Friday Varia and Quick Hits

We’re have a bit of a late fall resurgence this week in North Dakotaland after some snowy winter days. That means, everyone is out gathering the leaves that we buried under the snow and students were back in flip flops and shorts before temperatures slip back into more seasonally appropriate ranges. 

In other news, you may have heard that The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota published a book this week, Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st century America. Check out an interview with Eric over at our local Pravda, UND Today or download (or buy) the book here

1B15CE39 F246 45D7 8937 9701413FFB9D

Teaching Thursday: Teaching Greek History

For various reasons, I dusted off my Greek history class this semester for the first time since 2004. I generally don’t teach upper level courses which at UND have a 300 or 400 designation. Since 2004, I think I taught Byzantine history once and that’s probably it for upper level offerings. But departmental needs change, so I offered Greek history.

So far, I’ve managed to stick to the original plan for the class which is a survey of Greek history from the Bronze Age to the modern period. The focus is on ways of seeing the past and starts with Joanna Hanink’s The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in the Age of Austerity (2017) before the typical litany of primary sources, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pausanias, and this week Marinos’ Life of Proclus, as well as material culture using John Bintliff’s The Complete Archaeology of Greece (2012) as our guide. For each source, we consider how they understood and communicated the Greek past and the midterm and final ask students to bring this together.

So far, so good.

Now that I’m half way through the class, I’m confronted by several things.

First, the course is largely political history and maybe this is appropriate in a time seemingly dominated by politics, but it feel sort of olde skool to me. My original goal of starting with Hanink and thinking about how people in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era thought about the Greek past was to foreground and problematize the way that we think about the past. This is a very conventional historical approach which supports most critiques of the West, for example, as well as larger conversations about what matters in history. 

Recently, however, I’ve been following the work of various scholars who deal with complex issues of race and gender in antiquity and come to realize that structuring my course around a framework of political history profoundly shapes how students read the ancient sources (e.g. Rebecca Futo Kennedy and the various scholars who contribute to Eidolon as well as conversations with my old buddy Dimitri Nakassis). While the structure of a course and its goals will (and should!) always shape how we engage a text, it structure me that the chronological organization of my course into politically defined chunks (e.g. the Archaic period, the Classical period, Antiquity, the Byzantine period) move the students to read these same political priorities into the sources and makes it much more difficult to use these sources to read these sources as evidence for race, general, social institutions or even continuity (as opposed to historians persistent interest in change).  

Second, lecturing feels antiquated. My course is structured around the conventional lecture/discussion format. One out of every three classes focuses on a discussion of a primary source in a way that either ties this source into the themes of the course or uses the source to anticipate issues that will appear in the next few lecture. Today, we discuss Marinos Life of Proclus, for example, and that will intersect with my lectures on Christianization. (There will probably a powerpoint of Early Christian churches in the near future, just sayin’). 

This approach feels pretty tired to me. After a five years teaching in a Scale-Up style classroom and, in particular, after last semester, running a discussion-based class on the UND Budget Cuts and about understanding and documenting Wesley College, it’s really hard to go back to lecturing. It feels pretty stale. Moreover, it feels almost authoritarian. Of course, I have my excuse (that I tell to myself before every lecture class) that there isn’t really a single volume survey of Greek history from antiquity to the modern era so I HAVE to provide narrative structure (which is, of course, too often a code word for political history, see my first point).

The frustrating thing is that I know I can do better in this class, but more than that, I know that I can do this differently because I have in other classes. Version 2 of this course will be different. And as I look ahead to teaching Roman history (gasp!!), I realize that to be comfortable in the 21st century classroom, I need to engage it like a 21st century teacher.

Finally, while I love antiquity and have now spent the majority of my life thinking full-time about ancient things, my passions and interests have changed over the past decade. In fact, I often feel more nostalgic when preparing or teaching my Greek history course than genuinely passionate about the material (with some exceptions). Part of me realizes that the expectation that one feels passion for one’s work is the ultimate sign of privilege, but another part of me thinks that my students might be better served if I taught things in which I’m currently invested like publishing, digital concerns, or archaeology of the contemporary world.


Worrying Wednesday: DATAM Conference Paper and Modernity

Over the weekend, I spent some time puttering around with a paper that I’ll be giving at the Digital Approaches to Teaching the Ancient Mediterranean (DATAM) conference at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World next week.

I prepared a first draft a few weeks ago and posted it here. The paper argues that there are several digital divides. The first is the typical one between those with access to a well developed digital infrastructure and those without (or with significantly less access to broadband, to computers at home and at school, or to the latest technology). The second is sometimes called the “second level digital divide” that distinguishes consumer from so-called “prosumers” who produce content for the web as well as consume it. These prosumers are not only more invested in the digital world, but also more comfortable with digital tools and practices. The final digital divide that my paper dissects is that between data and analysis. Data is often represented in exclusively digital ways and articulated as a raw material (i.e. “raw data”), as a natural resource to be mined or drilled into, and as something that exists outside of (or beneath) analysis and interpretation. While most critical archaeologists understand that these metaphors have limits and do not reflect the realities of practice, there is a tendency in the classroom to place data and analysis into sharp relief. I then go on to discuss how an awareness of these divides has shaped my teaching in a Scale-Up style active learning classroom.  

As it reads now, however, the paper lacks an edge and a conclusion. My instinct, at present, is to try to demonstrate how the Scale-Up classroom creates another kind of digital divide between how the students engage with their learning and how my position as instructor can see their engagement. The barrier between what they can see and do and how I can see it is essential to the rise of a digitally mediated surveillance culture. The way that social media, search, and ecommerce companies track our behavior and produce responsive algorithms that depend on obscuring not only how they collect information, but also how they shape the way that we engage with their sites.

The metaphor of the panopticon from Bentham and Foucault, of course comes to mind, and its ability to condition the modern subject through the practice of being observed. That the panopticon also describes many aspects of our digital culture which strive to make us more willing consumers of both products and experience on the web is hardly debatable. What’s more worrisome, I suppose, is the way in which this same logic has shaped educational expectations. While it might sound naive to assume that somehow education – a thoroughly modern discipline – could avoid inculcating students with the expectations of the market, I do worry that our own use of digital tools and environments do little to prepare students to resist these pressures. On the other hand, perhaps an encounter based around dissection and breaking down these digital divides at least offers a tool kit for students to expect there to be limits to practices and to engagement in the digital world. This, of course, does nothing to undermine an ironic view of the modern world where strategies of dissimulation and occlusion obscure the real function of power and the making of meaning.

Book Release: Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st Century America

My friend and colleague Richard Rothaus has this thing called “New Book Day!” I’m stealing it for today to announce the publication of Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st Century America.

3_Protesting_CoverThis book brings together The Digital Press’s commitment to the public humanities, to innovative and responsible digital, open access publishing, and to our collaborative publishing model. The book brings together a wide range of perspectives on history, philosophy, ethics, and practice to bear on protesting, race, and patriotism. Eric Burin’s expansive introduction is cited almost exclusively with over 300 hyperlinks to articles on the media, which have all been made permanent using to prevent link rot. Moreover, the book is available for free and almost all the content is available under an Creative Common CC-By 4.0 license. Finally, this book would not have happened without the time, energy, and encouragement from our contributors and, in particular, Eric Burin, who pushed and, at times, pulled this book into its present form.

Below is the official press release. We hope that you enjoy this book!


Press Release

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is excited to announce a timely, relevant, and path-breaking new publication edited by University of North Dakota History professor, Eric Burin.

Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st Century America spotlights the demonstrations associated with Colin Kaepernick, a professional football player who in 2016 began kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to discrimination and injustice.

The volume opens with an extensive Introduction by Burin that situates the Kaepernick-inspired protests within the context of the distant and recent past, and then carefully analyzes the demonstrations themselves, the causes they symbolized, and the disparate reactions to them.

Bill Caraher, the publisher at The Digital Press, remarks: “Burin offers historical perspectives both on Kaepernick as an activist and on issues of racism, mass incarceration, and criminal justice reform, and this sets the book apart from treatments in the media that tend to focus on the contemporary response to the protests. To my mind, Burin’s Introduction is the definitive work on Kaepernick and the protests at present.”

The volume continues with thirty brief essays penned by a diverse array of authors, including scholars, veterans, sportswriters, coaches, and others. Each describes what he or she sees in the protests. Some view the demonstrations as part of the quest to secure the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Others discuss the legal landscape of dissent, the revival of athlete-activism, the tactics of protesters, or counter-tactics of their opponents. Still others share their perspectives as individuals literally “in the arena.” These observations, together with Burin’s far-ranging Introduction, provide a panoramic and contemporaneous account of the latest chapter in a freedom struggle as old as America itself.

Protesting on Bended Knee is a first draft of our history,” observed Burin. “It’s history written in real time.”

Burin added that the volume seeks to foster civil dialogue about important issues. “By offering diverse viewpoints and historical perspectives on the protests, the book provides common ground for constructive conversations about race, dissent, and patriotism,” explained Burin. With this goal in mind, the Digital Press at UND has made Protesting on Bended Knee available for free as a download at or as a low-cost paperback from

Protesting on Bended Knee officially launches on October 16th, the fiftieth anniversary of John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s famed protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Burin said the timing was not coincidental. “The book has a bifocal perspective, with one eye on the present and the other on the past. Like the publication date, the section headings, artwork, and even fonts have historical significance,” noted Burin.

In 2017, Burin edited another anthology with contemporary relevance, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College. That volume was also published by the Digital Press at UND, which serves “to publish timely works in the digital humanities, broadly conceived. Whenever possible, [it] produces open access, digital publications, that can attract local and global audiences.”

Eric Burin is available for interviews.

5_dp logo

Three Things about Publishing

This is a big week for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The first in a pair of fall releases happens tomorrow with another on schedule for mid-November. My colleague David Pettegrew and I are also wrapping up page proofs from our Oxford Handbook project.

Because I’ve been thinking about publishing and digital publishing a good bit lately. As I’ve noted before, the work of thinking about how a book is designed, laying out a book, and reviewing proofs, provides ample opportunities to think about how books and publishing work on a practical level.

Lately, I’ve thought about three things:

1. Collaboration. One of the great things about The Digital Press is that I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with some many good people. It is remarkable to me that so many scholars want a more hands-on involvement in the publishing process. The scholar with whom my press has worked are interested in fonts, margins, cover pages, and layouts. More than that, they’re interested in contributing actively to the process of moving a work from an idea, to a document in a word processor to a set of page proofs and to a finished book. 

The willingness and interest in the process of publishing suggests that there is a growing realization that publishing isn’t just what happens to a finished work when the hard work of thinking and writing is done, but extends through the process of designing, presenting, and even marketing the work. The collaborative spirit of the press serves the break down the barrier between author and publisher and not only give authors greater control over their work, but also challenges the idea of publishing as a commercial enterprise that acquires the rights of an author’s work in exchange for the work and risk associated with producing a published object. While I believe that commercial, academic, small, and large publishers should always exist for there to be a healthy publishing ecosystem, readers of this blog know that I’m also committed to models and modes of publishing that hybridize and complicate the current system. 

2. The Digital Page. Over the past year, I’ve thought a good bit about what the digital page looks like. On the one hand, the web page, coded in HTML and laced with hyperlinks, has a long tradition of standing as quintessential digital page. On the other hand, the development of the codex page in the analog book is deeply embedded in our intellectual and cultural world. From our system of academic citation to the prevailing metaphor of the “page” as a tool to present information, the page remains a useful way to think about how we communicate knowledge.

Of course, the digital page has its challenges. My preference remains to use the PDF as the basic way to publish new knowledge. The PDF is not the most elegant or dynamic platform, but it shares the basic structure with paper books and represents the kind of hybrid digital/analog space that allows readers to move seamlessly from digital to print media. This does, however, involve certain sacrifices. For example, the digital page does not like columns or densely spaced text blocks. In my experience, narrower text blocks with generous margins and line spacing work better on screen and across devices. Not all fonts move between the analog and digital with equal grace.

The downside of these compromises is that sometimes the analog page looks a bit simple and brash in order to make the digital page feel comfortable and easy to read.

3. Thinking about Digital Publishing in Archaeology. I’m pretty excited to have been invited to the 2019, Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Buffalo next spring. The topic is Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age and I’ll present a paper titled “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics.”

I’m not entirely sure what this paper will be about, but my hope is that it extends from the paper that I’ve been toiling on for the European Journal of Archaeology which is playing with post-industrial metaphors in digital archaeological practice. I hope that this can be effectively extended to how we think about the book as the goal of the archaeological workflow and how changes in digital practices has complicated any implicit linearity to the course of archaeological work.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s wintertime on the Northern Plains with a lovely blanket of snow on the ground and just a bit of cold in the air. It’s perfect weather for football, reading in a comfortable chair by the fire, and watching cricket matches taking place in much warmer climate.

It’s also nature’s way to remind me that I need to start to chip away at some larger projects that are looming on the horizon and bring a bunch of the lingering summertime work to close. With the changing seasons come changing priorities, changing deadlines, and changing attitudes.

One thing that doesn’t change, though, are my Friday varia and quick hits:

 IMG 3351

IMG 3352

The Joy of Voting

There’s a lot going on over the next month at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. If you want to be in the loop follow The Digital Press on Twitter

This week, the Digital Press kicked off a collaborative project with Dr. Eric Burin in the Department of History at the University of North Dakota and Citizens University, a non profit leader in civic engagement. The project is called The Joy of Voting and it looks to “reinvigorate a culture of voting” or at least remind the public that voting can be a joyous experience. Grand Forks, North Dakota is one of four cities in the U.S. with a Joy of Voting program along with Akron, Charlotte, and West Palm Beach

The Digital Press is working on only one little aspect of the Joy of Voting project in Grand Forks, which focuses on soliciting and publishing online memories of how voting was a joyful experience. Check it out here:

Joy of voting grand forks e28093 2018 10 09 13 54 58

The Joy of Voting website and Facebook page will be updated daily with a new memory of voting as a joyful experience. Depending on the response to the page, we might put together a little digital book celebrating voting in Grand Forks.     

Davida Font and NDQ

One of the most enduring and perhaps endearing characteristics of North Dakota Quarterly has been its use of Davida font in its iconic logo “NDQ”:




The fonts used on the NDQ title page and masthead have not changed frequently. The first series of the journal used an attractive old style serifed font featuring a “Q” with an absolutely fantastic (but not overwrought) tail.

1933  Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust D 2018 10 10 05 49 25

The Quarterly had a hiatus between 1932 and 1956 and when it reappeared, it subtly marked this hiatus by changing its masthead. From 1956-1967, the North Dakota Quarterly cover featured the Romantic Bodoni font. The use of the Bodoni Condensed on the masthead on the inside page of journal was a nice allusion to the journal’s hiatus. Bodoni Condensed was introduced in 1933 as a useful addition to the American Type Founders extensive line-up of Bodoni style fonts. 

North Dakota quarterly v 25 no 1 1957  Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library 2018 10 10 05 58 21

North Dakota quarterly v 24 no 2 1956  Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library 2018 10 10 05 48 14

North Dakota quarterly v 29 35 1961 1967  Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library 2018 10 10 05 47 06

When Robert Wilkins took over as editor of the Quarterly in 1968, he introduced the now iconic NDQ logo in Davida font.  Davida was designed by Louis Minott and introduced in 1965. The font had some currency in the late 1960s and early 1970s, appearing in a wide range of contexts. It was pretty popular for album cover art, appearing on Neil Diamond’s single “Solitary Man/Cherry Cherry” (1970) and the T. Rex single “By the Light of the Magical Moon” (1970) as well as on James Brown’s 1970 album Ain’t it Funky. In the publishing world, it appeared on the cover of the 1971 edition of Silvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and the cover of the revised 1971 edition of The Country Code in the U.K.  I wasn’t able to find the exact precedent that inspired Robert Wilkins to use this font, but there are enough funky, literary, and rustic examples to demonstrate that Davida was in the air.

A few months ago I floated the idea of changing up our logo, and even floated a few ideas. None of them met with any unconditional enthusiasm, and now I’m thinking that maybe keeping the Davida NDQ logo is just a good thing. I mean, if it’s good enough for The Godfather of Soul and The Country Code, maybe it’s just fine for NDQ.  

NDQuarterlyLogos 01

Nature Behind Barbed Wire

After some nudging from Richard Rothaus and Kostis Kourelis, I read Connie Y. Chiang’s Nature Behind Barbed Wire: An Environmental History of Japanese Incarceration (2018). The book was pretty enthralling, in part, because I was not particularly familiar with the details of Japanese internment during World War II, but largely because Chiang manages to weave the environmental context for this internment throughout her narrative in a compelling and intriguing way.

Chiang divides her narrative into three basic sections: the pre-internment landscape of Japanese settlement in on the Pacific coast; the landscape of internment at four camps, Manzanar, Minidoka, Topaz, and Gila River; and the post-internment return of the Japanese to the Pacific coast. As per usual, I won’t offer a review here, as the book is outside even my casual knowledge, but I’ll make some observations that intrigued me or coincided with my own work on short term settlement in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Bakken and Japanese internment were in any way equivalent, but there were some intriguing parallels between Chiang’s careful consideration of the space of the internment camps and the strategies that Japanese residents used to make them comfortable (and in some cases livable) despite the harsh surroundings. 

1. Environmental Expertise. Before the relocation process began, Japanese farmers, gardeners, and fishermen found diverse ways of engaging with and making a living from the Western landscape. They developed a range of regionally specific expertise in growing crops in the various microclimates and microenvironment present on the Pacific coasts and played a key role in the agricultural economy of the Western states.

The specific environmental understanding acquired from cultivating backyard gardens in San Francisco, working the peat soil of the San Joaquin Delta, or growing strawberries in the dry soils of the valleys of Southern California had limited applicability in the new environments of the internment camps. The response of these farmers to their new conditions was not simple, of course, and ranged from adaptability to problems adapting to their new surroundings with unfortunate results.

2. Camps and their Environments. Chiang is at her most evocative when she describes the various environments of the internment camps. The high deserts of Minidoka and the arid valley of Manzanar receive the most attention with their settings offering the greatest challenges to both the War Relocation Authority (WRA) who ran the camps and their reluctant residents. The setting of the camps challenged the design and construction of the buildings which were often inadequate to keep out the dust, heat, or cold of the desert environments. Their setting made difficult large-scale agriculture designed to make the camps self-sufficient and to allow them and their residents to contribute to the war effort (and demonstrate their patriotism). At the same time, the residents found ways to engage their new environments by hiking and fishing and leaving the camp grounds without permission. In effect, the story of the camps cannot be told outside their environments.

3. Camps and Patriotism. The desolate surroundings of the American West created a distinct environment for the interned Japanese – many of whom were American citizens – to “demonstrate” their patriotism by supporting the war effort. While it remains challenging for me to grasp the need to force American citizens to demonstrate their patriotism, Chiang makes clear that the environment formed the backdrop to these demonstrations of patriotism and if the Axis powers were the enemy in the theater of war, the arid landscapes of the camp served as an opponent to the interned Japanese. The landscape itself intensified the call to grow crops and endure hardships as ways to show their commitment to the war effort. 

It is hardly surprising that the interned Japanese Americans demonstrated a deeply ambivalent attitude toward the use of patriotism to motivate their work and in some cases complained about this rhetorical strategy explicitly. More than that, the landscape of the camps became a place for the interned residents to both demonstrate their continued person freedom through acts of resistance which involved things like leaving the camp for night fishing expeditions. In a sense, these person acts of freedom represented a commitment to patriotic ideals that the rhetoric of compliance within the camp sought to suppress. 

4. Camps and Identity. One of the things that I struggled with on the North Dakota Man Camp Project is understand how individual interventions in the space of temporary workforce housing sites in the Bakken served as expressions of individual identity despite the functional arrangement of the camps. While the circumstances of Japanese internment and a boom-time work force are clearly different, both situations revealed how the use of gardens could act a way to assert authority over the environment and express identity. 

The development of personal and even community gardens in the internment camps served not only as expressions of individual or communal identities, but the shared experience of these gardens by all residents in the camp created shared awareness of the diversity in these communities. Carving out spaces of expression in a public way, in effect, authorized individual responses to these expressions. 

On a more practical note, it was intriguing to see that camp residents used the spaces between units as the sites of gardens and in this way navigated the boundary between public space and private spaces. Similar strategies appear to be used in the Bakken as well suggesting a similar challenge to make the private visible as an indication of personal identity, while at the same time, retaining a sense of control over the space.

5. Returns. The final section of the book explored, in parallel, the struggles of the interned Japanese Americans to return to their communities and their return to recognize the sites of the camps many decades later. The ambivalent experiences of these returns are haunting, as they should be. The failure of the government to protect the rights of citizens and residents in the aftermath of internment compounded the inexcusable failure of internment itself. The separation of the interned from their environment in the camps by barbed wire was continued through discriminatory statues and attitudes after the internment ended making it often impossible for these individuals to return to their former landscapes and communities.

I wonder whether the metaphor of “closure” is inappropriate to describe the return of former camp residents to the sites of their camps. While in most cases, the camps were removed and the sites returned to their barren conditions, the memory of their experiences there (and the monuments marking the camps’ cemeteries) re-opened the often suppressed memories of their wartime experiences. Far from closure, then, the willingness of former camp residents to return to the sites of their camps allowed them a chance to publicly and privately re-appropriate their experiences and save them from oblivion and forgetting. Whereas the failure of the U.S. government their wartime policies and in their unwillingness to protect interned Japanese Americans after the war made reintegration with American society challenging, the voluntary return of interned residents to the former sites of their camps marked these spaces as sites of public memory and reflection for the entire nation. This return inverts the cynical effort to promote patriotism through work and confinement during the war time internment by urging a nation explicitly to recognize its failures and perhaps become better for the future. 

Industrial Practice and Archaeology

Lately I’ve been struggling to revise a paper that I delivered at the European Association of Archaeologists meeting last month for submission to the European Journal of Archaeology. In my blog post today, I’m trying to work through these ideas as explicitly as possible to work out some thinking problems in my current article draft. Most of what I’ve written here, I’ve tried to articulate before on the blog. The ideas aren’t new, but I’m hoping that I can get more refined in how I state them.

I argue that historically, industrial practices and the assembly line in particular, have exerted a strong influence over the organization of archaeological work. This is not a terribly unique argument and draws on a well-established body of scholarly work from as early as the 1980s and intersecting with larger critiques of archaeology as a distinctly modern practice. The influence of the logic of the assembly line, for example, encourages specialization in expertise and skills, looks to scientific management practices to organize labor, and prizes efficiency.

While the logic of the assembly lines is most explicit in contract archaeology where time is literally money, it is hardly surprising that it exerts an influence of academic archaeological practice as well particularly in the 1980s and 1990s when the emergence of New Archaeology reinforced the need for consistent field practices to produce rigorous, and frequently, quantitative data for hypothesis testing. At the same time, an intensification of pressures within academic archaeology to comply with permit requirements, to maximize the use of grant funding, and to produce consistent results from an increasingly volunteer (and often student) workforce, further encouraged the model of the assembly line and its influence on efficiency and consistency. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, there are parallels between the organization of archaeological practice and the logic of higher education. The assembly line exerted a clear influence over how students and faculty work within the American university system (and systems influenced by it). Specialization is prized and learning (and research) is divided into specialized compartments that pair specialists with students in the service of explicit teaching or research goals. As a result, the organization of academia and the shifting character of archaeology – especially as it became increasingly driven by methods and practices – found new opportunities for convergence. 

Digital tools and practices largely aligned with the practical needs of the archaeological assembly line and a major current in archaeological thinking has emphasized the way that digital tools can improve efficiency and consistency in archaeological recording. The most commonly used digital tools – like total stations and GPS units, laptop computers, databases, and GIS software, and digital cameras – came into use because they were easier, quicker, and better than earlier analogue practices. In many ways, the logic of these digital tools followed the logic of the assembly line. The tools encourage us to break down the world into manageable bits and bytes that can be reassembled when necessary to produce knowledge. The utility of databases, for example, is that they follow so closely the tendency to divide the complex into fragments, just as the assembly line divides complex tasks into simpler ones or the American university divides knowledge into subjects, courses, and classes. The parallel between digital tools and archaeological work facilitated the integration of these tools with field practice. 

At the same time, the modularity inherent in digital practice and digital logic opened the door to new ways to organize archaeological work. The assembly line was, by definition, linear, and this offered a model of archaeological work that proceeded from the field to the publication, the fragmentation of processes that digital tools allowed and, in some ways, required also undermined the linearity of the assembly line process. Digital tools, particularly with the spread of the internet, reduced the friction that maintained the linear movement of archaeological knowledge toward the goal of publication. It is now possible for the fragments and specialized work to be disaggregated from the larger goal of archaeological work and distributed to be used for different purposes. 

In fact, recent work in digital archaeology has sought to increase the value of this disaggregated archaeological information outside of the linear progress from trench to public. The push to publish archaeological “data” with robust metadata describing its organization, character, and utility makes it possible for others to understand and query this data as well as redeploy it to answer different research questions and for different goals. The growth of Linked Open Data standards explicitly encourages the (re?)use of data by different projects. The interoperability of this data complicates the linearity of archaeological work and introduces new ways to consider the production of archaeological knowledge.

It is at this point that the logic of logistics becomes increasingly significant for archaeological work. Whereas there was an expectation, if not a requirement, that assembly lines be arranged to limit the friction along their course, logistics emphasize the modularity of objects across different networks. The most obvious and well known examples of objects designed to facilitate logistics are shipping pallets and shipping containers which have standardized sizes that allow for different goods to be moved through expansive networks with a minimum of friction. In terms of packaging, standardization becomes a shared practice that offers certain advantages to anyone who chooses to prepare their goods in a certain way. More complex logistics, however, involve bespoke practices that allow not only for the distribution of goods through networks, but also their use in a wide range of contexts and environments. The ability for certain goods to move through networks but also to have value across networks represents the organizational logic of logistics. It’s not enough for an object to be produced with maximum efficiency. Real value comes when that efficiency is distributed through a network in ways that mitigate variability in markets, for example, or in labor or shipping costs as well as friction caused by borders and distance. In short, efficiency in logistics involves reducing the friction caused by distance, culture, and contexts while at the same time preserving the utility of the objects being dispersed. 

For an archaeologist, the growing influence of logistics as a model for understanding archaeological knowledge making offers certain contradictions. There is obvious value in the ability to reuse “raw” archaeological data to address issues or questions independent from the original goal of a project. At the same time, logistics emphasizes, in some ways, the decontextualizing of archaeological work. In a very tangible way, the ability of archaeological data across national boundaries and to move far beyond its physical context or provenience challenge traditional views of cultural ownership that are often located in a distinctive sense of place or culture. While most projects have sought to keep this in mind as they produce and disseminate archaeological data and have installed protocols that, for example, prevent the location of sensitive sites from being known, these efforts push against infrastructure – such as the web and linked data standards – designed to facilitate the seamless flow of knowledge. The development of elaborate metadata schemes offers another example of how the narrow context of archaeological runs counter to pressures of interoperability and the dissemination of data. Site specific schemes and typologies, while potentially more valuable in describing the situatedness of archaeological information in a particular place, also make this data less valuable for reuse. While this might appear to be largely a practical issue that technology can solve, they also have larger implications for the way we structure and value archaeological knowledge in general. As we work to adopt practices that make it easier for our data (and knowledge) to move more seamlessly from a particular context, place, or situation, we also transform the nature of archaeological knowledge and work. 

Archaeology has always involved creating knowledge from a specific site and in a specific context that has value that goes beyond the trench or place. The logic of logistics and digital tools, however, provides a model for digital practices that is both a development of such modern approaches to knowledge making as the industrial assembly line and a significant challenge to the significance of context and provenience in archaeological practice.