Living on Campus in Larimore Hall

The Wesley College Documentation Project has long simmered on the back burner, but I haven’t lost track of it. This weekend, I read Carla Yanni’s Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory (2019), and it helped me understand and contextualize a few of the more interesting features of Larimore Hall.

The first floor of Larimore Hall featured two rooms who function, arrangement, and features confused us at first.

The first room is a space was a space originally marked as Room 7 on early one-line plans of the space and it stood at the south (left) side of Larimore Hall before it widens out to form the lowest level of Corwin.

Ua75 3 19 19

The space was entered by a double door with an elaborate wood frame:


The ceiling preserved the lines of the central hallway, but these were coved to great a more interesting and elaborate space. The windows were likely decorated with wainscoting and more elaborate trim than the windows elsewhere in the building and there is evidence for a picture rail running just below the coving on the ceilings.

This more elaborate, common space was characteristic of women’s dormitories at the turn of the century. These spaces were often larger than their counterparts in men’s dorms for a number of reasons. They provided a chaperoned space for men and women to interact as well as a spaces for women to perform domesticity. The need for these kinds of spaces reflected not only turn of the century social critics’ fear that lesbianism might might arise from women living together without the company of men, but also the restraints on the social movement of single women in outside of campus.

The opposite end of the same floor in the building was another similar space that spanned the entire width of the structure on the northern side of the building (and on the one-line plan above is divided from the hallway by a later wall). The earliest floor present in this space preserved a series of wooden slats set into the concrete floor. These served to support a floating floor. More evidence for this comes from the baseboards which are set over two inches above the concrete floor into which the rails were set. This gap allowed for space for a wooden floor to stand. It is likely that this space supported a wooden gymnasium type floor for a fitness or exercise room. Like the parlor on the building’s south side, this too spanned the entire width of the building and was entered through another pair of double doors.

The presence of an exercise room in a women’s dorm initially struck us as a bit odd. Yanni’s book, however, argues that at the turn of the century university leaders were as worried about the physical health of women as their social standing. The inclusion of fitness facilities in the women’s dormitory was not particularly unusual.

Yanni’s book also revealed the spread of the “double-loaded corridor” style dormitories at the turn of the century and demonstrated remarkable parallels from the across the U.S. The similarities in plan, for example, between A. Wallace McRae’s Larimore Hall (1908) and the York and Sawyer’s Martha Cook dormitory (1915) at the University of Michigan, show both similar educational philosophies to residential life as well as solutions to practical problems. The double-loaded corridor plan allowed administrators to limit access to the building at key points to manage visits from outsiders, particularly men. The arrangement of closets along the outer walls of the dormitory rooms dampened the noise from the hard floors of the public hallways. The arrangement of rooms as two rooms suites ensured some social interaction between residents of the dorm and served to socialize residents.

In the end, the book’s clear-eyed and historical treatment of the priorities of campus life offers relatively few surprises to anyone familiar early 20th century higher education and campus plans. At the same time, Yanni’s attention to the practical execution and implementation of these priorities – from socialization to the forming of gender norms and educational philosophies and practices –  offers a distinct perspective on the way in which university administrators hoped that architecture would make a campus work.

Reading the Roman Revolution 15: Philippi and Perusia

Chapter 15 of Ronald Syme’s The Roman Revolution is tense. Starting with the Battle of Philippi and concluding in the aftermath of the siege of Perusia, the fortunes of Octavianus wax and wane as the ultimate prize of Rome hangs in the balance. For those modern readers enthralled by the Game of Thrones, the days of the Second Triumvirate offer a historically grounded drama that gives away nothing to the George R.R. Martin’s imagination.

Syme does the narrative justice. The cast of the political drama constricted with the death of so many consulars, Senators, and nobiles of Republican stock and with it the opportunities for single-sentence descriptions of character and standing. Left are the political and military maneuverings of Antonius and Octavianus and their inner circles. Without the letters of Cicero, there are gaps throughout. Nevertheless, Syme offers a tense scene, first at Philippi and then in Italy as it haltingly moves toward Civil War.

At Philippi, the outclassed Brutus and Cassius suffer defeat at the hand of Antonius and both died on their own swords. In the lead up to Philippi: “Brutus at last was calm and decided. After the triumph of the Caesarian generals and the institution of the proscriptions he knew where he stood.” But at the height of the first battle: “Cassius despaired too soon…. deceived, perhaps, as one account runs, through a defect in his eyesight.” Three weeks later the final blow occurred as Antonius defeated the overmatched Brutus.

Syme marks the results of this battle with all of his limited sympathy for oligarchy: “This time the decision was final and irrevocable, the last struggle of the Free State. Henceforth nothing but a contest of despots over the corpse of liberty. The men who fell at Philippi fought for a principle, a tradition and a class narrow, imperfect and out-worn, but for all that the soul and spirit of Rome.” He even spares a thought for Antonius: “As Antonius gazed in sorrow upon the Roman dead, the tragedy of his own life may have risen to his thoughts… he had surrendered himself to Octavianus and he would pay for his folly in the end.”

M. Antonius went East and left to Octavianus the settlement of soldiers in Italy under the watchful eye of his brother, L. Antonius, who served as consul. Things went poorly as both the Italian cities from whom land would be taken and the anxious soldiers (and anxious lieutenants of Antonius with their legions at the ready in Cisalpina Gaul) watched warily.

Things went poorly. Octavianus continued, at first, to suffer the ill-health that made him a marginal actor in the campaign and battle of Philippi. “Rumour freely of his death. The rejoicing was premature…” As his health recovered, he found that the Italian cities resisted the confiscation of property and revolted. The allies of Antonius did little to help with this situation and as Octavianus came to champion the claims of the veterans, Antonius’s allies increasingly sided with the aggrieved cities. Syme puts its bluntly: “War was in the air. Both sides mustered troops and seized temple-treasures.”

The clash between Octavianus’ and Antonius’ legions in Italy largely involved feints and threats except for the siege of Perusia. The consul L. Antonius marched on Rome first before departing with his legions to support various allies throughout Italy and await the arrival of Antonian legion from Gaul. Out maneuvered by Octavianus’s generals, L. Antonius holed up in the city of Perusia and was invested by Octavianus. The other Antonian generals show little interest or ability to break the siege even as supplies ran short. There was dissent among them. Syme was blunt: “The soldierly Ventidius knew that Plancus had called him a muleteer and a brigand; and Pollio hated Plancus. But there was a more potent factor than the doubts and dissensions of the generals their soldiers had an acute perception of their own interests as well as a strong distaste for war: it would be plain folly to fight for L. Antonius and the propertied classes of Italy.” L. Antonius was forced to surrender, but the political and and military consequences of this conflict left Octavianus exposed. “He was master of Italy, a land of famine, desolation and despair.”

Whatever confidence Octavianus gained from surviving the challenge of Perusia, M. Antonius landing and siege of Brundisium made it brief. “The final armed reckoning for the heritage of Caesar seemed inevitable; for Rome the choice between two masters. Which of them had the sympathy of Italy could scarcely be doubted; and, despite the loss of the Gallic legions, the odds of war were on the side of the great Antonius.”


The short essay is part of my Reading The Roman Revolution at 80 project. It’s so awesome that I have two hashtags: #ReadingRomanRevolution and #ReadingRonaldat80. I explain the project here. You can read the rest of the entries here.

On Notre Dame

Like many of my archaeologist, Medievalist, and architectural historian, urban historian, and preservationist colleagues, I watched aghast at the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris yesterday (and was saddened to hear of a fire at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem). People much smarter than I am have already helped the world contextualize the fire at Notre Dame.  

Seeing the church on fire reminded me how devastating fires are to wood-roofed buildings. The buildings that I study – wood-roofed, basilica-style Early Christian period churches in the Eastern Mediterranean – have almost all succumbed to fire at various points in their history. In fact, the poor state of preservation of this style of church is largely the result of their susceptibility to fire especially in a period when candles and oil lamps provided the main source of light both for these buildings and for other buildings nearby. If these buildings did not burn in antiquity, as many did including, most famously, the first two churches of Ay. Sophia in Constantinople, and, in a slightly different context, the Parthenon in Athens, they often succumbed over the course of the Middle Ages (as did so many Medieval churches) or even in the modern period when fire destroyed the church of Ay. Dimitrios in Thessaloniki.  As we witnessed on television yesterday, the wooden roofs, the airy and open spaces of the building, and the tall walls created a scenario where fires not only spread quickly, but were difficult to extinguish (even today).

In many cases, buildings were rebuilt marking the place of the earlier structure, as we documented at the site of Polis on Cyprus or Justinian’s Great Church in Constantinople. The roof of the Parthenon was restored after its destruction in the 3rd or 4th century despite the general decline of monumental, urban, paganism. The basilica at Lechaion in the Corinthia, which stood as one of the largest churches in the world when it was built in the 6th century, saw a small post-destruction building constructed largely of spoliator rubble at the spot. After the fire of 1917, prominent Greek architect Aristotelis Zachos restored the great church of Ay. Dimitrios.  The desire to restore these monuments speaks to the power, not just of the buildings, but of their places within the urban landscapes. 

As a historical religion, Christianity has a strong attachment to places in antiquity, in the Middle Ages, and in how it sees its past Christian landscapes and monuments in the present. Of course, not all historic Christian buildings are treated equally. Small-town churches are regularly turned into private residences at the end of their lives as religious buildings. At the same time, Christian buildings receive constant renovations, updates, expansions not only for economic reasons, but also to preserve their place in the local landscape. 

The fire at Notre Dame made clear both the traditions of continuity in the Christian landscape as commentators stressed the historical nature of the building and role in the faith of the city of Paris while overwriting the history of modification, adaptations and restorations.

At the same time, the city of Paris is diverse, modern, and secular. The building itself, as several commentators have noted, has taken on a place within the national identity of France as the presence of political figures at the site and condolences from the international community has shown. Some have gone so far to note that the lack of funding for the renovations made the building vulnerable. This status of the building as a cultural landmark, a heritage site, and a symbolic center in the French national landscape informed the renovation of the building as early as the mid-19th century and shows all the signs of informing its future.

The mapping of Christian views of historical landscapes atop national identity is not new or novel in the case of Notre Dame. At the same time, the modern preoccupation with preserving the past, however, as a monumental anchor amid the contingency of the contemporary world, offers a particular challenge in the aftermath of a tragedy like the Notre Dame fire. Does France (and Paris) attempt to restore the building to its former design, shape, and character in an effort to preserve historical roots in a time when the past seems increasingly irrelevant and contested?

Or do they follow the route of their Medieval and Early Christian predecessors of recognizing the historical legacy of the building, while also embracing the fire as a moment of discontinuity with the past that allows for rebirth?  

Late Antique and Byzantine Anatolia

Last week I worked my way through John Haldon, Hugh Elton, James Newhard, Archaeology and Urban Settlement in Late Roman and Byzantine Anatolia: Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü and its Environment (Cambridge 2018) in preparation for my annual trek to the Eastern Mediterranean for field work. As the major field seasons for the survey phase of the Western Argolid Regional Project have concluded, we have begun to think more about what we need to do to publish our results. While I have tended to focus on the sherds on the ground (and in the project’s GIS), Haldon et al. reminded me that there was much more than just field data to producing a significant regional study. 

I don’t really write reviews here, but here are four or five thoughts on the book:

1. Low Density and Limited Collection. The area around Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü produced very few sherds and even fewer that were diagnostic. Moreover, they could only collect sherds from the Roman period and later, and this created a particularly challenging relationship between their study assemblages and the distribution of material on the ground. James Newhard’s clever methods for smoothing ceramic densities over different sized units, different surface conditions, and different visibilities provided a foundation for interpreting the assemblages collected and studied from the survey area. 

A bit less clear was the relationship between these artifact densities and the kinds of sites that the project asserted existed in the landscape. It was a bit hard to understand the difference between an independent structure, house, farmstead, and watchtower, for example, in the text itself, but the detailed discussion of these functional categories appeared in a later appendix. I’m still not entirely sold on this method of creating sites, but there is something compelling about the complexity of the historical, landscape, and archaeological variables considered in site definition.    

2. Climate and the Environment. I tend to look at the surface and artifacts when I think about archaeology. In a pinch, I’ll think about a building or a strata. I rarely step far enough away from the artifactual landscape to think clearly about the environment and climate as important factors in understanding how people in the past lived in their world. This is obviously a blind spot in my research focus, and as I extend my interests into more recent periods, the pressing realities of climate change, for example, and our adaptation to the changing environment in the last 50 years, has nudged me to expand how I think about the archaeological universes that I study.

Archaeology and Urban Settlement demonstrated the potential of a careful study of the ancient environment at a regional scale for understanding the development of settlement, agriculture, and land use in their region. Interestingly, their study area had rather few opportunities for sampling pollen or other scientific approaches to studying paleoenvironmental variable. Nevertheless, the team was able to draw one evidence from Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern texts as well as modern agricultural and climate date to model the ancient environment in useful ways. They demonstrated that the landscape around Avkat was not unproductive, but as relatively marginal in antiquity as it was in the 21st century with most communities surviving on the cultivation of cereals and pastoralism. Climate change appears to be just one of the variable that shaped changes in agricultural practice, settlement and life in the area. 

3. Roads and Routes. In the Western Argolid, we think constantly about roads and routes through our survey area. In fact, travel through the Inachos valley and its relationship both to neighboring Arcadia and Corinthia as well as the Argive plain to the east, was part of the original plan for the survey project from the onset. So far, we’ve written a few papers that attempted to understand settlement and movement in our landscape and have thought about the relationship between water, routes, bridges, and churches. In general, we have not used least-cost path kinds of analysis, in part because we have some ethnographic and archaeological information on movement through the valley, and in part, because the flat or gently sloping Inachos River valley bottom exerts a strong pull on any path through the area. As a result, we’ve leaned a bit more heavily on cultural factors on movement through the valley, and considered the ways and reasons for which known routes defy least-cost expectations to avoid crops and fields, to follow the line of an aqueduct, or to pass close or far from settlements.

 Archaeology and Urban Settlement does a nice job integrating historical and topographic information into mapping movement in their survey area. This not only provides context for the relationship between sites and routes, but also demonstrates the tension between persistent major routes that shaped the significance of major settlements in the region and the dynamism of smaller routes that linked settlements to their fields or rural sites to other rural sites. While such temporal variability across the landscape is hardly surprising, it is worth noting the trans regional movement on major routes likely represented a less common and regular kind of movement in a landscape. The permeability of the countryside, in contrast, might have reflected myriad, changing smaller routes that accommodated more regular traffic on a daily basis. 

4. Foodways and Ceramics. One of the more intriguing sections of the volume was Joanita Vroom’s chapter of Byzantine foodways and ceramics. Because the local ceramic typologies were relatively poorly know, it was rather difficult to identify and date the surface assemblages. Rather than create an unmoored typology or speculate too wildly on potential economic or social links between the ceramics present in the survey area and potential production sites, Vroom focused on the evidence for Byzantine foodways in the region. By compiling evidence for food, trade, and the related vessels need to provide sustenance to communities who lived in the region.

On the one hand, there is little that is specifically related to the region around Avkat, but, on the other hand, her chapter continued her effort to redefine the study of ceramics from the vessels themselves to their role in the everyday life of Late Roman and Byzantine communities. When this attention to foodways intersects with routes through the area, paleoclimate studies, and agricultural history and ethnoarchaeology, and, of course, excavated and survey ceramics, I can imagine an opportunity to connect the broadly general with the individual at the scale of the landscape, and this is an exciting proposition. 

5. Publishing Data. One particularly intriguing element of the book is that most of the maps and many images were published digitally via Open Context rather than printed in the book itself. This is useful for the digital book, where, if you’re on wifi, the image is just a click away. I was reading on my iPad, on a flight, so I lost a bit of that convenience, but back at my laptop everything worked fine. I imagine that for a reader of the paper book, this would be a bit more inconvenient. 

More promising still is the prospect that the project will publish its full datasets on Open Context in the future.  


Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s springtime here in North Dakotaland, except for the blizzard and the sub-freezing temperatures. Ignore that. 

It’s a Formula 1 weekend, the Cup cars are in Richmond, baseball season and the IPL are underway, Lomachenko is fighting and the NBA playoffs start this weekend. So maybe this isn’t the worst weekend to be snowed inside. 

If that’s still not enough to keep you busy, here are a few quick hits and varia:


Slow Archaeology and Privilege

This weekend, during a useful conversation about slow data and slow archaeology, Shawn Graham tweeted that he felt that slow data still evoked privilege and that “to be slow depends on a whole bunch of people hustling as fast as they can.”

Shawn’s a smart and thoughtful guy, and this conversation about speed in archaeology and privilege in archaeological practice is an important one. In fact, the more I thought about Shawn’s critique, the more I realized various facets of slow as privilege have appeared in conversations that I’ve had with any number of colleagues and collaborators over the past few years. In light of that that, I thought that maybe I should write up a blog post on it, in the hope that folks respond, clarify, and nuance what we mean when we talk about slow practices in archaeology. This isn’t meant to challenge Shawn’s critique, but to offer a counter point in the hope of starting a conversation.

I tend to see slow archaeology on a continuum.

1. Slow as Privilege. On the one end of this continuum, the slow movement represents a conscious rejection of “the cult of speed” that is so often associated with the modern world and our use of technology. The close relationship between technology and claims to efficiency is a hallmark of our accelerating present. There is no doubt, of course, that speed has democratized the flow of information. We now have access to more books, articles, and datasets than ever before. Big data (or at least large data) has solved problems (and allowed us to photograph a black hole!). Technology has streamlined archaeology and allowed field projects to produce more accurate, nuanced, and precise datasets and made it possible to share trenches, survey units, artifacts, assemblages, and buildings with collaborators almost instantly. These are good an important things and I have benefited directly from all of these changes in practice. 

Slow archaeology, of course, can present a challenge both to how we produce archaeological information and the kind of archaeological information that we produce. For a recent small project, I kept notes in field notebook rather than on my laptop. These notes are harder to share with other people, more difficult to organize into standardize datasets, and resist efforts to render them interoperable with other forms of information collected by the project. For example, its hard to link my notes to photographs or video taken by the project or with spatial data. To make this happen, someone (probably me) will have to hustle and produce a concordance and at very least scan the notebook pages (and probably transcribe them). In effect, my decision to use the archaic practice of a handwritten field notebook has made my data less accessible and less useful to analysis at scale. This was an unapologetic act of privilege; it was my project, my research questions, and those shaped my field practices. 

At the same time, I do recognize that my notes now represent the best record of two buildings on campus that were destroyed. I have effectively gained possession of these building, their material history, and at least part of their memory by my slow practices. Whatever benefit that I gained by taking notes by hand, it was only a benefit to me (and indirectly to my students with whom I shared my observations verbally during our work). In some sense, my insistence on slow practice abused the opportunities of access and the luxury of time to conduct field work. In the end, whatever I learned by slowing down and taking handwritten notes came at a cost. To balance the cost of this process with the benefits to the community, I’ll have to make my notes not only available but accessible. This is slow archaeology as privilege. 

2. Slow as Process. I regularly tell my students that the “perfect is the enemy of the good” by which I mean that you can spend a good bit of time trying to perfect an assignment to very little benefit in terms of grades or learning. After all, there’s nothing higher than an “A” and time and energy are finite resources. 

For me, slow work often involves writing and reading. A few times a year, I read something really hard. It might be a novel or a book that draws on a complex and densely articulated theoretical apparatus. I’m not good at “the theory” nor am I good at reading and understanding fiction.

I do it anyway and it is a sign of privilege.

A book that takes me a month to read and digest means that three or four other books aren’t read. Time that I spend with fiction and poetry – especially in my capacity as the editor of North Dakota Quarterly –  is time that I’m not spending with archaeological literature not to mention writing and analyzing archaeological data. 

I’m not suggesting that all data analysis is somehow “fast” or less demanding intellectually or practically, but like writing and reading, some texts and tasks are inherently faster than others. Writing a dense and thoughtful and challenging argument should take more time than a formulaic site report. This is not a value judgement. The former could be an ephemeral meditation on the theory du jour, whereas a careful site report might produce new knowledge for generations.  A slow laborious argument might, in fact, be gibberish and reading a complicated and demanding text may produce very little real knowledge. Slow work entails a risk and a commitment to processes that are not easily mediated through technology. Slow writing and reading is painful. As such, we always need to question whether we should read a book or article, apply a theory, or commit to writing a demanding or complex sentence, paragraph, or text. 

A classic example of this kind of slow work comes in the form of analyzing legacy projects. Reading notebooks, building stratigraphic and chronological relationships, and extracting meaning from tangled and often problematic bodies of data is a kind of slow practice. While there is no guarantee that a new excavation or survey will early produce significant new knowledge, a project starting with a blank slate presents a better opportunity to implement more efficient ways to acquire, organize, and analyze archaeological information. Other people’s data introduces other people’s problems.    

To be clear, fast archaeology, fast reading, and fast writing are not necessarily easier or more efficient, but they are grounded in practices that recognize efficiency as a desirable outcome of the process that produce new archaeological knowledge as a result. Spending hours checking formatting on a bibliography might be oddly satisfying, but it only rarely transforms the meaning or value of a text (although see here…). Spinning dense and theoretical texts, reading novels and critical works, and working through legacy data is slow practice, but, the cost benefit for this kind of work remains a bit hard to assess. It is hard to deny that there is something satisfying from recovering data from a challenging past excavation, understanding the complexities of theory, or composing a clever argument, but the value of this work for the larger project of archaeology is less clear. The pursuit of the personally perfect might well alienate the greater good. At the same time, it’s hard to deny the value of wading through hard prose or legacy data.

3. Slow as Value. If slow practices do have value outside the realm of personal privilege, it most certainly exists as a way to recognize the value of work in communities that do not have our level of access to technology and accelerated modernity. At a conference a few years ago, a participant quipped that if you didn’t have the resources to afford digital tools – like iPad and the like – for the field, perhaps you don’t have the resources to conduct good archaeology. To be clear, the participant made this comment off the cuff to stimulate debate rather than as a pointed critique.

At the same time, it is now a common requirement in most grants that projects have data plans. This requirements make clear that digital tools and techniques are increasingly baked into the very fabric of archaeology. Digital practices, however, cost money. Producing and archiving data costs money. And, digital approaches are frequently embedded in particularly methodological and theoretical perspectives. These methods and theories, however, are no more universal than the resources necessary to support their implementation. A small salvage project might use paper notebooks. Forms of indigenous archaeology might employ practices that resist efficient, public, and streamlined recording (e.g. the culturally sensitive practices associated with the excavation of human remains). These practices are not intentionally “slow” in the way that I used a paper notebook to document buildings on UND’s campus, but they share with slow a kind of resistance to accelerated modern practices.

Of course, Shawn is right that extracting data from these kinds of projects will require more hustle, but this kind of slow practice doesn’t map as easily onto the landscape of privilege. In fact, we should recognize that digital tools and their complicity in creating our modern desire for efficiency, interoperability, and transparency represent privilege as well in many part of the world. A slow archaeology can contribute to a decolonial archaeology, indigenous archaeology, and an anti-modern archaeology that expands the access to sophisticated tools for documenting our material past that are not bound up in the commodified, capitalist, and colonial practices of contemporary technology. 


To be completely honest, my slow practices drift back and forth across this continuum (as my recent article in the EJA probably demonstrates; go here for a preprint). I can be slow because I’m a guy, in a tenured position, who is reasonably well compensates. I don’t often work in front of the bulldozer or need to top off my CV to keep my career afloat. I can indulge in bogging down (as may many slow and stalled projects demonstrate), I can destroy the adequate or even good (enough) in a flailing pursuit of the impossible. I often indulge in process without immediate regard for product.

That being said, I also think that slow practices remain valuable. They allow us to engage difficult texts, articulate complex ideas, and reclaim discarded or marginal information. They also push us to recognize the intersectionality of privilege. What might be a concession to an accelerating world in one situation, might be an aspirational or even inappropriate use of technology in another. Slow archaeology provides a space to critique our own practices and to consider their limits.  

Reading The Roman Revolution 14: The Proscriptions

This chapter of The Roman Revolution is chilling. Syme describes emergence of the so-called second triumvirate and the proscriptions that they enacted on the Roman aristocracy. The chapter starts with Octavianus occupying Rome and negotiating an alliance with Antonius and Lepidus who were both the proximate threats to his position and shared his animosity toward the Liberators who had amassed an army in the East. 

The alliance between Octavianus, Lepidus, and Antonius occurred at Bononia and once it was formalized in Rome under the Lex Titia, the city “shivered under fear and portents.” Syme does not mince words: “Roman society under the terror witnessed the triumph of the dark passions of cruelty and revenge, of the ignoble vices of cupidity and treachery.” And he does not deflect the blame from Octavianus onto the more experienced Antonius and the flaccid Lepidus:  “Caesar’s heir was no longer a rash youth but a chill and mature terrorist. Condemnation and are apology, however, are equally out of place…The Triumvirs were pitiless, logical and concordant.

The proscriptions were designed to eliminate whatever opposition remained and to accumulate wealth from the the sale of their properties. By the end of the proscriptions, the Senate and aristocracy was unrecognizable. Those who were not killed fled: “Less spectacular than the decadence of the principes, but not less to be deplored, were the gaps in other ranks and orders. The bulk of the nobiles, both ex-Pompeians and adherents of Caesar, banished from Italy, were with the Liberators or with Sex. Pompeius.”

The triumvirs repopulated the senate with their creatures and watered down magistracies by expanding their number and the frequency of their appointments. Under their reign, the Senate increased to over 1000 members. Syme, who felt only the weakest sympathy for the traditional Roman aristocracy and the old order, noted: “The foundations of the new order were cemented with the blood of citizens and buttressed with a despotism that made men recall the of Caesar as an age of gold.” The new leaders of the Caesarean party, at least in the field, included many of non-Latin origin.

Syme’s treatment of the proscriptions was both distant and elusive. He barely notes Cicero’s demise and from this point forward in the book, the last hope for the Republic recedes from view to become a well-cited source for past practices. There’s something anti-climatic about this chapter considering the weighty and somber paragraphs the mark its conclusion: 

The Republic had been abolished. Whatever the outcome of the armed struggle, it could never be restored. Despotism ruled, supported by violence and confiscation. The best men were dead or proscribed. The Senate was packed with ruffians, the consulate, once the reward of civic virtue, now became the recompense of craft or crime.

‘Non mos, non ius.’ So might the period be described. But the Caesarians claimed a right and a duty that transcended all else, the avenging of Caesar. Pietas prevailed, and out of the blood of Caesar the monarchy was born.”


The short essay is part of my Reading The Roman Revolution at 80 project. It’s so awesome that I have two hashtags: #ReadingRomanRevolution and #ReadingRonaldat80. I explain the project here. You can read the rest of the entries here


Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age

This weekend’s IEMA conference, Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age, was pretty great and thought provoking. I thought I might share some of my impressions of the papers and the general themes of the conference. The papers were universally remarkable and, in some ways, it’s going to take me a long time to digest the entire conference, but I wanted to offer some preliminary thoughts while the papers (and my notes) were fresh in my mind.

So here are five thoughts on the IEMA conference. Most of them overlap in some way.

1. Social and Digital Practice. Four years ago, a group of digitally minded archaeologists got together for the Mobilizing the Past conference in Boston. The conference started with a keynote talk by John Wallrodt who was a pioneer in implementing digital tools, at scale, in the field (you can read his paper here as a pdf) and concluded with a talk from Bernie Frischer whose Rome Reborn project represented a landmark in the large-scale use of 3D modeling to create an immersive experience of Ancient Rome. You can get a sense for that conference in the published volume that came out of that event.

You can compare the two programs here and here or through the visualizations below:

MtPMobilizing the Past program. (You can see it better here).

IEMACritical Archaeology in the Digital Age (You can see it better here).

In many ways, if you extended a line between the two talks at Mobilizing the Past and traced its trajectory, it would continue through the IEMA conference, despite the explicitly different themes and modest overlap of participants. While “data” remains prominent in both visualization, the MtP cloud shows a prominent emphasis on “recording” whereas IEMA shows “research,” MtP shows “collection” and IEMA shows “social,” and MtP shows “mobile” and IEMA “media.” I recognize, of course, that the two conferences had different emphasis, but I would also suggest that the difference in emphasis reflects the changing priorities in digital archaeology. 

As we conclude the second decade of the 21st century, digital archaeology has become far more invested in the social outcomes, impacts, and potential of digital practices both in the field and as part of the larger discipline.    

2. Affective Archaeology. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to really think about how affect impacts how we know the world. I had recognized, of course, emotional and intellectual response to a spectacular view, the rush at an unexpected discovery, or the simple physicality of space, an object, or moving through a landscape, but this had always represented a bonus experience to be neatly cordoned off from the “real work” of data collecting and description.

Even my understanding of slow archaeology emphasized not the affective aspect of archaeological work but the patient attention to details and change. After hearing a number of talks at this weekend’s conference, I realize that this was a significant oversight on my part. In fact, it hadn’t dawned on me that some of the excitement and learning that took place during the Wesley College Documentation Project was not because of my brilliantly organized class, but because the students were encouraged to explore the buildings on their own and engaged with them on their own terms.  

The potential of immersive, digital experiences to create similar opportunities for engagement with archaeological spaces and objects pushes us to realize that the experience of the past is perhaps as important as our empirical knowledge of archaeology in creating meaningful and useful knowledge.  

3. Privilege and the Colonial. One of the threads that appeared throughout the papers at the conference was the way in which digital tools and practices create or mitigate colonial encounters or the production of privilege. It was inspiring to hear talks about teaching children in Peru how drones, digital cameras, and 3D scanning works and encouraging them to use these tools to reimagine archaeological narratives or how to reimagine museums where the barriers of expertise and access do less to reproduce privilege of wealth, education, race, and gender. 

Of course, digital tools have their own social constructed affordances that digital archaeologists and practitioners negotiate every day, but, at this conference, it felt like the traditional “boys with their toys” culture that so often surrounds supposed “expertise” in digital archaeology, took a back seat to more thoughtful and complex social critique. The range of scholarly ranks – from emerita to visiting – and the range of contexts and uses suggest to me that the critical engagements with digital practices are changing and deepening as more, diverse voices are coming to conversation.    

4. Open, Closed, and Digital. The final conversation at the conference focused on whether it was appropriate to publish the proceedings as a print only book bound by copyright. So much of the conference celebrated the potential of open, digital scholarly work and offered less than subtle critiques of practices that limited access to information, processes, or results.

This conversation, however, was not naive. Folks recognized that the opportunities and benefits of open publishing are not evenly distributed in academia. The increasingly metric driven world of academic evaluation has created growing pressure particularly on early and mid-career scholars to publish in high prestige journals or to publish books with a short-list of traditional and well-established publishers. This tension was not resolved. Times and practices are changing in academic publishing and dissemination, but they’re not changing for everyone at the same pace and in the same way. There remains risks publishing open access and digital work and those of us who are less vulnerable to these risks and more capable of reaping the benefits of these practices. 

5. Hard Work. Finally, I was humbled by the amount of time, intellectual energy, and personal effort present in the papers and projects shared at the conference. If we imagined more efficient, streamlined, standardized, and seamless digital world that would somehow result in scholars working less or with less energy, then we would be mistaken. Scholars engaged in the digital world are not only pushing forward our discipline’s technical tool kit and expertise, but also thinking in critical  ways about archaeology, the past, and the range of stakeholders and communities who engage with both the material and digital objects that we study and our analyses and interpretations. 

I suppose this isn’t surprising, but it makes me even more committed to doing my part.

Coda: Flow in Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology:

I’m in friendly, if grey, Buffalo, New York this morning at the 12th annual IEMA conference, “Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age.” On Thursday, I posted a draft of my paper, “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology,” and since then I’ve received some really useful feedback on it. So I’m going to add a coda to my paper.

Here’s that coda (or a draft of it):


There’s a coda to this paper.

My presentation here suggests, in some ways, that workflows – or flow in general – is uni-directional. Flow somehow starts in the field and concludes in publication. I worry that this linear view of workflow suggests that conviviality can serve progress.

This has practical and intellectual implications, of course. We know, for example, that data gains meaning from context and contexts and relationships between data sets constantly change as new data is introduced. Our interest in workflow produces a fluid data that pools but briefly in any one place. Academically, we understand that a book or report is never really the final word on a site or a project, but rather just a stage in the movement of archaeological knowledge. At the same time, we continue to regard the final report as a stable, complete entity and the culmination of the archaeological assembly line. 

The linear progress of archaeological work supports the modern and progressive foundations of archaeological knowledge making, but as data and work become increasingly fluid, there is no reason why our idea of publication should not represent the eddying, recursive flow of knowledge. The untethering of work, data, analysis, and meaning from the linear narrative offers new models representing the dividualted and always tentative character of archaeological knowledge.

In this model, the publisher does more than just usher the manuscript through the final stage of the knowledge making process, but works alongside the archaeologist from the very start of a project and continues to share responsibility for the archaeological knowledge that the project continues to produce into the future.  

Of course, realizing this kind of collaboration in practice is difficult to imagine and fraught with practical concerns from sustainable economic models to redefining areas of expertise and responsibility in production, dissemination, and curation (not to mention area and subject knowledge). For the dividuated 21st century academic, this process is already taking place with a range of positive and problematic consequences that range from the “uberfication” of academic life to our increasingly connected and dynamic transnational networks. I remain hopeful, however, that a convivial approach to knowledge making remains possible.

Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics

This weekend I’m off to the Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology’s annual conference. This year, the conference is “Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age,” and my paper is on collaborative publishing in archaeology. The conference line up looks great and if my last IEMA conference was any indication, I expect that the event will be first class all the way around.  

This is essentially the first time that I’ve formally presented a paper on publishing archaeology from my perspective as a publisher. The paper will focus on the work of the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and continue with some of the ideas that I started to develop in my paper that will appear in the European Journal of Archaeology later this year

It’s kind of nerve-wracking to slowly feel my way forward in this area. Not only is the bibliography vast and largely unfamiliar to me, but I feel like much of what I say is either fairly familiar to folks who think consistently about digital practices broadly or just sort of slightly off. My hope is that presenting some of my first thoughts will sharpen how I understand the relationship between publishing and archaeology in an age increasingly shaped by the social and professional expectations of digital practice. 

Here’s a link to download the paper.

IEMA TALK 2019 FirstSlide