Photo Friday and a Few Random Links

It’s the start of the “Frog Days of Summer” when it’s so hot, we all become a bit amphibious to beat the heat. 

The dogs are doing their best to keep cool and hydrated.

The Barge in Summer

and to endure the terror of summer thunderstorms.

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I still don’t have quite enough energy for a full on “Quick Hits and Varia,” but a few links to some late-summer reading never go astray. Do check out Carl Schiffman’s essay posted over at the North Dakota Quarterly blog or reminisce about a summer on Swan’s Island with the late Donald Junkins.

If you have a digital project that you love, do consider nominating it for the AIA Award for Outstanding Work in Digital Archaeology

If you’re looking for something at the intersection of poetry and photography, check out Kyle Cassidy’s Optimized for Likes: Kerning the Human Altered Landscape. It’s $3 and you can get the PDF here.

If you have itchy writing figures, do consider submitting something to this coming fall’s pilgrimCHAT conference. You can read the CFP here.

This is a neat little piece on jazz violinist Billy Bang.

I’m reading Rosemary Joyce’s The Future of Nuclear Waste: What Art and Archaeology Can Tell Us about Securing the World’s Most Hazardous Material. Oxford 2020.

Islands of Abandonment

Over the weekend, I read Cal Flyn’s delightful Islands of Abandonment: Nature Rebounding in the Post-Human Landscape (Viking 2021). I read it, in part, because about five people recommended it to me and, in part, because it felt like the kind of quality non-academic non-fiction that maybe could appear in a class that I might teach in the spring: readings on things. I also had hoped that it might give me some ideas for a paper on the Grand Forks’ Greenway that I’m mulling over for Novembers CHAT conference.

More than any of that, the book is a really great summer read and can be consumed in just one or two sittings. Since it’s a fun and easy read, I’ll spare you the summary and just note a few points that I took away from the book.

1. A Taste of The Mushroom at the End of the World. One of my favorite books of the last few years has been Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World (Princeton 2015). Islands of Abandonment offers an easy taste of one tiny aspect of Tsing’s work: Flyn explores the forms of flora and fauna that appear in land heavily damaged by human activities. From the disposal of arsenic based weapons in the aftermath of World War I to the coral reefs of Bikini Atoll and the massive shale slag heaps Five Sisters Bing in Scotland, Flyn demonstrates how certain plants and animals find ways to colonize even the most toxic and damaged landscapes. For Tsing, the matusake mushroom, which needs similar environments to thrive, represented both a real example of life in landscapes laid waste by human hands and a metaphor for communities that have emerged at the margins of the modern world. For Flyn, this is just a bit more literal and offers a view of Lovelock and Margulis Gaia Hypothesis which regards the earth as a self-balancing system tempered by the quip from Jurassic Park: nature finds a way. 

2. Corridors and Waypoints. One of the reasons that people recommended the book to me is that Flyn discusses the environment of the Green Line on Cyprus which has become an important corridor for wildlife including the elusive mouflon. During our time working just south of the Green Line in the Sovereign Base Area of the British Dhekelia Cantoment, we regularly encountered environmental scientists, naturalists, and botanists who were documenting the animals and plants that lived in the buffer zone between the built up southern coast of Cyprus and the British bases and along the Green Line. While the “rebounding” of nature in this area is hardly a dividend for the destruction, displacement, and tragedy of the Turkish invasion, it is a lovely example of how nature comes to occupy the interstices of the human world. 

A similar intriguing example is offered by the Salton Sea in California that appeared when the Colorado River overran an irrigation channel in 1905. For a half-century the Salton Sea was a resort destination for both humans living in Southern California, but also a wide range of birds who made the sea a waypoint in their migrations, fish introduced by humans and that found their way into the sea through other means, and various forms of plants and algae. Even in recent years where draughts, field run off, and various other hydrological challenges have turned the sea into seething environment disaster, certain forms of nature – including the seemingly indestructible desert pupfish – continue to thrive in its deoxygenated and toxic waters.

3. Managing Nature. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is Flyn’s engagement with folks who are struggling to balance managing nature in the aftermath of catastrophic human impacts and allowing landscapes to follow their own course. For example, there is a team of residents in Detroit who go out and mow the grass in abandoned parks and blighted houses in an effort to stem the appearance of neglect and show the presence of care. Flyn visits an abandoned botanical research institute in Tanzania where non-native species have invaded the surrounding forest and appear to threaten its distinctive ecosystem. 

In Detroit, the lawn mowers observe that if you mow the grass three times, it becomes a lawn, showing how human intervention is necessary to bring nature to heel. In Tanzania, curiously enough, the initial rampant growth of non-native species seems to have stalled suggesting in some cases human management is not necessary and natural systems do have ways to self-balance.


Ultimately the book is long on description and short on universal observations. That said, it’s power comes from the kinds of metaphors that it offers. The book is a literal panarion of metaphors anchored in real encounters between humans and nature. Resilience, perseverance, happenstance, tragedy, and hubris play out across multiple landscapes, situations, and encounters. In Cal Flyn’s able hands, nature is more than a force that merely reacts and adapts to human interventions, but an independent agent that reward constant and careful observation. For Flyn, nature doesn’t follow a particular narrative or tell a single story, but offers abundant metaphors for understanding the human condition.

Reviewing Sun Ra (Part 2)

Yesterday, I began to work on a little review essay that considers some of recent work on Sun Ra including last year’s Arkestra album Swirling, the re-release of Sun Ra’s 1979 classic Languidity, and the recordings from the Arkestra’s 1971 tour of Egypt. Today, I turn to William Sites’ book Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City (Chicago 2020) as a way to give some background to Sun Ra’s career and personal philosophy and set it against the backdrop of mid-century American urbanism and the Black experience.  

Sun Ra’s legacy, in many ways, is split between his idiosyncratic, larger-than-life personality and his music. Born Herman Blount, he changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra in the 1940s when he moved from Birmingham, Alabama to Chicago. William Sites’ book Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City (Chicago 2020) traces Herman Blount’s journey from the steel town of Birmingham to Chicago. Sites suggested that Blout’s upbringing and early career in Birmingham provided one key for understanding his later development as a musician and thinkers. In that city, Blount developed musical discipline at the city’s industrial high school designed, in part, to prepare Black youth for jobs in Birmingham’s industrial sector. From these encounters Blount developed his famous commitment to discipline which shape the expectations that he had for his musicians. It also instilled within him a commitment to personal betterment and advancement that was consistent with efforts in the Black community to leverage industrialization as a way to develop social, economic, and political power.

During his time in Alabama, he also had his first encounters with Afrocentric thought. Sites notes that Birmingham had Moorish Science Temple with its connections to the Masons and its distinctive blend of Afrocentric mysticism and Near Eastern lore. After high school Blount briefly attended Alabama A&M, whose founder and longtime president, William Hooper Councill (1848–1909), composed several tracts tracing the history of the Black race during his time as president of the institution. Bount’s time there may have overlapped with the Guyanese writer George G. M. James, whose Stolen Legacy: Greek Philosophy is Stolen Egyptian Philosophy (1935) was a rather widely circulated Afrocentric text that appeared in Sun Ra’s personal library.

It is also during his time at Alabama A&M that he was abducted by aliens and experienced an epiphany. While the exact details of his abduction remain unclear, it appears that his encounter confirmed in his own mind that he was set apart for special things. In some accounts, this encounter make him recognize that he is from outer space. Whatever the precise details of this event, it transformed Blount’s view of himself and it shaped his musical identity as well.

By the time he relocated to Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood in the late 1940s, he had has begun to develop his interest in an Afrocentric view of the world which he ultimately melded with his distinctive form of Afrofuturism. In collaboration with Alton Abraham his longtime business partner with whom he co-founded Saturn Records, Sun Ra developed the Thmei Institute. This loosely organized group of intellectuals published a series of partly mystical and partly historical broadsheets that blended theosophy, Egyptology, numerology, Christianity, and philosophy. These works set out a path for enlightenment and liberation for Black people by appealing not only to the potential of an expanded spiritual life which often drew on mystical readings of the Bible, but also to various stripes of pan-Africanism and more conventional Garveyite overtones. 

Sites argued that Sun Ra’s philosophy in the 1950s and early 1960s developed in the spatial context of post-war Bronzeville, Chicago. Concepts of urbanism changed in the post-war period as white cities increasing viewed with suspicion the growth of a prosperous and independent Black communities of the interwar period. At the same time, an increasingly disillusioned Black population realized that the promises of post-war prosperity and expanded rights grounded in the shared sacrifice of military service would not be forthcoming. In fact, Chicago in the late 1950s and early 1960s was characterized by aggressive efforts to limit the expansion of Black neighborhoods, through urban renewal projects that often targeted low-cost housing and Black businesses. This complemented the growth of new ideas and expectations of middle class life anchored in a rapidly developing halo of suburbs. For Sites, the growing discontent played out in Washington Park where various groups, from the Nation of Islam to Sun Ra’s Thmei collective, offered new visions of a Black future as well as new perspectives on the Black past.

Swirling draws heavily on Sun Ra’s legacy as an Afrofuturist thinker highlighting his vision of the future more than a vision of a Black past. Sites connects “Rocket No. 9” with a series of pieces that traces the route of a futuristic version of Chicago’s elevated railway across an interplanetary landscape (Sites 198-199). The call “Rocket No. 9 take off for the planet Venus” mimics the departure call of a future shuttle complete with departure tones that would sound appropriate on a modern subway. The version of the song recorded toward the end of Sun Ra’s time in Chicago included a final verse with the chant “The second stop is Jupiter” that further reinforces the connection between the rocket and a railway. Sites suggests that these pieces superimpose intergalactic imagery on the expanding suburban landscape of Chicago with the El taking Black riders not just out of the increasingly circumscribed Black neighborhoods but outward toward the newly emerging middle class suburbs. The absence of the final verse in the most recent arrangement of the piece perhaps reflects a bit of pessimism in the current situation and circumscribes some of limitlessness of the outer space and perhaps the aspirations for a contemporary Black middle class.   

Three Things Thursday: Blogging, Archaeology and Climate, and Poetry

I’ve reached the point of the summer when all my projects seem to melt together into chaotic ball of deadlines, half-met expectations, and long bikes rides. Needless to say, it has not been very productive.

At the same time, I am having fun thinking about things to blog about and then stretching my morning blogging time well into my second cup of coffee. So this morning, I have three things that might, someday, mature into full blog posts.

Thing the First

Years ago (let’s say 2008), I wrote a piece on the archaeology of blogging (and blogging archaeology) for Archaeology magazine’s website. I returned to some of the ideas in that article with a piece co-written by Andrew Reinhard for Internet Archaeology which considered the place of blogs in the academic ecosystem.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how blogging has changed over the past five years. When I started blogging, I imagined an audience who would be interested in understanding how the [academic] sausage was made. Along those lines, my blog would serve as part idea box, part academic scratch pad, and part preview channel for my various research interests. At my most optimistic, I considered it to be living supplement to my academic CV (with occasional dog photo!) and as a way to move back the veil on how academics produce new knowledge. In any event, it may be that this was an optimistic program from the start, but I continue to think that it has relevance. I suspect that this is even more true for today as the general public has become increasingly invested in understanding how scientific knowledge forms the basis for public policy, authority, and expertise.

That said, I can completely understand how my blog is not to everyone’s taste. Indeed, it seems like public scholarship has two main areas of emphasis. One is works that approach historical problems with a journalistic flair for narrative, description, and analysis. Ed Watt’s recent book on the fall of the Roman Republic fits this category as do works by the likes of Eric Cline or my colleague Eric Burin. These works have the potential to attract the elusive crossover audience that includes both academics and the general public and have emerged as a revenue stream for publishers and scholars alike. This is important at a time when library purchasing power is in decline and faculty salaries have tended to stagnate.

The other major strain in public scholarship, and one that has particular prominence in the blogging community, is politically engaged outreach. This involves writing — often for blogs, but also in more established publications — on both academic issues that have an impact on contemporary society and in efforts to demonstrate how the contemporary political discourse has had an impact on what we do as researchers. I find the work of folks like Sarah Bond, Rebecca Futo-Kennedy, and the folks who blog at places like Everyday Orientalism (and previously Eidolon) compelling and important voices. At the same time, I recognize that this kind of public outreach often puts you in the crosshairs of the political outrage machine on social media. On the other hand, their work also attracts significant positive attention from readers within and outside the academy and if the goal of public outreach is actually reaching the public, then these authors have succeeded in spades. 

That said, it is a very different kind of blogging than what I envisioned when I started my blog and one wonders whether the changing political and cultural economy of academia has fundamentally transformed the character of outreach and public oriented scholarship? 

Thing the Second

I really enjoyed this article in the Journal of Field Archaeology by Karim Alizadeh, M. Rouhollah Mohammadi, Sepideh Maziar, and Mohmmad Feizkhah titled: “The Islamic Conquest or Flooding? Sasanian Settlements and Irrigation Systems Collapse in Mughan, Iranian Azerbaijan.” It is another in the recent gaggle of articles interested in considering the role of climate change in the transformation of settlement and activity in the ancient Mediterranean (broadly construed) landscape. Alizadeh and colleagues look at evidence for fortifications and irrigation systems in the Mughan Steppe region of the Azerbaijan-Iranian borderland.

They argue that the Sassanians constructed a complex network of irrigation canals throughout the region that only faltered as a result of two major flooding events in the 7th century. These floods cut down the Aras River bed making disrupting its relationship to the steppe’s irrigation network. These flooding events may well be connected to changes in climate and hydrology precipitated by the Late Antique Little Ice Age. The subsequent abandonment of settlement in the Mughan Steppe in the late 7th century, then, may not be related to the Muslim Conquests and the arrival of Muslim military forces in the world. Or, alternately, the faltering irrigation may have made the regional less resilient in the face of political and military challenges. 

This kind of work has had me thinking more carefully about the settlement change in Greece in the 7th century and the relationship between climate change, changes in economic structures, and the evident reorganization of Greek rural settlement. While the data that we have for the environmental conditions at the local level remains fragmentary and inconclusive, comparisons with other regions of the Mediterranean give us another reason to resist assuming that political and military events precipitated changes in the settlement and economy.   

Thing the Third

Do go and check out the North Dakota Quarterly blog today. I’ve posted a poem by John Walser titled “Chronoscope 181: And that spot.” It’s a great example of how poetry (and music!) can do things with time that we struggle to accomplish in the more linear world of academic prose. Plus, it’s a perfect poem to read heading into midsummer and thinking about how long days can slow down time and make even the chaotic disorganization of summer feel like something significant… 

Summer Reading (and Publishing) Thursday

I’ve been trying to make more time for reading this summer (and not entirely failing, but perhaps not succeeding as brilliantly as I imagine that I will). I have a stack of literary magazines that I really want to get though. I have at least three novels on my “to read” pile, and I want to keep reading in my various fields, keep up with my readings for my classes, and expand my perspectives. Finally, I also want to keep reading manuscripts for my press and for North Dakota Quarterly

Needless to say, this is too much for any summer to accommodate, but the challenge is exciting.

So, for today, I’m going to offer three things that have made me particularly happy this summer.

Thing the First

I know I’ve pitched Cindy Prescott and Maureen Thompson’s Backstories: A Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook, more than a few times on this blog. I do this not only because I’m the publisher and it’s my job, but also because I find the book a brilliant example of public history. It’s also well-suited for summertime consumption with short chapter, stories, recipes, and experiences. You can download or buy the book here.

You can hear Cindy Prescott talk about the book here.

I also want to give a bit of attention to Calobe Jackson, Jr., Katie Wingert McArdle, David Pettegrew’s, One Hundred Voices, Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920. It is the perfect book to enjoy on Juneteenth and you can download it for free or buy a copy here.

The editors of this volume discuss it with folks from the State Library of Pennsylvania here

Thing the Second

One of my great joys in my academic life is editing North Dakota Quarterly. It gives me change— actually a responsibility — to read essays, fiction, and poetry consistently every year and for a few weeks each year, it becomes my main responsibility.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been sharing some of the work in the most recent issue over at the NDQ blog. Go and check it out here.

Since this post is about summertime reading, I would encourage you to read, in particular, Sanjeev Sethi’s poem “Chronicle,” Katrin Arefy’s essay: “The Day the Sun Didn’t Rise,” and Katie Edkins Milligan’s story “Witness” (which I just posted today!). These are the kind of meaty contributions that invade my walks, runs, and bike rides and push me to think about the world and my experiences in different ways.

(Katie Edkins Milligan’s story is a great example. The story focuses on a woman who witnesses a car accident and her subsequent efforts to understand and deal with the experience. The story contrast the time of the accident in its brutal immediacy, and the way in which the accident informed the rest of her day-to-day life. There’s something very compelling about this contrast between the moment and the response that feels, albeit in indistinct ways, useful for our COVID inflected world.)

Thing the Third

My little press has TWO books currently in copy editing. This means that I’ll have TWO manuscripts that will shortly arrive on my desk. The first one is a book on the titled The Archaeological Culture of the Sheyenne Bend by Michael G. Michlovic and George R. Holley. The book provides an introduction and survey of the archaeology of the Sheyenne bend in southeastern North Dakota. I should stand as a fundamental work for understanding the archaeology of some of the earliest settlers residents of Southeastern North Dakota and appeal to specialists (for their rather comprehensive bibliography) and non-specialists alike.

The other book is by a long-time friend and colleague Rebecca Romsdahl, and it’s titled Mindful Wanderings: Nature and Global Travel through the Eyes of a Farmgirl Scientist. It’s a fantastic book that blends Romsdahl’s deep, professional understanding of environmental science and policy with her global travels which have taken her to the UK, Egypt, Asia, the Galapagos, and back to the Northern Plains. The book is candid and earnest without giving up its learned underpinnings. Like The Archaeological Culture of the Sheyenne Bend, this book should appeal to a wide audience, and I feel confident that it will find a particular happy home among the cosmopolitan residents of Northern Plains and I would love for it sit along side books like Tom Isern’s Pacing Dakota

Stay tuned for these books this fall.

Three Things Thursday

Things are happening this week in publishing in the Red River Valley. That it coincides with the start of the summer is an added bonus. It is, after all, a traditional reading season, even if there will be fewer vacations and less travel this year!

Thing the First

I received my copies of North Dakota Quarterly 88.1/2 from our partners at University of Nebraska Press. They look great, as always, and include over 100 new essays, stories, and poems. You can check out the table of contents here

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This week, I published the editor’s note that explains the cover design. The essay is by our art editor and my long time friend and colleague, Ryan Stander. Check it out here.

The essay is a reflection on the way that COVID has shaped our daily lives and drawn to mundane actions with new perspective. For me, this essay rung particular true. My walks in the park, uninterrupted by travel and made all the more routine by my efforts to social distance and work from home, have take on a new subtlety and nuance. 

At the same time, the draw back to our daily lives has thrown into relief how the global course of COVID has taxed our compassion as a society. Not only have the profiteers started to discuss the suffering and dislocations as an opportunity for profit, but victims made vulnerable by complex and divisive social pressures have become the objects of ridicule and derision. These are challenging days and I can’t help but wonder whether our scientific solutionism, which sees COVID as a first and foremost a medical and scientific problem to be solved, requires tempering with the insights offered through poetry, fiction, and thoughtful, reflective arts and essays. The problems facing the world right now are not simply because of the virus, but because of our lack of compassion for those who suffer either in countries that lack the resources to distribute vaccines and provide treatment effectively or among communities who struggle to understand the severity of the risk.

If you want to read more of what appears in this issue, go here, and check back each week for more from the issue. If you like what you read, consider subscribing

Thing the Second

It looks like our friends at Theran Press, in Fargo, ND, have published a new book this week: Popeye and Curly: 120 Days in Medieval Baghdad by Emily Selove.

Here’s the blurb: 

Enjoy one hundred and twenty scenes from the vibrant city of Abbasid Baghdad, starring book-loving author Popeye (Al-Jahiz) and winebibbing poet Curly (Abu Nuwas), along with their friends Coral (a singing girl) and the Caliph of one of the world’s most influential empires in history. Each episode is derived from historical sources, and designed to entertain, educate, and amaze.

It looks to me to be the ultimate summertime read. A perfect companion to slow summer evenings on the porch and 

In 2019, she published what I think is perhaps the only introductory level textbook to Medieval Baghdad: Baghdad at the Centre of a World, 8th-13th Century: An Introductory Textbook.

Thing the Third

Finally, there’s been some nice buzz around the latest book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota: Cynthia C. Prescott’s and Maureen S. Thompson’s Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook.

First, there was this lovely blog post by Maureen Thompson about the book on the Rural Women’s Studies Association website.

Then, closer to home, my colleagues at the University of North Dakota have shared this celebratory posting on the university’s press site.

If you haven’t checked out Backstories, you really should. You can download it for free – we don’t even ask for an email address – or buy a copy for the low low price of $20 on

Wreading Wednesday

I am pretty sure that Wreading Wednesday isn’t really a thing, but this week, I’m going to make it one. I’ve just heard that I was invited to teach a graduate reading class in the English department here at UND next spring.

My class will be tentative titled “Readings on Things.”

The class will be partly based on a couple of chapters from my book manuscript that explore the growing interest in things in the humanities and social sciences more broadly. I obviously don’t need to put together a syllabus yet, but I thought it would be fun to put together a bit of “back of a napkin” thought about the class.

My initial thoughts are to divide the class by disciplinary approaches. For example, we would read some Bill Brown and Tim Jelfs when considering the role of things in literature (and maybe Jameson and I’d love to bring in some queer theory and am currently reading Kara Keeling and liking it and feel like Maia Kotrosits’s recent book would fit here as well.) I would then spend some time with Danny Miller, Bruno Latour (any excuse to read Aramis again!), and Tim Ingold to get the sense for thing studies in sociology and anthropology. For history and archaeology, I could imagine reading Bjørnar OlsenTimothy LeCainDan Hicks, and González-Ruibal (plus some Rathje!). Then I could look at some of the great work being done in the area of heritage studies on decay, by Caitlin DeSilvey, for example. I might also add some works on media archaeology such as KittlerErnst, and Parikka. Discard studies is becoming a thing as well.

This would offer a pretty conventional survey of thing studies across multiple disciplines. I could supplement it, of course, with some reading maybe Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, some Philip K. Dick, some DeLillo, some Pynchon, and perhaps some Raymond Carver. I wonder how I might interweave some fiction with my much (much!) firmer grounding in material culture studies without overstepping my expertise. After all, I haven’t even taken a college level class in English language literature. 

I also wonder what I might do to make this class less of the traditional, read-report-discuss style seminar, and more of a dynamic space where we can learn from each other (and our authors!). It seems like the asymmetries in our expertise—with the students knowing more about literature and the ability to read and analyze texts in a sophisticated way and me knowing more about objects and contexts—might open doors to new ways for both the students and myself to think about our worlds. The question then becomes how do we negotiate this? 

Do I create a class that’s a series of exercises where I offer some text and they present some evidence?Do I do some things to draw the students out of their academic and intellectual comfort zone (for example, transmedia comparisons, dancing about architecture?). Do I lean on my colleagues across campus to inject some “real” interdisciplinarity into the class? For example, what if one of our material science faculty came and talked about his or her favorite material, an artist on how metals or clay shape their craft, a historian who has focused on sculptures, and a biologist who focuses on a particular species?

Needless to say I have a good bit of work to do to figure out not only what this class will look like in terms of the reading, but also in terms of the class itself. Stay tuned!

Summer Reading List 2021

Each spring, I prepare a little summer reading list that usually guides my reading while I’m in Greece and Cyprus. Because our work schedule there frequently includes a short siesta, I usually have time for some reading every day. 

I usually record my summer reading lists here. They’re largely aspirational: 2020,  20192018, 20172016201520142013, and 2011.

I won’t be going to Cyprus or Greece this summer (and didn’t go last summer) and will probably not take many afternoon naps, so I expect that I won’t have as much time to read fiction, but I want to read at least one or two novels this summer and churn through some poetry and short stories and perhaps some other fun reading. 

In any event, here’s my ideas for this summer. 

Right now, I have three books cued up on my iPad: Kara Keeling, Queer Times, Black Futures (2019), Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness (1993), and Alexander G. Weheliye, Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (2005).

Related to these titles and in GLORIOUS paper are Graham Lock’s classic Blutopia: Visions fo the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton (1999), Algernon Austin’s Achieving Blackness: Race, Black Nationalism, and Afrocentrism in the Twentieth Century (2006), Jacob S. Dorman’s Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (2013), and Stephen Howe’s Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes (1998).

I have some big books with BIG IDEAS that I want to navigate his summer, but we’ll see how it goes. First, I want to read George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (2009). It’s long. As I noted last Thursday, I want to read Walter Scheidel, Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity (2019), which is also long. In a perfect world, I’d also read Richard Iton’s In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era (2008), which is 400+ pages and dense with ideas.

It won’t be all work and no fun reading, of course. I want make my way through Amiri Baraka’s and Larry Neal’s Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing (1968) and Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation: the Collected Poetry and Prose (2005).

I’m also excited to read Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace (2021), Cynthia Ozick’s Antiquities (2021), and more Renee Gladman.

Of course, there is on the horizon, like an archaeological Death Star, Elena Korka and Joseph L. Rife’s On the Edge of a Roman Port: Excavations at Koutsongila, Kenchreai, 2007-2014. It’ll be Hesperia Supplement 52 and according to the book’s landing page clock in at 1368 pages, 733 figures, 49 tables!! It will be $150. 

Obviously, this reading list is hopelessly optimistic, but just reading it brings me profound happiness. I can’t wait to start digging in!

New Book Day: Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook

It’s new book day at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. And most people agree that New Book Day is the BEST DAY.

The book is Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook and it’s edited by my colleague Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson. 

If you want to check the book out, you can download a copy here or purchase it in glorious paperback!

Yesterday, I enjoyed the wide ranging book release panel at the Rural Women’s Studies Association where an number of the authors discussed their contribution to the book and celebrated the hard work of the editors to make this impressive work possible. 

From my perspective as a publisher, this is the most mature book that I have produced so far in terms of design, workflow, and final product. The book is innovative in content and the design embraces that, without taking too many risks.

Below the fold is a blurb for the book and the press release. 

Backstories Cover FINAL SINGLEPAGE

Sharing recipes is a form of intimate conversation that nourishes body and soul, family and community. Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook integrates formal scholarship with informal reflections, analyses of recipe books with heirloom recipes, and text with images to emphasize the ways that economics, politics, and personal meaning come together to shape our changing relationships with food. By embracing elements of history, rural studies, and women’s studies, this volume offers a unique perspective by relating food history with social dynamics. It is sure to inspire eclectic dining and conversations.

Cynthia C. Prescott is Professor of History at the University of North Dakota and an occasional baker. Her research focuses on portrayals of rural women in cultural memory.

Maureen Sherrard Thompson is a Ph.D. candidate at Florida International University. Her dissertation focuses on business, environmental, and gender perspectives associated with the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century seed industry.


Here’s the press release:

For Immediate Release
May 10, 2021
The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, ND

From COVID to Comfort: New Book Explores the Role of Women and the Kitchen in Rural Life

As the COVID pandemic transformed our lives, one thing remained a constant. The kitchen continued to be the center of home life. In fact, social distancing, lockdowns, and other challenges associated with the pandemic made the kitchen even more important as cooking, eating, studying, and above all work, intersect around the kitchen table.

Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook edited by Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson, concludes with perspectives on the pandemic and situates them amid the long history of cooking, food, and women’s work in the home. The book combines scholarly essays with reflections, recipes, and recollections that bring out the complex history and work around the kitchen table. With over 20 contributors and 60 selections, Backstories takes the reader from the East Coast’s Delmarva Peninsula to the American and Canadian Midwest, the Mexican-American border, to Hawaii and beyond and situate the kitchen across a range of cultural and historical contexts.

Cynthia C. Prescott, Professor of History at the University of North Dakota explained “Our goal was to bring together recipes, interdisciplinary scholarship, oral traditions, and personal memories to explore three centuries of rural foodways and women’s lives. Whether you are a foodie or a gender or food studies researcher, you will find much to savor in this unique volume.”

Maureen S. Thompson, a PhD candidate at Florida International University noted: “Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook is a captivating amalgamation of scholarly articles juxtaposed with heartwarming family memories associated with particular foods, and yes, plenty of recipes. Rural Women’s Studies Association members generously contributed scholarly articles paired with foodways, memories, and reminiscences to create, perhaps, the first academic cookbook.”

The volume was produced in conjunction with the Rural Women’s Studies Association triennial meeting which this year has the theme “Kitchen Table Talk to Global Forum.” Catharine Wilson, Co-Chair of the RWSA and Host of the 2021 Conference, remarks: “Backstories serve up a delicious “taste” of what the RWSA is about: they are international and capture farm and rural women’s/gender studies in historical perspective. Members savored reflecting on their foodways and collecting the recipes, a process that whetted their appetites for our 14th Triennial Conference … Bon appétit!”.

Like all books from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, it is available as a free download and as a low-cost paperback via William Caraher, director of The Digital Press, noted: “It was a pleasure to collaborate with the editors and contributors to produce something genuinely unique. That we can make this book available for free as a download and as an affordable paperback should ensure that it appears in as many kitchens and libraries as possible.”

Cooking in the Scholarly Kitchen

This morning I have the pleasure to attend the Rural Women’s Studies Association Triennial Meeting (via zoom, of course) to offer a few comments on a book that The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota will release tomorrow. The book is Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook and it’s edited by my colleague Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson. 

If you want to check the book out, you can download a copy here or purchase it in glorious paperback!

I want to keep my remarks focused on the book this morning, but I’m super tempted to talk a bit about academic publishing as well. Backstories emphasizes the role that women play in rural foodways and in the family kitchen. Woman not only provided sustenance for their families and communities, but also communicated cultural and social values, shaped the domestic economy, and offered stability during a time of crisis. The kitchen and cooking took on an even more prominent role during the COVID pandemic when family meals, cooking experiments, and the use of the kitchen table itself as a multipurpose nerve center where family life, work, school, and, of course, eating come together. The book then reveals how contemporary situations shine light on the traditional roles of the kitchen in family life.

A more adventurous talk would fold the story of The Digital Press into the history of the kitchen and point out how publishing is often regarded as the kitchen of the academic process. In fact, one the best known academic publishing blogs is called The Scholarly Kitchen

In this context, it makes sense that publishing industry as a whole is largely operated by women (one recent figure that I saw was >70% of the publishing industry is women). Of course, this doesn’t mean that women are making decisions about who and what to publish. In fact, studies consistently show that men dominate editorial boards and there remains gender disparity in research. Moreover, women are paid less than their male colleagues in the publishing industry. Thus, the kitchen metaphor is more than just a way to describe the back of the house where research (which remains encoded as masculine activity in many contexts) is quietly turned into something consumable. The barrier, then, between research and publishing is not as simple as a kind of technical black box where two different skills abut one another. It is also a barrier that is mapped onto gender divides in academia as a broader industry.

Books like Backstories serve as nice reminders that the kitchen as both a real and metaphorical place remains a gendered space, but also reflects the centrality of women’s role in the process of producing the family, society and culture as well as academic knowledge making. Just as in recent home architecture, the kitchen has move to the center of the home and become public social space situated for both display, gathering, and the preparation of food, the publishing process, pried open by interest in open access and scholar-led publishing, has started what I imagine to be slow pivot toward the center of academic life.