NDQuesday: A New Issue’s Cover

I don’t remember whether NDQuesday is a thing or not, but it does appear as a category for this blog and, so, it’ll be a thing for at least one more week.

Yesterday, we received page proofs from our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press and this included three options for the cover. The cover art is based on a series of prints by our art editor Ryan Stander called “Pursue _______________:” The sentiments on the panels were crowd-sourced and printed using a letterpress.

With a little big of luck, the issue should be out in early May, just in time for summer reading!

Here are the cover design options:

1.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 1

2.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 2

3.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 3

4.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 4

Do you have a preference? Let me know in the comments!

Three Things Thursday: Art, Books, and Classics

I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above the whelming tide these days, but fortunately the incoming deluge seems to be those plastic balls rather than the roiling surf. As a result, there are dozens of things jostling for my attention and it seems best to tame three of them with a “three things Thursday post.” A few of these things might grow up to 

Thing the First

I just posted over at the North Dakota Quarterly blog a gaggle of prints by artist Marco Hernandez. They’re really pretty great. I love how he not only uses contemporary media to illustrate the complexities of Mexican identity and his experiences as a Mexican-American in the US. We published his prints in grey scale in the Quarterly, but he generously allowed us to post them in color on the NDQ website. The appearance of color is particularly compelling as Hernandez used it to add an edge to his often incisive cultural critiques.

Anyway, the prints are pretty great and if you don’t feel like reading my solipsistic ramblings this morning, please go and check them out.

Thing the Second

The History Department is being moved from its offices in the University of North Dakota’s O’Kelly Hall while our floor is being renovated. We’ve also been asked to downsize into smaller offices with less bookshelf and file space. This seemed like a good opportunity to go through the books that I have collected over the past two decades and determine which are worth keeping (and moving!) and which I could afford to give away or discard.

Going through the books has been a pretty interesting (and somewhat sobering) experience. First, my book collection has a clear stratigraphy with clear layers of book collected during particular periods in my academic life. For example, I still have dozens of books on the Roman Republic from my graduate school days before I drifted towardLate Antiquity. I also have a layer of books that reflect that interest and my growing interest in field archaeology. Finally, I have a clear break between my graduate school days and my days as a professor and the books that I collected to support the classes that I was teaching with a particular emphasis on books that deal with historical methods and major trends in historiography. Most recently levels reveal my drift toward historical archaeology and archaeology of the contemporary world.

More sobering was the prevalence of white, male authors throughout my collection. It is really depressing to realize that amid my hundreds of books, I probably have fewer than 50 books by women and people of color. Part of this might reflect a bias in my book buying habits in that for my recent research I have relied more heavily on digital resources and library subscriptions. Thus the most recent levels in my library’s stratigraphy are less representative of the earlier levels. Anyone who reads this blog know that I continue to lag behind on the wokeness scale, but I hope that over the five years or so I have shown some signs of progress toward a more diverse reading list. On the opposite end of the chronological spectrum are a few books that date to my undergraduate days whose yellowing paged and faded spines form a small, but distinct residual assemblage. 

Finally, going through my collection has made me think about which books I want to keep and are worth keeping. Which books are classics that might draw my attention in the future and which are books that I consumed and can be more profitably passed onto a more interested and welcoming student. There are a few books – desk copies of textbooks, trade novels bought for travel, and books grabbed on a whim from used book sales – that I can just discard. But there remains a distinct handful of books that I’ll probably never read again, but have sentimental value. It’ll be nice seeing them on the shelves of my home office.

Thing the Third

There’s been a good bit of thoughtful conversation about the future of Classics prompted in no small part by the recent New York Times magazine article on whether Classics can survive and a few “burn it down” threads on Twitter. I’ve appreciated the discussion, but have also felt further from the core of academia more than ever.

My university doesn’t have a Classics Department. In fact, the two or three of us who could be loosely considered Classicists teach in languages, history, and Philosophy and Religion. We do not really collaborate for many reasons including our different career paths and priorities, departmental territorialism, and general ambivalence toward building something (or anything) on the shifting sands of our institutional budget, priorities, and leadership.

What the conversation revealed to me, however, its that many places retain a sense of agency in the future of Classics and continue to have the administrative, disciplinary, and institutional support to grow, revise, and transform that discipline. On the one hand, this means the future of Classics – to some extent – remains in the hands of Classicists. On the other hand, it made even more apparent that Classics has really become a discipline –  in the formal sense – that is restricted to only the top (say 100?) universities and liberal arts colleges in the U.S. I wonder how much this institutional reality will impact the future of the field.    

It seems to me as long as the top schools view themselves as leaders in the field, then they will continue under the assumption that changes to Classics as a discipline have transformative potential. 

It also seems, however, that with the dissipation of Classics at lower tier and smaller schools, that there is another locus for changes to the study of Greek and Roman antiquity. I can only speak for my fairly narrow experience, but being at an institution that does not explicitly support Classics qua Classics has led me to think about my discipline (which to be fair, is Ancient History) in new ways. In fact, my stretch into historical archaeology and the archaeology and history of North Dakota has come because I’m part of a history department and my colleagues are interested in local history, archaeology, and material culture.

What I’m playing with here is that people trained as Classicists (Ancient Historians or whatever) who get jobs outside the top tier of institutions seem as likely transform Classics as those who are working at the top. I wonder whether a model for understanding change in Classics might involve imagining greater permeability between lower tier institutions and those at the top. The Classics diaspora might offer some post-disciplinary wisdom to departments who are working to transform the fields in a different institutional context.   

Corinthian Landscapes

Anything that Kostis Kourelis writes is a “must read” for anyone interested in the history of archaeology in Greece. Over the past ten years he’s written a book – more or less – on modernity, archaeology, and Greece with articles on the Byzantium and the avant-garde, the modern fictions of Byzantine houses in Mystras, and, this past week, “Flights of Archaeology: Peschke’s Acrocorinth” in the most recent issue of Hesperia.

Kourelis explores the intellectual and cultural world of the 20th century artist Georg Vinko von Peschke who worked in Greece in the service of American excavators. This article developed from his work organizing  an exhibit of Peschke’s works at Franklin and Marshall College and then Bryn Mawr a few years back. But as with so many of Kourelis’s articles, Peschke serves as a point of entry into the rich(er) world of early 20th century archaeology inhabited by architects and artists, archaeologists and poets, and numerous other cultural figures who embraced the avant-garde, modernism, as well as rigorous archaeological research. This article also featured the mountains of the Corinthia and Acrocorinth, in particular, as a Romantic backdrop to the rational archaeological work at the site of Corinth itself. Peschke’s 1932 painting of Acrocorinth served as a point of departure for Kourelis’s consideration of modernity and archaeological culture.

The article is too rich and complex and “Kourelian” to describe here in any detail, but two things struck me about this article:

First, it reminded me how much working in the shadow of Acrocorinth shaped my work. Within days of arriving in Greece for the first time, my friends and I hiked up the hill of Acrocorinth to survey the region. I remember being struck by the unkempt and confusing settlement between Acrocorinth’s two gates and the prominent mosque and church inside the course of its crenelated walls. As someone who has never embraced the formality required of careful excavation, exploring the abandoned and decrepit settlement on Acrocorinth and looking across the Isthmus offered me a perspective on the past that wasn’t to tightly bound to minute detail. If the rigor of modern excavation at the site of Corinth below caused me apprehension, the expansive views from Acrocorinth drew me into a landscape that seemed to resist tidy fragmentation and beg for grand (and probably overly general) diachronic and regional statements.  

My inability to cope consistently with the routine of field survey complemented the lure of the mountains and drew me to working extensive in the landscape. This led to my first two archaeological publications which featured sites that I documented while hiking the mountains of the Corinthia. Years later, my work with the Western Argolid Regional Project continues to draw me to mountain tops and forgotten routes and passes. While my body is no longer able to endure quite as much adventuring as I could as a 20something, the pull is still there and I like to imagine that it came, in part, from my encounter with Acrocorinth.

Second, I wonder whether the weeks and months spent hiking about in the Greek countryside have shaped my view of our field of archaeology. While I recognize that Kostis’s article samples the most rarified air from a generation of fieldwork that included as much rigorous documentation as imaginative encounters – and indeed Peschke’s ability to cross between the world of high art and formal documentation is what make him and his archaeologist colleagues so worthy of attention, I wonder whether today our balance has tipped too far in the direction of industrial production and away from the spirit of craft?

I won’t allow this post to devolve on another preachy meditation on slow archaeology, but Kostis’s articles always make me wish for an archaeological practice more explicitly informed by craft. Of course, craft is present in field work. Watching an experience colleague or workman handle a trowel or a pick demonstrates a kind of embodied expertise that no field manual can instill. At the same time, as I work on the final publication for my project on Cyprus, I often feel that the goal of archaeological publication (and even documentation) is to remove the artistry from our experiences with both objects and the past.

Peschke’s art and Kostis’s vision of early 20th century archaeology reminded me that while disciplinary practices remained deeply embedded in industrial forms of organization and technics, a parallel course has long existed that recognized the deeply personal dimension of archaeological work. Archaeological work in this context was a form of expression that resisted narrow disciplinary definition, subservience to objectivity, efficiency, and clarity, and embraced the complexities of experience without marginalizing archaeology’s methodological or intellectual goals.

Codex Project: Formation Processes, Floods, and Books

This spring saw the publication of two new books from the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. A third will appear this fall with a limited edition print publication appearing of the course of the summer: Micah Bloom’s Codex. For more on that project, go here.

Below is my first draft of the preface for the book and a sneak preview of the contents:

Archaeologists study formation processes. These are the various natural and cultural processes that transform human activity into archaeological sites. To make meaning from the physical traces of the past, archaeologists disentangle the various events that create what we see in the present. The result of this work is both an appreciation for the complexity of time and experiences as well as an emphasis on objects and contexts that co-produce meaning. 

Micah Bloom’s Codex, here expanded with a series of new essays, is about formation processes.The surging waters of the 2011 Souris River flood left the city of Minot coated in mud and strewn with debris and Bethany Andreasen’s contribution to this book provides a sweeping overview of those events. Micah Bloom’s camera, however, focused on the books that the river deposited across the landscape. Robert Kibler the work of the flood and Bloom’s work has produced hybrid that embodies both natural and human transformations. As Ryan Stander shows, each photograph echoes both the book-littered landscape of the post-flood Souris and the myriad photographic images that have gone before.

I became familiar with Blooks’s project during its installation at the North Dakota Museum of Art in May of 2015. Laurel Reuter’s essay provides a perspective on that event from her position as director of the museum. The exhibit combined his photographs with various approaches to dealing with the damaged and waterlogged books. Some approaches were archaeological and featured careful indexing, systematic photograph, and scientific precisions. Others approaches embraced a religious cast manifest in a neatly-arranged book cemetery commemorating each volume lost. As Brian Prugh’s essay notes, books are special objects. 

In many ways, formation processes also produce books. Thora Brylowe reminds us that books themselves emerge from natural processes mediated by human intentions. Sheila Liming’s essay reveals that books are always in the process of decomposition as both the physical objects and the ephemeral containers of ideas. Bloom’s lens presents the blurred words and water soaked pages and encourages us to recognize that the intent of the book is, as Justin Sorensen notes, part of what gives it meaning. Books are to be read, but even when they’re not readable, they still speak to us as artifacts. The meaning of the books in Bloom’s photographs compels us to take their materiality seriously and to recognize, using David Haeselin’s term, that they are constructed.

This book too was constructed in a very particular way. The contributors hail from around the U.S. and, as this brief introduction has shown, bring a range of perspectives from the fields of history, literature, art history, and criticism to Bloom’s work. These essays were copy edited by the students in David Haeselin’s writing, editing, and publishing course at the University of North Dakota. Micah Bloom supervised the design of the book with the help of Marissa Dyke at Minot State University. The book is published by Bill Caraher’s project, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota with funding from both UND and Minot State University.

Lives, Land, and Labor in Bakken at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo

If you’re down in Fargo this evening and want to step out, check out the IdeaExchange program on Lives, Land, and Labor in the Bakken at the Plains Art Museum. To register, go here

This program is in conjunction with their ongoing Bakken Boom! exhibit which I’ve blogged about here.

IEBBoom2 12 2015poster

A Quick Follow up to Cultures of Curation

If you missed the panel discussion earlier this afternoon at the University of North Dakota’s Arts and Culture Conference, you missed an stimulating conversation about curation in the media, art world and film. As I said in an earlier blog post, curation has come to be a particular important concept in the late-20th/early-21st century cultural lexicon.

The panels were relatively conservative in their reading of curation and privileged the curator as a kind of arbiter of creativity. When asked whether curation could occur without a curator, the panel was largely dismissive. (And, yes, it was my question, and I have a blog, so I can respond to my own question here. It’s completely solipsistic, I know, but it’s hardly my fault that the panel stimulated me to have a conversation with myself.) My idea of curation sans curator was not that curation would occur without any agency, but rather the highly distributed models of agency present on the web challenge our traditional, frankly elitist, notions of the curator as culture-maker.

In some ways, the editorial work present at a site like Wikipedia or the crowd-sourced curation present at a site like Reddit demonstrates how effective decentralized models of curation can be. Interestingly, Jennifer Preston, a social media reporter for the New York Times, mentioned how the front page of the Times was among the most intensively curated spaces in media. When asked about curation without a curator, though, she responded by suggesting that this would give rise to massive collections of YouTube clips of people filming the news coverage of on their televisions. She overlooked that the crowd-sourced site Reddit claims to being “the front page of the internet”. 

I also thought about the assemblage of ancient objects present in collections today. The modern curatorial intervention comes only after centuries of human curation. The use of objects in various ancient context, trade routes, modern geopolitics, colonialism, and the unequal distribution of wealth conspired to make available a collection of objects for the modern curator. This clearly does not fit a narrow definition of curation as a reasoned, generative act, but it is reminds us that our current genius is always contextualized by the “invisible hand” of centuries of individual decisions, value judgements, and markets combined with natural, political, and social vagaries that have nothing properly to do with objects, but nevertheless shape their fates. 

Be sure to check out the final day of the conference tomorrow:

Thursday, Oct. 24:

  • David Pagel, Visiting Artist Lecture, 11 a.m.,Witmer 114, UND campus.
  • Kerri Miller – Visiting Artist Lecture, 3:30 p.m., River Valley Room, Memorial Union.
  • Closing reception, 7 p.m., at the “Cultures of Curation” Exhibition at 3rd Street Gallery in downtown Grand Forks.

Archaeological Glitch Art

Several members of the Working Group in Digital and New Media have been discussing glitch art. Some of this was inspired by Mark Amerika‘s glitched contribution to the Arts and Culture gallery show titled “The Eastern Shore of Maryland”. The term glitch art refers to digital images that are manipulated by deleting lines of code or through sometimes random processes of data and file corruption.

In a few brief conversations I became interested in the performative aspect of glitching art as much as the results. So on a grey Saturday, I started glitching some of the images that I prepared for the final publication of our survey at Pyla-Koutsopetria. The first step was converting the .tif files to .jpg files. Jpegs appear to be more susceptible to glitching and less likely to fail. Once the file is in .jpg format, it it possible to open it up in NotePad or TextEdit to and manipulate the code.

I started with an image like this:

PKAP ModernCT

Deleting random code made it look like this:

PKAP ModernCTGlitched1

PKAP ModernCTGlitched2

PKAP ModernCTGlitched3

PKAP ModernCTGlitch4

These images are randomly glitched. I have no idea what code I took out and could not replicate this. Each image is effectively unique. Some attempts to produce this kind of glitched image resulted in the file being too seriously corrupted, and it could not be opened.

A more systematic effort at glitching involved cutting parts of the code and replacing them. The advantages of this is that its replicable. By swapping out the effectively random letters (to me) that made up the code for the image, I began to think a bit more about how to introduce to the images something less random. In other words, to make the language of the image intersect with the more easily understood forms of verbal communication.

For this image I replaced the combination “SM”, the initials of Scott Moore, our ceramicist, with my initials BC:

PKAP ModernCTGlitchedSMBC

For this image, I replaced “DP”, for our co-director David Pettegrew, with “BC”:

PKAP ModernCTGlitchedDPBC

Finally, I replaced the letter P with the acronym of our project “PKAP” (the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project): 

PKAP ModernCTGlitchedPKAP

The idea of these last three images is to combine computer code and human codes to transform our computer mediate image of archaeological reality in unpredictable ways. The process is remarkably similar to analyzing the site via the GIS where we take the “natural” landscape and transform it into a series of symbols, lines, and text. By manipulating the code that produces these images in both random and patterned ways, we manipulate the meaning of the image and the way in which these images communicate information to the viewer. We problematize the process and manifestation of mediating between the experienced landscape and its representation as archaeological data.

Cyprus Research Fund Lecture: In Person or Live Stream

As loyal readers of this blog know, tomorrow is the fourth annual Cyprus Research Fund Lecture. The arrival of Dimitri Nakassis from the Department of Classic at the University of Toronto in the great state of North Dakota will official increase the number of (traditionally trained) professional classicists, ancient historians, and art historians in the state by 33% (at least by my count).

The talk is at 4pm CST in the luxurious and exotic East Asia Room in the magnificent Chester Fritz Library on campus. The talk is so huge, that it has appeared on the University of North Dakota’s homepage and in a Marilyn Hagerty column.

UNDHomePageNakassis

If you can’t make it to campus to hear the talk, do not fear! You can watch the talk LIVE on the INTERNETS. I would love to see an active and interested online audience.

Here’s the flyer:

NakassisJPEG

The talk is sponsored by the Department of History and the Cyprus Research Fund. For those of you who don’t know, the Cyprus Research Fund began as a fund supported by a loyal group of private donors who are committed to expanding the presence of Mediterranean Archaeology (and related fields) on campus and providing opportunities for University of North Dakota students to get field work experience abroad. Since its beginnings, however, the Fund has sponsored a wide range of related activities. In fact, its first impact was the purchase of server space for digital and new media projects on campus (and this server space ultimately contributed to founding of the Working Group in Digital and New Media). It has also funded eight speakers or exhibits on campus, three artist in residence on Cyprus, and helped to fund over 10 UND students time in Cyprus. This past year the Cyprus Research Fund co-sponsored the publication of a small book documenting the history and architecture of the oldest standing wood-framed church in town before it was demolished. The book was written by a University of North Dakota Doctor of the Arts student Chris Price and is titled The Old Church on Walnut Street: A Story of Immigrants and Evangelicals.

Here’s a snazzy book mark:

CRF BookMark

One last thing, if you are in Grand Forks, you need to check out the Arts and Culture Conference: Binary Inventions. There’s a panel discussion today at 3:30 pm in the Memorial Union and tonight at 7:30 (with a 7:00 reception) the fabulous Empire Theater. Be sure to check out the closing reception at the Third Street tomorrow night at 7 pm.