20th century, post-coal economy in the region where casual, light industrial jobs came and went based on the vicissitudes of global capital.

Ironically, this economic volatility not only led to large scale out-migration from Pennsylvania coal country, but also encouraged the arrival of another wave of immigrants from South America and the Caribbean who took advantage of the low cost of housing and availability of unskilled work. Like the Italian and Slavic immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th century, these groups have also been met with xenophobia and discrimination.

2. Corporate Town and Shanty Town. Lattimer No. 2 was originally a company town owned the local coal company. Neatly arranged duplexes lined the main street of town and provided housing for employees. On the outside of town, however, recent immigrants constructed and adapted a small group of shanties. The residents of this community represented local surplus labor who found occasional work around the fringes of the increasingly mechanized coal mining process. Roller’s excavation of a privy and several other plots in this former shanty enclave demonstrated that the residents of these ad hoc were not only marginalized economically in their relationship to the coal industry, but also geographically in relationship to the traditional, corporate owned housing of the main town.

The artifacts recovered from excavations around this shanty town reveal the way in which these individuals were integrated into the local, national, and ultimately global economy. Roller unpacks the significance of the increasing presence of goods produced through industrial practices in the shanty town assemblage more fully in an article published last year in Historical Archaeology. I discuss that article here.

Over the same period that more and more manufactured goods appear in the Shanty town assemblage, the shanty town itself undergoes significant architectural changes as it shifts from a series of closely spaced and related ad hoc structures to nearly organized properties sold as real estate and, today, to the appearance of a typical American suburb.

Roller’s work on the Shanty Town certainly shed light on my work in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota where we documented both formal, corporate owned workforce housing sites and more casual RV park-type camps. The latter, it would seem to me, shared many of the characteristics of the Lattimer No. 2 Shanty Town with their abundance of ad hoc structures, adaptive strategies designed to make life in North Dakota more comfortable, and residents who as often worked in services that supported the core extractive industries of the Bakken oil boom. 

3. Historical Archaeology and the Archaeology of the Contemporary World. Roller is deliberate in his understanding of Lattimer No. 2 and Pardeesville as a contemporary community that continues to struggle with the structural violence of its legacy as a corporate coal town. The most obvious example of this is the systemic alienation of its residents from the close knit communities that existed in Southern and Eastern Europe prior to immigrant and the reconfiguration of these relationships through organized labor, the church, and life in the Lattimer No. 2’s Shanty Town.

The collapse of the mining industry and the rise in more casual labor constantly reinforced the primacy of the individual in the social and economic regime of the modern world. Projects like urban renewal which led to the clearing of many of the ad hoc structures from Pardeesville and affordable housing in nearby Hazelton, further eroded collective strategies to enjoy life and survive economically in the volatile economy of Pennsylvania coal country. This kind of structural violence ultimately did little to improve the quality of life for residents of this region, but did produce a pool of low cost labor of periodic utility to global capital.

The book does much more than these three points indicate and it is well worth the time to give it a read!

Some Publishing Notes from a Small Press

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a bit about open access and scholar led publishing. None of my thoughts are developed or even really interesting enough for a full fledged blog post, but I decided that I should write some of them down as a little list.

1. Agility and the Small Press. I have been working on one of those “sudden projects” over the last week that dropped into my lap almost completely formed, but needing a publisher. Because I have a very crowded fall schedule that involves not only my own research and teaching, but at least two other books that are deep into production.

It’s been really fun working quickly on this book project, which I’ve blogged about here, partly because with a sense of urgency comes a kind of collegiality that I’ve missed because I’m not doing fieldwork this summer, and partly because the project is really cool (and I promise more on this over the next week or so!). It has also reminded me that very small presses can be particularly agile because we don’t have the same complex production workflows that larger presses depend upon to keep multiple books moving forward simultaneously. In effect, my workflow is always just-in-time, even for projects that have a predictable publishing trajectory.

Of course, this agility has its own social costs and reflects the rather contingent character of labor that supports the smallest presses. My access to surplus time, both in my own life, among my collaborators, and from elsewhere in the publishing infrastructure (e.g. copy editors, printers, et c.) has its own social consequences and reflects, in part, the precarious nature of academic and creative work.

Despite these affordances (or perhaps because of them), books developed quickly can be quite successful. The most popular book in The Digital Press catalogue remains Eric Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College which came together in less than six weeks.  

2. Publishing and Race. Over the last few years, the “syllabus” has emerged as one of the standard responses of academics to a crisis. I jokingly call this almost knee jerk reaction to everything from hurricanes to the recent pandemic, removal of monuments, immigration reform, health care, and BLM as “I’ve got a reading list for that.” 

At their best, these often crowd-sourced (or at least academic, crowd-sourced) reading lists are thoughtful and expansive. Recent popular reading lists on race circulating on social media, however, nudged me to think a bit about how they reflect certain aspects of structural racism. Google 

This most striking thing to me is that most of the books on these reading lists are published by large presses whose catalogues consist largely of books by white authors. Moreover, publishing as an industry is largely white with only about 5% of those working in publishing identifying as black. In academic publishing, it’s worth noting that none of the presses currently members of the American Association of University Presses are based at a HBCU.  Since AAUP member presses represent most of the major academic publishers in the Anglophone world, a black academic requiring a book to receive tenure would almost inevitably have to publish with a university press based at a majority white institution likely run by a largely white staff with a catalogue of white authors. 

What’s interesting, though, is that black publishers do exist. Until 2011, for example, Howard University Press published works focused largely on black and African American culture, history, and society. When it closed, some of its catalogue was to be acquired by Paul Coates’s Black Classic Press (it’s unclear whether this played out). A quick Google search will reveal quite a few other black and minority run presses in the US alone, but very few books by these presses have appeared on various academic BLM focused reading lists.

One wonders as the structure of academic publishing is changing rapidly whether this situation will change over the next few decades. The emerging role of the open access movement, new forms of scholar-led publishing, and print-on-demand and digital technology creates opportunities for historically underrepresented groups to create publishers, practices, and series that reflect their communities and communicate their contributions to a wider audience.    

3. OA Journals. Last week, a colleague asked me whether I had any thoughts about how to fund an open access journal that had reached the end of its initial grant. It got me thinking about sustainable models in OA journal publishing and the shift from journals supported by subscriptions to those funded through article processing charges and fees (APCs). 

In the sciences, this shift follows the logic that researchers often with large grants and at larger, research oriented schools have the resources to fund the publication of their results and to make them available for free to scholars at less well-resourced institutions. For the humanities and social sciences, of course, this doesn’t really work as well. High quality research regularly comes from institutions that lack the resources of major research universities or that privilege teaching over research. Open access journals with high APCs will likely struggle to attract publications from researchers in the humanities and social sciences that do not have high levels of institutional support to say nothing of scholars working outside the academy or graduate students. The potential impact of this model on open access publishing, of course, known and troubling. 

What I was wondering lately is whether any open access journals have pursued approaches to open access publishing that seek to combine subscriptions with open access publishing? A number of presses have started to release open access books in paper first and then digitally later allowing the press to earn some income from book sales, which tend to largely occur within a year of a book’s release, while still making the book available open access for classroom use, for example. 

Would it be possible for a journal to have a trigger, for example, that releases a volume’s open access content when it reaches, say, 100 or 200 subscribers? This would ensure that the journal would have an adequate income to publish (let’s say that each subscription cost $80-$100). Moreover, since many journal subscriptions are bundled into larger packages which are sold to institutions, one could imagine an open access journal being combined with more traditional journal subscription packages to generate some additional sustainable income. Finally, an OA journal could implement variable or even voluntary APCs which would create another revenue stream. When certain funding or subscriber levels are reached, the journal content would become open. 

Maybe journals already employ this kind of hybrid approach, but I’m not aware of them. 

4. OA and OER. Finally, I’m going to apply for a small stipend to develop two new classes that use Open Educational Resources at the introductory level (Western Civilization I and World History I). Both classes will do more than just use an open access textbook, but will bake the ideas of open access publishing into the work of the class.

In particular, the classes will encourage students to understand critically their role as “prosumers” in 21st century society. I’ve written about this recently in Sebastian Heath’s edited volume DATAM: Digital Approaches to Teaching the Ancient Mediterranean. The goal of the class is to have students dissect, reorganized, and expand the two open access textbooks with an eye toward making them more useful, sophisticated, and responsive to the needs of their particular class and their particular interests. 

Using open access books gives students an opportunity to understand how the next generation of open educational resources is more than just swapping out an expensive textbook for a free version, but a framework both fully parallel with recent moves toward active learning and consistent with larger crowd-sources projects such as Wikipedia, which when realized in their best forms, create dynamic and democratic spaces for sharing of resources and analysis. As our students increasingly contribute to and consumer content from commercial ventures from Facebook and Twitter to Tiktok and Instagram, presenting an opportunity to engage with “prosumer” practices in a more traditional and critical environment will allow them to recognize the limits and potential of open, social, and crowd based knowledge making.   

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s a long weekend here in North Dakotaland which hopefully means that people have some time off to relax and enjoy the warm summer weather (in a socially responsible and socially distant way).

This weekend will also see the return of Formula 1 in Austria, the Indy Car and Xfinity kids on the Indianapolis road course, and the NASCAR guys at the Indianapolis oval. If I didn’t have so much relaxing scheduled for the July 4th weekend, I’d sit and watch all four races!

So whatever your plans are, I hope you all find time to enjoy the weekend, as well as this short list of quick hits and varia:

IMG 5110

IMG 5106Dog Days

Micro-Utopias and Training PhDs in a Time of Precarity

My colleague Catherine Frieman broke her Twitter sabbatical to recommend a recent article by Yves Rees & Ben Huf called “Training historians in urgent times” in History Australia (2020). The article is really good and if you only have time for so much reading today, do go and read the article rather than my blog post!

The authors provide a fairly standard interpretation of contemporary professional training for scholars in the humanities and the diminishing career opportunities facing new PhDs on the current job market. They offer a useful historical paradigm for understanding current trends over time. If PhD training early on produced “PhD as hero of knowledge” which gave way in the 1950s to a more professionalized vision of the degree, “PhD as expert,” contemporary practices tends to see “PhD as human capital.” This is nowhere more apparent than recent calls to diversify PhD training in the humanities to ensure that students have a wider range of skills appealing to a wider range of employers. In this scenario, the graduate student and degree holder are less distinctive, heroic practitioners of the discipline or experts in both methods and content, and more bundles of transferable skills primed to be monetized by the individual and adapted to existing and future workforce needs.

Of course, It is hard to deny the power of this reading of contemporary graduate training. The harsh realities of the academic job market permeate almost all discussions of PhD training in the humanities with coursework, dissertation topics, dissertation committee arrangements, and pre-degree fieldwork, publishing, and presenting all draw into the powerful gravity of job market preparation. Indeed, these pressures have alternately reinforced the older concept of the PhD as expert in distinctly relevant method and content and subverted this emphasis, by stressing the role of professional relationships and networking in successfully navigating the early career job market (and securing letters of recommendation and invitations to fieldwork projects, academic conferences, and edited publications through which one’s career might advance). If the PhD as expert supported the professionalization of our disciplines, the PhD as human capital has shed light on the limits of this professionalization as professional opportunities become so scarce as to approach randomness and careers increasingly divergent from core aspect of our training. If we’ve learned anything from the COVID situation, it’s that expertise is no longer enough (if it ever was in the past) and who you know remains more important than what you know. In short, academic training is at a crossroads (and this is something that I’ve blogged about before).

Rees and Huf cannot solve these problems, of course, but they do think it is important for historians to recognize that pivoting professional training to adapt to the current economic situation runs the risk of complicity with a regime that in no way supports the larger goals of our discipline. More than that, it risks blunting the potential of history (and the broader humanities) in making an impact on the problems in the contemporary world. And, even more than that, the current PhD-as-human-capital represents a profoundly dehumanizing turn which has real consequences for students who often pursue graduate education not in a quest for a marketable bundle of skills but to advance human knowledge and telling stories that matter.

They system cannot be changed, of course; at least, not all at once and not from within, but there are opportunities for resistance. Rees and Huff recommend, then, creating micro-utopias that suspend — even just for a moment — the pernicious reach of precarity and professional pressures, pecking orders, and procedures. As examples, they suggest cooperative workshops and reading groups, various Open and Free universities which bring together members of the public and academics to engage seriously with a work outside of the typical university setting with its implicit and explicit hierarchies and expectation, and the construction of interdisciplinary spaces where individuals bring different perspectives to pressing problems. The proposed approaches centered around four principles: inclusivity, collegiality, public mindedness, and interdisciplinarity. 

I’d add that their various examples also demonstrated an ambivalence toward the traditional academic hierarchy and models of knowledge making that emphasize credit and deliverables (as so many grants and programs require). In short, the micro-utopias proposed by Rees and Huf shift the emphasis from what a program or project accomplishes and redirects it toward what is happening. 

This to me is a very compelling proposition not only because it resists the temptation to advocate for the complete dismantling of the existing approach to PhD training (however deserved such a dismantling would be) and instead proposes that we make space that not only recognizes the human toll of precarity and professionalization, but also works at the human-scale to subvert it.

Archaeology of the Contemporary American Experience: Five Chapters

A couple of years ago, I watched one of my buddies here at the University of North Dakota write his book. When he completed a chapter draft, he dutifully hung it by a binder clip on a bookshelf in his office. This gave him a nice visual reminder that he was making progress toward his goal. 

I’ve struggled a bit to embrace this feeling of progress with any project lately. The COVID-19 situation hasn’t helped, but even before then, I felt a bit like I was stuck on a treadmill writing the same thing over and over just using different words. I suppose this is part of what happens when the desire to write exceeds the time, space, or ability to produce ideas. In any event, in place of an impressive display of dangling chapters, I’ll post chapters here to my blog from time to time. 

To date, I have completed five chapters of a book that I’m writing titledThe Archaeology of the Contemporary American Experience. These are very, very rough drafts. The citations are not entirely complete and they’re about 1000 words shorter than they’ll be when they’re folded together to make a coherent(-ish) book. This also includes working on transitions between the chapters and filling out the references. I recognize, for example, that there is a vast body of scholarship on digital archaeology that I have overlooked in this chapter.

You can read a very rough outline of my book proposal here. The book is about 60% survey and 40% a cultural and methodological study of the archaeology of the contemporary American experience. As a result, a significant part of the book will tend toward the descriptive. My hope is that the 40% of the book where I try to do some cultural history isn’t so far off the mark (or so mundane) to be uninteresting or, worse still, produce an archaeology that is merely illustrating well-known history from texts.  

Here are the five of the first six chapters:

Chapter 0: Introduction

Chapter 1: The Alamogordo Atari Excavation

Chapter 2: The Archaeology of Garbage

Chapter 3: Things, Materiality, and Agency

Chapter 4: Media Archaeology, Archaeogaming, and Digital Archaeology

Chapter 5: Borders, Migrants, and the Homeless

As always, if you have observations, constructive criticism, or just unmitigated hatred of everything that I’m doing here, please do let me know!

A Book by its Cover: Sixty Years of Boom and Bust

About 4 months ago, I imagined this summer as a series of three or four week blocks during which I’d work on one or two tasks. Now, six-weeks into the “new normal” my summer has become an exercise of juggling a bunch of overlapping deadlines. 

Among the more exciting of these deadlines are a series of book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota scheduled to appear in August, September, and October.

I’m particularly excited to get back to working on a book that’s due out in September: Kyle Conway’s edited volume Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota 1958-2018. It will be a particularly significant contribution to the growing “Bakken Bookshelf,” and contains articles by most of the leading scholars on contemporary North Dakota and the oil boom.

After a few weeks of going back and forth on cover design, I can now say with some confidence that we have a cover.

Sixty Years Cover AM1 01

We also have a finalized text for the back of the book:

In the 1950s, North Dakota experienced its first oil boom in the Williston Basin, on the western side of the state. The region experienced unprecedented social and economic changes, which were carefully documented in a 1958 report by four researchers at the University of North Dakota. Since then, western North Dakota has undergone two more booms, the most recent from 2008 to 2014. Sixty Years of Boom and Bust republishes the 1958 report and updates its analysis by describing the impact of the latest boom on the region’s physical geography, politics, economics, and social structure.

Sixty Years of Boom and Bust addresses topics as relevant today as they were in 1958: the natural and built environment, politics and policy, crime, intergroup relations, and access to housing and medical services. In addition to making hard-to-find material readily available, it examines an area shaped by resource booms and busts over the course of six decades. As a result, it provides unprecedented insight into the patterns of development and the roots of the challenges the region has faced.

Here’s a link to its table of contents.

We’re very eager to share advanced copies of the book with anyone who might be interested in writing a review or a blurb.

Walling In and Walling Out

This weekend, I read Laura MacAtackney and Randall Maguire’s new edited volume Walling In and Walling Out: Why Are We Building New Barriers to Divide Us? (2020). The contributions offer a diverse range of studies on walls and borders that draw upon the perspectives informed by archaeology, sociology, and anthropology as well as public policy. For readers broadly familiar with recent conversations around walls and borders will find both the usual suspects (Reese Jones, Anna McWilliams as well as the volume’s editors), and some new perspectives on the borders of Europe (Dimitrios Papadopoulos), the role of walls in racial segregation in Puerto Rico (Zaire Disney-Flores) and Palestine (Amahl Bishara) and the Mexican-American border (Michael Dear and Margaret E. Dorsey and Miguel Diaz-Barriga). 

I came away from reading this book with a few new ideas that I will eagerly apply to some of my work-in-progress.

1. “Borderwork” and “Boundary Work.” Dimitris Papadopoulos introduces the idea of “boundary work” which echoes with Dan Hicks and Sarah Mallet’s idea of “borderwork” from their book, Lande: The Calais Jungle and Beyond (2019). These ideas emphasize that borders and boundaries are not limited to activities at the border itself, but permeate the surrounding landscapes and societies as part of a larger apparatus of control. The ability, for example, of the Customs and Border Patrol agents to work outside almost all Constitutional limits on their authority within 100 miles of the US border is perhaps the most obvious example of how borderwork extends itself geographically. More subtle, but no less significant, is the massive and largely unsupervised technological infrastructure that supports this work that collects information on millions of individuals with few limits on who can use this data and how it can be used. Moreover, the promotion of a kind of ethical and legal ambiguity surrounding the rights of individuals at the borders themselves has worked to reinforce the risks associated with the movement between jurisdiction. Much of this risk is not real, but by exaggerating the ambiguity of individual rights at these points, the CBP both asserts its power and reinforces the idea that borders are fraught and dangerous. It goes without saying that this ambiguity and attendant sense of danger and risk has also served those invested in politicizing borders, immigration, national security, and even trade. All this is part of a larger process of borderwork.  

2. Temporality and the Border. A number of authors emphasized the unique temporal dimension of borders not only historically, but also experientially. From a historical perspectives, borders present themselves as solid and persistent, but our experiences over the last 50 years has demonstrated that this is not always the case. The collapse of the “Iron Curtain,” the reconfiguration of national boundaries in the Balkans and Central Europe, the emergence of the European Union, and new immigration agreements between countries ensure that the permanence of borders is largely illusory.

Temporality also shapes our interaction with borders. The experience of waiting in line whether at passport control at an airport or while sitting in the car at a busy point of entry, communicates the significance of the border at the individual level. At the same time, a series of technologies accelerate the collecting and sharing of information between agents at the border and the vast national and global security apparatus. The tension between the time experienced by an individual and the speed of information collection reinforces the status of borders as landscape of control just as the seeming permanence of border installations obscures their historical fluidity.    

3. Borders as Bricolage. A few contributors noted that borders are places where technologies and policies from various times and situations come together to create distinctive spaces. The use of concrete barriers and barbed wire which became prominent in anti-tank and anti-personnel developed over the first half of the 20th century rub shoulders with state-of-the-art digital technologies ranging from high-speed cameras to thermal imaging, motion detection devices, and massive data infrastructures designed to identify and track individuals. Helicopter mats, first deployed in the Vietnam War, appear alongside installations to support small scale and weapons-capable drones.

This juxtaposition of technologies from various eras offers a view of borders that are both timeless and always evolving. More than that, from the perspective of material culture, they show how aspects of the past persist in the present and communicate the kind of ambiguity and multiple temporalities central to borderwork.    

4. Wall and the Carceral State. The book is not just about national borders, but also the kind of walls that shape our every day lives. From the “peace walls” that divide denominational communities in Belfast and to gated communities in contemporary Puerto Rico, walls also produce and reinforce divisions on the basis of race, class, and ethnicity. Moreover, as Laura MacAtachney has pointed out, these walls tend to formalize past divisions and create “very localized forms of place identity” that risk the creation of new forms hostility and division. 

There was less discussion of the emergence of the carceral state in the late-20th century and the role of prison walls as a kind of borderwork which extends throughout the emerging security state. It seems easy enough to see law enforcement with their interest in protecting property represent an extension of the private prison industry which requires a constant flow of inmates to reward investors. 

5. Floodwalls, Sea Walls, and Nature. Missing in the book, but part of my everyday life, was a discussion of floodwalls and seawalls that mark efforts for humans to exert control over the other that they typically define as “nature.”  These walls, of course, take on many of the historical forms of fortification walls whether earthworks or textured to look like Classical ashlar masonry. 

Moreover, the flood walls in town are part of a larger strategy of borderwork which extends on either side of the wall. On the town side, pump houses appear throughout neighborhoods and provide back pressure to prevent the rising river water from entering town via storm drains and sewers. On the river side, various structures have been removed and a large green belt is maintained to allow the river to flow smoothly through town without becoming dammed and over flowing the walls locally. Of course, like most walls, these are permeable with storm drains and waste flowing through the wall to the river and during most of the year, roads also cross the walls providing access to parks and walking trails. Bridges cross the river as well.

The borderwork extends north, of course, to the national border with Canada. Strategies to control the flow of the Red River in Grand Forks, Fargo, and elsewhere impacts the flow of water across the border. Devil’s Lake, for example, continues to rise and swallow up farmland and towns because releasing the water into the Red River drainage would carry run-off and other pollutants north to Canada, Lake Winnipeg, and the Hudson Bay. 

It seems to me that the flood walls provide a concrete example of the way that we establish the division between culture and nature and this involves using the same walls that work to define human groups to define the blurry edges of our cultural reach. 

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s starting to feel well and truly like summer here in North Dakotaland with plenty of brilliant cloudless days making it easier not to be in the Mediterranean.

Things are slowly turning toward a new normal here on the Northern Plains with masks and distancing becoming less of an awkward compromise and more of a way of life. I suspect some of this has to do with practices developed over the course of brutal winters when life slow downs, the days grow short, and the prospects of venturing out are always less appealing than staying at home by the fire. 

The situation is giving me time to read and write and keep the dogs exercises, and refresh my weekly list of quick hits and varia:

IMG 5088The Bargepole Abides.

IMG 5073Milo Guards

Updates from The Digital Press: 100 Voices from Harrisburg’s African-American Community

The next six months will likely be the busiest stretch of time ever for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Not only will we have four books in various stages of production, but at least three of them will be scheduled for release before the end of 2020. 

The next book on my production schedule will be — ironically — the first book to be released: One Hundred Voices from Harrisburg’s African-American Community. It’s a collaboration with David Pettegrew’s Digital Harrisburg Project that will bring together in a single volume 100 short biographical sketches from Harrisburg’s African-American community. You can read more about it here.

We have a working draft of the cover of the book. My first effort sought to anchor the book in a historic streetscape from Harrisburg. The title was in Vocal Type’s Bayard font. Tré Seals’ Vocal Type is an African-American design house who has produced a number of interesting display fonts. For a book cover, we thought Bayard would be the best and it was pretty affordable.

One Hundred Voices Cover 01

This cover was vetoed by our collaborators in Harrisburg in large part because there were no people in it, and this book is about people as much as the place. So we went back to the drawing board and produced this:

One hundred voices cover 3 01

We added a bit of color to the photographs across the top of the book cover and to the title of the book. Since the covers of books from The Digital Press have to be “screen friendly” which means that they have to stand out at various sizes and in various, often cluttered, online contexts. So a bold title is absolutely necessary and the use of color, despite all the images being originally in black and white, will hopefully also help the book stand out. 

The design of the page also offered a bit of a challenge. Digital Harrisburg had collected a good bit of information on each individual for the project, but not all of the information was equally interesting to a casual reader. We also wanted to keep the book as short as was feasible without compromising a kind of easy readability. I also wanted to include some design elements that brought the book together. To that end, I included the “chapter number” voice in Bayard. The rest of the text is set in Jansen, which felt like a properly formal book text. 

100 Voices Layout PRINTERMARKS

The book is due to appear in early August and needs to be typeset by the end of next weekend in order for the book to be available at a public event in August. This is a nice example of how small, cooperative-style, scholar-led, presses can respond quickly to opportunities and find collaborative ways to produce quality publications rapidly.  

Stay tuned for more on upcoming work from The Digital Press!