Friday Varia and Quick Hits

Rain and wind seem to always mark the arrival of fall on the Northern Plains. It works out well, though, because it tends to coincide with the ramping up of the semester and cooler days and nights. I feel late-September and October offers a nice segue into the long winter hibernation.

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The best thing about the fall here is that there are diminishing excuses to do anything other than hunker down in a comfortable chair with a writing project or a book.

To get you headed in that direction, here are some quick hits and varia:

 

MiloDaysMilo Days!

SunnyBargeSun in the Face

Three Cypriot Thing Thursday

Just a quick post today centered on three interesting Cypriot related things that have come through my news feed recently.

First, if you’re looking for funding to do research on Cyprus and at the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), go and check out their website for a glorious gaggle of fellowship opportunities. As anyone who has worked on Cyprus for any length of time will attest, CAARI is the institutional heart of foreign archaeological work on the island. Its recently improved facilities include a spectacular new library for paper books and a air conditioners (egg nishnahs for our Australian colleagues) in the hostel. 

Second, if you find yourself on Cyprus this October, be sure to check out the Nea Paphos and Western Cyprus Colloquium. It is being held in celebration of Paphos being named a European cultural capital for 2017. My colleagues, Scott Moore, Brandon Olson, and I, will have a paper presented by the inestimable Joanna Smith who will probably single handedly represent the recent flurry of activity at Polis in Western Cyprus. Here’s a link to the program.

Finally, my buddy David Pettegrew sent along a little article from the Cyprus Mail recently that announced that the tennis courts which have long stood to north of the Larnaka District Archaeological museum and the to the east of the excavated area of the ancient harbor of Kition. The goal is to make this site more visible to visitors and, perhaps, expand the excavated areas while also creating a new welcome area. The site of Kition is among the most under appreciated on Cyprus largely because its tucked in and around the modern city of Larnaka. The last few years, however, have seen a concerted effort to make the site more visible and understandable to the visit and when the museum reopens with redesigned and expanded displays, I suspect the Kition will return to its rightful place among the ancient cities of Cyprus.

UPDATE: To this we can add a conference to celebrate the centenary of Honor Frost’s birth to be held at the University of Cyprus from October 19-24! Titled “Under the Mediterranean” the program looks at Frost’s legacy of underwater research on ancient harbors across the Levant and Cyprus.  

Ottoman Peasants and their Local Elite

I’m always excited to read something my Michael Given who has published a series of intriguing articles unraveling the complexities of the Cypriot landscape during the Ottoman period. I was particularly intrigued by his recent piece in the Journal of Islamic Archaeology 4.1 (2017) titled “Global Peasant, Local Elite: Mobility and Interaction in Ottoman Cyprus.”

As the title suggest, the article looks to invert the old paradigm of local peasants and global elite by observing that peasants on Cyprus understood their place in an economy that was far from local. By looking at the way in which peasants speculated on their cotton crops, moved goods to profitable markets across the island, and negotiated rents and loans from landowners, Given contributes to a larger conversation that recognizes peasants as active participants in their own economic lives. Recent scholarship in the Mediterranean has sought to revise the idea that peasants were “people without history” or, more frequently in the eastern Mediterranean, figments of history that had somehow persisted in the Early Modern era. Given’s peasants are unapologetically historical individuals who recognize the contingencies present in their own economic strategies and existence. 

Given’s work has recently interested me for two reasons. First, as I’ve blogged about before, he has explored Ivan Illich’s idea of conviviality in the context of Mediterranean landscapes.

More importantly, in this case, is Given’s interest in mobility in the Mediterranean landscapes and particularly the role of monopati, cart tracks, and roads not only in linking together communities but creating spaces for economic and social activities. That these routes were more than simply passive links between communities and activated opportunities for interaction along their routes offers a way to understand the formation of seasonal settlements along these routes as preserving and building upon the common space of the roads. While it may be self-evidence, a model that understand roads themselves as space of interaction reminds us that road do more than manifest interaction between settlement “nodes”; they create settlement “nodes” as well. (My work in the Bakken allowed me to observe this phenomenon accelerated into hypermodern realty (in a kind of literal dromology); I’m now eager to read Erin Gibson’s work on roads that I first noticed in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology and which I now see that she’s expanded to North American cart roads!).    

Our work in the Western Argolid Regional Project has likewise focused on road and tracks through our survey area that preserved the course of Early Modern routes that were partly bypassed by modern paved roads. The appearance of seasonal settlements along these routes tied the season movement of flocks from villages outside the region demonstrated the dynamism and movement present in the early modern landscape. The presence of threshing floors around the larger of these indicated that these settlements were more than simply winter pastures for flocks, but also served as anchors for fields in the region and the processing of the late summer harvest. These seasonal settlements also provided access to markets at Argos (and the Aegean) and further diversified opportunities for villages like Frousiouna which stands at the head of a north-south valley oriented toward the Corinthian Gulf. 

Uberfication, Branding, and Competition

For this week’s reading in my graduate seminar on the history of higher education, I asked the students to read Gary Hall’s new book, The Uberfication of the University (2016). It’s sort and it’s thought provoking especially if read alongside work’s like Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas (2010) or Christopher Newfield’s The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them (2017). I’ll admit that the latter has informed my reading of Hall’s work, but even without it, The Uberfication of the University represents a subtle and intriguing take on the role of neoliberal ideas in influencing how universities function.

For Hall, the ride-sharing company Uber is emblematic of late capitalism, and his book looks at the impact of certain trends on the way in which the university functions both now and might function, in the future. Uberfication does not just refer to the hiring of low-cost, temporary, adjunct faculty and practices that allow universities to scale up or ramp down faculty across campus to serve student demands while keeping costs low. Uberficiation describes a larger trend in capitalism that promotes the creation of free-lance, microentreprenuers for whom the surveillance society of late capitalism has enforced a kind of the self-subjectification. This is largely done through the ubiquitous collection of data which has shaped our behaviors through the reinforcement of certain economically productive forms of self-discipline. As Hall notes, building on Foucault, the practices associated with surveillance society are normalized through eduction with has become designed to produce data that allows third parties (university administrators, for example) to assess learning as well as monitor student engagement, faculty performance, and educational efficiency. These practices tend to locate the educational process not at the level of the university, department, or curriculum, but at the level of individual performance. Smart faculty (like smart students) learn to “game” the system in various ways which are largely the intended consequences of the system from the start. The concept of uberfication, then, is as much about the use of data to shape individual behavior as it is the development of a permanently contingent workforce (although this is certainly parti of Hall’s critique).  

As a very simple local example from my institutions, we were recently threatened that instructors whose classes did not make enrollments consistently would be reviewed poorly in their annual reviews exposing them to the possibility of termination. While this outcome seems rather unlikely, the threat itself demonstrates the kind of shift that Hall identified. The use of data – in this case the rather coarse measure of enrollment numbers – to shape individual behaviors. It is difficult to blame individuals in this situation from shaping their courses to fit whatever expectations students (and administrators) have.

Hall’s book speaks to three regular themes in my musings on higher education: the development of personal (or institutional) billboards and brands, the use of data, and competition.

One of the key things that Hall connects to uberfication is the development of personal faculty brands (and I’d suggest, by extension, collective and university branding). Of course, I am familiar with the self branding and self promotion. My blog represents a particular crass example of this and the concept of branding extends to include The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and my brief foray into podcasts, for example. While one could argue (and I have) that these are as much about promoting what I do as promoting myself, it is hard to escape the reality that data – page views, download numbers, even citations – represent a crucial measure for assessing the popularity of my particular view of the world and its wider relevance. I’m beyond checking my stats daily and fussing about why one post or another is more popular, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t generally aware of my own performance as a blogger and the performance of my press, for example. (As I was writing this, I posted to a Facebook page a link to my blog. Always. Be. Closing.)

In some ways, this desire to promote one’s own work extends to the level of the university as well. Recently, on our campus, there has been a spate of “billboard building” which doesn’t really involve the construction of literal billboards, but the desire to aggregate, name, and promote certain features of campus life allows for more granular and targeted monitoring of performance and message. It tends to be superficial, of course, just as personal brands tend to be, and have little to do with the creation of actual value or scholarship or even work at the university. It has everything to do with the promoting the institution as a brand.  

The second key feature of uberfication that I’ve been interested in is the use of data. Years ago, a buddy of mine, Mick Beltz wrote a short piece on the way in which online teaching (and I’d extend this to any number of active teaching classroom environments) promotes a vision of teaching consistent with the Foucauldian panopticon. I then riffed a bit on this in an article that was rejected everywhere I sent it. Our ability to monitor students while they work and learn has created a new level of data that allows a conscientious teacher to evaluate and shape learning as a process.

The same kinds of data, of course, can also shape how we as faculty teach and how our programs are funded on campus. For example, at my university, we are contractually obligated to use a piece of student retention called “Starfish” which allows the university to track students carefully through their careers, but also requires faculty to generate data about students (and in turn condition faculty to see engaging with students as a data producing endeavor). In other words, software like Starfish uses and generates data that supports student retention by mimicking, in some way, the rather more data resistant experience of faculty actually engaging with their students in a genuine and unstructured way.

(Part of this is a long tail, I’d argue, of professionalization that encourages faculty to see what we do as contractual structured engagements with particular kinds of work. As a result, unstructured work like a hallway conversation with a student or reading and thinking about a book fits awkwardly into standards articulated within in contracts.

On the one hand, there is no doubt that professionalization has been a boon to academia by creating a level playing field of expectations for job-applicants, faculty, and students. On the other hand, as we continue to seek fairness in consistently structured data points, we are also moving away from the personal connections that make education (and I’d argue academia) a rewarding place.)    

Hall does not shy away from observing that the core feature of uberfication is the role that competition plays in the the monetization of self. I’ve thought a good bit about how the “marketplace of idea” between and within college campuses has led to increasingly extravagant billboards and increasingly impoverished factories. Uber, itself, is largely a billboard (at best) that collects data (and monetizes it) to position itself more prominently (to collect more data and money). Uber has very little investment in the actual rides that are “shared.”

As competition becomes more and more of hallmark of higher education, Hall argues that the quest for data, assessment, billboard making, has fundamentally undermined the viability of higher education. Through time, higher education has changed from a densely integrated and personal experience where students and faculty work closely together to create education to an assembly line of requirements and, now, to a uberfied service that compiles and responds to data in an effort to promote the efficiency of their product. I share Hall’s fear that the uberfication of higher education cares too little of the wellbeing of its students and its workers and too much for demonstrable efficiencies that easily promote its mission to stakeholders and funders. 

Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology: A Preprint

I’ve been in a deep writer’s funk lately and struggling to get projects going, to make progress on existing projects, and to wrap things up on time and to spec. It’s been beyond frustrating. 

So it is with a bit of relief that I offer a preprint of the introduction to the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology that David Pettegrew and I have been working on for well over a year. As readers of this blog know, David and I adopted a rather unorthodox strategy that involved writing almost 30,000 words and then editing it down to a more manageable and appropriate 8,000-10,000. At that point we invited comments from everyone including our contributors and tweaked and massaged the text up to around 10,500 words or a little over 12,500 with bibliography.

You can download a PDF draft here.

We’re under no illusions that this is the final word on Early Christian archaeology, but we think that as a standalone text and as the introduction to our Oxford Handbook, it makes a meaningful contribution (and perhaps can be read alongside Kim Bowes 2008 article, “Early Christian Archaeology: A State of the Field,” from Religion Compass).  

We have a couple more weeks before the entire Oxford Handbook gets sent into the black box, so if there is a glaring problem with the draft, please do not hesitate to let us know!

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

Fall has sprung here in North Dakotaland with temperatures in the mid-60s, overcast skies, and trees changing colors. Football season is under way and in Australia, they’re beginning to look ahead to this summer’s Ashes. New fall albums provide a soundtrack and the backlog of books and articles released this summer provides the beat.

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If you’re caught up on your backlog, though, or just need a break, here are some quick hits and varia:

IMG 1090Remembering summer.

Updates from The Digital Press

The last few weeks have been busy ones for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We are in the process of negotiating a collaboration with the University of North Dakota’s venerable literary journal, North Dakota Quarterly, to see it become a more nimble and digital publication.

North Dakota Quarterly

We have also agreed to work with an innovative new digital journal of archaeology and material culture, Epoiesen, edited by Shawn Graham at Carleton University in Ottawa. These collaborative projects represent the core values of The Digital Press as they look to bridge the gap between traditional publication and innovation and embrace the best potential of digital tools to create new ways of sharing knowledge.   

Epoiesen and Updates from The Digital Press

We are also excited to report the ongoing success of our 2016 publication, Mobilizing the Past for the Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology edited by Erin Walcek Averett, Derek B. Counts, and Jody Michael Gordon. It has been cited across a wide range of academic journals Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage, Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, Journal of Archaeological Science, Open Archaeology, Internet Archaeology, The American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and Advances in Archaeological Practice. Yesterday, a review appeared in the American Journal of Archaeology, the leading journal of Mediterranean archaeology in the U.S. The book has been out for less than a year!

Print

I was also excited to see William Caraher’s and Kyle Conway’s edited volume The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota get cited in Rick Ruddell’s Oil, Gas, and Crime: The Dark Side of the Boom Town (2017) and a thoughtful article by Thomas S. Davis in English Language Notes titled “Anthropocene Insecurities: Extraction, Aesthetics, and the Bakken Oil Fields.”

Introducing The Bakken Goes Boom The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

We’re also hard at work on a range of other projects. We’ll have an update soon on the digital publication of Micah Bloom’s Codex. The limited, hardcover, print edition is already making its way out to cultural institutions, and the trade paperback is well into production. We’ve scheduled a book launch event at Minot State on November 5th and in the process of getting one schedule here at UND in the fall. Hopefully we can live stream these.

If you don’t already, please follow us on Facebook for the latest news and updates!

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Domesticity and Hi-Fi Living

I’m totally enamored with J. Borgerson’s and J. Schroeder’s Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America (2017) published by MIT Press. The book explores the remarkable world of album covers from the 1950s and 1960s not from the heights of pop music (which was still dominated by 45 rpm singles), but from more offbeat and intriguing perspective of the newly introduce long-playing record. The book is lavishly illustrated in color and the authors present the album covers as a catalogue organized according two broad themes of “Home” and “Away.” The former includes album covers that feature home life including the joys of listening to music in a domestic retreat, and the latter features the covers of albums that offer to fill the house with foreign ambiance or to transport the listener the exotic locations.   

Borgerson’s and Schroeder’s most interesting observations center on the aspirational domesticity illustrated by these album covers. The home spaces are filled with musicians or listeners perched on Eames chairs in modernist, minimalist surroundings. The cover of Ornette Coleman’s iconic Free Jazz (1960) even featured art by Jackson Pollock. The album covers grouped into the “Away” category in this book depicted foreign places relying on a series of recognizable tropes to bring the romance, exoticism, or adventure of international travel to suburban living room. At the dawn of the jet age, these images did more than offer a glimpse of exotic “other” places outside the grasp the ordinary middle class family and reflected the shrinking of the world where it was now possible to travel to Europe, Cuba, Asia, or even domestic destinations such as, the newest state, Hawaii or bustling urbanism New York City. The albums, their cover, and the music, served as a guides to the new tourism of the jet age, and allowed for it to be (re)experienced at home.

As someone who loves hi-fi sound, I recognized that some of the aspirational character of these album covers goes beyond their ability to convey the neatly arranged space of the modern home or evoke the potential of travel and extended to the very idea that mass-produced recorded music was available on demand at home. The growth of radio made music available in the home or office, but the listener remained subject to the whims of the radio station and was always aware (for better and for worse) of being part of a listening public. The home hi-fi allowed a listener to create a private soundtrack for their world, and this likewise worked to redefine music and the home stereo as a way of capturing the otherwise public experiences of performed music. The privatizing of the public experience strikes me as a key element in our middle class dream. The promises of “Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound,” “Living Stereo,” “360 Sound,” and “Living Presence” from the long-playing record demonstrates that record companies understood that listeners aspired to the fidelity of living performances in their homes. 

I was also intrigued by the depiction of record players and turntables throughout the book. With few exceptions, the turntable was a understated device usually set off center in the album cover art. There were no wires powering the turntable (or any other electrical devices on the covers) and despite the claims of stereophonic sound, album covers never showed the two speakers necessary to reproduce the full effects of stereo recording. The turntable was a low-key and unobtrusive element of the neatly modernist home that could be hidden away in its cabinet until called upon to transport the listener.

This contrasts significantly with the contemporary vinyl revival which has produced turntables that are designed for their owners to display in their homes as a marker of their sophisticated taste in music and audio gear (exemplified by the recent interest in turntables by lifestyle brands like Shinola). While amplifiers, speakers, and the other gear required for the true high fidelity experience remain a delightful mishmash of industrial utility and modern design sensibility, the turntable has set itself apart, as an opportunity to display audio sophistication. The rituals surrounding turn table use (and to be clear, I’m not a vinyl guy), their design, and the required equipment encroach upon the clean minimalism of the 1950s and 1960s album covers and introduce a muddle, functional aesthetic to domestic space that makes obvious the tools required to translate the public experience to the home. Unlike the understated, almost magical, reproduction of performed music evoked in 1950s and 1960s album art, the 21st century stereo demonstrates the visual mastery of arcane, complex, and sophisticated technologies. If the space and design of the modern home sought to produce a subtle, domestic retreat open to both men and women, the 21st century stereo embodies a crass, functional, and messy masculinity.

The covers reproduced in this book reminded me that you can hide the cables, the racks of LPs, and even the turntable, but the hi-fi experience was never quite as austere and tidy as album covers displayed, and there was something very contemporary about the particular tension between aspiration and reality. The  clean modernity of the technology present in our contemporary mobile phones, laptop computers, and stainless steel appliances, can never quite hide the messy tangle of cables, skills, and rituals designed for its mastery. Despite the neat potential of this aspiration domesticity, the recent vinyl resurgence reminds us that people still want to demonstrate technical proficiency in controlling their world. 

Teaching Tuesday: Writing a Course Description for my Class on the UND Budget Cuts

This weekend, I put fingers to keyboard to produce a course description for my honors course in the 2015-2017 University of North Dakota budget cuts.

My course description had to accommodate three basic assumptions. First, students generally are not interested in their universities from an institutional or historical perspective. I once taught a class on the history of the University of North Dakota and most students found it boring in comparison to, say, Nazis or Romans. Second, the course has to have both specific learning goals (i.e. gaining a better understanding of complex institutions and UND in particular) as well as general learning goals (i.e. analyzing a range of documents to produce a narrative and analysis). Finally, it needs to produce something tangible and public. I’m thinking a little book titled A Student’s Guide to the UND Budget with an accompanying website.

So here goes: 

Between 2015 and 2017, the University of North Dakota experienced a series of seemingly unprecedented budget cuts. These results in a flurry of media coverage, cut programs, transformed priorities, and – perhaps most predictably – outrage. Faculty and staff lost jobs, academic, athletic and student programs were cut or modified, and campus life became punctuated with news of the latest cuts, public fora, and discussions.

Budgets are a fundamental aspect of most complex institutions, and in this way UND is no different than a company enduring an economic downturn or any other public institution experiencing retrenchment. The main difference between a university and these other entities, is that the university positions itself – at least for four or five years – as the source for a comprehensive experience that includes both most aspects of daily life (room, board, safety) and a student’s intellectual, social, and cultural life. Budget changes at the university can transform in basic ways a students experience during the fraught transition to adulthood.  

This course will explore the complex series of decisions, assumptions, and expectations that led to the 2015-2017 budget cuts at the University of North Dakota. Along the way, we’ll think critically about the history of higher education, the history of UND, and how complex institutions make decisions, execute plans, and respond to crises. We will explore these issues through a wide range of readings, projects that allow us to dig into various sources and data related to the cuts, and guest lectures from various people involved in the cuts.

In the end, we will produce a short guide for your fellow students (and maybe the general public) that explains what happened, how it happened, and why we should all care! (Let’s call it: A Student’s Guide to the UND Budget). The course will be fun.

#IrmaSyllabus, #HarveySyllabus, #HurricaneSyllabus

As I watched Hurricanes Harvey and Irma surge through the Gulf of Mexico, I got to thinking about the environmental, historical, political, and academic context for these “megastorms.” We can easily add Sandy, Katrina, Rita, Irene, Andrew, Matthew and various other “natural” catastrophes to this list. This year, in particular, we can expand our view of disasters to include flooding in Southeast Asia which have killed over a thousand people and displaced a million and the fires in Montana that have caused millions of dollars in damage and covered the western U.S. in smoke.

Among the more intriguing developments in recent years has been to put together syllabi that allow the public to explore the complexity of recent events. These syllabi are often generated quickly and produced by collectives of scholars and public intellectuals and have accompanying hashtags. The best known of these being the #StandingRockSyllabus and the #CharlottesvilleSyllabus.

I rarely do this on the blog, but I am wondering what a #HurricaneSyllabus would look like?

My interests are historical rather than climatological or even strictly environmental, and, as a result, I’m interested in the historical circumstances that shaped the impact of these events and their local and global contexts. My instinct would be to divide the syllabus into five weeks:

Week 1: The environmental context for Harvey and Irma.
B. Fields, J. Thomas, and J. Wagner, “Living with Water in the Era of Climate Change: Lessons from the Lafitte Greenway in Post-Katrina New Orleans,Journal of Planning Education and Research 37.3 (2017), 309-321.

Kevin Fox Gotham and Joshua A. Lewis, “Green Tourism and the Ambiguities of Sustainability Discourse: The Case of New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward,” International Journal of Social Ecology and Sustainable 6.2 (2015).

R. J. Niven and D.K. Bardsley, “Planned retreat as a management response to coastal risk: a case study from the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia,” Regional Environmental Change 13.1 (2013), 193-209.

R.A. Pilke, The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change. Tempe 2014.

Week 2: The geographic context for storms: settlement, economics, race, and history.
Check out some of the material tweeted by Prof. Andrea Roberts at Texas A&M with the hashtag #HarveySyllabus.

Federick C. Cuny, Disasters and Development. New York 1983

Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. London 2017.

Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Chose to Fail or Succeed. New York 2014. 

Daniel A. Farber, James Ming Chen, Robert R.M. Verchick and Lisa Grow Sun, Disaster Law and Policy. 3rd Ed. New York 2015.

Lafcadio Hearn, Chita: A Memory of Last Island. 1889

Week 3: The storm timeline: preparation and first responses.

Week 4: Rebuilding
D. Haeselin, Haunted by Waters: The Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997. Grand Forks 2017.  

Anthony Loewenstein, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe. New York 2017. 

Week 5: History and Archaeology of the Storms
M. Bagwell, “After the Storm, Destruction and Reconstruction: The Potential for an Archaeology of Hurricane KatrinaArchaeologies 5 (2009), 280-292. 

M. Bloom, Codex (forthcoming, but preview available here).

S. Lee Dawdy, Patina: A Profane Archaeology. Chicago 2016. 

Hurricane Digital Memory Bank.  

Timothy H. Ives, Kevin A. McBride & Joseph N. Waller, “Surveying Coastal Archaeological Sites Damaged by Hurricane Sandy in Rhode Island, USAThe Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology (2017), 1-23.

Obviously my syllabus has some massive gaps, but please help me flesh this out in the comments section below or with the Twitter hashtag #HurricaneSyllabus.