Archaeology of North Dakota Quarterly

Yesterday, I visited the North Dakota Quarterly storerooms. We’re being evicted at the end of the calendar year (not, as we hoped, the end of the fiscal year), and we have about 23,000 back copies of NDQ stored there.

If you don’t know why I’m blogging about NDQ then you should read this!

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These volumes represent a massive commitment of time, imagination, and energy at the Quarterly, and while we know that we can’t keep all of this massive cache of back issues, we simply have to keep some of it.


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What captured my attention is that we probably have as many as three complete runs of the Quarterly. This is not trivial since the Quarterly began in 1910 and copies of the “Inaugural Issue” are rare:

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They also have numerous copies of issues from the so-called “First Series“:

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And a great stack of the 1956 volume which was the first issue of the “Second Series.” Because NDQ had just returned from a hiatus of over 20 years and the first issue of this series did not find its way into many university libraries. 

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What is causing me some anxiety is where will this massive collection of NDQ volumes go? On the one hand, the older volumes will make their way into UND’s university archive, but we would love to find a home for the more recent volumes as well which feature significant contributions to the study of Native Americans, Hemingway, and Thomas McGrath as well as innumerable little gems like John F. Kennedy’s address to University of North Dakota’s campus and an interesting reminder to the media to avoid becoming “sedentary professional people ready to accept any fantasy that may be ‘advanced’”.

What can we do and what should we do with these back issues?

Some thoughts on the American Schools of Oriental Research Annual Meeting

I spent most of last week at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting. For me, the conference is a series of meetings with various committees ranging from the program committee for the conference to the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute‘s board of trustees gathering. In between, I usually have a chance to catch a paper or even an entire panel over the course of the three day conference.

The meetings, panels, and papers never fail to stimulate my thinking and remind me why I got into the business of archaeology, digital publishing, and ancient history over the past two decades.

Here are some quick thoughts:

1. Digital Narratives and Archaeology. There were numerous opportunities to think about how the digital technology mediates archaeological knowledge. As I’ve intimated on this blog, I have a particularly intriguing collaborative project that is brewing which will incorporated 3D images, archaeological data, and conventional catalogue entries and interpretive narratives into a hybrid publication that explores the convergence of the paper-based codex and the dynamic world of linked data on the semantic web. The codex implies a certain unity and linearity of engagement while linked data protocols allow for nearly infinite opportunities to combine, deconstruct, and remix archaeological evidence on a highly granular scale. Balancing the work of archaeologists as interpreters of the past and as producers of reusable and empirical data has both practical and philosophical implications as Giorgio Buccellati has suggested in his recent book, A Critique of Archaeological Reason (2017).

Comments at a series of meetings this past week also demonstrated that the convergence of media types – the newsletter, the blog, the webpage, the journal article, the book – has complicated the construction of communication strategies for various organizations. At one meeting, several folks went to great length to distinguish between a blog and a webpage emphasizing not only the functional difference, but also the difference in purpose. The webpage was more stable and, perhaps, persistent, and the blog was designed to encourage conversation. While this might be a useful editorial distinction, for the reader the line between a page and a blog is blurry at best. Moreover, the function of a static, traditional webpage in a world of search-engine optimization is bound to the need to produce new content and encourage linking simply to remain visible. In other words, the platform, content, narrative, and visibility (or even simple existence) are so deeply intertwined that even digitally defined genres have melted away into the granular world of the web.

2. Roman Countryside. I was intrigued by Andrew McCarthy and colleagues paper on their rural site of Prastio-Mesorotsos in western Cyprus. Like many sites on the island, they have struggled to understand the absences of Roman period material particularly from the 2nd-4th centuries AD. They demonstrated using Aoristic analysis (of a sort) that there is reason to expect this material based on the chronological structure of their Hellenistic and Later Roman assemblages, but telltale forms remain elusive. I couldn’t help but think about Sue Alcock’s argument for Roman Greece, offered so many years ago in Graecia Capta, that suggested that under Roman rule settlement in Greece became more nucleated and this accounted for the relative invisibility of Roman material in the countryside. I also recalled David Pettegrew’s important contribution on the variable diagnosticity of material from the Late Roman, Roman, and Hellenistic periods. He argued that the visibility of certain periods has biased our reading of hidden landscapes by making periods with less diagnostic material – for example undecorated amphora sherds – comparatively less visible in the countryside. While it remains impossible to construct functional or highly nuanced arguments without artifacts, it does remind us that the absence of evidence – or the invisibility of evidence – is not the evidence for absence. McCarthy and his colleagues are making strides to reconcile the absence of evidence with larger patterns of settlement change on the island.

3. Globalization and Cyprus. Jody Gordon’s paper looked at Roman Cyprus as an example of globalization that offered insights for understanding the world today. His paper elegantly brought together the works of contemporary theorists of globalization and ancient critiques of Cyprus while never straying too far from the ancient evidence on Cyprus. I’m usually predisposed to be skeptical of efforts to apply modern constructs like globalization to the ancient world, but I found Gordon’s paper particularly compelling both as a way to think about Cyprus during the Roman and Late Roman periods, as well as a way to use the study of antiquity to understand in more subtle ways contemporary challenges. Scholars have historically seen issues of cultural hybridity, precarity, and even the acceleration of time through the compression of space (a distinct inversion of David Harvey’s famous dictum of time-space compression) as distinctly modern (or even industrial) challenges. Gordon explores the possibility of recognizing similar challenges in the pre-modern world as a way to critique the idea that some groups are “left behind” by globalization and to inspire approaches to the past like the “archaeology of care” that challenge the linearity (and in some ways moralistic inevitability) of certain “historical” processes.

4. Non-Places. The hotel was convenient and completely and utterly banal. Every room and every corridor looked like other corridors and rooms at other conferences in other hotels in other cities. What brought this home to me at the ASOR annual meeting is that participants frequently struggled to remember papers, conversations, and events from other meetings or struggled to place papers or events at a particular meeting.

I’ve been thinking a good bit about memory lately. Over the last few years, I’ve struggled to remember things, names, people, and even ideas. The concept of memory has also been particularly significant in mass media with books like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and the new Pixar movie Coco, focusing on memory and the act of remembering as crucial to the very existence of an individual. As the modern world becomes more and more populated with non-places that meet the demand for familiarity in a world driven by convenience, seamlessness, and need to accommodate the ever increasing speed of capital, technology, and life, the anxiety about memory makes sense. The past is racing toward us at a faster and faster pace and encroaching more and more on the fragile window of the present. An “Irish” pub, a chain Mexican restaurant, a faux New England bar, did little to create a sense of time or place at the meeting. By the time I left, my own memories of the conference had already begun to slip into the placelessness and timelessness of the modern past.

Humanities in the Age of Austerity: A CFP

While I wasn’t afforded a photo-op and ceremonial signing moment in the North Dakota Quarterly office, this call-for-papers is among my first acts as the new editor of NDQ:

As readers of the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, you guys always get the drop:

Humanities in the Age of Austerity

In 2016, the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Dakota made the decision to cut support to the nationally-recognized and century-old public humanities journal, North Dakota Quarterly. This included defunding the position of our long-timer managing editor and support for our office assistant who was reassigned elsewhere on campus. These cuts were part of series of large budget cuts at the state level which impacted all state institutions including colleges and universities. The way in which the cuts happened spawned both outrage and critical reflection on the priorities, organization, and leadership present at the state and university levels. While the impact of the UND budget cuts were distinctly local, their significance resonate around the world as education, culture, and the humanities face the growing challenge of fiscal austerity.

As part of the transformation of North Dakota Quarterly, we are excited to announce a call for papers dealing with the humanities in the age of austerity. We invite contributors to consider how the humanities can and should understand and respond to austerity both in the context of higher education and in the public sphere. References to UND and the situation with NDQ are encouraged only in as much as they make a larger point concerning the humanities, and we are seeking national and even global perspectives on this pressing issue.

The plan is to publish the contributions in an edited, digital volume in the spring of 2018 and then as part of an annual paper volume of North Dakota Quarterly in the fall of 2018. Contributions of any length and in any genre are welcome. Deadline is February 15 or earlier. Please send contributions to billcaraher[at]gmail[dot]com with the word “Austerity” in the subject line.

Humanities in the Age of Austerity

As readers of this blog might already suspect, there are some exciting changes afoot over at North Dakota Quarterly. Part of these changes in a little volume dedicated to understanding the role and future of the humanities in the age of austerity. This reflects a long-term and rather circuitous project of my own that tries to understand the history of the American university system and what I perceive to be a series of recent changes and challenges to traditional work in the humanities.

I’m going to secretly post the call for papers here tomorrow morning, and the post the official call for papers on the North Dakota Quarterly website on Thursday. 

The challenge now is to weave together my ideas into a coherent essay that actually says something about the contemporary humanities project.

I have four basic tenets that I want to develop in this essay (and all of these things have been mentioned in my blog over the past couple of years). They are less distinct ideas and more a garbled mass of interrelated concepts reduced to simple statements. Some of these statements work better than others. 

1.Humanities and Audit Culture. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been intrigued by the expansion of audit culture (also know as the assessocracy) in the American university. My recent reading in higher education policy and criticism, particularly Gary Hall’s almost apocalyptic Uberfication of the University and Christopher Newfield’s more sober, The Great Mistake, have reinforced the pernicious nature of “data driven decision making.” In short, they point out that universities tend to only produce one kind of data that is comparable across the entire campus: money. As a result, most performance indicators – from teaching effectiveness to research impact – tend to ultimately devolve into efficiency indicators which then shape the distribution of funding. Fields with great capacity for efficient transfer of knowledge (or with traditions of practice in knowledge transfer that allow for a wider range of effectiveness) tend to be rewarded within audit cultures whereas fields with less efficient models – such as languages or even law, where success on the bar exam presents an externally imposed indicator of success – tend to struggle. Audit culture and accounting ultimately push the university toward fields where efficiency, or even the greatest return on their investment can be realized.    

This approach to learning is consistent with the origins of the modern university in the crucible of industrial revolution and nationalism. The dominant model for modern higher education remains the assembly line and this presupposes a kind of Taylorism in how it is administered.  

2. Humanities as Craft. The unfortunately reality for the humanities within audit culture is that most humanistic disciplines do not fit comfortably within the Taylorist assembly line model of higher education. While the humanities as disciplines emerged within this model, they are not “of this model.” In other words, when we sit down to “do history” or “do literature” or “make poems” or whatever, we don’t privilege efficiency and outcomes as much as process and understanding.

[As an aside, one of the things that the recent conversation about digital humanities and digital archaeology has demonstrated is that efforts to make our fields more efficient or to streamline the hard, often-slow work of the humanities are not universally embraced as “good.” While most of us act in certain ways to make our research more efficient, we tend to resist efficiency as an explicit goal.]

I’ve blogged pretty extensively in the past about history as craft, but as I’ve talked more and more with folks who do public history and public humanities, I’ve come to realize the powerful pull of sensationalist, results-driven public statements from folks working in the humanities. This privileging of results over process invites scholars in the humanities to view the process as something that is secondary to the product. But, most of us know that the process – like the recent trend toward craft – is far more important that the shortest route to a desired outcome (and see my point 1 for the clearest definition of a desirable outcome in American higher education). 

3. Humanities and Competition. Ultimately the emphasis on outcomes and efficiencies contributes significantly to a view of higher education that privileges competition over cooperation. Whether this is competition between scholars for grants, programs for students and funding, or universities for reputation, the model of competition driving excellence has been lifted from the handbook of neoliberalism and projected with wild abandon across campus. 

Of course, the goal of advocating competition is not to allow the cream to rise to the top, but to reinforce the position of the cream AT the top. In other words, advocating competition reinforces the status of the “winners” who largely achieved their place on campus on the basis of non-competitive processes. In short, most claims to competition work to assert the moral or practical superiority of the winner and the inferiority of the loser who then become deserving of treatment that limits in fundamental ways their ability to compete.

Even if we allow that competition can promote excellent projects, work, or programs, it does so at the expense of tremendous inefficiencies as programs and projects buy into competitive models of funding under which they are unlikely to find success for structural reasons. Fortunately, most of us in the humanities understand this, but fewer of us work together to create productive collaborations than I’d like to see. Working together to find ways to advance our collective work in the humanities – through, say, collaborative or cooperative publishing models – is a much wiser approach than struggling with one another to escape from the same crab pot. 

4. Humanities as a Brand. Over the past year, I’ve thought a good bit about this probably flawed juxtaposition: the university as a billboard versus the university as factory. The latter draws upon the history of higher education as the product of our Industrial Age and recognizes what we do as producing well-rounded, thoughtful, educated, and critical students. The former is advertising what it is that we imagine the public wants us to be doing and will support.

In many cases across campus the need or desire to produce a flashy billboard actually subverts the goals of the factory. In some cases ,the factory is seen as more or less obsolete. I developed these ideas based on an experience that in conversations surrounding a new institute for autonomous vehicles and drones. The idea behind this institute, as far as I could tell, was the promote research on autonomous vehicles and drones rather than actually to support this research on campus. On the one hand, this could be seen as a version of the “fake it until you make it” strategy which seeks to attract partners, grants, and other revenue to build something based on demonstrating a good idea or the strong potential for success. On the other hand, the making of the institute itself was a gamble that actually drew resources away from the work that was actually ongoing at the university.

Good work in the humanities is rarely flashy and rarely “brand worthy,” because it’s steeped in process, gradualist, and almost always provisional. Efforts to draw scholars of the humanities into billboard worthy research can run counter to the good, but plodding work that makes the humanities valuable. To use a painful metaphor, mass producing Rolls Royces not only undermines the craft values that make them special, but almost invariably undermines the purpose of having or making a Rolls Royce motorcar. 


As you can tell, these ideas are probably too expansive for a short, focused essay. Maybe they’re too diffuse. Maybe they’re simply not that good. But they’re what I got right now, and I’m going to work on them over the next couple of months until I feel like I have something to say. 

Stay tuned.

Cyprus Papers and Posters at the American Schools of Oriental Research Annual Meeting

The 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research happens this week in Boston. You can check out the schedule and program here.

For your convenience and interest, I’ve compiled a list of the papers and posters with explicit reference to Cyprus in their titles. As you can see there are four panels dedicated this year to Cypriot topics and a number of other papers, posters, and digital demonstrations scattered throughout the three-day conference.

Do check them out if you’re in Boston! 

Thursday, November 16

1F Archaeology of the Ancient Near East: Bronze and
Iron Ages 1

9:05 Igor Kreimerman (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “Destructions at the End of the Late Bronze Age: A Comparison between the Northern Levant, the Southern Levant, and Cyprus” (15 min.)

Friday, November 17

5A Landscapes of Settlement in the Ancient Near East
Harbor 1

9:25 Georgia Andreou (Cornell University), “The River Valley as a Study Unit and Conceptual Boundary in Settlement Studies: The Case of South-Central Cyprus” (15 min.)

5E Archaeology of Cyprus I

CHAIRS: Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University) and Walter Crist
(Arizona State University)

8:20 Lindy Crewe (Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute), “Excavating Souskiou-Laona Chalcolithic Cemetery” (20 min.)

8:45 Peter Fischer (University of Gothenburg) and Teresa Bürge (OREA, Austrian Academy of Sciences), “Tombs and Offering Pits at the Late Bronze Age Metropolis of Hala Sultan Tekke, Cyprus: Results from the Excavations in 2016” (20 min.)

9:10 Paula Waiman-Barak (University of Haifa), Anna Georgiadou (University of Cyprus), and Ayelet Gilboa (University of Haifa), “Early Iron Age Cypro-Phoenician Interactions: CyproGeometric Ceramics from Tel Dor and Cyprus, a Study of Ceramic Petrography” (20 min.)

9:35 Giorgos Bourogiannis (Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities [Medelhavsmuseet], Stockholm), ”The Ayia Irini Project at the Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm: New Research on an Old Excavation” (20 min.)

10:00 Andrew McCarthy (University of Edinburgh), Kathryn Grossman (North Carolina State University), Tate Paulette (Brown University), Lisa Graham (University of Edinburgh), Christine Markussen (University of Vienna), “A Transriverine Hellenistic Settlement at Prastio-Mesorotsos, Cyprus” (20 min.)

6E Archaeology of Cyprus II

CHAIRS: Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University) and Walter Crist (Arizona State University)

10:40 Thomas Landvatter (Reed College), “Cremation Practice and Social Meaning in the Ptolemaic East Mediterranean” (15 min.)

11:00 Karolina Rosińska-Balik (Jagiellonian University in Kraków), “Architectural Features of the Agora of Paphos (Cyprus)—Some Remarks” (15 min.)

11:20 Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University), “The Workshops of Ancient Arsinoe” (15 min.

11:40 Pamela Gaber (Lycoming College), “The 2017 Season of the Lycoming College Expedition to Idalion, Cyprus” (15 min.)

12:00 R. Scott Moore (Indiana University of Pennsylvania), Brandon Olson (Metropolitan State University of Denver), and William Caraher (University of North Dakota), “The Circulation of Imported Fine Wares on Cyprus in the Roman and Late Roman Periods” (15 min.)

12:20 Ann-Marie Knoblauch (Virginia Tech), “Excavating Cesnola: Public Interest in Archaeological Field Techniques in 1880s New York” (15 min.)

7E Archaeology of Cyprus III

CHAIRS: Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University) and Walter Crist
(Arizona State University)


2:00 Katelyn DiBenedetto (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), “The First Permanent Settlers of Cyprus: Pushing the Neolithic Boundaries” (15 min.)

2:20 Walter Crist (Arizona State University), “Changing the Game: Bronze Age Gaming Stones from Cyprus” (15 min.)

2:40 Louise Steel (University of Wales Trinity Saint David), “What Happened in Room 103 at Aredhiou?” (15 min.)

3:00 Kevin Fisher (University of British Columbia), “From Duplex to Courtyard House: Re-assessing Bronze Age Social Change on Cyprus” (15 min.)

3:20 A. Bernard Knapp (University of Glasgow), “Piracy and Pirates in the Prehistoric Mediterranean” (15 min.)

3:40 Joanna S. Smith (University of Pennsylvania), “Facing a Crowd: Dedicatory and Museum Displays of Cypriot Art” (15 min.)

8E Digging “Lustily” into Cypriot Prehistory: Studies in Honor of Stuart Swiny

CHAIRS: Zuzana Chovanec (Tulsa Community College) and Walter Crist (Arizona State University)


4:20 Introduction (5 min.)

4:25 Helena Wylde Swiny (Harvard University), “Why Cyprus?” (15 min.)

4:45 Francesca Chelazzi (University of Glasgow), “Settlement Archaeology in Bronze Age Cyprus: The Pioneering Legacy of Stuart Swiny in the Southwest Forty Years Later” (15 min.)

5:05 Thomas Davis (Tandy Institute for Archaeology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), “The House of the Dancing Bird” (15 min.)

5:25 Laura Swantek (Arizona State University) and William Weir (University of Cincinnati), “A Dig of a ‘Certain Kind’: Stuart Swiny and the Past and Future Potential of Sotira Kaminoudhia” (15 min.)

5:45 Zuzana Chovanec (Tulsa Community College) and Sean M. Rafferty (University at Albany), “A Legacy of Education and Collaboration: Stuart Swiny’s Role in Cypriot Studies at the University at Albany” (15 min.)

6:05 Alan Simmons (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), “Thinking Outside the Hippo: A Personal Tribute to Stuart Swiny” (15 min.)

8A GIS and Remote Sensing in Archaeology 1

5:10 Carrie Fulton (University of Toronto), Andrew Fulton (Independent Scholar), Andrew Viduka (Flinders University), and Sturt Manning (Cornell University), “Using Photogrammetry in Large-area Survey of the Late Bronze Age Anchorage at Maroni-Tsaroukkas, Cyprus” (20 min.)

Saturday, November 18

10D Archaeologists Engaging Global Challenges

11:15 Louise Hitchcock (University of Melbourne), “Aged Tasmanian
Whiskey in Boston Is the New Faience Rhyton in Cyprus: Globalization and Plutocracy, Populism, and Piracy” (25 min.)

10K Maritime Archaeology

11:55 Stella Demesticha (University of Cyprus), “The Cargo of the Mazotos Shipwreck, Cyprus” (20 min.)

12H Archaeology of the Byzantine Near East

5:45 Charles Anthony Stewart (University of St. Thomas), “The Alexander-Heraclius Stele: a Byzantine Sculpture Discovered in Cyprus” (15 min.)


“Evolving Architectural Function in the ‘Earthquake House’ at Kourion, Cyprus” Erin Beatty (Tandy Institute for Archaeology) and Laura Swantek (Arizona State University)

“Against the Grains: The Story of Early Agriculture in Cyprus” Leilani Lucas (University College London; College of Southern Nevada) and Dorian Fuller (University College London)

Digital Archaeology Demos

“The Archaeology of Rural Landscapes: Surface Survey and Magnetic Anomaly Test Excavations at Maroni, Cyprus”

Catherine Kearns (University of Chicago), Peregrine Gerard-Little (Cornell University), Anna Georgiadou (University of Cyprus), and Georgia Andreou (Cornell University)

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s cold in North Dakotaland. The high yesterday was 12 and the low last night was -2. It is simply too early to be this cold.

Fortunately, there my colleagues over at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota have a number of reasons to stay inside, by the fire, and warm on Veterans’ Day weekend. If you haven’t already, you should download a copy of Micah Bloom’s Codex, or if you’re as taken by it as I am, go and grab the trade paperback for the low, low price of $9.99. Realizing that this is the start of a long winter, you might as well also go and pre-order a copy of The Beast from our friends at Ad Astra Comix.

If that’s still not enough, do check out this long essay from a veteran of World War I originally published in North Dakota Quarterly in 1919.

One last thing, I’d love to get some more feedback on my draft article on our work at the Atari excavation in Alamogordo, New Mexico a few years back

Or the following gaggle of quick hits and varia:

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Objects, Media, and Moviemaking: Narrating the Alamogordo Atari Expedition

It took me much longer than I imagined to get to this point, but I finally have something scholarly to show for my adventures at the Atari Expedition in Alamogordo, New Mexico. For something less than scholarly, you can read this.

This is not a final product, nor will it be the last word, but I feel like I have finally wrangled the maelstrom of ideas and experiences into a cohesive (if not coherent), presentation. The paper linked below represents my efforts to bring together five areas of thinking. First, I wanted to present a formal, archaeological description of the excavation of Atari Games from the Alamogordo landfill. Second, I wanted to do this in a way that explicitly references the complexities of both academic and popular archaeological narration. Third, I wanted to acknowledge the influence of the archaeology of the contemporary world on how we document 20th century archaeological work and the complicated and complicating concept of contemporaneity in understanding our recent past. Fourth, I want to recognize the materiality of the games themselves and demonstrate that this materiality influenced the way in which we narrated their discovery. Finally, I wanted at least to reference the growing and sophisticated field of media archaeology and demonstrate that the media, message, and materiality all contributed to our view of the Atari Alamogordo excavations.

This is too much to do in a single paper, but in the spirit of “always leave them wanting less,” I attempt to tell a compelling story amid a dense and complicate analysis. And I wrote this all in about 3 weeks.

This article would not have come into existence if not for the persistence and infectious enthusiasm of Andrew Reinhard and that Archaeogaming crowd. Richard Rothaus’s good humor, experience, and inventiveness ensured that we documented things “on the ground.” Bret Weber provided all sorts of intellectual and “social” support. And Raiford Guins provided an academic framework for the understanding of these artifacts in their material and cultural history. None of these people are to blame for this jalopy of an article draft. 

What I desperately need now is feedback. The citations in this article are minimalist and the argument is tangled. I recognize that I need to include figures. The conclusions is more of a concession of defeat than a brilliant synthesis and the introduction serves as a christening in which the ceremonial bottle of champagne fails to break. That all being said, I do think that this is salvageable, but not without help.

Please help. 

Here’s a link to the paper in so you can comment on it. Or, if you’d rather, feel free to download it and shoot me feedback (or despair that I have a Ph.D.).  

Finally, where should I send this? 

More on Codex: Books, Performance, and Archaeology

I was initially drawn to Micah Bloom’s Codex project because it combined two elements that have become more or less central to my life: books and archaeology. At our book launch event last Friday, I realized that Bloom’s project had even more in common with my interests than I had initially recognized. In a short presentation Bloom unpacked the process of developing both the Codex book and short films that came from his efforts to document the books scattered about the Minot landscape.

If you don’t know Micah Bloom’s Codex, do go and check it out now.

In a brief back-and-forth in Minot, I asked Micah if he was inspired by recent work in “archaeology of the contemporary world.” I was inspired to ask after he discussed the particular care that he and his team took to document the scattered books both in situ and to number, label, preserve, and photograph the collected books systematically. Moreover, his team donned hazmat type as you can see in this clip from his film, and approached each artifact with extraordinary care

He admitted that he wasn’t particular familiar with this frequently theoretical (or at least conceptually ambitious) branch of archaeological work. He was inspired, however, by various manuals and technical literature that he found on for dealing with toxic objects, biological waste (including bodies), and other potentially contaminated (and contaminating) detritus. In other words, he used technical literature as a guide to performing real archaeological fieldwork, not in order to produce a thoroughly and systematically documented record of the 2011 Minot flood, but capture the particular sanctity of the books left behind in its receding waters. Performing archaeological work demonstrated care.

Archaeologists like Michael Shanks have long recognized the confluence of archaeological work and performance, and, indeed, theater. Without delving too deeply into this inspiring, if complex set of ideas, I have always struggled a bit to understand the relationship between the superficiality of theater – that is the concession in theater that the actors and the audience both have to suspend disbelief and recognize the actors as acting their parts – and archaeological methods, which ideally guide actions even when no one is looking. This isn’t meant to denigrate the work of actors and the depth of the characters that they portray or the promote the idea of the archaeologist as a singularly and consistently principled practitioner (but I’m sure most of us say that we try to be). The desire to keep our scarps straight is not just a cosmetic act that reinforces the scientific (scientistical?) precision of our work, but a practical way to make the stratigraphic relationships between various depositional events more visible. An actor may embrace certain aspects of a character off the stage (perhaps as part of an approach inspired by method acting), but this is fundamentally secondary to role played on the stage. There is always a risk, then, in emphasizing the performative in archaeology that we succumb to the artificiality of the aesthetic and as Michael Shanks has realized “abstracted from what is being represented, removed in an escape from social and historical reality, from anonymous popular masses, from the messy vernacular human and natural detail…”

Micah’s work offers an intriguing complication to this risk. Not only did he document his work to bring order to the messy chaos of flood recovery speak to a particular moment in time (and an effort to resolve what must have been a pervasive feeling of disrupted existence), but he also documented the books themselves in ways that are not immediately visible in his published work. For example, he disclosed that he has photographs of hundreds of books in situ and once he and his team collected and documented them. He also has a database (technically a spreadsheet) of close to 800 books recovered, identified, photographed, and documented from his work. Unlike the public facing work of the film and book and installation, these aspects of the Codex project, like the method actors behind the scenes routine, remains out of sight (at least, for now). 

Since Micah’s presentation, I’ve been turning around in my head how to make at least some of this archive available. Whether this archive will produce new archaeological, historical, or cultural knowledge is difficult to say, but it does reveal the depth of Codex as a form of authentic archaeological engagement with the world. 

Pre-Order The Beast Today!!

This is turning into a pretty exciting month for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Last week, we released Micah Bloom’s Codex and today, we’re excited to announce our support for the pre-order campaign for The Beast produced by Ad Astra Comix and Dr. Patrick McCurdy, from the University of Ottawa. The Beast is a brilliantly illustrated and engaging story of two precariously employed millennials living in the heart of Canada’s oil country. 

Go and pre-order a copy today and watch this space for some exciting future developments! 

TheBeast Cover

This project continues The Digital Press’s commitment to the sustained study of petroculture in North America and we’re proud to place The Beast on the “Bakken bookshelf” alongside The Bakken Goes Boom! Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota (2016), the most recent book from our friends at NDSU Press, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape, and two new books in development from The Digital Press, a updated and expanded reprint of the 1958 Williston Report and, Voices of the Bakken, an expansive and immersive collection of interviews with residents of the Bakken oil patch in the 21st century boom.   

Go support this remarkable project, and, then, stay tuned for more about The Beast and a unique collaboration between Ad Astra Comix and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota!

Higher Education: As Simple as Possible, but No Simpler

I think it was Einstein who said “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Books on higher education have struggled with this sage advice over the past decade or so. The temptation to simplify complicated problems has led to either simplistic solutions (administrative bloat, “neoliberalism” and coddled students, et c.) or hopelessly complicated “word salads” where causality frequently takes a backseat to politically expedient rhetoric.

Not only are recent books on higher education a complicated and uneven mess of arguments, assertions, data, and policy, but they are proliferating at a remarkable rate. Over the past two years alone, dozens of books have appeared with optimistic profiles, evocative names (The New Education, The Graduate School Mess, For the Common Good, The Great Mistake et c.), and exuberant blurbs that prey upon the desperation of faculty and administrators alike to make sense of the changing campus landscape. (And they join a substantial bookshelf of “classics” that manage to feel hackneyed and naive at the same time.)

Preparing a syllabus for my spring course on the University of North Dakota Budget Crisis has proven particularly challenging. I’d like my students both to understand the main contours of recent higher education rhetoric and to gain a grounding in the complexities of data, policies, and attitudes that underlie this rhetoric. For every book like Newfield’s detailed analysis of university funding, there’s seems to be a few books like Cathy Davidson’s disappointing and largely derivative, The New Education. The cynic (and publisher) in me sees many of these books as efforts by publishers to leverage faculty discontent and cash in on the feeling of crisis in higher education.  

William G. Bowen’s and Michael S. McPherson’s Lesson Plan: An Agenda for Change in American Higher Education (2016) is among the more successful efforts to make things as simple as possible. It sets out the problems with higher education in the 21st century that is both grounded in a realistic understanding of the American political landscape and higher education and frank in its evaluation of the data upon which so many policy assessments are based. My favorite thing about the book and perhaps its saving grace is that it’s short.

In less than 200 pages, Bowen and McPherson offer a blunt assessment of higher education in the context of a the national conversation. They highlight the need for higher levels of educational attainment, higher completion rates and faster time to degree, disparities among students from disadvantaged groups economically, socially, ethnically, or racially, affordability, and the challenges of developing strong leaders in higher education. In general, they avoid offering simple solutions to complex problems. They do this, by both staying out of the weeds of the history of higher education in the U.S., which is a complex and diverse snare always ready to entrap the inexperienced scholar, and offering particularly blunt assessments of current affairs.

For example, $30,000 worth of debt for a college degree is not oppressive when set against the significant increase in future earnings that this degree will offer. In fact, compared to the average value of a car loan (which is about the same), most student loans are reasonable investments. They do, of course, note that loans taken out by vulnerable students to attend for-profit colleges with abysmal completion rates are no good investments. This perspective on higher education as an investment in future earnings reflects their realization that to remain dynamic higher education in the U.S. should rely on a combination of student, state, private, and federal funding sources. Loans reflect on methods that current earners, by repaying their loans, invest in future earners within the American economy. 

They recognize the disparity between the performance of students who come from disadvantaged economic or social groups, while also realizing that these students benefit the most from investments in their educational outcomes. Our current system tends to reward students from more privileged backgrounds with further investments while systematically underfunding institutions that cater to students most in need. This situation misses an opportunity to fulfill higher education’s potential as a way to give more students access to the upward mobility offered by a college education. In response, they call for more need based aid and less merit based aid. 

Bowen and McPherson understand many of the challenges facing higher to require strong, independent leadership, but that the current system in which university leaders are under unprecedented scrutiny from donors, boards, legislators, faculty, and alumni often stifles the development of innovative solutions. The tendency for university leaders to be risk averse and to follow well-trod paths under pressures to chase rankings, to pursue short-term opportunities at the expense of long-term change, and to ignore problems that require challenging, systemic solutions.

Bowen and McPherson do stumble, of course, as they seek to balance the need for sometimes painful changes against potential solutions. For example, they paradoxically call for shorter time to completion for Ph.D. programs while at the same time recognizing the overproduction of Ph.Ds. It seems to me that a longer time to completion for Ph.D.s would slow production by serving as a disincentive to some from the start, by increasing drop out rates, and by throttling the number of Ph.D.s produced by keeping programs filled to capacity for longer. This is not an appealing or socially sensitive response to the problem, but it is clear that calling for shorter time to completion in Ph.D. programs will only increase the glut of potential faculty on the market.

Despite this little slip ups, Lesson Plan is a short, incisive, and appealing little book that establishes the problems and offers some responses without making the complex challenges facing higher education any more simple than they need to be.