Review of Martin Devecka’s Broken Cities

I generally enjoy writing book reviews, but for whatever reason, I haven’t been invited to write very many in recent years. As a result, I tend to get pretty excited when I am asked to write a review and almost immediately start to fret about how I can be thoughtful, fair, critical, and constructive. 

This fretting inevitably leads to the fussing with whatever draft I manage to concoct for weeks and weeks and second guessing even the most banal observations. The only thing that prevents me from spiraling into some kind of intellectual lock up is the need to get the review off my desk before it is no longer relevant.

Here’s a link to a review that I’ve more or less finished of Martin Devecka’s Broken Cities. If you’re interested in the development of a review from a rough draft to a somewhat more polished final version, you can check out my preliminary draft here.

Martin Devecka, Broken Cities: a historical sociology of ruins. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020. 184 p. ISBN 9781421438429. $34.95. 

Look for the final version wherever you find fine reviews on the interwebs.

Archaeology on Campus

This weekend, I read Russell K. Skowronek and Kenneth E. Lewis’s ten-year-old Beneath the Ivory Tower: The Archaeology of Academia (2010). It is an edited collection of articles that deal with excavations on American college campuses. The book is very solid and while it does not contribute much to the archaeology of the contemporary American experience, it does help situate archaeological work on college and university campuses in a broader context.

Here are a few thoughts on this book that will contribute to my ongoing chapter writing:

1. College Archaeology and Historical Archaeology. I was aware of many of the campus archaeology projects presented in this volume, but, in many cases, I did not realize how long-standing this work was. In fact, campus archaeology is essentially as old was historical archaeology itself with important projects at Harvard and the University of South Carolina beginning in the 1970s just as historical archaeology itself was finding its footing in the US.

I was a bit surprised, however, that despite being contemporary with the emergence of historical archaeology, the studies presented in the volume seem not to engage much (or at least explicitly) with Orser’s famous “haunts” of capitalism, colonialism, Eurocentrism, and modernity. Of course, one could easily enough argue that the campus itself is so saturated with these four elements of contemporary society that explicit references to these themes would be insultingly redundant. That being said, it is interesting to me how little the articles in this book engaged the larger issues at play in historical archaeology (in contrast, say, to the work of Laurie Wilkie in her The Lost Boys of Zeta Psi (2010) published the same year.)  

2. As Public Archaeology. Excavations on college and university campuses have produced excellent opportunities of public archaeology. The visibility of campus excavations, the long-standing interest in campuses as places of memory (see below), and the interest in tradition and history that supports many aspects of campus life, positioned archaeological work as a natural extension of the kind of public history that already saturates college and university life.

It is hardly surprising that many of the excavations featured in this book took place on campuses that take particular pride in their “antiquity”: Harvard, William and Mary, UNC, and Michigan State. The interest in the early days of these campuses (even if the excavations failed to produce “Thomas Jefferson’s lost pocket watch”) complemented and amplified existing historical claims and arguments for persistence and venerability that characterize so much university “boiler plate” marketing material.

It may well be that good archaeology makes good marketing.    

3. The Limits of Text. Most universities have histories that trace the develop of the institution and the associated “great” men and women who guided the schools through their formative years. In general, these histories emphasize key institutional developments – curricula, faculty accomplishments, campus construction, and founding of new divisions and programs – which are frequently well documented in university archives and annual publications.  

Less common are sources that shed light on student life. In some cases, this is because student life was varied and dispersed and more susceptible to the occasional glimpse than the sustained view. In other cases, student life, and the private life of campus in general, took place intentionally outside of public view in ways that were consistent with the rise of respectable bourgeois values across American life. Campus archaeology has shown a particular interest in the private aspects of campus life especially when they contradict the sanitized public documents presented in institutional history or complicate views of institutional history.  

4. Campus and Memory. Most university campuses serve as places of memory for students (and even some faculty) as a result documenting changes to campus over time becomes more than just an exercise in historical work. Campus archaeology has the opportunity to contribute to memory work by preserving layers of campus experiences even as the university campus undergoes consistent adaptation (see below). 

Most university campuses are festooned with monuments to real or imagined pasts. Memorials to departed students, member of the university community, administrators and leaders emphasize the persistence of the university campus. Campus excavation, in this context, offers a performative confirmation that the past matters and institutions will remember.

5. Documenting Adaptation. Of course, the counterpoint to the campus as a place of memory is the campus as a dynamic landscape continuously adapting to the new needs of the community and the institution’s mission. 

The excavations presented in this volume reveal campuses in almost constant flux and made clear that the adaptation of campus buildings did not always reveal itself in the formal textual record of the institutions. Much like the history of the private life of the campus community, the history of a campus in flux runs counter the prevailing trends in the institutional record which tends to emphasize the persistence of campus structures, spaces, and traditions.

The tension between memory and practice complements the tension between tradition and progress that stands at the center of the post-secondary mission.   

Three Things Thursday: Ruins, Books, and the Quarterly

Things are a bit busier than usual these days, so I thought I’d share some of the stuff rattling in my office with a little Three Things Thursday.

Thing the First

I’m pretty sure that I won’t write it, but someone should really pull together a review essay on recent books about ruins. I’m hoping to finish a short review of Martin Devecka’s Broken Cities (2020), which I’ve drafted here, and a few weeks ago, I read and enjoyed Filipe Rojas’s The Pasts of Roman Anatolia (2019). I read and found useful parts of Simon Murray’s 2020 book, Performing Ruins, which stands at the intersection of archaeology, drama, and social critique. It wouldn’t be difficult to add Rodney Harrison and Colin Sterling new edited volume Deterritorializing the Future: Heritage in, of and after the Anthropocene (2020) or the massively collaborative Heritage Futures: Comparative Approaches to Natural and Cultural Heritage Practices (2020) volume to the list. Lynn Meskel’s  A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace (2018) fits the theme on the basis of its title alone (I’ve blogged about it here) and Francisco Martínez’s and Patrick Laviolette’s book Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough: Ethnographic Responses (Berghahn 2019) would fit into a larger conversation about ruins and ruination as well. Finally, Susan Stewart’s book, Ruin Lessons (2020) has been languishing on my “to read pile” for most of the year and I just need to suck it up and read it.

Obviously not all of these books consider ruins in the same way which perhaps makes a kind of comparative review a bit awkward. On the other hand, the range of different approaches to ruins could make a kind of oddly compelling essay in the right hands. 

Things the Second

It’s always great to get some media coverage for a book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. This week the Williston Herald published a nice interview with Kyle Conway about Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota, 1958-2018. One thing that struck me about this article is that not only did it do more than just rely on the book’s press release, but it also — and perhaps more importantly — drove traffic to the book’s webpage. More than that, this traffic resulted in downloads. For an open access press like mine, downloads are a pretty precious commodity because they mean books are getting into people’s hands.

The Digital Press is also excited to announce that One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 is now available from The Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Proceeds from the books sold there will go to support the maintenance of the Commonwealth Monument. If you’re thinking about buying this remarkable little book, now is a great opportunity to buy it and make a difference.

Finally, over the past six months, Eric Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College (2018) has become a surprise best seller for The Digital Press. Following on this success, Dr. Burin was invited to host one of Humanities ND’s “Brave Conversations” about the electoral college. The event is online and, frankly, a bit pricey at $50 for a non Humanities ND member, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it! You can check it out here.

Thing the Third

This time of year is, for the foreseeable future, NDQ time. This means I spend hours processing contributions to the Quarterly, organizing paperwork, and putting the volume into some semblance of order. I detailed my process here.

What makes this all tolerable is that I also get a chance to spend time again with our accepted submissions. This means re-reading the poetry, fiction, and essays that make their way into each issue of the Quarterly.

My excitement usually gets the better of me and I begin to share some of the content from the issue on the NDQ blog. This morning, I shared two of John Sibley Williams’ poems. Go and check them out here.

Book Project: Work Force Housing

At the height of this spring’s COVID season, I got very restless and started to work on a little book project involving the photographs and video that we had captured in the Bakken oil patch over the five years (or so) of the North Dakota Man Camp Project.

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I then submitted it to a “dream press” and I found out this past week that they would not publish it. This is hardly unexpected and not even disappointing.

But now, I need to figure out what to do with this manuscript, if anything.

You can check out the book here, if you want.

Any thoughts on a publisher who might consider a book like this would be very much appreciated (or if you are publisher and think this sounds cool, do drop me a line!).

Here’s the little introduction:

This volume is an experiment.

The initial goal was to collect images and interviews related to our study of Man Camp 11 as part of the North Dakota Man Camp Project. Our team returned to this camp over 10 times from 2012 to 2018 and documented its changed through interviews, notes, drawings, and photographs. This work traced the life of the camp from a newly organized RV park to a bustling neighborhood of improvised housing and finally, to a sparsely occupied ghost town of abandoned RVs and empty lots. Over this time, the camp also saw multiple owners, multiple managers, maintenance challenges, new policies, lawsuits, and changes in reputation.

The images and interviews in this volume also communicate our own movement through the space of the camp. This is particularly true of Richard Rothaus’s video which we sampled into a series of stills and arranged vertically or horizontally one the page. The other photographs in the volume also capture the varied approaches to documenting the RVs and buildings and preserve both the movement of the individual photographer and the relationship between objects in the camp.

This is obviously a work in progress. We have yet to determine its final state. We can, however, state what we don’t want this volume to become. It is not going to present a single, final statement on this camp. The images and interviews here will not serve as illustrations or evidence for an argument that we formally articulate. It is not meant to be a single statement or summary or final word on our research.

Maybe it can serve as a start to something else.

William Caraher
Grand Forks, ND
May 4, 2020




Broken Cities

This weekend, I read Martin Devecka’s short book titled Broken Cities: A Historical Sociology of Ruins (2020). I’m to write an academic review of it in the next few weeks and I usually find it easier to start with some casual observations here on my blog, which I then refine and formalize into a review.

So here goes:

The last decade has seen a bumper crop of books on ruins. Susan Stewart’s recent book, Ruins Lesson, as one very recent example, traces the Western fascination with ruins from the Renaissance to the T.S. Elliot’s view of the WWI landscapes of France. The Ruin Memories Project (and resulting volume) explored the multiple manifestations of the modern ruin and its personal, social, and political meanings. Hein B. Bjerck, Bjornar Olsen, Elin Andreassen stunning volume on the ruins of the Soviet mining town of Pyramiden in the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago reflects on the (non-)place of ruins in our hypermodern world in a way that complements Felix Ringel’s study of the former East German model city of Hoyerswerda which after German reunification fells into steep decline, forcing its residents to negotiate life among the ruins of its once idealized (and ideological) urban fabric. The prevalence of ruins in our cultural life and our challenges to come to terms with decline, decay, and collapse framed Caitlyn DeSilvey’s brilliant, Curated Decay, which offered strategies for the cultivation and curations of buildings, objects, and places during the often slow process of ruination in the contemporary world. The interest in ruins is not simply an academic concern; it parallels a popular interest in “ruin porn.” As any number of commentators have observed, our attraction to ruins reflects our fears of the failure of capitalism, the fragility of democracy, the inevitability of, climate change, and the persistence of war as well as long-standing personal anxieties about death, physical and mental decline, and forgetting. That this fertile, expansive, and diverse conversation would prompt another book on ruins is hardly surprising.

Devecka’s contribution offers four case studies on ruins: Classical Greece, Imperial Rome, Medieval Islam, and in the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan. Unlike many recent works on ruins which look to ruins themselves or depictions of ruins in art, Devecka’s book focuses on the role of ruins in texts. Perhaps as a consequence of that decision, his book emphasizes the ruins of cities, rather than specific buildings, monuments, or landscapes. He argues that ruins had significantly different meanings in each of these situations. While this observation is unremarkable, his careful reading of select texts from each context does offers intriguing insights into the diversity of perspectives on ruins.

In the first chapter, Devecka argues that in Classical Greece, the kind of persistent ruins that have characterized so much of our contemporary imagination were impossible. In Classical Greece, even ruined cities were rebuilt and reoccupied and their institutions, religious sanctuaries, and public spaces revived. The results of the Persian sack of Athens marked only the most vivid example of this kind of recovery. Despite this reality on the ground, Herodotus, Thucyides, and Isocrates, paradoxically, used the threat of permanent ruination as a way to articulate the short-term economic, political, and physical pain of destruction. A reader is left wondering how the evidence for the reuse and commemoration of the Persian sack of Athens in the architecture of the Classical Acropolis would have strengthened and complicated his nevertheless compelling reading of contemporary Athenian texts.

Chapter two considers the role of ruins in Roman imperial literature from the age of Augustus into Late Antiquity. Devecka saw Roman attitudes toward ruins as part of a complex dialogue with their imagined Trojan past and a potential future for Rome itself. Just as Vergil’s Aeneas abandoned the ruined Troy, so Romans feared that Rome itself would succumb to ruination in the future. This created a tension between possibility of abandonment and the desire to preserve and protect Rome which emphasized the expectation that communities and individuals stayed in one place to avoid permanent ruination and possibility of movement within the Roman Empire. This tension became all the more pressing in the 5th and 6th centuries when the ruination of Rome became a real possibility and Late Roman authors returned earlier imperial themes. Devecka argued that the potential of movement in the Roman world and Aeneas’s flight from Troy allowed individuals to imagine abandoning a ruined Rome while still being Roman.

Medieval Islamic attitudes toward ruins reflected their ambivalence toward previous non-Muslim states throughout the Near East. The presence of ruins throughout Muslim lands provided an opportunity to address concerns about Qur’anic originality. Ruins made clear the relationship between Islam and earlier monotheistic faiths, while also providing the basis for an interpretation of this relationship that emphasized primacy of Muhammed’s revelation. Because ruins offered a more fluid basis for interpretation they served a key role in helping Islam overcome the “double bind” of Qur’anic originality and its debt to Judaism and Christianity. The ambivalence toward ruins persisted throughout Medieval Islam with the ruins of earlier states representing both the evidence for the strength of dominated foes and their decadence. As a result, Muslim rulers tended to found new cities and neighborhoods and avoid reusing material from earlier ruins. This created a landscape of ruins as each successive ruler sought to establish their own place and leaving as ruins previous buildings, cities, and neighborhoods.      

The final chapter of the book considers the role of ruins in the destruction of Tenochtitlan at the hands of Hernán Cortés in 1521. Devecka argues that Cortés destruction of the Mexica capital not only reflected the incommensurability between European views of conquest and those of the Mexica but also a creation of ruins that Europeans increasingly associated with barbarism. The preservation and reuse of Muslim buildings after the 15th century Reconquista in southern Spain stood in stark contrast to the destruction of Tenochtitlan by Cortés and his soldiers. As a result, Cortés and his successors went to some length to justify their actions and to diminish the status of the Mexica city, even after initially celebrating the size and wealth of Tenochtitlan as a way to increase the significance of his invasion. The long shadow of this pivot contributed to diminish the size and monumentality of Mesoamerican civilizations and to rank them as inferior to those of Europe.

Devecka eschews a formal conclusion and instead offers an epilogue where he considers how attitudes toward ruins have changed over time. If ruins tend to reflect the spatial fix of empire and the reach of their political, social, and cultural hegemony, the more recent the empire the more historically distant ruins are. If they represented an immediate risk to Classical Athenians and, in Late Antiquity, the reality of a vulnerable Rome. In Medieval Muslim culture, ruins represented an past made obsolete by the Qur’an or the contemporary situation; for Cortés, the ruins of Tenochtitlan represented the remains of a civilization understood as being far less advanced than Europeans. Today, ancient and modern ruins alike become an “icon of pastness” both situated outside of the present and incommensurate with the future.  Devecka’s epilogue challenges such an essentialized view of ruins. He urges us to recognize in the different attitudes toward ruins in the past, the potential for different views of ruins in the present.

Justice, Politics, and Books

I’m not a particularly political person, nor do I wear my political, ethical, moral or spiritual commitments on my sleeve. In general, my scholarship and teaching tends toward the mundane and I’m about the last person you’d consider inviting to your webinar on social justice issues in archaeology or history or Classics or to pen an open letter on some matter of ethical concern.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t care or that I don’t see issues such as racism, xenophobia, economic and environmental justice, and the disturbing rise of the populist right as matters of pressing and immediate concern. At the same time, I’ll admit that I’ve struggled to find my voice in current debates and despite an effort to remain engaged in both the popular and scholarly conversations, I’ve found myself unsettled by the constant refiguring of national conversations and the significant nuances associated with political speech. 

What I do try to do, however, is support others who have found their voice in contemporary debates and to do what I can to amplify their messages and to promote thoughtful engagement with issues.

Along those lines, I’d like to highlight three books from my press, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, that speak to contemporary issues with an eloquence, creativity, and thoughtfulness that goes well beyond what I could do.

First, the events in the NBA and across professional sports last night moved me deeply. I’ve consistently admired the current group of athlete’s commitment to justice and activism. I learned a good bit about the complex history of activism in sports by reading Eric Burin’s edited volume, Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st century America. As any number of voices in the national media have acknowledged, Burin’s reading of the Kaepernick protests is not only careful, but wise. The voices that he brought together in his volume bring nuance and perspective to the debate as well. Racism, policies that support mass incarceration and police violence, diverse readings of patriotism, and the pain of seething, generational anger motive both protests and our national response to them. Check out Protesting on Bended Knee.  

3 Protesting Cover

Second, as if anticipating the protest by NBA players, a group of community leaders, scholars, and politicians gathered on the capital grounds in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to dedicated the Commonwealth Memorial. This monument, titled “A Gathering at the Crossroads” commemorated the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment, which gave African-American men the right to vote, and the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The monument featured a list of 100 activists who shaped the African American community in Harrisburg and promoted justice, equality, and political and social advancement. Read some of the media coverage here, here, and here.

Earlier this summer, The Digital Press published a companion to this monument which tells the stories of the 100 names that it commemorates and the community in which they lived and worked. The book is titled One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 and like all of our titles it can be downloaded for free here.     

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Finally, amid protests, hurricanes, and COVID, both political parties are gearing up for the 2020 election. While political change is only part of the answer. There is no doubt that the current political institutions complicate and often obstruct efforts to resolve long-standing problems in American society.

Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College, unpacks the Electoral College from multiple political, historical, and philosophical perspectives to show how our system makes some change more possible than others. It doesn’t propose a simple or equitable solution, but by complicating the picture, we can understand how and why the system works the way that it does.  

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Roman Anatolia

This weekend I read Filipe Rojas’s new book on Roman Anatolia, The Pasts of Roman Anatolia: interpreters, traces, horizons (2019). It’s the kind of book that I’m prone to like because it considers how individuals in the past thought about their own past largely outside the realm of literary texts. The book brought together evidence for the Roman reuse of Bronze Age and Iron Age artifacts, monuments, and landscapes to create meaningful dialogues between their past and present. 

These dialogues were not naive, and often reflected critical and sophisticated readings of ancient remains that were deployed to articulate local identities. Rojas often looks to the relationship between ancient and more recent (i.e. Roman) monuments as a clue to ritualized interaction between the past and the present. Significantly, many of the monuments around which these rituals and Roman period accretions emerged dated to millennia earlier suggesting an effort to connect contemporary communities to their Iron Age and Bronze Age pasts.

Anyone familiar with the archaeology of Greece is, of course, aware of similar practices, from Classical efforts to incorporate evidence from the Mycenaean period into the architecture of the Acropolis to the reuse of the Bronze Age tholos tomb in the Hellenistic period at Orchomenos and the deliberate reuse of Greek and Roman spolia in Byzantine architecture at places such Skripou, the Panagia Gorgoepikoos in Athens, or the church at Merbaka.

Rojas describes this ancient interest in the past as archaeophilia to distinguish it from contemporary archaeology and antiquarianism. While it seems useful to distinguish ancient ways of understanding the past from the modern convention that define archaeology and antiquarianism, I do wonder whether this distinction assumes a greater degree of consistency among contemporary archaeologists than is realistic. After all, over the past forty years archaeologists have come to recognize and integrate a range of practices associated with indigenous communities and have recognized pre or even anti-modern tendencies in our own professional genealogy. (I explored some of this, albeit in a fairly superficial way, in a short paper on “dream archaeology” from a few years back). Whether this means that contemporary archaeologists can also be archaeophiles of the kind described by Rojas’s book or that some elements of archaeology existed in antiquity seems like a topic worth some consideration especially in light of the rampant concern for matters of ontology in contemporary scholarship. 

Rojas himself delves into such matters of ontology when he explores the ways in which ancient communities produced assemblages that made the past manifest in their present. The appearance of mountain-men, for example, blurred the line between the human and the geological and made “natural” features of the Anatolian not simply agents, but individuals that combined aspects of the human, the divine, and the natural. Rojas likewise shows how toxic gasses, distinctive smells, and particular sounds connected the human to the divine and the present to the past in antiquity. These broadly articulated assemblages demonstrated that ancient communities often rejected modern distinctions between the cultural and the natural as well as the deep past and the present.

While this is hardly surprising to anyone familiar with indigenous views of the landscape in contemporary times, it does serve as a useful reminder that the lines between “Classical” (Greek and Roman) antiquity and “Prehistory” in Anatolia reflect modern efforts to distinguish between traditions associated with our European past (i.e. with it putative roots in Greece and Rome) and earlier traditions that were distinctly non-European in the mind of 19th and early-20th century scholars (e.g. the Hittites). While it is easy for us today to reject this kind of thinking with its racist and nationalist overtones, the implications of these forms of categorization continue to impact the way in which our disciplines are organized. 

Rojas’s work represents another example of the continuing interrogation of our ontological, institutional, and genealogical assumptions about antiquity and the past more broadly. It’s a comfortable and often entertaining read. It was a perfect book for the last weekend before the start of the academic year. 

Three Things Thursday: Digital Utopias, Poetry, and Everything is Fine

It’s the last Thursday before the last weekend before the start of classes. It feels rather momentous as we brace ourselves for the COVID-inflected start to the 2020-2021 academic year.

In an effort to preserve a sense of normalcy, I though it appropriate to drop a Three Things Thursday. A little alliteration never goes astray when your grasping at the new normal.

Thing the First

A few months ago, David Haeselin, a co-conspirator and buddy of mine made the observation that writing was a utopian project. It assumes readers, expects some kind of mutual understanding, and engages in  shared world building. (As I sit down to write this post, I also wish that I had read my friend and colleague Mark Jendrysik’s new book Utopia, rather than just congratulating him for it over social media.)

Recently, for various reasons, I’ve gotten to think that the kind of digital archaeology that I practice which focuses on the recording of information in the field through to the publishing of archaeological data in an open and granular format, is also a utopian undertaking. If I had more of the “little grey cells” I might be able to expand this observation somehow into a full blog post, if nothing else, but right now I’m content to offer it as a half-baked thought on a Three Things Thursday. 

I think our assumption and hope that we can record what we do in the field in a way that is useful in the future and, actually more than that, used in the future recognizes shared values between the present and future. Even a casual reader in archaeological methods and theory recognizes this view as a bit naive, but the hopefulness of this view perhaps lends a bit to what Shawn Graham and others have called the “enchantment” found in digital archaeology

Thing The Second

On Tuesday, The Digital Press released a new book titled, One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920. You can read about the book in more detail here. Since then, quite a few people have visited the book’s page at The Digital Press website and this, of course, is exciting. 

What has been a little disappointing is that most people aren’t taking the time to download the book. This, on the one hand, is understandable. The title and description reads as something intended for a fairly narrow audience. But I want to encourage anyone interested in US history, African-American history, or – and perhaps most importantly – public history to check out this volume! Or at very least read this poem. The book is free!

In the sane spirit, I would also encourage you to check out the New York Philharmonic’s Project 19. This project has commissioned 19 new works by women composers that debuted with the Philharmonic in February just before COVID-19 disrupted our world.

What I didn’t realize was that the Academy of American Poets also contributed to this project by commissioning 19 poems by women writers. You can read and listen to the poems here or download the 19-page book here.

Thing The Third

Like many people, I’m struggling to wrap my head around the upcoming semester, the risk associated with COVID-19, and the looming budget challenges facing my institution and our college in particular. 

To help me deal with this, I’ve adopted a new motto for the fall 2020 semester and I plan to produce some kind of poster or sign celebrating it over the weekend. 

The motto is:


Stay tuned.

New Book Day! One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920

It’s new book day at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota!

We’re very proud and excited to announce the publication of One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 edited by Calobe Jackson, Jr., Katie Wingert McArdle, David Pettegrew with a forward by Lenwood Sloan. You can download the book for free or purchase it via Amazon.

This book is a companion to the new Commonwealth Monument in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania which will be dedicated on August 26, 2020. This monument is dedicated to the significant African American community in Pennsylvania’s capital and its historic struggle for the vote. The monument consists of a bronze pedestal that will feature the names of one hundred change agents who pursued the power of suffrage and citizenship between 1850 and 1920 in Harrisburg. This book tells the story of their unique and lasting contributions to the standing and life of African Americans—and, indeed, the political power of all Americans—within their local communities and across the country.

This book emerged at the intersection of the Commonwealth Monument Project (for more on that go here) and the Digital Harrisburg project (for more on that go here). This work is continuing. For example, check out the work of the Digital Harrisburg team discussing the region’s difficult history of racial injustice.


On a more personal note, I was really honored to be asked to help make this remarkable book possible. As readers of this blog know, David Pettegrew and I have been collaborating for over two decades now on various archaeological projects in the Eastern Mediterranean. Over this time, we’ve also developed our own interests and commitments to our local communities as well. It was really fun to be able to work on a project related to these non-Mediterranean projects especially this summer when it wasn’t possible to travel and do field work. 

I really hope that you take the time to download and check out this book. It is a remarkable document situated at the intersection of community activism and academic historical research. But more than that, so many of the stories in the book are really engrossing and paint a rich picture of the African American community in Harrisburg over the course of the 19th and 20th century.

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Some More Thoughts on Book Layout

The next few weeks will be particularly exciting ones for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We have a book release tomorrow and then another on September 1. 

But over the last week or so, I’ve been focused on a book that will come out on November 1. I’ve just started design work and layout and have had the fun of working closely with authors who have clear ideas of how they want their book to work. It was also my first opportunity to produce an archaeological catalogue, which has turned out to be a bit of a learning experience. 

As a result, the basic page design went through a few iterations that I thought that I’d share.

The initial page design was set in 11 point Miller Text which the authors felt was just a bit too big. The also felt like the catalogue organization was not hierarchical enough and that the indent after the various subheadings made the text too narrow.

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I didn’t disagree with this and thought maybe that they’d prefer a text set in Chaparral rather than the more open Miller Text.

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Test Template Chapter 3 2Chap pdf  page 8 of 26 2020 08 17 07 31 16

I really like Chaparral and thought that it gave the text block a bit more of a buttoned down and traditional feeling. Alas, my authors did not feel the same way and still felt that the catalogue lacked a bit of visual ordering.

I went back to Miller but dropped the size to 10 point and carried the style of headings from the rest of the text into the catalogue to create more clear divisions between the various parts of the catalogue entries. I also made the line spacing a bit denser to make the text feel a bit more serious.

Test Template Chapter 3 2 10Miller pdf  page 6 of 10 2020 08 17 07 35 07

Test Template Chapter 3 2 10Miller pdf  page 8 of 10 2020 08 17 07 35 27

I also added one of the 3D models to the catalogue so it would be a bit more clear how this would look. I also made the hyperlinks a dark, royal blue largely because I hate the “hyperlink blue.” It makes them a bit less obvious in the book, but to my mind, that’s fine. They’re visible if you’re looking for them and not obtrusive if you’re not.

Most of the hyperlinks will be joined by an endnote that will include permanent urls for each link in the text.

While I’m up to my eyeballs in design and layout, my cover designer, Dan Coslett (get his new book!) has prepared an almost final draft of the cover which I’ll share here.

VVP cover final