A Book Proposal: Archaeology and History at North Dakota’s Wesley College

This weekend, I finished reading Alfredo González-Ruibal’s new book, An Archaeology of the Contemporary Era (2019). It is an an exhaustive survey of recent trends in the archaeology of the contemporary that does not shy away from advancing its own interpretative and political agenda. This makes sense since the archaeology of the contemporary emerged from a kind of political engagement with the material present.

González-Ruibal’s book also motivated me to think about both my book on the archaeology of the American experience and one particular lingering project: the Wesley College Documentation Project. This was a eight-week long project that used photography and video, thick description, archival work, performances, and collaborative imagining to understand the history, abandonment, and final months of four buildings associated with Wesley College in Grand Forks, North Dakota. 

This project haunts me, and not just me, my colleague Mike Wittgraf is working on a mixed-media piece that derived from recordings that we did in Corwin Hall, my student-collaborators have approached me about continuing work on the project, and I feel like some of the ideas that I developed during that project cut across a bunch of my current projects – from thoughts on austerity to understanding the life of buildings and technology, to the concept of the contemporary. 

Last semester, I started to write up some of the work we did at this project and before too long, I had about 17,000 words in a document. The words included descriptions of individual rooms:

Larimore Hall, Room 136
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Description and History: This room was originally the northern part of Room 13 which was probably the waiting room of Larimore Hall where guests could wait for their friends living in this dormitory under the watchful eye of the matron. The east and west walls are original. Access to the room comes through a door with a transom window and a granite threshold in the west wall. The south wall of the room has an observation window and it dry wall. This wall does not appear on the early-1970s one-line plan or the 1979 plan.

In its final phase room 136 extended into Room 15 (on the 1979 plans and the one-lines from the early 1970s). Room 15 was a bathroom and with the removal of the drop ceiling, the changes to structure are visible with the ceiling above the bathroom striped of plaster and pipes from the upstairs bathroom visible.The north wall is largely original except for a 7 ft x 1 ft bump out added to accommodate the plumbing from the adjacent bathroom.

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Of course, we didn’t prepare similarly detailed description of each space within the Wesley College buildings, but we documented enough of the buildings to provide high resolution windows that expose the dynamism of these buildings over time. I prepared annotated illustrations of each of the floors.

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We also prepared inventories of the stuff that was left behind in these buildings, which still need to be transcribed, and prepared studies of certain classes of artifacts like desks.

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It also includes synthetic histories of each of the architecture and use of each building and of Wesley College as an institution. 

For example: 

Sayre Hall was the earliest of the four buildings. It was funded by a gift of $25,000 by A.J. Sayre, who was born in Harvey, ND and made his fortune in Canada and on the West Coast in land, timber and other business dealings. The building was opened in 1908 as a men’s dormitory and could accommodate 65 students. In 1919, the building was renamed Harold Holden Sayre Hall after A.J. Sayre’s late son who had died in World War One. The rooms, like in its twin Larimore Hall, were two room suites that included a bed room complete with shaving sink and closet, and a living room area, which opened onto the hall. For many years, these dormitories were considered the best on campus (and even today would compare favorably with most of UND’s on campus housing). Over the course of the early 20th century served as the home for numerous well-known UND alumni including Maxwell Anderson, Aviator Carl Ben Eielson, Garth Howland who would go on to found the Art Department at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Ralph Henry Hancock, the son of John Milton Hancock.

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The larger narrative of North Dakota’s Wesley College in the history of higher education in the state and even nationally remains to be written, but having taught a course on the UND budget and the history of higher education, I think this would be fairly easy to prepare. 

As part of this work, I also combed the documents preserved in UND’s Department of Special Collections, and I pulled together the letter written by then President-Emeritus Edward Robertson in 1935 to raise money for Wesley College during the Great Depression. You can download a private “alpha” version of this book here.

This range of material offers a view of perspectives on the Wesley College buildings, higher education, leadership, and abandonment. My plan is not to weave these perspectives together into a coherent or synthetic narrative, however, but to model my book on the buildings themselves. By arranging the materials paratactically, the book will attempt to represent the complex times and histories of the Wesley College buildings and leave the potential narratives to understand this open and dynamic. The buildings themselves are gone, but their time remains through our documentation, through various campus and historical narratives, and through our media interventions.

I started to play with this kind of non-narrative, non-argument, presentation in my little guide to the Bakken oil patch where the structure of the tourist guide allowed for the paratactic juxtapositions of the modern and the historical, the spatial and the conceptual, and site and the landscape. 

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Here’s the challenge. I could finish a draft manuscript of this book in a month or six weeks at most. The problem is that I have no idea where I should send it. It will be around 25,000 words, probably, with lots of images, documents, and, if possible, links. 

I’d prefer the press to be peer reviewed and open access, but it needn’t necessarily be the latter. 

More than that, I want a publisher that will get this kind of project and support a more, rather than less experimental approach to what I’m trying to do.

Any thoughts?

Concluding Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology and the Archaeology of Care

Today I need to put the final revising touches the article that I submitted a couple of months ago to the European Journal of Archaeology as part of a section on digital archaeology. You can read the original here.

One of the critiques of my paper is that the conclusion is a bit weak sauce (my language not theirs). In part, that’s by design. I don’t want to dictate how people use digital tools in their archaeological practice. The issues are complex and projects, pressures, and perspectives are diverse.

On the other hand, I do want archaeologists to think about how digital tools change the relationship between the local and the global, the individual and assemblage, and archaeological work and efficiency. I’m not sure that I communicate this very well in the conclusion, but here’s what I say:

Conclusions

Ellul and Illich saw the technological revolution of the 20th century as fundamentally disruptive to the creative instincts and autonomy of individuals because it falsely privileged speed and efficiency as the foundations for a better world. The development of archaeology largely followed the trajectory of technological developments in industry and continue to shape archaeological practice in the digital era. Transhuman practices in archaeology reflect both long-standing modes of organizing archaeological work according to progressive technological and industrial principles. The posthuman critique of transhumanism unpacks how we understand the transition from the enclosed space of craft and industrial practices to the more fluid and viscous space of logistics. In short, it expands the mid-century humanism of Ellul and Illich offers a cautionary perspective for 21st century archaeology as it comes to terms with the growing influence of logistics as the dominant paradigm of organizing behaviour, capital, and knowledge.

An “archaeology of care” takes cues from Illich and Ellul in considering how interaction between tools, individuals, practices, and methods shaped our discipline in both intentional and unintentional ways. If the industrial logic of the assembly line represented the ghost in the machine of 20th century archaeological practices, then logistics may well haunt archaeology in the digital age. Dividuated specialists fragment data so that it can be rearranged and redeployed globally for an increasingly seamless system designed to allow for the construction of new diachronic, transregional, and multifunctional assemblages. Each generation of digital tools allow us to shatter the integrity of the site, the link between the individual, work, and knowledge, and to redefine organization of archaeological knowledge making. These critiques, of course, are not restricted to archaeological work. Gary Hall has recognized a similar trend in higher education which he called “uberfication.” In Hall’s dystopian view of the near future of the university, data would map the most efficient connections between the skills of the individual instructors and needs of individual students at scale (Hall 2016). Like in archaeology, the analysis of this data, on the one hand, allows us to find efficient relationships across complex systems. On the other hand, uberfication produces granular network of needs and services that splinters the holistic experience of the university, integrity of departments and disciplines, and college campuses as distinctive places. This organization of practice influences the behaviour of agents to satisfy the various needs across the entire network. The data, in this arrangement, is not passive, but an active participant in the producing a viable assemblage.

Punk archaeology looked to improvised performative, do-it-yourself, and ad hoc practices in archaeological fieldwork as a space of resistance against methodologies shaped by the formal affordance of tools. Slow archaeology despite its grounding in privilege, challenges the expectations of technological efficiency and the tendency of tools not only to shape the knowledge that we make, but also the organization of work and our discipline. The awareness that tools shape the organization of work, the limits to the local, and the place of the individual in our disciple is fundamental for the establishment of an “archaeology of care“ that recognizes the human consequences of our technology, our methods, and the pasts that they create.

The Archaeology of Night Moves

This weekend I watched Arthur Penn’s neo-noir Night Moves (1975) which starred Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, and Susan Clark and a very young Melanie Griffith and James Woods. This post involves some spoilers, so if this movie is on your short list, maybe come back to this post after you’ve seen it.

The basic plot of the movie involves a Harry Mosley (Gene Hackman) former football player turned private eye who is retained to track down, Delly Grastner (a scandalously young Melanie Griffith), the wild 16-year old daughter an aging former b-list Hollywood starlet who had run away while seducing a series of older men.

The Delly Grastner case is a McGuffin, and in a clever inversion of the Maltese Falcon, the plot revolves around the smuggling of antiquities. Moreover, for anyone inclined to view this film with an archaeologists eye, the movie is really about time. 

Hank Mosley struggles with his own place in time. A former professional athlete, he has settled into a comfortable life as a private investigator, but his wife, who he discovers is having an affair, and buddy think he’s wasting his life, taking on dead end cases and refusing to use the latest technology to facilitate his investigations. Delly is coming of age physically and uses her sexuality to gain the attention of older men, playing out her own version of her mother’s hyper-sexualized life. In short, like Mosley, Delly is also outside of time living an adult life as a teenager.  

The two narratives of time and age culminate in the Florida Keys where Harry found Delly after tracking her from boyfriend to boyfriend from New Mexico to Florida where she had gone to be with Tom Iverson who was her step-father and his girlfriend, Paula. It turns out that Tom was in business with one of Delly’s earlier paramours. They were smuggling “Mayan” antiquities from the Yucatan to the Keys. On a night swim, Delly discovered the crashed plane with its decomposing pilot. The pilot was one of her former boyfriends but it’s unclear whether she recognized him. The encounter, however, shook Delly enough that she agreed to return to her mother with Harry. Back in Hollywood, she got her extra-card and started working in the movies, when she dies in a car accident on set. The car was driven by a Harry’s friend, Joey Ziegler. 

Harry, like many private investigators in noir and neo-noir, can’t shake the feeling that there was more than meets the eye. He returns to Florida and figures out that the crashed plane had been smuggling antiquities to Tom Iverson. Harry confronts Tom, a fight ensues, and he knocks Tom out. He and Paula then take Tom’s boat go to the submerged crash site. The final scene of the film involves Tom’s girlfriend, Paula, floating a piece of “Mayan” sculpture to the surface from the cash site. As she comes to the surface, Joey Ziegler appears in a seaplane and shoots Harry and then crashes the plane into an unsuspecting Paula. The plane comes apart on impact and sinks with Joey in it. Harry, wounded, is unable to steer the boat and can only set it to drive in circles.

As the smuggled Mayan antiquity emerges from depths, the themes of archaeology and time become obvious. The excavated antiquity floats on the surface as the plane sinks below it and the boat with its wounded investigator circles aimlessly.  

What I loved about the film is the two main character operate outside of time while the others fly above and slide below them. The smuggled artifact appears from the depths just as the plane carrying the gun toting smuggler slide beneath the surface. The ordering of time is pointless. Harry’s former gridiron glory, life as a private investigator, and heroic effort to try to redeem Delly’s life by solving the complicated crimes that surrounded her death led him nowhere but circling in the sea.  

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One other note, Susan Clark plays Harry’s wife. When Harry’s shown a smuggled antiquity early in the film, he remarks that they don’t appeal to him because they remind him of Alex Karras. In the movie, this seems to be a reference to Harry’s days as a pro football player, although it’s unclear whether he played offense (in which case Karras would have been a terrifying opponent) or defense (in which case they would have rarely shared the field. Later in the film, Joey Ziegler reminisces about Harry’s interception in a game, suggesting that he played defense, but even that reference is a bit garbled.) In real life, Alex Karras had just met Susan Clark, and they would go on to marry, and it may be that Karras, who had embarked on his own career in film and television was spending time on the set. In the film, Clark’s character was having an affair, so the quip broke through the fourth wall in a way vaguely relevant to the film itself.  

Punk, Slow, and the Archaeology of Care

This weekend, I received the reviewer reports for an article that I toiled on for over 6 months. They were generous and thought provoking reports, which is basically what you want from your peer reviewers and pushed me to make some of the operating assumptions behind my call for both a slow archaeology and an archaeology of care more obvious. 

In the spirit of getting my thoughts together, I thought I’d share some of the critiques and my responses to them. As with any article, the challenge is to incorporate critiques without unbalancing the article or adding another 1000 words to an article that is already at the maximum length. At the same time, I feel like my reviewers offered honest critiques that will make my article stronger in the long run and any efforts to incorporate them will make the piece better.

So here’s what I need to work out:

1. Punk, Slow, and Archaeology of Care. One thing that the reviewers found a bit unclear is the relationship between punk archaeology, slow archaeology, and the archaeology of care. This is, in fact, something that I’ve struggled a bit with over the past few years and while I wanted to understand the development of my own thinking, I was also concerned that being too explicit about this was unnecessarily solipsistic. In the end, I need to include at least a paragraph explaining how the concepts relate. Here’s what I’d like to say (if words and length were no object):

In many ways, punk archaeology was a naive predecessor to slow archaeology. My reading of punk archaeology celebrated the performativity of archaeological practice and the do-it-yourself approaches to both in-field and interpretative problems. Adapting off-the-shelf software to archaeological purposes created subversive and critical opportunities for the discipline and pushed back against a view that structure of the tool, of process, or of method should dictate the kind of knowledge that we produce. Moreover, my interest in punk and archaeology shaped by critique of technology. The proto-cyberpunk and cyberpunk dystopias of Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, William Gibson, and John Shirley informed a skeptical and and anxious reading of technology which, in turn, motivated a call for slow archaeology. Slow archaeology sought to articulate the subversive impulse in archaeological practice by aligning it with various anti-modern “slow” movements that have appeared in 21st-century popular culture (e.g. slow food). While the slow movement has endured criticism of its privileged character of the popular slow movement, these criticisms have tended to focus on the consumerist luxury of slow products, slow time, and the social, economic, and political cost of inefficiency. In response to this, I have suggested that slow practices in archaeology are not a privileged indulgence of the white, tenured, grant funded, and secure male faculty member, but part of a larger conversation in archaeology that emphasizes a more human, humane, reflexive , and inclusive discipline. My colleagues and I have described our interest in this conversation as “the archaeology of care” which seeks not only to understand how our archaeological methods, particular the use of technology in the field, shape the structure of the discipline and produce the potential for both social conditions in practice and knowledge of the past that dehumanize individuals.  

2. Transhumanism and Posthumanism. One of the things that I totally botched in my paper was understanding the complexities of trans- and post-humanism. The latter represents a rather expansive and dynamic field from Donna Harraway’s cyborgs to the bioethics of Joanna Zylinska and the assemblage theory of Manuel DeLanda. My paper doesn’t engage much with post-humanism largely because my interest and the object of my critique involved field methods, technology and social organization in the discipline. It would be superficial to argue that post-humanism doesn’t address the relationship between technology, society, and knowledge production. It does, but transhumanism more frequently foregrounds the practical relationship between digital technology and social “progress.” This has parallels with arguments within the archaeological discourse (that I cite in the article) that celebrate the potential of digital tools and practices to increase efficiency, resolution, and the dissemination of archaeological knowledge. 

I do, of course, recognize that certain strands of technological solutionism from transhumanism are relevant for an understanding of posthumanism and, perhaps more importantly, vice versa. I try to recognize this through my reference to several scholars who have been associated with posthumanist thinking (Bruno Latour, Anna Tsing, and Gilles Deleuze), but their work isn’t really the object of my critique. More than that, it would be irresponsible to attempt to critique their work (which obviously informed what I argue in my article) in 6000 words. I would do well to acknowledge this.

3. Slow and Privilege. I’m not gonna lie. This critique stung me the most. On the one hand, I can’t help but feeling that some of it represents my own failure in making the case that knowledge produced through  a“slow” approach to archaeology needn’t take longer or be incommensurate with traditional archaeological practices. And, I certainly never meant to suggest that slow practices in archaeology produced “better” or “truer” knowledge. I’d like to think that slow practices and embodied knowledge and reflective reactions to our place in the landscape, the discipline, and our work produce meaningful knowledge (and I try to show that in my little book: The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape.) 

The one thing that bothers me the most is that by seeing “slow archaeology” as privileged, we are effectively normalizing the industrial methods that define mainstream “disciplinary” archaeology. On the one hand, I appreciate the argument that industrial archaeology is democratizing and part of a process of professionalizing of archaeology, by rendering the knowledge produced by archaeologists “scientific,” “impersonal” and “objective.” To my mind the impersonal nature of certain kinds of archaeological knowledge is at least partly to blame for those who obscure the work of all but a few individuals on a project (and creating a divide between data “collectors” and interpreters). In other words, the way I conceived of slow archaeology was as the basis for a less professional, but more inclusive archaeological practice. In fact, taking the time to allow for individuals to reflect on the experience of archaeological work, to inscribe their experiences in more idiosyncratic and less standardized ways, and to resist the accelerating urgency of more efficiency, more technology, and more data to my mind is a more humane and more human approach to understanding the past.   

 

 

Writing the Western Argolid

Over the last few days, I’ve been working on a preliminary report for the Western Argolid Regional Project. I mentioned on Monday how writing a preliminary report is always a bit of a fraught exercise, but when actually writing, it is easy enough to put that out of your head and focus on the words on the page.

As part of writing the report, I re-read some of the rather scant ancient sources on our survey area. Pausanias 2.25.4-6 discusses our survey area specifically and twice he notes that there isn’t much to see. In general, Pausanias sees the Inachos valley as an extension of Argive territory and a route between Argos and the neighboring city of Mantinea in Arcadia. This same lack of interest shaped how 19th century travelers treated the region with none that I have encountered venturing beyond the Venetian (?) period fort at the site of Skala where the Inachos valley widens out onto the Argive plain. 

Later scholars – namely Kendrick Pritchett – attempted to reconcile Pausanias’s description of the site of Lyrkeia being 60 stades from Argos and Orneai being 60 stades from Lyrkeia. This involved him poking around the sites of Melissi where the French excavated some Mycenaean chamber tombs in the early 20th century and Chelmis, where there is a substantial scatter of Classical period material around a church dedicated to the Panayia. Since Pausanias’s notes that Lyrkeia was in ruins by his day and suggested that it was destroyed before the Trojan War, and hence, was left out of the the catalogue of ships in the Iliad, Pritchett is content to identify it with something in the vicinity of the Melissi tombs rather than in the neighborhood of Chelmis. More than that, he suggested that Chelmis does not seem to be on a major route through the area so seemed to be an unlike stop for Pausanias who seemed mostly concerned with sites along the Inachos river bottom. Greek scholars, Ioannis Pikoulas and Ioannis Peppas, have explored the region a bit more thoroughly but also tend to follow the routes along the valley bottom that Pausanias’s traced in his sojourns from Argos.

The entire effect of the tradition from antiquity to modern times is that this region is peripheral to Argos and a mostly a travel corridor from the Argive plain to points west and north. Our project essentially tested this hypothesis both by exploring intensively the valley bottom and surrounding region to determine whether Pausanias’s somewhat laconic description was justified, and by considering the region in its own right to understand whether networks of settlement and movement functioned independently of the “central places” of the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern world.

As a hint, we have found some evidence that this was, indeed, the case and the Pausanian landscape suffered from his general (and well-documented) lack of interest in post-Classical sites, but also the tendency of central places and their political and economic networks to overwrite and obscure patterns of settlement and movement in the landscape that reflect decentralized and more local traditions. As Tom Gallant noted 25 years ago, these decentralized networks of relations supported a kind of social insurance for communities by allowing them to diversify the risk that came with overly strong ties to central places. While these networks are pretty hard to see in archaeology, there are signs that they exist throughout our survey area and not only help us understand the presence of sites that don’t conform to the Pausanian itinerary but also reflect a dynamic countryside that was more than simply the productive coda to the consumer city.

Reading Rednesday: Historical Archaeology

This past semester, my extracurricular reading was focused around two topics. First, I read a good bit on time in archaeology, and, more recently, I’ve been reading about in the world of Historical archaeology.  In January, I will officially start writing a book on the archaeology of contemporary American culture and my introduction will think about both time (and what it means to be contemporary) and the tradition of historical archaeology in the U.S.

The challenge for me is that while I do read in historical archaeology, I tend not to read very systematically and as a result, I don’t necessarily have a feeling for the scope or even big-picture direction of the field. Over the past few months, then I’ve turned my attention to various surveys and textbooks in the field. Starting with Barbara Little’s little book Historical Archaeology: Why the Past Matters, enjoying Mark Leone’s Critical Historical ArchaeologyCharles Orser’s Historical Archaeology, as well as various big edited volumes like the Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology, Hall and Silliman’s Historical Archaeology, and the Encyclopedia of Historical Archaeology and the massive series from Springer, Contributions to Global Historical Archaeology and University Press of Florida, The American Experience in an Archaeological Perspective. The volumes of the journals Historical Archaeology and the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, likewise produce useful guides to the field. 

In part, my goal is to feel along the edges of world archaeology and American archaeology and determine the lines of influence and coincidence and departure. For the history of the archaeology of the contemporary world seems to proceed along two interrelated but separate lines: one in the U.S. and the other in Europe. While the historical reasons for these separate lines of development are a mix of historical experience – particularly the archaeological responses to post war reconstruction of European cities – and the different traditions of historical archaeology practiced in both contexts. 

In general, this stuff is pretty exciting and it reminds me reading for my comprehensive exams as work to balance between the intriguing character and arguments of individual works and the need to read “for work” and to come away with a broader perspective on the field without losing nuance. More than that, I’m working on re-learning how to read efficiently and to re-hone some professional practices developed in graduate school and then left neglected in the face of professional realities that tend to require on depth rather than breadth. 

Writing WARP

Over the last few months, I’ve been hiding from a line in a minutes from an early June meeting of the Western Argolid Regional Project: Preliminary Report… “ideally ready for submission by Christmas.” I had volunteered to take the lead in writing it and to marshal the contributions from various other folks on the project including two case studies. Needless to say, this hasn’t happened.

What makes it worse is that I’ve been thinking a good bit about how archaeologists write and archaeological publishing more broadly. Just this weekend, for example, I re-read Rosemary Joyce’s “Writing historical archaeology” in the Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology (2006). I also read Rachel Opitz’s recent contribution to the Journal of Field Archaeology titled ““Publishing Archaeological Excavations at the Digital Turn” (which I blogged about here), Amara Thortons,  Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL 2018)  (blogged here) and thinking a bit about Ian Hodder’s well-known article from AntiquityWriting Archaeology: Site Reports in Context.” While these works all offer different angles on the archaeological writing and publishing, they did reinforce to me that archaeological writing and publishing are undergoing some pretty significant changes, but that these changes are also situated grounded in the goals of archaeological work. (In fact, I’m going to try to marshal some of my ideas on that in a paper that I’m giving at a conference at the University of Buffalo next year.) 

At the same time, I spent a few hours wrapping up the layout of volume two of the Epoiesen annual which should appear from The Digital Press before the end of the year. The Epoiesen annual is an interesting challenge because it is publishing a web publication in paper (and PDF form). Instead of thinking of the paper format as a degraded representation of a web version, I’ve tried to think of it as a transmedia opportunity to take something that was originally imagined in one media (i.e. the web) and reproduce in another. While we don’t take many risks in how we present Epoiesen on paper, the potential is certainly there and the very act of translating from one media to the next forces us to think about how entangled ideas and material are and how the paper (or even PDF version) of Epoiesen will offer readers a different experience than the online version.

Advertisement! You can get the first volume of Epoiesen at the low, low price of $6. SIX DOLLARS. That’s cheaper than a beer in New York City or about half the things on the Starbucks menu. 

A similar challenge will face my little press as we work on our next major project – a volume in collaboration with ASOR that presents a digital catalogue of votive figurines from Athienou on Cyprus. We will present these artifacts both through a traditional catalogue and high-resolution 3D scans presented both as a 3D PDF and through an online catalogue published by Open Context. It’ll be a big project full of challenges at the intersection of the paper codex and dynamic media.

While this might not seem immediately relevant to writing a preliminary report for WARP, it will push me a bit think about what kind of information is most appropriate for a print report and what kind of information is better to publish as data later on. 

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On top of that, I took a couple nice long walks with the dogs this weekend and those always give me a chance to think about big and small picture stuff. I started to think about the challenge of writing a preliminary report as a problem of definition. When is a project sufficiently complete for a preliminary report to offer provisional, but relatively secure, observations on method and results? On WARP, I get pretty anxious when I think of all the work we have left to do to make sense of our data; at the same time, I know that the artifact and main data collection phase of the project is over. What we have now is going to be the basis of both what we say in the final report and future analysis. Preliminary reports are hard to think about because of their liminal status. Archaeologists like to be authoritative in what they say about their work and analysis, and a preliminary report acknowledges that this is not the final word on the area and its material. 

Finally, there is a fear of the blank page. Fortunately, WARP has published a good bit already – here and there – so there is a kind of basis of already-written material upon which the preliminary report can draw. At the same time, there is the additional pressure of taking our analysis and presentation to the next level. This means more bibliography, more analysis, and more conclusions. This also means making sure that the voices of everyone on the project (and to be clear, folks will help me with this report!) will have space in the report even when we don’t all agree on how and what our analysis mean.  

A Couple of Thoughts on the ASOR Annual Meeting

Institutions, particularly academic institutions, are slow to change. In most cases, this is a good thing. After all, universities and colleges are responsible for both their existing programs and students, and the degrees conferred to past students, the often long careers of faculty and staff, and the gifts of donors, loyalty of alumni, and responsibilities to communities. Professional organizations like the ASOR, or the American Schools of Oriental Research, are also prone to incremental changes rather than quick pivots and abrupt reorientations and tend to see the historical legacy of their organization on equal footing with its current relevance. Generally speaking, the organization of these institutions makes change difficult as well with complex bylaws, multiple committees, and various checks that prevent decision-making without general consensus. 

While in many ways the reluctance to change quickly is a good thing. For example, many academic organizations rely on a diverse portfolio of stakeholders for funding and lack a robust financial safety net. A misstep could lead not simply to a dilution of their historic mission, but to real financial and existential problems.

There were two big decisions that took center stage at the ASOR annual meeting. First, we continue to discuss the long-term relationship with the Society of Biblical Literature meeting which generally overlaps with ASOR and occurs in the same city. Since the American Academy of Religion annual meeting now also coincides with SBL and ASOR, it has become difficult for ASOR to find suitable accommodations in the same city. As a result, ASOR has to decide whether it needs to change when and where it holds its meetings. There are real practical implications to this since about a fifth of ASOR members also are SBL members and participate in both meetings.

This also has opened a conversation about how to make the meetings more accommodating to graduate students, contingent faculty, avocational scholars, and recent Ph.Ds who often have fewer resources and time to attend meetings. The cost of airfare, for example, was a concern especially if ASOR moved to a “second tier” city. At the same time, the cost and quality of accommodations were a concern in cities that tend to be airport hubs. Some fretted also about having to pick between ASOR and SBL and about the impact on the range and quality of papers at both conferences if they were to go their separate ways. 

While this might appear to be a largely practical matter of cost and convenience, it also has an intellectual component. Over the past 20 years, ASOR has changed and come to embrace more than the archaeology of the Levant and “Biblical” concerns, periods, and problems. A divorce from SBL would likely continue, if not accelerate, this trend and contribute to the ongoing transformation of ASOR members, its conference, and publications.

The other major conversation at the conference was about ASOR’s name: the American Schools of Oriental Research. They hosted a workshop on this topic at their annual meeting, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend. Fortunately, the issue was a constant topic of conversation throughout the meeting. The context for this name change is that the term “Oriental” is closely associated with colonialist practice as scholars like Edward Said has taught us. The concept of the “Orient” from which the name of organization (and countless others) derives carries with it a dense network of racial, cultural, political, and even economic associations that developed from the various branches of continental “Oriental studies” that defined and supported colonial practices. 

The persistence of the term “Oriental” in the ASOR name is a historical artifact laden with baggage that directly impacts the intellectual mission of our organization. We simply cannot be both “oriental” and post-colonial, for example. We can’t preach that we respect and value our colleagues and communities in Cyprus, Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt or anywhere else that ASOR affiliated scholars work, while also officially recognizing Orientalism in our name. It’s intellectually inconsistent and politically incongruous. 

The name has to change and there appears to be broad consensus on this point. A new name for ASOR, however, will certainly be the greater challenge. On the one hand, renaming ASOR will not eliminate the Orientalist past (and, frankly, present) of the organization, but it will de-emphasize its impact on our future. On the other hand, so much of our discipline of archaeology (and history) is grounded in the same intellectual and political moments that produced Orientalism (for example, the Enlightenment), if we can even consider Orientalism and archaeology to be genuinely separate things. Rebranding ASOR will show intent to challenge basic assumptions about archaeological ways of thinking, traditions, methods, and practices, but the job itself is far from over. If incremental changes within the disciplines that make up ASOR have led us to this point, then we have to hope that they’re part of a longer trajectory that bends toward practices that are more inclusive, dynamic, and liberating. 

Our ASOR Paper: A Small Production Site on Cyprus

Scott Moore and I finished our paper for the 2018 ASOR Annual Meeting this fall with alarming efficiency. The paper is titled “A Small Production Site at Polis” and offers a pretty detailed – albeit short – description of the area EF1 at Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus and some chronological notes regarding the material from the site.

EF1Phase1 01

What makes this interesting is that the site has pretty decent chronological controls thanks to a Byzantine lead seal associated with a burial that has a clear physical relationship with features at the site. This burial represents the latest activity at the site and dated to some time after the final decades of the 7th century.

Burial

The site itself has some decent deposits that allow us to date the earliest phase to later than the mid-6th century and the later modifications to it to sometime later than the early 7th, but earlier than the early 8th centuries (that is, earlier than the burial).

EF1Phase2 01

The assemblage is largely residual, but it still provides us with a useful cross-section of activity at the site in the 6th and 7th century which has some local significance in how we use ceramic assemblages to date activity across the site.

Check out our paper here.   

Also, do check out some of the buzz about the potential of a name change for ASOR. This is motivated by concern about the ambiguity of the name (what are the Schools of  Oriental Research?), the outdated (if not racist) use of the term “Oriental” to describe the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, and the fact that many ASOR members are not American or even affiliated with an American university. The challenge, I suspect, will not be agreeing to change the name, but agreeing on a new name… but we’ll see.

American Schools of Oriental Research Annual Meeting

The American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting starts tomorrow in Denver, Colorado. Generally speaking, I’m too socially awkward and introverted to enjoy these big meetings very much. They’re long and tiring for me and I dislike travel.

At the same time, over the past five years, I’ve come to feel more and more part of the ASOR community through my service on the Program Committee, the Committee on Publication, and as an academic trustee of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI). Despite my normal apprehension, I know that the meetings will be interesting and panels will remind me of why I became a student of the ancient Mediterranean.

Following Dimitri Nakassis’s lead, I ran the abstract book through Voyant tools (h/t to Shawn Graham for this idea!) and made the word cloud below from this dataset

BillCaraher 2018 Nov 10

I also pulled from the online program book the various panels on Cyprus this year. Nancy Serwint in the chair of the Cyprus sessions and they look good and filled with the usual suspects! I’m particularly intrigued to get an update from the folks at the Makounta-Voules Archaeological Project, which shared our hotel at Polis this last summer, and Tom Davis’s ongoing work at Kourion. Our paper, I’m moderately excited about our paper, which is at 4:50 on Friday. It is super empirical and descriptive, but has an interesting interpretative twist at the end. Come and check it out (or check back here tomorrow and read it!).

Friday, November 16th

6B. Archaeology of Cyprus I Evergreen B

Theme: The Archaeology of Cyprus sessions focus on archaeological, art historical, and material culture investigation and assessment covering the broad spectrum of Cypriot studies from prehistory to the modern period. 

CHAIR: Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University)

PRESENTERS: 10:40 Alan Simmons (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), “Sailing Neanderthals: Early Mediterranean Voyagers and the Role of Cyprus in Perspective” (20 min.)

11:05 Kathryn Grossman (North Carolina State University), Tate Paulette (North Carolina State University), Andrew McCarthy (University of Edinburgh), and Lisa Graham (University of Edinburgh), “Pre-urban Trajectories on the Northwest Coast of Cyprus: The First Two Seasons of the Makounta-Voules Archaeological Project” (20 min.)

11:30 Lindy Crewe (Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute), “Kissonerga-Skalia Bronze Age Settlement Excavation” (20 min.)

11:55 Christine Johnston (Western Washington University), “Import Distribution and Network Integration in Bronze Age Cyprus” (20 min.)

12:20 Ellis Monahan (Cornell University), “A History of Violence? A Reassessment of the Evidence for Internecine Conflict in Bronze Age Cyprus” (20 min.)

7B. Archaeology of Cyprus II Evergreen B

PRESENTERS: 2:00 Zuzana Chovanec (Institute of Archaeology, Slovak Academy of Sciences), “The Symbolic Landscape of Prehistoric Bronze Age Cyprus as Represented in Figural Representation in Ritual Vessels: A New Interpretation” (20 min.)

2:25 Thierry Petit (Université Laval), “The First ‘Ruler’s Dwelling’ in Cyprus? A Pre-Palatial Building on the Acropolis of Amathus” (20 min.)

2:50 Nassos Papalexandrou (University of Texas at Austin), “Tomb 79 Salamis, Cyprus: The Griffin Cauldron in Its Local, Near Eastern, and Mediterranean Context” (20 min.)

3:15 Georgia Bonny Bazemore (Eastern Washington University), “Aphrodite Aside: The Sanctuary of the Male Deity and the Religion of the Ancient Paphian Kingdom” (20 min.)

3:40 Laura Gagne (Carleton University), “Silencing the God Who Speaks: The Destruction of the Sanctuary at Lingrin tou Digheni”’ (20 min.)

8B. Archaeology of Cyprus III Evergreen B

PRESENTERS:

4:20 Introduction (5 min.) 4:25 Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University), “The Terracotta Corpus from Marion/Arsinoe: How a Coroplast Thinks” (20 min.)

4:50 R. Scott Moore (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and William Caraher (University of North Dakota), “A Small Production Site at Polis” (20 min.)

5:15 Lucas Grimsley (Southwestern Theological Seminary), Laura Swantek (Arizona State University), Thomas Davis (Southwestern Theological Seminary), Christopher Davey (University of Melbourne), and William Weir (University of Cincinnati), “Kourion Urban Space Project: 2018 Season Preliminary Results” (20 min.)

5:40 Ann-Marie Knoblauch (Virginia Tech), “Cypriot Antiquities, Cesnola, and American Cultural Identity in 1880s New York” (20 min.)