Some Digital Press Updates: Punks, The Old Church, Epoiesen, NDQ, Kaepernick, and Robinson

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is looking ahead to its most exciting year ever. Various projects are rushing to maturity in the next few months, and my schedule for 2019 is already shaping up. So this seems as good a time as any to do a quick update.

First, come and hang out with some Digital Press authors and editors on Saturday night at Ojata Records here in Grand Forks, North Dakota from 7 pm on. For conversation, books, music, and, of course awesome free gifts thanks to The Digital Press, North Dakota Quarterly, June Panic, Andrew Reinhard, Chris Matthews, and Bret Weber (and the North Dakota Man Camp Project). Special thanks to Brian Schill of NDQ who is pulling this all together.

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Next, by this time next week, I hope that the first Digital Press Edition of Chris Price’s The Old Church on Walnut Street is available for download and purchase. Here’s the cover:

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Epoiesen layout is now almost complete, and I expect it to be available by the end of the month. After going around and around on cover designs, I think Shawn Graham and Andrew Reinhard have convinced me to go with some variation on this design. More on that thought process here.

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The final issues of North Dakota Quarterly for 2017 (volume 84.3/4) is almost ready to be mailed out to subscribers. I can take almost no credit for this volume, other than helping stuff envelopes, but as NDQ is moving into The Digital Press portfolio this winter, I’m spreading the news and excitement. Shawn Boyd’s most excellent cover design celebrates the immeasurable contributions from our retiring managing editor, Kate Sweney.

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The NDQ and Digital Press folks are well on our way to publishing Snichimal Vayuchil, an anthology of translated Tsotsil Mayan poetry as a print-on-demand volume. You can download it here for free.

We’re also excited to announce Eric Burin’s project on Colin Kaepernick. Eric spilled the beans on Martin Luther King day:

MLK Day seems like an appropriate time to tell folks about my latest project: assembling and editing an anthology on the Kaepernick-inspired protests. Protesting on Bended Knee will include brief essays from scholars in different disciplines (e.g., history, political science, philosophy, communications, psychology, gender studies, law, etc.) as well as pieces written by veterans, athletes, coaches, sportswriters, national anthem singers, and others. The volume, which soon will be published by the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, aims to elevate and expand our conversations about patriotism, free speech, and race in 21st America.

Anyone familiar with Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College (2016), should know that Protesting on Bended Knee will be insightful, thought-provoking, and compelling.

Finally, I’m starting to pull together various Elwyn Robinson related content including a recent forum in North Dakota Quarterly and some parts of his memoirs to create a Digital Press/NDQ version of Robinson’s History of North Dakota, which was recently released under a somewhat-open license from the University of North Dakota.There will be a to-do announcing the open publication of this book and UND’s Scholarly Commons repository sometime in late February. My hope is that we can announce our special edition of the book as just the kind of remixing that open publication can provide!

As always, stay tuned!

Wishful Thinking Wednesday: A Book Proposal for The Archaeology of Contemporary American Life

About six weeks ago, a colleague out of the blue asked whether I’d be interested in writing a book on the archaeology of contemporary American life. Because I almost never say “no” to anything, I responded: “Of course, DUH?! I mean, who wouldn’t? Why wouldn’t I?” 

I then went on a long walk or two, sat on my stationary bike, and thought about what a book proposal on this topic might look like.

My proposal started with the idea that I have two anchor case studies for the book: The North Dakota Man Camp Project and the Alamogordo Atari Expedition. Both projects represent, in some ways, essential traditions in the archaeology of the contemporary world. The former reflects the longstanding interest in industrial archaeology, archaeology of extractive industries (particularly mining), and the archaeology of short-term or ephemeral settlement (e.g. the archaeology of camps, of homelessness, and of modern squats of various kinds). The latter looks toward both the tradition of Bill Rathje’s “garbology” and the emerging fields of media archaeology/archaeology of media, and with a nod to “archaeogaming.

The book would consider the place of the archaeology of the contemporary world within the distinctly American tradition of historical archaeology. This tradition grounds the archaeology of the contemporary world in the empirical traditions of careful and intensive fieldwork and processual archaeology. The influence of Rathje and Schiffer loom large in this work and their earnest respect for objects and things, from garbage to portable radios, anticipates what Tim LeCain has called “new materialisms” and Graham Harman’s immaterialism. I’d argue that the American tradition of archaeology of the contemporary distinguishes it from similar efforts in a continental mode that have drawn more freely on the work of Tilley and Shanks, for example, in their famous study of beer cans. Tiley and Shanks, in my mind, anticipate recent studies that consider the agential character of things drawing on symmetrical archaeology, “object oriented ontologies,” and the ANT of Bruno Latour. This distinction, of course, is not a tidy one, and plenty of cross pollination has occurred (and my recent review essay on “ontology, world archaeology, and the recent past” recognize the range of methods, theoretical perspectives, and forms of presentation that archaeologists of the contemporary world draw upon to make their arguments. Rodney Harrison’s and Esther Briethoff’s survey of the field from this years Annual Review of Anthropology (here’s a preprint), demonstrates a similar diversity. 

The various approached to an archaeology of the contemporary world share an interest in objects, buildings, places, and, to steal a word from my old buddy Kostis, situations. They also share a commitment to the potential of archaeological approaches to shed light on overlooked communities, groups, and individuals, to redefine the relationship between humans, objects, and the environment, and ultimately to affect social change. 

This is where I am right now. To organize these areas into a book, I have a provisional table of contents:

Part 1: Objects and Contexts
1. Atari
2. Garbology
3. Objects
4. Media

Part 2: Landscapes
1. Precarity and Marginal Places: homelessness, borders, and squats. 
2. Institutional Landscapes: campuses, military bases, and parks.
3. Industrial and Extractive Landscapes
4. The Bakken

Conclusions, Prospects and Problems

I’m open to any and all thoughts about this. My goal is for the book to come in under 100,000 words, probably in the neighborhood of 60,000-80,000, so 30,000 each for Part 1 and Part 2 and then 5,000 words each for an introduction and conclusion. 

My plan, for now, is to work out the book proposal over the next month or so on my blog! But, for now, back to abandonment… 

Bruder’s Nomadland and Briody’s The New Wild West: Mobility and the End of the Suburban Dream

I grew up in a house on Wheatfield Drive in a northern suburb of Wilmington, Delaware. I lived there until I was 18 and then on-and-off during the next few summers while I attended college. Growing up, I never moved.

My experience growing up on a suburban street named after the rural vision of the Wheatfield may be one of the quintessential expressions of 20th century, middle-class. In this context, the RV, the mobile home, and the camper represented a respite from the banal conformity of suburban living. While my family never camped or had an RV, we nevertheless recognized the freedom to travel and live untethered to a single place – even the idyllic wheat field – as an appealing fantasy. My dad long talked about getting an RV and rolling across the American West, stopping wherever the spirit moved him, and seeing the sights and sites of the country. As recently as this summer, as my wife and I saw the campers lining the route of the Tour de France, we fantasized about renting a camper-van in Europe and touring. In fact, my wife did just this on a walkabout year in Australia when she and a friend cruised the Australian coast finding seasonal work when money ran low or opportunity presented. Life in a camper van was a temporary departure from the conventions of middle and upper class life. Life in the suburbs represented being part of the establishment – the modern equivalent of the yoeman farmer – who connection to a place demonstrated economically, physically, and socially his or her connection to a community.

Jessica Bruder’s Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st century (W.W. Norton 2017) and The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown (St. Martin’s 2017) tell a different story. These two books tell the story of people who live in RVs, mobile homes, camper vans, their trucks and cars between short stints on the couches of friends and relatives. If Mathew Desmond’s Evicted sketched out the persistent challenges of housing for the urban poor whose constant struggles against eviction thwart their efforts to climb out of urban poverty and garner the social, economic, and political benefits of a stable life and address, Briody and Bruder present a group who have slipped downward from the stability of middle class life in suburban and rural homes in the U.S. and are living in vehicles designed for occasional and recreational uses or the transport of good or people.

Briody’s book explores life around Williston, North Dakota, during the most recent Bakken oil boom in The New Wild West. The cost of housing in boom time Williston made apartments and homes prohibitive for most people who came to the region to reap the benefits of the boom. As a result, Briody’s characters live in RV parks, public parks, camp grounds or most famously, the Williston Walmart parking lot. She joined them living in an RV while doing the research for her book. This paralleled the experience of our research team when we first visited the Bakken at the height of the boom in 2012. We had to plan well in advance and found that accommodations a modular man camp outside bustling Tioga, a more affordable and convenient alternative to a hotel. 

The characters in the New Wild West lived in their RVs on a less voluntary basis and often without the security of a home somewhere else. They had come to the Bakken as a result of troubled lives, desperate circumstances, and, in many cases, the economic and mortgage crisis of 2008 which led to millions of foreclosures and contributed to the growing group of workers who lived in RV and other forms of temporary housing. For some of Briody’s characters, the Bakken was a chance to recover what they had lost. At the same time, the struggle to make a living in the Bakken is always present and optimism is a commodity far more precious and rare that the oil that fueled the Bakken boom. This doesn’t necessarily square with our research in the Bakken, where the optimism was so ubiquitous even as late as 2016 when the boom was well in decline that we called it Bakktimism. For Briody’s denizens of the Bakken, no matter how good the money, the American dream appeared increasingly fragile.

Bruder’s Nomadland tracks the fates of a group of older Americans who likewise lost the fixity of the suburban home and took to life on the road. Bruder’s work is a more subtle book than Briody’s The New Wild West. Her sensitive reading of the modern nomads is particularly evident in the tensions between kind of optimistic adaptability of these RV dwellers and the rough realities of life on the road. Many of Bruder’s character had lost their jobs and, then, savings in the financial collapse of 2008. They experienced the reality of the “jobless recovery” in the unforgiving job market for experienced and well-educated adults in their 50s and 60s. Then, they lost their homes. To adapt, they became nomads living in RVs, modified vans, cars and trucks and supplemented their social security benefits by traveling the U.S. managing campsites, staffing amusement parks, working at Amazon’s distribution facilities during the Christmas rush, and retreating to Quartzsite, Arizona each year winter to escape the cold and recharge.

Bruder describes this loose tribe brought together by circumstances who form communities through social media and share both philosophical and practical tips on the nomadic life through blogs, discussion boards, and listserves. Many of her characters maintain a fragile optimism about their golden years, and draw upon an anti-consumerist philosophy that sees their material losses as an opportunity to experience true freedom. Ironically, these modern nomads often survive by working for the ultimate purveyor of American materialism, Amazon, as well as other short term employers across the U.S. who value the optimism, adaptability, experience, and mobility of these modern nomads. The irony of this situation is further driven home by the practice of these nomad maintaining campsites for people who continued to see RV, campers, and tents as escapes from the fixity of everyday life.

One of the things that Bruder’s book helped me to see more clearly is the deep irony of my little book. Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape. By intentionally ignoring the traditional tourist sites in the Bakken – for example, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park –  and privileging RV parks and man camps, I transformed the temporary settlements in landscape of Western North Dakota and tourism from the space and experience of leisure to the space and experience of work. In the same way, Briody and, especially Bruder, demonstrate how the suburban dream is giving way to a more mobile reality. 

Both authors recognize that the quiet growth of this mobile population represents a seismic shift in the structure of American democracy. It seems hardly ironic that the growing anxiety concerning “voter fraud” (as just one example) has led to policies and practices that will make it more difficult for mobile voters to have political representation. The anxiety about refugees and migrants represents the recognition of these same trends in a global context. I wish I had developed this connection a bit more in my little article in the most recent Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. (I’ve made a preprint available here.)

Book Notes for a Travel Day

For reasons that remain a bit hard to understand entirely, I’m heading to Boston this afternoon to spend a day at whatever is left of the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting. I’ll get to see some old friends, have a couple business meetings, and be in a place where its safe to for exposed flesh to be outdoors for more than 5 minutes. 

For those of you who didn’t catch it, one of the two papers that I was scheduled to present is posted here.

Along the way, I have a few books that I started with the vague hope that I could have them read by the end of winter break. Part of the reason I’m still willing to trek out to Boston today is that it gives me some time to finish one of two of these book en route.

First, the finished book: Blaire Briody’s The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown (St. Martin’s 2017). While this book certainly represents another volume for the Bakken Bookshelf, I’m not entire sure that I enjoyed it. The book lacked a certain sense of irony. The author clearly positioned herself as a coastal elite by starting the book in her apartment in Brooklyn, and then traveling with her parents to North Dakota from California. The subjects of the book who have come to the Bakken to try their luck in the boom, all hail from broken homes, troubled relationships, and hard places and times in rural America. Briody tells the story of their struggle with both personal demons and the precarity of the boom (and the 21st century American economy).  Their stories are compelling, but I’d hate for these stories to be read as representative of all the newcomers to the Bakken during the boom. They run the risk of confirming the long-held (but rarely articulated) belief that being a part of the working class involves some kind of personal tragedy or flawed character. Briody’s book seems to tell us that people end up working in the Bakken because they had no other choice.

I’m tempted to write a review comparing Briody’s book to Jessica Bruder’s Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st century. (W.W. Norton 2017).  While I’m only about 40 pages into the book, it seems to describe the experience of precarity among older adults in the U.S. The individuals Bruder follows move around the U.S. living in mobile homes taking season or occasional work. The juxtaposition between retirement-aged Americans living their “golden years” in mobile homes out of economic necessity and those who enjoy the freedom of a mobile home for leisure evoke certain connections that we made during our research in the North Dakota Man Camp project.

I’m also reading Dietmar Offenhuber, Waste is Information: Infrastructure Legibility and Governance (MIT Press 2017).  While working on my book, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (NDSU Press 2017), I became fascinated by infrastructure. So much of the activity in the Bakken over the past five years has focused on infrastructure. The Bakken boom has been as much about improving roads, building pipelines, creating oil storage capacity, drilling produced-water wells, adding rail yards, and building permanent and short-term housing. Of particular interest is the unseen infrastructure of pipelines and wastewater disposal wells. Offenhuber’s book analyzes the movement of waste – essentially trash – in U.S., in part, through the use of GPS trackers places in various kinds of trash discarded in Seattle. Offenhuber argues that making the movement of trash visible and legible allows communities to make more informed decisions in how they organize the hidden infrastructure that is every bit as vital for their social, economic, and physical well-being. 

So many recent debates about the Bakken center on moments when the hidden infrastructure suddenly becomes visible in a moment of crisis or controversy. The controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline and both recorded and undocumented waste-water and oil spills demonstrates these moments when the literally buried infrastructure became visible and compelled the world to take notice.

Anachronistic Books, Cricket, and Whisky

Book people are a funny bunch (and I count myself among them). I spend a good bit of time thinking about books, publishing and designing books, teaching from books, and sometimes even writing books.

There is nothing more fun than someone pointing me in the direction of a cool new book or an overlooked old one. Well designed books like those published by MIT Press genuinely excite me and make the reading experience more pleasurable and increase my willingness to be immersed in a book. I still think about the brilliant design of Manuel Herz (ed), From Camp to City: Refugee Camps of Western Sahara (Lars Müller 2013), for example, or the clever layout of Kate Eichorn’s Adjusted Margins (MIT 2016). My interest in the art and design sensibilities of producing an attractive and engaging page is one of the main reasons that I continue to work in the PDF format at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.  

Every year at Christmas, my wife gets me a copy of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. Published every year since 1864, the Wisden is by an measure a quirky book. First, it runs to over 1500 onion-skin pages pages, which include articles on major matches and figures in the sport, descriptions of the various tours and domestic leagues, and their longstanding tradition of naming several Cricketers of the Year. 

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They also include the boxscores for all the international matches of the previous year and all the first-class English domestic matches.

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In other words, they include data, but not just data on each match, historical data as well both for each country and for various tournaments or series. For example, below is the list of record partnerships in the England-Australia test series colloquially known as the Ashes.

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Of course, since the book is published in the spring, before the Northern hemisphere’s cricket season, and I receive mine in the winter, amid the Southern hemisphere’s cricketing season, the statistics are usually already out of date. Moreover, it’s easier albeit less fun to get up-to-date cricket stats from, say, ESPN’s Cricinfo, although these statistics tend to be a little less granular than those in the Wisden (and Wisden now makes their own database available online). On the other hand, it is usually far more convenient to use an online database than it is to flip through Wisden.

Every other year, I get a copy of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. Like the Wisden, the Whisky Bible is idiosyncratic and quirky book. It consists of renown whisky critic, Jim Murray’s rankings of thousands of whiskies from around the world. Each review, which rarely runs to more than 100 words, reads like a little prose poem in its elegant description of the scent, taste, and effect of each whisky.

Murray and I don’t always agree on the rating, but his little reviews are a joy to read and while they often coincide with my impressions, they also have helped me describe the complex flavors of various whiskies in different ways. The creepy cover is just an added bonus.

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They layout of the book is complicated, of course, with myriad categories representing the place of distillation, the type of whisky, and the age and bottling, and the name of the distiller. Like the Wisden, basic information of whiskies and reviews are just as easily found online. Moreover, the book itself is densely printed with little room for margin notes or other annotations.

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The quirkiness of both Wisden and the Whisky Bible represent part of their charm. These books are not useful in a conventional sense. They do contain information and a certain basic functionality, but in practice, they are more counter-design studies that anachronistically evoke an era where books were the best source of complex data sets. There is something palpably cool about that. 

Publishing Projects at The Digital Press

I’ve spent a good bit of time this week working on projects for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and just this morning another project appeared in my inbox. These are interesting times both for The Digital Press and digital and academic publishing.

This post today is more of an update on what’s going on at The Digital Press and some broader – and perhaps speculative – thoughts on digital publishing. For more like this, and other voices, do come to our panel at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting on Friday, January 

Project One

First, just yesterday I sent off the galley proofs of volume one of Epoiesen to its editor Shawn Graham. Epoiesen is “a journal for creative engagement in history and archaeology” and having spent time with the content of its first volume, I was struck by how there really isn’t anything like it in the contemporary landscape. The articles and their response range in tone from the playful to the polished and professional and captured a wide range of ways of thinking about and engaging the past from public outreach to Twine games. Do check it out here and consider submitting in 2018!

One of the challenges with publishing such a unique journal is getting the tone right in the design and layout. For the pages of the book – as I blogged about last week – I decided to stick with a fairly conservative, if modern, font, but also layout images in such a way that they encroached on the margins and spilled over toward the edge of the page. While this worked well for conventional articles that combine text and images, I’m not sure that I’ve managed to capture the spirit of more complex, hybrid articles that involve Twine games or integrate marginal comments in Hypothes.is into a cohesive critique. Rendering this kind of hybridity on a page and then in paper remains a challenge!

Another challenge is the cover. As my old friend Andrew Reinhard opined on Twitter yesterday, “If I see one more sober journal cover, I will vomit.” To some extent, he was responding to my proposed cover:

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In my defense, I designed a relatively conservative cover to communicate the seriousness of the project and to offer a bit of contrast to the sometimes playful (but not unthoughtful) content. Andrew’s take was a bit different and suggested wearing the playfulness of the journal on its sleeve. He offered a few versions, but this one was the most appealing to me, in part, because of Gabe Moshenska’s clever graphic, and in part because it is conventional enough to be recognizable as a journal cover, but also unorthodox enough to be interesting.

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(As an aside, if you haven’t already, you really should download Gabe Moshenska’s free, open access, book, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, published earlier this year by University College London.)

I’m not entirely sold on the more casual cover, but I’m open to advisement (and the editorial board of Epoiesen has been asked as well!).

Project Two

I’m working with a pair of outstanding editors to publish the papers from a pair of panels from last year’s Archaeological Institute of America meeting on abandoned villages (you can check out the paper here). As part of that panel, my long-time friend and collaborator, David Pettegrew and I gave a paper on the site of Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia. Richard Rothaus, Bret Weber, and I collaborated on paper focusing on Wheelock, North Dakota in the Bakken. Both papers drew upon a rich photographic archive as the basis for our analysis and as the primary method of documentation. 

Due to changes in hosting policies here at UND, I’ve lost my server space (or, more properly, it became prohibitively expensive), and as a result, our online presentation of Lakka Skoutara images is no longer available. This is a bummer for many reasons, but the extent of it being a bummer was made clear when I investigated my options for producing a comprehensive archive of the Lakka Skoutara material and discovered how expensive it would be. One of the suggestions that Frank McManamon from tDAR made was that I compile the photographs and other documentation in a .pdf (or even a print-on-demand book) and then put that in an archival repository (like tDAR, an institutional repository, or even just the Internet Archive).

While I recognize that this is not an optimal solution for many reasons. PDFs are not machine readable in a proper sense and the images would likely not have all the metadata that individual files in an archive would have. That being said, there’s something important about making a smallish archive (and Lakka Skoutara is fewer than 650 images) accessible to the human eye and compiling that visual data (and any attendant text) together in a single document. At the same time, a PDF can be accessioned by a library, is inherently portable, and is easy enough to produce and archive. So it is a usable solution.

My idea is to include a couple expanded archives as digital downloads with the abandoned villages volume. They’d be set up on a template so fairly easy to design, lay out, and produce.

Project Three

I’m also working with Kyle Conway on a republication of the 1958 Williston Report with expanded content and up-to-date analysis. This is part of the “Bakken Bookshelf” project. 

This project has a few challenges and the largest of these is whether to preserve the original pagination for the Williston Report. And, if I do repaginate it, how do I mark out the original Williston Report text from our updated chapters? Do we use complementary fonts with a serif-ed font marking the Williston Report and a sans serif font marking the newer contributions?

Stay tuned for more on this project over the next few months.

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Laying Out Epoiesen

The semester is winding down and I’m working a bit now to catch up on some pressing tasks for The Digital Press. So, this week, I’m working on the layout for one of my more complex projects, Shawn Graham’s journal Epoiesen, for which The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota will publish an annual pdf and print-on-demand volume.

The articles in Epoiesen have a number of intriguing challenges. First, Shawn provided them to me in markdown (and my impression is that they are submitted in markdown). I’ve been a John Gruber fan for a long time and regularly read DaringFireball and was a devoted user of the new defunct Vesper app. In other words, I’m excited to work in Markdown. Unfortunately, markdown doesn’t play all that nicely with InDesign where I do my layout. As a result, I have to convert the files from Markdown to another format (and I’m converting them to .docx) to import them to InDesign using Pandoc. Pandoc is pretty amazing, but it is not super user-friendly and I haven’t figured out how to do batch conversions. 

 Each article in the journal has a little gaggle of information with it (paradata?) that includes the usual – author’s name and article title – but also other stuff like the article DOI, the various creative common licenses, and any other information about the article adds complications to the page. After a few failed efforts to incorporate that information and the text of the article on the 6×9 inch page, I decided to do a distinct title page for each article. What I decided, for better or for worse, is to celebrate the digital aspect of the journal by attempting to capture something of its formal digital character. So I divided the page into a series of distinct boxes, but rendered the lines as 50% to add a bit of depth to the page. 

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Each article in the journal also has a masthead image that I included and extended it beyond the edge of the boxes the edge of the page. This was meant to be a bit playful and to show how the articles and the ideas extend beyond their digital confines. I’m imagining that images associated with the articles might be offset to the margins of the page as well. 

For font, I’ve stuck with Tisa, which I used in Mobilizing the Past. I like Tisa because it’s such a modern serif-ed font and it is quirky and relatively unusual so it gives the page a distinctive look. I’m not sure that I love it for the article title, but maybe I do!

As per usual feedback – particularly of the constructive kind – is always welcome. None of what I’m doing here is cast in stone. 

The Mezzanine and Kipple

Last year, I was obsessed (or at least very interested) in Philip K. Dick and his view of the material world and archaeology. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, he introduces the word “kipple” to describe the proliferation of useless objects that reproduce in the absence of human presence. For Dick, kipple was the side-effect of useful actions that produced useless objects. Opening a stick of gum produced the useless gum wrappers, reading a newspaper produced a day old newspaper, and drinking milk produced an empty milk carton.

Nicholson Baker offers a different perspective on kipple. In The Mezzanine, Baker details a single moment in the life of the narrator as he as ascends the escalator to his mezzanine level office after his lunch break. The narrator contemplates his varied intersection with people, but more importantly objects which led him to be ascending the escalator with a small bag containing shoelaces purchased at a nearby CVS.

For the narrator, the inaction with objects proceeded along three lines – and these lines more or less echo how archaeology of the contemporary world (and perhaps all archaeology?) engages with objects. For Baker, some objects are merely functional. For example, his broken shoelace (and the one that had broken two days before), demonstrate the relentless pressure of consistently and repeated actions. These actions are not specifically or narrowly defined. For example, it remained unclear whether the shoelace broke because of how the narrator tied his shoes or how the shoe was designed and flexed during walking. Objects in the narrator’s life likewise seem both to resist and to accommodate human interaction from vending machines to drinking straws, and the affordances offered by these objects, in due course, shape human actions. At one point the narrator contemplates whether there was a quantifiable way to understand how his two laces broke within a day or two of each other. Elsewhere, he considers the periodicity of thoughts to determine how frequently he would need to think about a particular things or topic for it to be “often” or “rarely.” The idea of quantifying regular actions is hardly foreign to archaeologists.  

There are also objects that have greater ritual significance for Baker. While these objects are indistinguishable from other every day objects, they nevertheless carry special significance for the narrator. For example, the narrator’s tie evoked his father’s tie collection draped over the door knobs in his childhood home. The narrator’s shoes reminded him that his parents bought him those shoes before his first day at work. Ritualized acts from tying his tie to lacing his shoes let loose a stream of memories that connected him with his childhood and other individuals. In another passage, the narrator contemplates the little rituals associated with riding the escalator from the technical character of the escalator itself to how you place your foot when you step onto it. The connection between objects, routine acts, and specific memories mark the intersection of ritual and the mundane objects of the contemporary world.  

The narrator’s ride up the escalator (and his long meditation on the escalator and on every day life in his office) provides a compelling context for his reflection on objects. The narrator recognizes this, of course, and the mundane character of the act of riding the escalator to a middle class job provides a backdrop to his reflections on the nature of things. At one point the narrator notices how even the messy hulk of a trash truck barreling down the highway has particular beauty when set against the blue sky. The rusted form of a railroad spike takes on a different meaning and appearance when set on the swept floor of a garage.

Baker’s work reminded me of the importance of context, ritual, and routine in the material world of contemporary society. The mundane and banal world of everyday, “office life” of the narrator is no less materially rich and significant than ritual life of the premodern world or places set aside for our engagement with the sacred. 

Free Beauty, Boxes of Books, and Austerity: Three Updates from North Dakota Quarterly

This week, I spent a ton of time doing North Dakota Quarterly stuff.

The most fun NDQ project was perhaps the easiest. This morning I posted a link to a free book by our new art editor Ryan Stander called Wayside Sacraments. Check it out here and download it for free!

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Less fun was the approximately 20 hours spent over the last two weeks putting North Dakota Quarterly volumes in boxes so that they could be moved from our existing storerooms to new storage in various places across campus. While the work was tedious and largely unrewarding, I did find myself leafing through the table of contents for many of the issues and stumbled upon a few remarkable gems.

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Among my favorites was Maxwell Anderson’s senior play which though penned in 1911, it was not published until 1957. Titled Masque of the Pedagogues: Being a Dream of President McVey, it offers witty perspective on turn of the century life on the UND campus from the perspective of a student. Predictably, it features such fan favorites as O.G. Libby, A.G. Leonard (who famously recognized the potential for oil in Western ND), George Abbot, Wallace Stern (a Near Easternologist), and James Boyle (an early student of Gillette who goes on to Cornell), oh, and Satan. 

Finally, hanging out in the NDQ storerooms gave me time to think about our upcoming spring issue on humanities in the age of austerity. I’ve been carrying around (well, digitally) a copy of Mark Byth’s new(ish) book on austerity, but I’ve also been thinking about how to link the crazy quilt of ideas dumped here on my blog into something coherent. Part of me wants to do a series of rather disconnected “observations” that range from my overused “Billboard vs. Factory” (combining posts from herehere, and here) to something on branding in the humanities (like here and here), neoliberalism and competition in academia, and collaborative publishing.

I have some work to do before the February deadline!

Come Hear about Micah Bloom’s Codex!

If you’re a North Dakota reader, you should make plans to come over the the North Dakota Museum of Art on Friday, December 8th at 3 pm to hear a panel on Micah Bloom’s Codex featuring Micah Bloom (Minot State University), Thora Brylowe (University of Colorado-Boulder), David Haeselin (UND), Sheila Liming (UND), and Brian Schill (North Dakota Quarterly).

It’s part of the College of Arts and Sciences A-ha! Lecture Series and co-sponsored by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota Quarterly.

Here’s the flyer:

Codex Flyer 2017

Here’s the press release:

Book Release Event for Micah Bloom’s Codex 

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is proud to partner with the College of Arts and Sciences and North Dakota Quarterly in announcing the publication of Micah Bloom’s Codex at a public event hosted by the North Dakota Museum of Art on 8 December at 3pm. The event is part of the College of Arts and Sciences A-ha! Lecture Series. 

Micah Bloom’s Codex explores the fate of books in the aftermath of the devastating 2011 Minot Flood. Bloom, a professor of art at Minot State University, painstakingly photographed, collected, and recycled hundreds of books and this work became the basis of a film (2013) and an art installation (2015). 

This year the Digital Press published two versions of Codex that combined Micah’s photographs with a series of scholarly and reflective essays. The first was a large-format, limited-edition, fine-art book made available to wide audience as a digital download. The Digital Press has also published a low-cost trade paperback version of the book available at Amazon.com.   

The publisher, William Caraher (UND Department of History), connected with Bloom after seeing his 2015 exhibit at the North Dakota Museum of Art: “Micah’s haunting photos captured an event historically rooted in a time and place – 2011, Minot, ND – but by focusing on books, he made it speak to much more universal concerns. The destruction of the flood is brought home in an intimate way through Micah’s photographs and treatment of books. So it made sense for us to capture the exhibit /collaborate in this way.” 

The North Dakota Museum of Art will host a roundtable discussion featuring the artist, and three collaborators: David Haeselin (UND, English), Sheila Liming (UND, English), and Thora Brylowe (University of Colorado- Boulder, English) will join Micah in a discussion of his work moderated by North Dakota Quarterly‘s Brian Schill. 

David Haeselin, who contributed to the book, remarked that “the essays help bridge the gap between scholarship of material culture studies, book history, and eco-criticism.”Haeselin’s course in Writing and Editing in the Department of English collaborated with The Digital Press to produce the book. Haeselin goes on to say “Student copy-editors were asked to work on a real book going to press. This meant that they had to fact-check and mark up their teachers’ writing, me included. Once they got past the awkwardness, they learned how to manage author-editor relationships, a core responsibility of any editor.” 

Bloom comments on this opportunity, “It has been a joy to find so much local support for this project . . . and to now have a way to share a bit of our story with a larger audience. It’s such an honor.” 

To download or purchase Codex or watch the films go here: https://thedigitalpress.org/codex/

For more on the Digital Press go here: https://thedigitalpress.org