The Archaeology of Burning Man

Last weekend, I read Carolyn White’s new book, The Archaeology of Burning Man (2020). It was published by the University of New Mexico Press which has been doing really nice work lately. The Archaeology of Burning Man appears in their Archaeologies of Landscapes in the Americas series. If I were going to write a book on our work in the Bakken oil patch, I would seriously consider sending it to that series!

White’s book, as it title suggests, looks at the famous Burning Man festival that occurs in late August and September in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. Over the past decade, Burning Man has attracted over 50,000 people who occupy a massive temporary city constructed on an ancient dry lake bed or playa. The festival is ticketed, but once at Burning Man participants pledge not to engage in any commercial activity, to embrace a gift economy, to work toward radical self reliance, and to leave no trace on the ecologically sensitive desert landscape when the event concludes. The highlight of the festival is the burning of two large structures built for the event: a wooden effigy of a man, on one night, and then, the next night, a large wooden complex called the temple. 

White’s work benefits from not only years of careful documentation of the event, but also collaboration with the BLM (Bureau of Land Management, just to be clear) and the even coordinators who provided her with access to almost all parts of the pre-event, event, and post-event planning.

Rather than review the book, I’m going to follow my usual practice of highlighting a few things about the work that are useful to my work on the archaeology of the contemporary world.  

1. Description. The core of this book is a series of detailed description of various context in and around “Black Rock City.” While White works at different scales, starting with a detailed discussion of the planning and organization of the city itself, she nevertheless remains focused on the kind of detailed description characteristic of archaeological work. Such “stratigraphic” attention to detail not only captured various spaces and sites at a moment, but also emphasized the human scale of the event. Only rarely did her descriptions go beyond the space encountered by a person moving through various contexts in the city whether those are associated with the staff attending the city’s main gate or the various temporary domestic spaces occupied by participants in the festival. As a result, the book only rarely steps back and offers a cartographic perspective on Black Rock City.

As an archaeologist of the contemporary world, White’s attention to detail really made me happy. So many books and articles on contemporary sites feel descriptively impoverished when compared with the level of detail presented in the archaeology of an ancient site. In fact, most archaeology of the contemporary world leans rather heavily on winnowed descriptions bolstered by theory or presented in order to advance a particular argument rather than to report on the situation. White’s work runs counter to this. While she includes a discussion of theory in the beginning of her book (and this, to be frank, feels a bit like something added at a reviewers request), most of the book eschews overtly theoretical reflection and privileges granular descriptions that rarely even go so far as to offer observations on function of objects present in a space. 

2. Formation Processes. White’s attention to the entire process of constructing and disassembling Black Rock City on the Nevada playa offers fascinating insights into formation processes in the 21st century world. As part of the Burning Man ethos and their agreement with the BLM who oversees the Black Rock Desert, the participants agree to leave no trace. As a result, the entire structure of Black Rock City is meticulously removed from the desert playa and the surface of the ground is carefully restored to its pre-Burning Man state. 

Of course, the practice of building and then removing an entire city of as many as 70,000 people from the landscape in less than two months is a distinctly modern (and probably late modern) form of formation processes that reflects not only contemporary attitudes toward the environment and nature and the massive capacities of modern equipment and the intensive communication and enforcement of social expectations.

Much of this speaks to how speed works in the 21st century (along the lines of Virilio’s dromology). Even a city can be ephemeral as people, things, and, of course, capital move in ways that explicitly reduce their visibility. The rapid deployment and removal of the Burning Man festival events also reveals the artificiality of the our modern concept of nature. The pristine character of the Black Rock playa does not reflect the absence of human activity at the site but its intensive and highly regulated presence. Like the deep horizontal bore holes in the Bakken that leave almost no traces on the surface, the meticulous removal of the Burning Man encampment speaks to our increasing ability to create the presence of absence in the landscape and (echoing somewhat the work of Kostis Kourelis that I discussed yesterday) transform places in non-places almost instantaneously. 

To be sure, a careful archaeologists or pedologist might be able to recognize the signs of  manicured nature long after the Burning Man organizers removed Black Rock City. At the same time, the ability to remove “MOOP” (matter out of place), speaks to new ways of thinking about the place of humans in our surroundings in an era catalyzed by the ability to deploy intensively energy and resources.

3. People and Places at Home. White focused particularly on domestic spaces in Black Rock City as they existed as individual camps (which might house as many as 50 people) and in villages (groups of camps around a particular theme). Because she always worked at the human scale, the difference between a large and small camp or a camp that was part of a village or standing alone was sometimes hard to discern. From an archaeological perspective, then, the desire to emphasize the smallest possible context sometimes obscured the larger processes at work.

For example, I often found myself wondering what the arrangement of objects revealed about the function of domestic spaces. While White followed Henri Lefebvre distinctions between public, private, and intermediate spaces these were largely dependent on the arrangement of domestic space in relation to obvious public spaces such as roads. This was largely convincing, but at times I wanted to understand more clearly how people used their public and private spaces and how these uses complicated our understanding of public, private, and intermediate. A Roman house, for example, had public space that was nevertheless clearly marked off from the space of the road and as a result, access to the public space of the house was still a sign of some privilege (especially when compared to access to the road outside). A “client” gained privilege through the access to the home of a prominent “patron” through his presence in the public, yet also restricted, space of a patron’s home. 

I found myself curious about how access to public and private spaces in Burning Man camps not only defined the assemblages present in these spaces, but also communicated various relationships between individuals and groups. I also found myself curious about what people did when they gathered in public space and how this differed from private space. (A tempting little intimation came when White noted a space where folks could gather that was not visible from the street, but they could be easily alerted to the presence of law enforcement). Certain things like cooking appeared to take place in public and in private spaces in various camps suggesting that certain activities served different function and spoke to the diversity of approaches to life in Black Rock City.

4. People and Places within the City. In a related sense, I never got a clear sense for what happened at Burning Man. I understand, of course, the burning of the man and the temple as culminating events. I also appreciate the spirit of cooperation, fellowship, and creative camaraderie that the event encouraged, but I’m less clear on what people did, on a day-to-day level, in the Black Rock Desert. 

This may be part of the consequence of White’s focus on domestic space and the adoption of private, public, and intermediary as the basic modes for interpreting these spaces. This distinction between public and private, however, leaves much unsaid. Public space in camps seems to mainly function around eating, drinking, and socializing, but public space across the entirety of Black Rock City is harder to understand. References to yoga and dance classes, “art cars,” and even concerts offer tantalizing glimpses of the range of public activities at Burning Man, but how these shape a city dedicated almost entirely to performances and social activities (as opposed to economic or political ones) remains unexplored. 

To be clear, this book is good and, more importantly, it is significant for the archaeology of the contemporary world in an American context. To my mind, it is the first book length treatment of a contemporary site that fully embraces an approach grounded in American historical archaeology. Jason DeLeon’s work is great and important, of course, but his book length work, The Land of Open Graves, defies any single method drawing as heavily on ethnography, photography, and public policy discussions as archaeology. My work, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape, was perhaps too playful and experimental to be easily classified and has few archaeological precedents. Bill Rathje’s book length work was journalistic in tone and lacked the rigorous scholarly apparatus of White’s book. In this way, it is a watershed in our field and an important contribution to the archaeology of the contemporary world. 

Two Book Design Challenges

Over the past few days I’ve been slowly getting to work on a couple projects for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. 

The first project is the cover for Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota 1958-2018 edited by Kyle Conway. The book was initially to appear in the Spring but with the confusion surrounding the COVID situation, we decided to push its release date to the fall. 

The book is now ready to go, but the cover had continued to trouble me. The cover photo was of Clarence Iverson #1, which was the first producing well of the late-1950s Bakken oil boom, and was taken by James N. Holter and generously provided to us by Janet Zander.

The problem, of course, wasn’t the photograph, but the text. And not the entire text, but the “and” between “Boom” and “Bust.” My first, “final version” used an ampersand in red (the same color red as the truck in the photo!) to link the two words. The result was adequate, but the size and position of the ampersand gave it undo prominence on the cover.

Sixty Years Cover AM1 01

Various other versions of the cover were worse (and I’ll spare you). The challenge is that I wanted to keep “Boom” and “Bust” very prominent on the cover because these two words were synonymous with the Bakken oil patch over the last 60 years and created a kind of narrative drama that shaped the book itself. After endless fiddling, I came up with this compromise solution:

Sixty Years Cover AM3

It’s not perfect, but it does the job.

I also adjusted the image on the back which is by Kyle Conway. The grey sky and muted tones offer a nice contrast to the brighter view on the the front of the book. 

The second little design challenge involves a book titled Visualizing Votive Practice edited by Derek Counts, Erin Averett, and Kevin Garstki. It is scheduled for an early November release that is just entering typesetting. The book will have all sorts of interesting features, from our use of 3D images embedded in the PDF to a robust gaggle of hyperlinks to published data and museums. Because the book will only appear as a digital volume and won’t have a print-on-demand version.

As a result, I wanted to be more attentive to how the book will appear to digital readers. For example, I decided not to include gutters on the inside margins of the pages because the book will never be bound. I also have proposed including the title of the chapter and the page number on the “outside” margin of the page to help the reader know where they are in the digital book without the interruption of a running header. I kept the typical 6×9 page size.

Test Template Chapter pdf 2020 08 05 07 35 52

The text of the book is Miller Text and the chapter title is in the ever-so-stylish Proxima Nova (which is evidently a hybrid of Futura and Akzidenz Grotesk).

I’m pretty happy with how the first drafts of the pages turned out even if they feel a bit like a Bloomsbury book (not to say that’s a bad thing). That is to say that they’re a bit more contemporary than my usual page design. 

As per usual, I’m open to suggestions, criticisms, or insults in the comments!

Three Things Thursday

It’s been a while since we’ve done a three things Thursday and since I’m feeling like I have a bunch of little things starting to back up in my inbox. 

Thing The First

I was pleased to see that the interview that I recorded with Tristan Boyle for his The Modern Myth podcast has appeared. You can listen to it here.

I have to admit that I was pretty nervous speaking with Boyle. This not because I’m particularly media shy, but because there is so much going on in the world these days. Between the daily tragedy of the COVIDs, the BLM-related protests, and the anxiety surrounding the fiscal well-being of educational and cultural institutions, their diversity, and their priorities in a inevitably more austere, post-COVID world, I was acutely aware that reflecting on my own work was an act of significant indulgence. The frivolity of punk archaeology, the misguidedness of slow archaeology, and utter ambiguity (and idealism) of “the archaeology of care” reinforces their collective irrelevance in the face of the need for real and urgent change and a future with significantly diminished resources.

So if you do listen to the podcast, I ask that you please understand that my self-indulgent prattle belies my personal anxiety about the future of archaeology as both an academic discipline and as a meaningful contributor to a more diverse and just world.

Thing The Second  

Last week, I posted a list of volumes published by ASOR and available via the HathiTrust under an open license. After I published the post, I discovered that I had overlooked one small series published as three volumes between 1978 and 1981 and called the ASOR Monograph Series:

Volume 1: Robert T. Anderson, Studies in Samaritan manuscripts and artifacts : the Chamberlain-Warren collection. 1978. Not available.

Volume 2: Ziony Zevit, Matres lectionis in ancient Hebrew epigraphs. 1980. Download here.

Volume 3: James Hamilton Charlesworth. The New Discoveries in St. Catherine’s Monastery: a preliminary report on the manuscripts. 1981. Download here.

Thing The Third

Finally, I’m happy to announce the publication of Anna Kouremenos and Jody Gordon’s edited volume Mediterranean Archaeologies of Insularity in an Age of Globalization (2020). Jody invited me to work on an article with him that considered the impact of insularity and globalization on Cyprus in the Early and Late Roman period. Not only did we get to indulge in a bit of cross period comparisons, but it gave me a chance to develop some of my arguments in a more robust theoretic framework (almost entirely provided by Jody!).

I’ll figure out how and when I can share our contribution to this book. Of course, I’m happy enough to share a copy of our piece over email. 

The Enchantment of Digital Archaeology

It should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of Shawn Graham’s work. After all, my press not only published his previous book, Failing Gloriously and Other Essays, but also collaborates with with him to publish the paper version of the journal EpoiesenShawn was also among the first scholars to push back against my ideas of a slow archaeology and his critiques have continued to influence my current work.

I was pretty excited to read his latest book, An Enchantment of Digital Archaeology, which appeared as the first volume of Andrew Reinhard’s new Digital Archaeology: Documenting the Anthropocene series from Berghahn Press. The book is short and good, and I’d encourage anyone who is interested to read it. Shawn argues that digital archaeology can enchant by engaging the practitioner in the act of creating new knowledge largely through the media of agent based modeling. These digital models – primarily developed on the Netlogo digital modeling platform – allow archaeologists to create programs that allow them to test hypotheses by bringing their models to life. The practice of “singing” (i.e. fr. chant) these ideas to life on the screen foregrounds the creative and generative aspects of digital archaeology and emphasizes their relationship to craft as opposed to the industrial practices that I developed at the core of my calls for slow archaeology.

(As an aside, Shawn’s view of enchantment in his models reminded me so much of Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. which I blogged about a couple years ago here.) 

Instead of offering a review (which would be premature anyway as the book has just appeared), here are a few thoughts:

1. Big Tent Digital Archaeology or Digital Archaeologies. A few years ago, there was a good bit of talk about big tent digital humanities (which Ethan Watrall connected to digital archaeology). The gist of this conversation is that by expanding the definition of digital humanities, we also open the field to a wider range of voices and participants. There was (and perhaps to some degree continues to be) concern that digital humanities has become rather narrowly defined with perhaps too great an emphasis research questions of particular interest to scholars of literature and a fairly narrow set of tools and practices associated with producing digitally mediated critical editions, various forms of distant reading, and public facing corpora of historical sources. While this critique may seem outdated today, the debates surrounding the “big tent” digital humanities almost certainly nudged the nascent field to embracing a wider range of digital approaches under its purview.

Digital archaeology has perhaps avoided a small-tent mentality, although it would be fair, I think, to discern the clear emergence of certain communities of practice in the field. That being said, it might well be time to think about digital archaeologies rather than digital archaeology. 

Shawn’s book, for example, focuses heavily on the development and use of agent based modeling and the enchantment he experiences watching his ideas come to life in the interaction between agents in these digital mediated environments. This is intriguing work with applications that go well beyond the analysis of Roman brick stamps (which were the focus of his dissertation) or patronage systems in Roman Italy. One could imagine applying agent based models, for example, to Justin Leidwanger’s recent work on the Roman maritime economy and the distribution of amphora or Roman fine wares.

At the same time, this application of digital practices in archaeology is quite a bit different from the kinds of issues explored in Averett, Counts, and Gordon’s 2016 book, Mobilizing the Past which really emphasized the use of digital tools in field practices. It is also distinct from the brilliant work done by the Gabii team in producing a dynamic publication of a Middle Republican House or the work of Maurizio Forte and his DIG@Lab to create immersive archaeological environments. This is not to say that all these approaches can’t create the sense of enchantment, and the goals of digital heritage practices often seek to do just that, but rather to suggest that digital archaeologies embrace a wide range of practices, goals, and genealogies from the magical to the mundane.

2. Models and Meaning in Archaeology. Making and defining archaeological knowledge is difficult and the digital environment offers a way to think about how and what we know about the past as a product of the tools and practices that we use. In some ways, the key to Graham’s book is understanding that his idea of enchantment depends upon his view of archaeological knowledge making and this, in turn, is grounded in his reading of R.G. Collingwood. 

Collingwood, an archaeologist, historian, and philosopher famously argued that all history is the history of thought. The work of the historian was to rethink past thoughts and communicate these thoughts to other people. The historian’s work at explaining the past, then, depends upon their ability to articulate in a critical way their own thoughts. These critical articulations, mostly structured as formal arguments that make visible the reason why a historian thought in a particular way, are the objects of historical knowledge. Historians cannot debate what happened in the past, because this is something that is fundamentally unknowable, but we can debate what historians think happened in the past. 

Graham’s agent based models are, if I understand correctly, the basic unit of archaeological thought. They represent his ideas about the past brought to life and attention to the variable and code around which he structured the models offer a way to critique Graham’s thoughts. The models are arguments and the enchantment that Graham experiences in producing these models is parallel to the enchantment a historian feels in spelling out their view in text.

3. Digital Archaeology and Work. Graham has long taken issue with my concept of slow archaeology as a counter weight to the discipline’s growing dependence on digital technology and practices. He rightly points out that coding is a creative process and parallels the kind of craft practices that I connect to slow work in the field. This makes sense; after all WordPress has long reminds us that “code is poetry” and few of us would argue that writing poetry is industrial labor. 

I’ll gladly concede that the production of robust and carefully constructed datasets, thoughtfully designed maps, agent-based models and even the digital involved in creating and publishing books has closer parallels to craft than to industrial practices. In fact, I’ve been pretty convinced by Colleen Morgan and Daniel Eddisford’s argument that single context recording, in which an archaeologist is responsible for bringing together all that is knowable about a single context is an open area excavation, represents a the basis for a creative, anarchist praxis in our field.

At the same time, I think there are elements of scale that make these practices enchanting. After all, not all digital practices in archaeology involve the integration or construction of complex models or datasets. Most of what slow archaeology critiqued was the use of digital tools in the field to collect bits of data. Unlike an agent based model, these bits of data are not complete archaeological thoughts. A photograph used to make a structure-from-motion 3D image, for example, might not even be recognizable by a human viewer as representing a particular object or landscape. The photograph only makes sense in the computer-mediated context of a 3D model generated by software like Pix4D or Agisoft Metashape. The same can be said for entering data into a database in the field or filling out a form. In isolation, a check box or even a short description does not produce a sense of enchantment and, following Collingwood, these are not complete archaeological or historical thoughts. 

I’d argue that this kind of digital archaeology, the work that anticipates Graham’s enchanting models, has more in common with the fragmented work of the assembly line and industrial practices than the integrated work of craft. That the collector of digital data, especially at scale, is rarely the individual responsible for the integration and interpretation of the data reinforces the relationship between fragmentation of digital archaeological work and the organization of archaeological labor. Slow archaeology, in this context, is very much consistent with Graham’s calls for enchantment, but it also offers a more cautionary note that encourages us to see the potential for enchantment alone as only part of a larger system of digital practices in our field that both draw upon longstanding forms of archaeological organization and intensify their effects. 

4. The Future of Digital Practices. Shawn, of course, recognizes that not all digital practices lead to enchanting outcomes and that not all forms of enchantment are inherently good. If the first half of the book involves enchanting models, the final chapters considers how the creation of models from massive unstructured, human-language datasets opens the doors not only to viewing how computers create structure but also on the limits of computational methods for reproducing the thoughts that we think about the past.

Shawn presents a number of examples of plausible texts produced from the autonomous analysis of historical documents. The plausibility of these texts rests on our ability to understand the context of the original documents and the style of writing and kinds of thinking that Flinders Petri, for example, might offer.

This plausibility, however, also makes the potential of this kind of technology seductive. By divorcing bit of text from their specific context and reordering and remixing them in new ways, he reveals how the fragmentation of digital data can divorce the fruits of archaeological work from individual actors, spatial and relational contexts, and relevance grounded in a sense of place. It appears that the affective potential of digital enchantment can also obscure and complicate how we understand the past.

As the code for NetLogo agent based models in the appendices of the book demonstrate, digital work requires transparency. 

5. Style. Finally, the book is written in Shawn’s honest, informal, but nevertheless precise style that should be familiar to anyone how has read his blog or Failing Gloriously. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly fits the goals of this book and has contributed to Shawn’s distinct place in the field of digital archaeology. 

Some More ASOR Books Available Open Access

At the risk of duplicating Chuck Jones’s incredible efforts at the Ancient World Online site, here are some more ASOR sponsored publications that are available under an Open Access license via the HathiTrust.

Last year, I pulled together volumes of the ASOR Annual that were available as open volumes and listed them here.

I started to put together this larger list for two reasons. First, I starting to gear up to move a new, open-access, digital only book into production which is in collaboration with ASOR’s Committee on Publications. This book will appear in November. As part of my effort to promote this book, I thought it would be useful to prepare a complete catalogue of open access ASOR publications. This has proven to be a bit more difficult than I though, largely because ASOR has published a wide range of different books with different publishers under its broad imprint. As a result, this is a work in progress.

Today, there are two major ASOR book series. The Annual of the American School of Oriental Research (AASOR) and the Archaeological Reports Series (ARS), many of which are available via a JSTOR subscription here. Some volumes of the ARS are also available as free, open access downloads:

Volumes 1-3 are not available.  Volumes 1-4 were published in collaboration with Scholars Press of Atlanta, Georgia.

Volume 1: J. Maxwell Miller, Archaeological survey of the Kerak Plateau. 1991.

Volume 2: Edward Fay Campbell; Karen I Summers, Shechem II : portrait of a hill country vale : the Shechem regional survey. 1991. 

Volume 3: Gary D Pratico and Robert A Di Vito, Nelson Glueck’s 1938-1940 excavations at Tell El-Kheleifeh : a reappraisal. 1993. This is available for subscribers via JSTOR as are many subsequent volumes.

Starting with volume 4, a group of ARS volumes are available as open access downloads from the HathiTrust:

Volume 4: Stuart Swiny, Robert Lane Hohlfelder, and Helena Wylde Swiny, Res Maritimae: Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean from prehistory to late antiquity : proceedings of the second international symposium “Cities on the sea”, Nicosia, Cyprus, October 18-22, 1994. 1997. This is also CAARI Monograph 1. Download here

With Volume 5, ASOR officially becomes the publisher:

Volume 5: Stuart Swiny, The Earliest Prehistory of Cyprus: from colonization to exploitation. 2001. This is also CAARI Monograph 2. Download here.

Volume 6: Edward F Campbell and George R H Wright, Shechem III : the stratigraphy and architecture of Shechem/Tell Balâṭah. 2002. Download here. JSTOR here.

Volume 7: Diane Bolger and Nancy J Serwint, Engendering Aphrodite: women and society in ancient Cyprus. 2002. This is also CAARI Monography 3. Download here. JSTOR here.

Volume 8: Stuart Swiny; George Robert Rapp; Ellen Herscher, Sotira Kaminoudhia: an early Bronze Age site in Cyprus. 2003. This is also CAARI Monograph 4. Download here. JSTOR here.

Volume 9: Burton MacDonald, et al., The Tafila-Busayra archaeological survey 1999-2001: west-central Jordan. 2004. This volume is incorrectly listed as volume 8 on WorldCat, but is, fact, volume 9. Download here. JSTOR here.

Volume 10: Robert R. Stieglitz, et al., Tel Tanninim: Excavations at Krokodeilon Polis, 1996-1999. 2006. Download here

Volume 11: Nancy L. Lapp, Shechem IV: The Persian-Hellenistic Pottery of Shechem/Tell Balât’ah. 2008. Download here.

Volume 12: Jane DeRose Evans, The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima Excavation Reports: The Coins and the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Economy of Palestine.  2006. Also Joint expedition to Caesarea Maritima. Excavation reports, volume 6.  Not Available via HathiTrust. JSTOR Here. This book is not listed in WorldCat as ARS 12 and to make things a bit more confusing Shechem IV is sometimes listed as volume 12. In JSTOR, however, it is listed as ARS 12.

Volume 13: Marylinda Govaars et al., The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima Excavation Reports: Field O: The “Synagogue” Site. Joint expedition to Caesarea Maritima. Excavation reports, volume 9. Download hereJSTOR Here.

The following volumes are not available as open access free downloads, but are available via JSTOR:

Volume 14: Suzanne Richard, Archaeological Expedition to Khirbat Iskander and its Environs, Jordan: Khirbat Iskander: Final Report on the Early Bronze IV Area C ‘Gateway’ and Cemeteries. 2010. 

Volume 15: John Peter Oleson, et al., Humayma Excavation Project, 1: Resources, History and the Water-Supply System. 2010. 

Volume 16: Burton MacDonald, et al., The Ayl to Ras an-Naqab Archaeological Survey, Southern Jordan 2005-2007.  2012.

Volume 17: Elise A. Friedland, The Roman Marble Sculptures from the Sanctuary of Pan at Caesarea Philippi/Panias (Israel). 2012.

Volume 18: John Peter Oleson, et al., Humayma Excavation Project, 2: Nabatean Campground and Necropolis, Byzantine Churches, and Early Islamic Domestic Structures. 2013.

Volume 19: S. Thomas Parker, The Roman Aqaba Project Final Report, Volume 1: The Regional Environment and the Regional Survey. 2014.

Volume 20: Charles Anthony Stewart, Thomas W. Davis, and Annemarie Weyl Carr, Cyprus and the Balance of Empires: Art and Archaeology from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion. 2014. Also CAARI Monograph 5.

Volume 21 is an exception because we made it available as a free download.

Volume 21: William Caraher, David Pettegrew, and R. Scott Moore, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. 2014. Download here.

Volume 22: Tristan J. Barako, et al., Tell er-Rumeith: The Excavations of Paul W. Lapp, 1962 and 1967. 2015.

Volume 23: Catherine A. Duff, Shechem V: The Late Bronze Age Pottery from Field XIII at Shechem / Tell Balâtah. 2015.

After volume 23, they do not appear to be yet available via JSTOR. Maybe there’s a 5 year moratorium.

Volume 24: Burton MacDonald, Geoffrey A Clark, and Larry G Herr, The Shammakh to Ayl Archaeological Survey, Southern Jordan (2010-2012). 2016. 

Volume 25: Robert. J. Bull, The Mithraeum at Caesarea Maritima. 2017.

Volume 26: Steven E Sidebotham, et al., The archaeological survey of the desert roads between Berenike and the Nile Valley: expeditions by the University of Michigan and the University of Delaware to the Eastern Desert of Egypt, 1987-2015. 2019.


From 1945-1991, the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) published a book-length Supplemental Series. Several of these are available via HathiTrust under open licenses. They are all available via JSTOR here.

Volume 1: Samuel N. Kramer and W. F. Albright, Enki and Ninḫursag: A Sumerian “Paradise” Myth. 1945.

Volume 2/3: H. L. Ginsberg, W. F. Albright and Elimelech, The Legend of King Keret: A Canaanite Epic of the Bronze Age. 1946.

Volume 4: Beatrice Allard Brooks and W. F. Albright, A Classified Bibliography of the Writings of George Aaron Barton. 1947.

Volume 5/6: James L. Kelso and W. F. Albright, The Ceramic Vocabulary of the Old Testament. 1948.

Volume 7/9: Richard LeBaron Bowen Jr., W. F. Albright, Frederick R. Matson and Florence E. Day, The Early Arabian Necropolis of Ain Jawan: A Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Site on the Persian Gulf. 1950.

Volume 10/12: William Hugh Brownlee and W. F. Albright, The Dead Sea Manual of Discipline: Translation and Notes. 1951.

Volume 13-14: Solomon A. Birnbaum and W. F. Albright, The Qumrân (Dead Sea) Scrolls and Palaeography. 1952. Download here

Volume 15-16: O. R. Sellers, D. C. Baramki and W. F. Albright, A Roman-Byzantine Burial Cave in Northern Palestine. 1953. Download here.

Volume 18: Lawrence E. Stager et al., American Expedition to Idalion, Cyprus. 1974. Download here

Volume 19: Charlotte B. Moore ed., Reconstructing Complex Societies: An Archaeological Colloquium. 1974. Download here

Volume 20: R. J. Bull and D. L. Holland, The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima. Volume I. Studies in the History of Caesarea Maritima. 1975. Also Joint expedition to Caesarea Maritima. Excavation reports, volume 1. Download here

Volume 21: George M. Landes, et al. Report on Archaeological Work: At Ṣuwwānet Eth-Thanīya, Tananir, and Khirbet Minḥa (Munḥata). 1975.

Volume 22: Amnon Ben-Tor, Cylinder Seals of Third-Millennium Palestine. 1978. 

Volume 23: Walter E. Rast, ed., Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations 1981-83. 1985.

Volume 24: Walter E. Rast, ed., Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations 1980-84. 1986.

Volume 25: Walter E. Rast, ed., Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations 1982-85. 1988.

Volume 26: Walter E. Rast, ed., Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations 1983-87. 1990. Download here

Volume 27: Walter E. Rast, ed., Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations 1982-89. 1991. Download here


ASOR also had a dissertation publication series that ran for 10 volumes from 1975 to 1994. The first two volumes were published by Scholars Press, volumes 3-6 by ASOR, and volumes 7-10 by Eisenbrauns. 

Volume 1: Alberto Ravinell Whitney Green, The Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East. 1975. Download here

Volume 2: Carol L. Meyers, The Tabernacle Menorah: a synthetic study of a symbol from the Biblical cult. 1976.

Volume 3: Victor Harold Matthews, Pastoral nomadism in the Mari Kingdom : ca. 1830-1760 B.C. 1977. Download here.

Volume 4: Brian Lewis, The Sargon Legend: a study of the Akkadian text and the tale of the hero who was exposed at birth. 1980.

Volume 5: Patty Gerstenblith, The Levant at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age. 1983.

Volume 6: Samuel Thomas Parker, Romans and Saracens: a History of the Arabian Frontier. 1986. Download here.

Volume 7: Rivka Gonen, Burial Patterns and Cultural Diversity in Late Bronze Age Canaan. 1992.

Volume 8: Zvi Gal, Lower Galilee during the Iron Age. 1992.

Volume 9: Richard S Hess, Amarna Personal Names. 1993. 

Volume 10: Avi Gopher, Arrowheads of the Neolithic Levant: a seriation analysis. 1994.


Another series that seems to have existed for 10 volumes is the ASOR books. Oddly, I can’t seem to find volumes 1 or 2. My list here, then, begins with volume 3, which was published by Scholars Press; with volume 6, these books are published by ASOR.

Volume 3: Tomis Kapitan, ed. Archaeology, history and culture in Palestine an the near easts : essays in memory of Albert E. Glock. 1999.

Volume 4: Stephen L Cook and Sara C Winter, eds., On the way to Nineveh : studies in honor of George M. Landes. 1999.

Volume 5: Samuel Richard Wolff, ed., Studies in the archaeology of Israel and neighboring lands in memory of Douglas L. Esse. This book was also Studies in Oriental Civilization volume 59, and published by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. 2001.

Volume 6: Burton MacDonald, “East of the Jordan” : territories and sites of the Hebrew scriptures. 2000.

Volume 7: Beth Alpert Nakhai, Archaeology and the religions of Canaan and Israel. 2001. Download here.

Volume 8: Neal H Walls, Desire, discord and death : approaches to ancient Near Eastern myth. 2001. Download here.

Volume 9: Kathryn E Slanski, The Babylonian entitlement narûs (kudurrus) : a study in their form and function. 2003.

Volume 10: Neal H Walls, Cult image and divine representation in the ancient Near East. 2005. Download here.


I’ve become a bit confused by how various series of excavation volumes work under the ASOR system. For example, various books in the Meiron Excavation Series were published both as independent volumes and as part of the AASOR series. The last three volumes of the series were published by Eisenbrauns. 

Volume 1: A. Thomas Kraabel, et al., Ancient synagogue excavations at Khirbet Shemaʻ, Upper Galilee, Israel, 1970-1972. AASOR 42. 1976.

Volume 2: Richard S Hanson, Tyrian influence in the Upper Galilee. 1980.

Volume 3: Eric M Meyers, James F Strange, and Carol L Meyers, Excavations at ancient Meiron, Upper Galilee, Israel, 1971-71, 1974-75, 1977. 1981

Volume 4: Joyce Toby Raynor, Ya’akov Meshorer, and Richard Simon Hanson, The Coins of Ancient Meiron. 1988.

Volume 5: Eric M Meyers, James F Strange, and Carol L Meyers, Excavations at the ancient synagogue of Gush Ḥalav. 1990.

Volume 6: Eric M. Meyers, et al., Excavations at ancient Nabratein: synagogue and environs. 2009. Download here.


There are also some fun and apparently “one off” books published by ASOR: 

David Noel Freedman and David Frank Graf, eds., Palestine in transition:
the emergence of ancient Israel. 1983. This was published by Almond Press of Sheffield England in association with ASOR. It’s volume 2 in a series called The Social World of Biblical Antiquity. Download here.

Philip J. King, American archaeology in the Mideast: a history of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 1983. Download here

Douglas R Clark and Victor Harold Matthews eds., One hundred years of American archaeology in the Middle East : proceedings of the American Schools of Oriental Research centennial celebration, Washington DC, April 2000. 2003. Download here.

Roman Seas

Over the weekend, I read Justin Leidwanger’s new book, Roman Seas: A Maritime Archaeology of Eastern Mediterranean Economies (2020). It’s a pretty good book that brings ship wreck data to bear on long-standing questions of regional and inter-regional trade in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Leidwanger’s focus on the Cilician coast and Cyprus make the book particularly useful for my work on that island and it was gratifying to see the work that I did with David Pettegrew and Scott Moore cited in footnotes! While other can quibble with our interpretation of the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria, it’s harder to dismiss the data that our project produced and its contribution to the growing corpus of well-documented Late Roman sites in the Eastern Mediterranean and Levant. Leidwanger’s interest in similarly well-documented shipwrecks, including some that he documented himself, provides a offshore (or at very least near-shore) analog to expanding body of intensive survey data and well published (and quantifiable) excavation data from Cyprus, Cilicia, and the northeastern Levant. Whether this ever becomes “big data” of the kind that other social scientists have invested with such attention, remains hard to know especially considering the significant variation in methods and typologies across the region. That being said, there’s no doubt that evidence is piling up and almost begging for the kind of thoughtful interpretation offered in this book.

The book will reward some re-reading over the next few months and I try to come to terms with the scope of Leidwanger’s argument. For now, I’ll offer a few quick observations. 

The first few chapters of the book offers little new, but does provide a usual interpretative summary of the recent interest in regional analysis in the Eastern Mediterranean, the basic elements of Roman and Late Roman maritime technology, and the various ways in which terrestrial landscapes and maritime seascapes interact to produce distinct interpretative units. I have little doubt that these chapters will be see more than their share of citations among scholars interested in understanding the relationship between coastal sites, the sea, and connectivity. Leidwanger’s observations would be been very useful when I was muddling my way through my “Is Cyprus an Island?” paper last fall!

The heart of the book comes in the last 100 or so pages when Leidwanger introduces a corpus of 67 well documented shipwrecks from the Datça peninsula and the southern coast of Cyprus. These wrecks date to the Roman and Late Roman periods and appear to be representative of both a wider body of wrecks from well dated wrecks in the Eastern Mediterranean and present little to contradict trends in less carefully dated shipwreck sites in the same region.

This representative and relatively well documented assemblage of sites allows Leidwanger to produce a range of thoughtful arguments about regional and interregional connections. Leidwanger applies a two-level network analysis to these ships cargoes which largely consisted of amphora. One level of network analysis concentrates on the origins of the cargoes and the other incorporates the locations of the wrecks themselves. These two levels of analysis suggest shifts in the economic networks between the Romana and Late Roman period with the former centered on the Aegean and including greater connections to the Adriatic than the latter which centers on Cyprus and Cilicia and involves few ties to points further west. This coincides with Leidwangers interpretation of terrestrial finds from the central southern coast of Cyprus and the Datça peninsula in western Turkey and reinforces the idea that the links between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean weaken in the Late Roman period.

Leidwanger also contends that in the Late Roman period economic networks become more regional in general with smaller ships, smaller cargoes, and closer connections between ports. He argues that this reflects the increasingly “busy countryside” of Late Antiquity and the “gravitational pull” of larger regional centers and, in particular, the capital in Constantinople. The large-scale state influence over interregional exchange provided energy and connections to smaller-scale interregional exchange through processes that are not entirely clear.

I see no reason to disagree with Leidwanger’s arguments for Late Antique Cyprus. Indeed, the coastal site of Pyla-Koutsopetria seems to reached its peak economically during the 6th and early 7th century when imperial influence over large-scale exchange on Cyprus was at its peak. It is likewise intriguing to wonder whether the warehouses at the site of Dreamer’s Bay on the Akrotiri peninsula and at the site of Ay. Yiorgios-Peyias reflected the intensification of shorter distance regional trade or accommodations for longer distance interregional trade stimulated by the quaestura exercitus or the annona shipments to Constantinople. We argued that the massive quantity of Late Roman 1 amphora at Pyla-Koutsopetria may have reflected the use of this port as depot for the quaestura exercitus which did not necessarily flow through the major urban ports on Cyprus (e.g. Paphos, Salamis, or Kition). In our view, then, the long distance, administrative trade of the imperial command economy operated outside the typical routes of long-distance trade concentrated at major ports. This may reflect imperial efforts to develop unique infrastructure of warehouses and perhaps even agents and services designed to facilitate the movement of agricultural goods to the capital. 

This, of course, is all rather speculative on our part and does little to undermine Leidwanger’s broader observation that administrative trade on the interregional level shaped intraregional trade networks as ships acquired good at various ports on either their return journeys or as part of the process of moving good to regional entrepôts.

Leidwanger’s focus on transport amphora necessarily dictated his interest in agricultural goods. This undoubted constituted the bulk of ancient trade. It would be interesting, however, to compare, say, the distribution of Late Roman table wares in his case study regions. The persistence of African Red slip, for example, in certain areas of Cyprus well into Late Antiquity indicates that connections with the West were not entirely absent. It would have also been interesting to compare the relationship between economic zones and, say, ecclesiastic architecture to determine if the movement of bulk goods paralleled connections between construction crews, architects, or religious communities. If the connection between “microregions” often developed as forms of social insurance between communities whether other forms of social and cultural contact followed these routes and either made economic ties possible or reinforced them.

In short, Leidwanger’s book is a compelling body of evidence in support of a series of recent research questions focused on the relationships between Mediterranean “small places” over time. It’s a short, easy read that summarizes a good bit of specialized literature that might not be on every scholar’s regular reading list. It’s a good book and well worth the read.

Writing a Book and Slow Archaeology

One of the many downsides to the COVID pandemic is that I’ve had too much free time to thing. As a result, I’ve started not only to come up with new projects, but I’ve also come to second guess these same projects.

For example, this past week on a couple run and walks, I concocted a new book project, which I’ll unpack below, but I also started to wonder whether the world needs another book these days. As a tenured faculty member who is well and truly mid-career, I’ve struggled a bit to come to terms with my changing responsibilities both to my field and my colleagues.

We’re trained, of course, to read, write, and teach. In fact, most of us derive a good bit of pleasure from this routine. At the same time, most of us have become increasingly aware that reading, writing, and teaching are just one part of our larger social responsibilities as faculty members. We’re increasingly being called upon to give our frenetic keyboards a rest and listen. We’re becoming aware that when we speak, teach, write, and publish, we’re not just doing our jobs, but we’re also creating conditions in which other voices and perspectives will be less likely to be heard, read, and advanced. This is especially true as we move from early to mid-career status and our acquired skills and training often generate a kind of momentum of its own which allows us to produce scholarship, mould a classroom discussion, and acquire grants, publication opportunities, and audiences that often far exceed the value of our ideas. This creates a kind of obligation on our part to make sure what we’re doing is meaningful and not just the product of a well-conditioned routine and to examine our energies and commitments to determine whether our efforts really do make our field and society better. 

That being said, messing around with a book idea is a far cry from writing a book, and most readers will recognize that like so many ideas that bubble up from the COVID induced isolation, this one is probably best left in the idea box

Slow Archaeology: The Book

What if I wrote a book on “slow archaeology”? In some sense, this would be the ultimate vanity project. I’d be expanding an idea that I had five years ago and explored in a few articles. I’m under no illusions that I’m the best person to do this, but I’ll also admit that the idea seems really fun.

The book would be short (<50,000 words with references) and organized into two parts following an introduction.

Introduction: Slow Archaeology: This chapter would set out the historiography of the slow movement and seek to establish the intellectual roots of the slow movement in the larger critique of modernity, efficiency, and technological acceleration. This seeks to walk a fine line between conservative nostalgia and fantasies about the past (that inform so much of the slow food movement) and the most radical critiques of contemporary technology and our post-industrial world. In many ways, this introduction will allow me to return to formulations of slow archaeology presented in past publications, to respond to some thoughtful critiques, and, frankly, walk back some of the more ideologically fraught positions that I’ve found myself occupying.

More than that, it’ll frame the book as a good faith effort to infuse the discipline — and academic archaeology, in particular — with a greater attention to social critique. Slowing down pushes us to consider how our choices of technology, our organization of work, and disciplinary practice shapes not only the kind of information that archaeology produces, but also the kind of social relations that define our field.  

Part I: Slow Archaeology as Research

Chapter 1: Slow Archaeology in the Field.

This chapter would emphasize slow practice in the field. It’ll look at the technologies that have become our constant companions from GPS units to mobile phones, digital cameras, and, increasingly, tablet computers and consider how these technologies have changed the ways we view landscapes, survey units, stratigraphy, and most importantly, the organization of archaeological work. 

This will draw on my own experience in the field in Greece and Cyprus and leverage the growing body of work that draws upon ethnographic practices and historical research to understand the organization of archaeological labor in the past and the present.

Chapter 2: Slow Archaeology and Analysis

This chapter considers how slow archaeology can inform the tools that archaeologists have increasingly come to use for analysis. These took ranges from relational databases to GIS, computer aided illustrating tools, 3D imaging and manipulation technologies, and even the ubiquitous laptop or desktop computer.

The chapter will drawn upon my own experiences as well as projects like “The Secret Life of Data” project from the Alexandria Archive Institute and the work of folks like Costis Dallas and others who are working to produce an ethnography of digital practices. The goals is not to reject digital technology in analysis, but to argue for a more attentive set of practices in our use of digital tools.

Chapter 3: Slow Archaeology and Writing

This chapter would consider how a slow archaeology would shape the writing and dissemination of archaeological knowledge. Over the last 40 years, archaeologists have become increasingly attuned to how our forms of archaeological writing shape the arguments we make. This chapter won’t add much to this larger discussion, but will present an updated survey of recent efforts to explore more nuanced, complex, and affective forms of archaeological writing and presentation. 

Part 2: Slow Archaeology and the Academy

This chapter will look at three key areas of archaeological work through the lens of slow archaeology: professional practices, teaching, and publishing. The goal is to extend the basic critical principles of slow practice beyond the field work to publishing continuum and think about how both teaching slow practices and engaging in slow archaeology could shape a wider range of disciplinary practices in academic archaeology.

Chapter 4: Slow Archaeology as Professional Practices

This will be a grab bag chapter that considers things like graduate seminars, academic conferences, and even peer reviewing as places where various slow practices provide a  basis for critiquing academic archaeology. This chapter would argue that slow archaeology questions how archaeologists communicate with one another and the underlying practices and goals associated with supposed “merit-based” methods of advancement. To be clear, this chapter will consider how “generous thinking” can serve to undermine the persistent fantasy that the current set of disciplinary practices advance the best possible candidates to positions of leadership in our field. 

It will suggest that unconferences, collaborative projects, and greater efforts to engage with the community can challenge competitive models of advancement increasingly grounded in quantified methods for evaluating research and performance. In its place, slow archaeology proposes convivial practices that celebrate diversity, plurality of views, and egalitarian methods of creating new knowledge.

Chapter 5: Slow Archaeology and Teaching

Like the previous chapter, this chapter will develop conviviality as a mode through which to understand teaching at the university level (and ideally beyond). I’ve written a bit about this already without explicitly invoking slow archaeology, but I think my critique of technology and the “assessocracy” is consistent with my larger critique technologically-mediated and efficiency-driven archaeological practices. The emphasis here will largely be on the undergraduate classroom and I’ll lean on my work with the Wesley College Documentation Project as a case study.

Chapter 6: Slow Archaeology and Publishing

I’ve already developed many of the main ideas for this chapter in a paper that I submitted last fall titled: Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics. In a nutshell, this article proposes that changes in technology have allowed archaeologists to approach publishing in new and collaborative ways that can challenge the traditional role of publishers in our discipline. Like the other chapters in the book, this will chapter will demonstrate how slow archaeology is not necessarily anti-technology, but rather an approach to technology that allows for a more critical and ideally responsible (and egalitarian) approach to the discipline.

Conclusion: Toward a Slower Discipline

The final part of the book will look to the place of slow archaeology amid the changes taking place within the discipline of archaeology — from the casualization of academic labor, the rise of the assessocracy, and the pressure on our field to become more diverse, pluralistic, and responsive to a wider range of communities.

It goes without saying that slow archaeology will not solve all the discipline’s problems nor is it somehow above critique. Instead, I’ll suggest that slow practices have a place within our archaeological toolkit and offers ways to critique long-standing archaeological practices and create new ways of engaging with the public, students, and our peers.

An Archaeology of Structural Violence

This weekend, I read Michael Roller’s An Archaeology of Structural Violence: Life in a 20th Century Coal Town (2018). It’s a pretty compelling book that considers the history and archaeology of Lattimer No. 2 (later Pardeesville), Pennsylvania from its origins as a company town for a local coal baron to its late 20th and 21st century history as a community struggling to adapt to changing economic realities. The book is pretty complex and it contributes to quite a few of my ongoing research areas from life in boom and bust communities to archaeology of the contemporary world, borders and immigration, and the role of modernity in creating contemporary labor regimes.

While this book deserves a formal review, I simply don’t have time this week (and it’s really short enough that it deserves to be read in full). So here are some of my key take aways:

1.  Immigrants and Identity. The residents of Lattimer No. 2 largely consisted of Southern and Eastern European immigrants and their status as immigrants had a significant effect on their economic and social status. Roller linked the late-19th century process of national building and borders as a key step in defining the status of these groups. During the process of immigration, individuals lost identities bound up in their social and political status in the old country, and entered the US as individuals defined by their passports and their names inscribed on ship manifests, immigration ledgers, and, ultimately employment paperwork. Following the work of Giorgio Agamben (and others), Roller understand this transformation as a key step in creating the modern individual as “bare life” who the state can transform through a new set of political and economic relationships experienced in part through the immigration process. 

Organized labor in Pennsylvania coal country and the role of the state in suppressing the power of labor to resist the economic imperatives of mine owners represented another step in the process of redefining the social and political status of residents of Lattimer No. 2. In this context, the Lattimer massacre, when the local police supplemented by deputized mining company managers opened fire in striking immigrant workers killing several and wounding many others. Efforts to break the power of organized labor reinforced the atomized economic and political status of labor in relation to the mining companies. This prepared the way for the late-20th century, post-coal economy in the region where casual, light industrial jobs came and went based on the vicissitudes of global capital.

Ironically, this economic volatility not only led to large scale out-migration from Pennsylvania coal country, but also encouraged the arrival of another wave of immigrants from South America and the Caribbean who took advantage of the low cost of housing and availability of unskilled work. Like the Italian and Slavic immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th century, these groups have also been met with xenophobia and discrimination.

2. Corporate Town and Shanty Town. Lattimer No. 2 was originally a company town owned the local coal company. Neatly arranged duplexes lined the main street of town and provided housing for employees. On the outside of town, however, recent immigrants constructed and adapted a small group of shanties. The residents of this community represented local surplus labor who found occasional work around the fringes of the increasingly mechanized coal mining process. Roller’s excavation of a privy and several other plots in this former shanty enclave demonstrated that the residents of these ad hoc were not only marginalized economically in their relationship to the coal industry, but also geographically in relationship to the traditional, corporate owned housing of the main town.

The artifacts recovered from excavations around this shanty town reveal the way in which these individuals were integrated into the local, national, and ultimately global economy. Roller unpacks the significance of the increasing presence of goods produced through industrial practices in the shanty town assemblage more fully in an article published last year in Historical Archaeology. I discuss that article here.

Over the same period that more and more manufactured goods appear in the Shanty town assemblage, the shanty town itself undergoes significant architectural changes as it shifts from a series of closely spaced and related ad hoc structures to nearly organized properties sold as real estate and, today, to the appearance of a typical American suburb.

Roller’s work on the Shanty Town certainly shed light on my work in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota where we documented both formal, corporate owned workforce housing sites and more casual RV park-type camps. The latter, it would seem to me, shared many of the characteristics of the Lattimer No. 2 Shanty Town with their abundance of ad hoc structures, adaptive strategies designed to make life in North Dakota more comfortable, and residents who as often worked in services that supported the core extractive industries of the Bakken oil boom. 

3. Historical Archaeology and the Archaeology of the Contemporary World. Roller is deliberate in his understanding of Lattimer No. 2 and Pardeesville as a contemporary community that continues to struggle with the structural violence of its legacy as a corporate coal town. The most obvious example of this is the systemic alienation of its residents from the close knit communities that existed in Southern and Eastern Europe prior to immigrant and the reconfiguration of these relationships through organized labor, the church, and life in the Lattimer No. 2’s Shanty Town.

The collapse of the mining industry and the rise in more casual labor constantly reinforced the primacy of the individual in the social and economic regime of the modern world. Projects like urban renewal which led to the clearing of many of the ad hoc structures from Pardeesville and affordable housing in nearby Hazelton, further eroded collective strategies to enjoy life and survive economically in the volatile economy of Pennsylvania coal country. This kind of structural violence ultimately did little to improve the quality of life for residents of this region, but did produce a pool of low cost labor of periodic utility to global capital.

The book does much more than these three points indicate and it is well worth the time to give it a read!

A Book by its Cover: Sixty Years of Boom and Bust

About 4 months ago, I imagined this summer as a series of three or four week blocks during which I’d work on one or two tasks. Now, six-weeks into the “new normal” my summer has become an exercise of juggling a bunch of overlapping deadlines. 

Among the more exciting of these deadlines are a series of book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota scheduled to appear in August, September, and October.

I’m particularly excited to get back to working on a book that’s due out in September: Kyle Conway’s edited volume Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota 1958-2018. It will be a particularly significant contribution to the growing “Bakken Bookshelf,” and contains articles by most of the leading scholars on contemporary North Dakota and the oil boom.

After a few weeks of going back and forth on cover design, I can now say with some confidence that we have a cover.

Sixty Years Cover AM1 01

We also have a finalized text for the back of the book:

In the 1950s, North Dakota experienced its first oil boom in the Williston Basin, on the western side of the state. The region experienced unprecedented social and economic changes, which were carefully documented in a 1958 report by four researchers at the University of North Dakota. Since then, western North Dakota has undergone two more booms, the most recent from 2008 to 2014. Sixty Years of Boom and Bust republishes the 1958 report and updates its analysis by describing the impact of the latest boom on the region’s physical geography, politics, economics, and social structure.

Sixty Years of Boom and Bust addresses topics as relevant today as they were in 1958: the natural and built environment, politics and policy, crime, intergroup relations, and access to housing and medical services. In addition to making hard-to-find material readily available, it examines an area shaped by resource booms and busts over the course of six decades. As a result, it provides unprecedented insight into the patterns of development and the roots of the challenges the region has faced.

Here’s a link to its table of contents.

We’re very eager to share advanced copies of the book with anyone who might be interested in writing a review or a blurb.

Walling In and Walling Out

This weekend, I read Laura MacAtackney and Randall Maguire’s new edited volume Walling In and Walling Out: Why Are We Building New Barriers to Divide Us? (2020). The contributions offer a diverse range of studies on walls and borders that draw upon the perspectives informed by archaeology, sociology, and anthropology as well as public policy. For readers broadly familiar with recent conversations around walls and borders will find both the usual suspects (Reese Jones, Anna McWilliams as well as the volume’s editors), and some new perspectives on the borders of Europe (Dimitrios Papadopoulos), the role of walls in racial segregation in Puerto Rico (Zaire Disney-Flores) and Palestine (Amahl Bishara) and the Mexican-American border (Michael Dear and Margaret E. Dorsey and Miguel Diaz-Barriga). 

I came away from reading this book with a few new ideas that I will eagerly apply to some of my work-in-progress.

1. “Borderwork” and “Boundary Work.” Dimitris Papadopoulos introduces the idea of “boundary work” which echoes with Dan Hicks and Sarah Mallet’s idea of “borderwork” from their book, Lande: The Calais Jungle and Beyond (2019). These ideas emphasize that borders and boundaries are not limited to activities at the border itself, but permeate the surrounding landscapes and societies as part of a larger apparatus of control. The ability, for example, of the Customs and Border Patrol agents to work outside almost all Constitutional limits on their authority within 100 miles of the US border is perhaps the most obvious example of how borderwork extends itself geographically. More subtle, but no less significant, is the massive and largely unsupervised technological infrastructure that supports this work that collects information on millions of individuals with few limits on who can use this data and how it can be used. Moreover, the promotion of a kind of ethical and legal ambiguity surrounding the rights of individuals at the borders themselves has worked to reinforce the risks associated with the movement between jurisdiction. Much of this risk is not real, but by exaggerating the ambiguity of individual rights at these points, the CBP both asserts its power and reinforces the idea that borders are fraught and dangerous. It goes without saying that this ambiguity and attendant sense of danger and risk has also served those invested in politicizing borders, immigration, national security, and even trade. All this is part of a larger process of borderwork.  

2. Temporality and the Border. A number of authors emphasized the unique temporal dimension of borders not only historically, but also experientially. From a historical perspectives, borders present themselves as solid and persistent, but our experiences over the last 50 years has demonstrated that this is not always the case. The collapse of the “Iron Curtain,” the reconfiguration of national boundaries in the Balkans and Central Europe, the emergence of the European Union, and new immigration agreements between countries ensure that the permanence of borders is largely illusory.

Temporality also shapes our interaction with borders. The experience of waiting in line whether at passport control at an airport or while sitting in the car at a busy point of entry, communicates the significance of the border at the individual level. At the same time, a series of technologies accelerate the collecting and sharing of information between agents at the border and the vast national and global security apparatus. The tension between the time experienced by an individual and the speed of information collection reinforces the status of borders as landscape of control just as the seeming permanence of border installations obscures their historical fluidity.    

3. Borders as Bricolage. A few contributors noted that borders are places where technologies and policies from various times and situations come together to create distinctive spaces. The use of concrete barriers and barbed wire which became prominent in anti-tank and anti-personnel developed over the first half of the 20th century rub shoulders with state-of-the-art digital technologies ranging from high-speed cameras to thermal imaging, motion detection devices, and massive data infrastructures designed to identify and track individuals. Helicopter mats, first deployed in the Vietnam War, appear alongside installations to support small scale and weapons-capable drones.

This juxtaposition of technologies from various eras offers a view of borders that are both timeless and always evolving. More than that, from the perspective of material culture, they show how aspects of the past persist in the present and communicate the kind of ambiguity and multiple temporalities central to borderwork.    

4. Wall and the Carceral State. The book is not just about national borders, but also the kind of walls that shape our every day lives. From the “peace walls” that divide denominational communities in Belfast and to gated communities in contemporary Puerto Rico, walls also produce and reinforce divisions on the basis of race, class, and ethnicity. Moreover, as Laura MacAtachney has pointed out, these walls tend to formalize past divisions and create “very localized forms of place identity” that risk the creation of new forms hostility and division. 

There was less discussion of the emergence of the carceral state in the late-20th century and the role of prison walls as a kind of borderwork which extends throughout the emerging security state. It seems easy enough to see law enforcement with their interest in protecting property represent an extension of the private prison industry which requires a constant flow of inmates to reward investors. 

5. Floodwalls, Sea Walls, and Nature. Missing in the book, but part of my everyday life, was a discussion of floodwalls and seawalls that mark efforts for humans to exert control over the other that they typically define as “nature.”  These walls, of course, take on many of the historical forms of fortification walls whether earthworks or textured to look like Classical ashlar masonry. 

Moreover, the flood walls in town are part of a larger strategy of borderwork which extends on either side of the wall. On the town side, pump houses appear throughout neighborhoods and provide back pressure to prevent the rising river water from entering town via storm drains and sewers. On the river side, various structures have been removed and a large green belt is maintained to allow the river to flow smoothly through town without becoming dammed and over flowing the walls locally. Of course, like most walls, these are permeable with storm drains and waste flowing through the wall to the river and during most of the year, roads also cross the walls providing access to parks and walking trails. Bridges cross the river as well.

The borderwork extends north, of course, to the national border with Canada. Strategies to control the flow of the Red River in Grand Forks, Fargo, and elsewhere impacts the flow of water across the border. Devil’s Lake, for example, continues to rise and swallow up farmland and towns because releasing the water into the Red River drainage would carry run-off and other pollutants north to Canada, Lake Winnipeg, and the Hudson Bay. 

It seems to me that the flood walls provide a concrete example of the way that we establish the division between culture and nature and this involves using the same walls that work to define human groups to define the blurry edges of our cultural reach.