Three Things Thursday: Digital Stuff, Underworld, NDQ

It’s been one of those weeks where nothing seems to get traction. From Monday at the keyboard to Tuesday in the classroom, Wednesday amidst articles and books, and now it’s Thursday and I have so very little to show for it. 

As a result, I’m back to doing another Three Things Thursday, which I suppose are fine for what they are, but aren’t really the kind of blog posts that I like to write. They’re just stuff, but I guess when life gives you stuff, make a Three Things Thursday.

Thing the First

I really enjoyed reading Fernando Domínguez Rubio and Glenn Wharton “The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Fragility” in Public Culture 32.1 (2020), 215-245. You can read it here.

Rubio and Wharton explore the challenges associated with born-digital art. These range from questions about what exactly a museum acquires when they acquire a piece of digital art. What constitutes their exclusive rights to a work of art? The files? The technology? The hardware? And how do these exclusive rights intersect with other rights expressed by hardware, software, and even other content makers? 

More complicated still is how to preserve a work of digital art. What constitutes preservation when even updating the format of a work so that it’ll continue to function as intended constitutes changing the underlying code as well as the media in which a work is displayed or experienced (think about the demise of CRT televisions or the improvements in video projectors, the capacity to playback uncompressed audio and the like). 

Obviously this article summarizes a bunch of scholarship and they’re not the first to observe this, but, on the other hand, it’s a great piece that has implications for how we think about archaeogaming, media archaeology and archaeology of the contemporary world. I’m going to check out Fernando Domínguez Rubio’s book Still Life: Ecologies of the Modern Imagination at the Art Museum (Chicago 2020) this spring.

Thing the Second

I have to read Don DeLillo’s Underworld. It’s super long (800+) pages and its reputation makes it pretty intimidating and I have to admit that my motivation to read it is as much because I should read it as because it will add any particular nuance to what I’m working on. 

To be more clear, Underworld is situated at the intersection of the American West, garbage, and critiques of consumer culture. My current delusion is to just commit myself to reading this book over a single week. In part, because I need a break from the grind of writing right now. I’ve been working on a chapter for the last month and for some reason writing is feels like it’s making me think deeper and deeper into my own way of thinking (rather than helping me expand how I understand something).

I also need to re-read (or finish reading) Mike Davis’s City of Quartz which is also a bit longer than I usually like to read. Retraining myself to understand the American West is hard, and for whatever reason, it’s taken my a long time to realize the writing the kind of cultural history that I want to write will involve reading broadly as well as deeply. When writing makes me sink deeper into narrow ways of thinking, I’m going to have pull back from writing to read to make sure that I don’t get too sucked into the murk of my own way of thinking. 

Thing the Third

More reading, but this isn’t as daunting. Today I posted over at the North Dakota Quarterly blog a short story by Jim Sallis called “Scientific Method.” You should go and check it out. It’s less than 1500 words. 

What’s cool to me (being a total novice to editing a literary journal) is Sallis was first published in NDQ in 1983 and then in 1985 and in the 1990s. His essay “Making up America” from 1993 is really great too (and connects to my efforts to think about the archaeology of the contemporary American West). You can read on his site or from the NDQ archive:  “Making up America.” 

I’ve added Sallis’s Lew Griffin novels to my summer reading list. There’s something comforting about noir.

Three Things Thursday: Survey Archaeology, Western Literature, and Poetry from a Former Student

My body is gallantly fighting off a cold the week, so I don’t quite have the energy for a long involved post. So, instead, I’ll offer a little “Three Thing Thursday” as I try to keep the balls in the area down the stretch run of the week.

First Thing.

A colleague shared this article with me over the weekend: Kimberly Bowes et al. “Peasant agricultural strategies in southern Tuscany: Convertible agriculture and the importance of pasture” from The Economic Integration of Rural Italy. Rural Communities in a Globalizing World, ed. G. Tol and T. de Haas. (Brill 2017): 165-194. The article uses examples from her Roman Peasant Project to explore the interplay rural land use and the interplay between pastoralism and more settled agriculture. This team of scholars excavates five sites known from intensive survey archaeology from small ceramic scatters. Two were small seasonal or short-duration “work huts” and combining the modest architecture with botanical, palynological, and faunal material collected from the excavations, they were able to suggest that these structures served land that was likely used as pasture. Pasture plays a key role in strategies associated with ley agriculture which allowed fields to go fallow for years in order to restore the soil and stabilize yields. These small structures (and the small ceramic scatters), then, which a survey might have suggested represented the intensification of conventional agriculture, may, in fact, represent a less intensive strategy associated with ley farming.

Among the more interesting observations from this article are a two sites identified by low-density artifact scatters which produced no structures, but did reveal field drains dating to antiquity and probably the Roman period. These field drains consisted of cobble filled trenches. This is exciting to me both because I was unaware that field drains were used in the Roman period, but more importantly, there is relatively few publications that discuss drain building practices in the Roman period. The use of cobbles to slow the flow of water and to prevent the drains from carving deep channels in the fields offers some evidence for why the builders of the “South Basilica” at Polis may have created a “French drain” on the uphill, south side of the church to keep the rush of water down a natural drainage from undercutting the south wall of the basilica. It’s not a perfect analogy but suggests that my argument may not be entirely wrong.

Second Thing.

I’ve been reading John Beck’s Dirty Wars: Landscape, Power, and Waste in Western American Literature (Nebraska 2009). I really like the book. Whatever it’s academic merits (and I’m not really qualified to judge that), it has intrigued me. Beck uses literature to explore the character of the post-war, Cold War Western landscape through an emphasis on Japanese internment, the militarization of the landscape (and the Mexican border), the use of the west as a dumping ground for toxic, nuclear, and otherwise unpleasant waste, and the almost simultaneous emergence of the suburban ideal (cf. J.B. Jackson’s “The Westward Moving House”). Beck makes clear that works like Cormack McCarthy’s Blood Meridian while situated in the past (in this case, the mid-19th century) nevertheless speak to the present situation in a Western landscape shaped by Cold War militarism and its consequences. Elsewhere he weaves together the critiques of Rebecca Solnit, Ellen Meloy, and Terry Tempest Williams which emphasize the role of industry in the refashioning of the Western landscape. While I am embarrassed not to know these works well, I can’t help but wondering whether they influenced somehow my own effort at a similar critique in my The Bakken: An Archaeology of An Industrial Landscape. Don’t be surprised to see these works appear in the ole bloggeroo over the next few weeks. Solnit and Meloy remain priorities for my weekend reading list.

One of the reasons that Beck has excited me so much is that he has pushed me from thinking about archaeology of the contemporary world as a historical and social scientific window onto the contemporary American experience, toward thinking about the archaeology of the contemporary world as a distinctly cultural engagement with late-20th and early-21st century American life. This isn’t meant to deprecate the important work done by people like Jason DeLeon or Shannon Lee Dowdy or Bill Rathje, but to reframe their interventions as much as part of a much larger current of cultural critique. Instead of archaeology treating the contemporary experience as the object of study, archaeology of the contemporary world is (or at, very least, represents) the American experience. If we prioritize the notion of contemporaneity and suggest that it subverts the most common forms of disciplinary and historical detachment, then it makes sense that we can’t study or locate archaeology outside of American culture in the present. This, of course, remains a work in progress.

Third Thing.

I’m very excited to redirect your attention to the North Dakota Quarterly blog this morning. The blog features a poem from Amalia Dillin. Our hardworking poetry editor, Paul Worley, selected this poem for publication without knowing that Amalia was one of my former students at UND where she majored, I think, in Classics but also took history classes. She’s put those classes (and a bunch of her own hard work) to good use as a writer. You can check out her stuff here (although it’s very different from her poem)!

Go read the poem, it’s pretty great and I think summarizes neatly the anxiety that many of use feel in our media saturated lives. 

Disjointing Time: Ancient Texts and Science Fiction

This weekend, the last weekend before the 2020 Spring Semester Party gets started, I spent a few hours finishing Brett M. Rodger’s and Benjamin Eldon Stevens’s Once and Future Antiquities in Science Fiction and Fantasy (2019). It’s not really what I should have been doing, but it’s what I did. So, whatever.

To be honest, I was drawn to the book as much by its cover as my own casual reading interest in science fiction. Readers of this blog, I realize that a little bit of science fiction usually appears in my summer reading list (last summer it was Octavia Butler, the summer before Ursala K. Le Guin, the summer before that Isaac Asimov, and Neil Stephenson before that). I also wrote a paper considering the influence of Philip K. Dick on archaeologies of the future.  I also mention the influence several science fiction authors in a recent article in the European Journal of Archaeology:

“While the general absence of an intellectual framework for punk archaeology and its questioning of disciplinary practices and expertise invited useful criticism (Mullins, 2015; Richardson, 2017), its emphasis on the do-it-yourself and low-fi character of punk shaped my view of technology in archaeology with the (proto-) cyberpunk dystopias of Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, William Gibson, and John Shirley providing an anxious backdrop.” 

Rodger’s and Stevens’s book, then, while not a pressing read, did fit into a larger, if poorly defined, pattern in my work. (I feel the need to justify this because I have too many other things to do than to spend time reading random books because I like their covers).

Once and Future Antiquities does a nice job of showing how Classical texts and usually Homer shaped particular works of science fiction and fantasy ranging from Dr. Who and Rocky Horror to Hayao Miyazaki, Helen Oyeyemi, and Jack McDevitt. These articles embrace the patient rewards of a close reading of both modern and ancient texts. There is a hat tip to methodology throughout, especially in Tom Keen’s article, which also gives this branch of the study of the intersection of ancient texts and science fiction a point of origin in a blog post from 2006. I’ve tended to think about archaeology and science fiction in terms Frederic Jameson’s 2007 book, Archaeologies of the Future which I encountered Bill Brown’s recent-ish book, Other Things (2015), but the way archaeologists think about antiquities and Classicists do, is obvious somewhat different.

While the detailed description of how ancient and modern texts intermingle was fascinating, the most intriguing thing about these articles is that they often go beyond a sort of linear understanding of how an earlier texts influence a later texts. As any number of recent scholars have shown, this kind of “common sense” approach reflects the strong grasp that narratives of progress hold over scholarship over the last two centuries. Needless to say, this way of reading history and texts is problematic particularly in its tendency to normalize a continuum with more and less developed societies on a global scale. More recently, as folks like Rebecca Futo-Kennedy have shown, these models of progress (which likewise influence the shape of archaeological time as well) often have served to inform narratives of Western Civilization that reify the dominance of particular national and racial groups. Needless to say, modern ways of thinking have often served to reinforce the place of Classical antiquity as a key influence over modern “Western” society and, consequently, as a superior form of culture in the so-called marketplace of ideas. 

Science fiction and fantasy with its more fluid and discontinuous views of time (from Dr. Who’s TARDIS, to the Dick’s Time Out of Joint and the complicated meditations on time in The Watchmen) offers an ideal platform to disrupt these kind of linear, historicized, readings of influencing and influenced texts. What is clear in Rodger’s and Stevens’s volume is that modern texts have shaped our reading of ancient texts in every bit as a profound a way as the latter have shaped the former. Reading Homer as shaped by the work of Miyazaki and Oyeyemi reminds us of the power of creative texts to rewrite and re-authorize the past.  

As Donna Zuckerberg has pointed out, the complication of historicist readings of texts isn’t always inherently benevolent. Ancient texts can as easily find themselves appropriated by people with misogynistic, racist, or nationalist agendas. The main difference, I’d contend, is that many of these readings – particularly those of the “Red Pill” variety – rely on arguments for the historical primacy, authority, and time-tested superiority of ancient texts. The more disruptive readings offered in Rogers and Stevens offer us a way to escape from the burden of historicizing, modern, and often positivist analysis and to use speculative futures (and alternative pasts) as a way to claim meaning for ancient texts in the present.

Books by their Cover from the AIA/SCS Book Room

There was a day when I wandered the book room at the annual joint meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and Society for Classical Studies looking for the latest publication. These days, my shelves overflow with books that I don’t have time to read and grabbing the latest word in Late Antiquity or Mediterranean archaeology, while always exciting, is probably too ambitious for my current station in life.

Now, I tend to wander the book room on the look out for the snazziest book covers. There were some really great covers (and many of them were so distracting that I didn’t bother to look when the book was published, so some of these books are probably not new).

The first book that grabbed my eye was Andrew Miller’s new translation of Pindar’s Odes and Charles Martin’s translation of Euripides Media. As with most black covers, these are showing signs of handling, which is always unfortunate, but the stylized letters are just too great a design to not set against a matte black background. 

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I love when presses have a great design that extends easily over an entire series. University of Texas Press’s series The Oratory of Classical Greece uses a similarly restrained color palette  and consistent graphics and fonts to produce an appealing and recognizable identity.

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Bloomsbury’s Classical Languages series also produces a distinct and recognizable (and appealing) gaggle of books:

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I found myself stopped at the University of Chicago Press tables less because of their consistently interesting content and more because their little swarm of books on editing, writing, and publishing used bold colors and designs to show off their family relationship without using a template.

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Single books offer a less constrained design vocabulary and I’m always surprised by the range of designs that simply work to create an arresting and interesting cover. For example, I’ve often been caught looking at Owen P. Doonan’s Sinop Landscapes: Exploring Connection in a Black Sea Hinterland which appeared in 2004 (!). Maybe it’s understated design speaks to a slightly less crowded or graphically ambitious book market? Or maybe it just works?

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It goes without saying the use of a black and white photo and a black cover does nothing to hide its dated vibe, but in the right hands, a vintage aesthetic really can work. For example, I love the cover of Herodotus and the Question Why by Christopher Pelling from University of Texas Press. The use of blue and orange creates just enough chromostereopsis to make the book pop. Plus that color way is really hip these days (and to me, it evokes the vintage color of Gulf as seen in this watch and on this car.)

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Texas has long done cool stuff with vintage style covers. Deborah Lyons’s Dangerous Gifts (2012) almost always catches my eye even when surrounded by more recent titles.

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The cover of Laura Pfuntner’s book, Urbanism and Empire in Roman Sicily, is just great as well. I love the floor plans in the colored blocks. 

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As an aside, Texas also really did a nice job with the cover of Hanif Abdurraqib’s book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to the Tribe Called Quest even if the “This is a book by…” thing is a bit tired (where did this start? I remember it on the Black Keys’ album Brothers, but it must be from something else?).

Princeton has used a similarly paired down and graphically bold aesthetic for the cover of Walter Scheidel’s edited volume, The Science of Roman History, that came out last year. I like it.

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There’s something to be said for less minimalist covers too, of course. I love the cover to Frankenstein and Its Classics The Modern Prometheus from Antiquity to Science Fiction edited by Jesse Weiner, Benjamin Eldon Stevens, Brett M. Rogers from Bloomsbury.

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I’m guessing the same designer did the cover to Brett M. Rogers’s and Benjamin Eldon Stevens’s Once and Future Antiquities in Science Fiction and Fantasy

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The cover of the ISAW Monograph, An Oasis City edited by Roger S. Bagnall , Nicola Aravecchia , Raffaella Cribiore , Paola Davoli , Olaf E. Kaper and Susanna McFadden and published in conjunction with NYU Press combines business with black and white to create a cover that has caught my eye for several years now. 

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For more conventional covers, University of Wisconsin Press created a show stopper with their cover of Sarah Rous’s Reset in Stone.  The cover not only grabbed my attention but also made me stop and think about how the contrast between white marble and saturated blue skies create a kind of trope for Hellenism (and this led me to think about how these kinds of images are used and reused over time).

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I assume that the same designer produced the cover to Spear-Won Land: Sardis from the King’s Peace to the Peace of Apamea edited by Andrea M. Berlin and Paul J. Kosmin.

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Finally, the coolest cover that I saw last week had to be Thelma Thomas’s Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity. This book came out in 2016 in association with an exhibit at NYU’s ISAW. I had heard of the book and maybe even read a review of it, but for whatever reason hadn’t seen it in the paper. The cover is distractingly great. 

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Over the past few years, I’ve been struck by how hard it has become to find the time (or even a method) to keep atop the incredible output of books in archaeology, Classics, and ancient history. I’ve also heard more than one colleague mutter, usually in frustration more than anything, “everybody has a book these days,” and this certainly feels like it might be true. Despite the seemingly overwhelming output of publications, it’s nice to see presses committed to such amazing cover designs. It makes the numbing guilt of not being able to read everything that I want to read worth a trip throughs the book room! 


Three Quick Things on a Snowy Monday

The sound of snowblowers woke me this morning because despite everything in town being closed someone just had to remove the snow at 6 am. 

Since I’m up and at my laptop, here are a few quick things for over the new year holiday.

First, I’ve finished the paper for the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting next week on legacy data. I struggled with this paper a good bit because I tried to wed my practical experience of working with legacy data to my somewhat underdeveloped interest in time. The results were predictably messy, but I feel instinctively like this line of thinking is heading somewhere. Here’s the paperHere’s the abstract to the paper. I’ve posted ideas (with a little help from my friends) here, here, and here and a draft here.

Second, I’ve started to do layout on Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in
North Dakota, 1958–2018 edited by Kyle Conway. A few years ago, I had this idea of a “Bakken Bookshelf” which would include links to significant books on the Bakken. At the center of the “bookshelf” would be a trilogy of books: The Bakken Goes Boom, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (from our friends at NDSU Press), and, now, Sixty Years of Boom and Bust. I’d like to think that these three books – whatever their limitations – form the cornerstone for any academic engagement with the Bakken oil boom.

More than that, these three books provide a nice testimony for why regional presses matter. As far as I can tell, there has been no book length academic publications on the social conditions, history, and experience of the Bakken oil boom published outside the Northern Plains. Without NDSU Press and The Digital Press (and it’s predecessor, The University of North Dakota Press), the Bakken would have received far less scholarly attention. For a bit more on Sixty Years of Boom and Bust go here.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I took a flyer and bought a novella published by a small press, Soft Cartel Press. The book, Craig Rodger’s The Ghost of Mile 43 is bizarrely wonderful, and if you have the time to read its 80 some-odd pages, you should. The narrator writes with the stilted diction of film noire voice over (which for better or for worse, serves the plot just fine), but the descriptions of abandonment are really quite remarkable. In fact, the entire book stands more as a meditation on the abject and the archaeological than as a vehicle for a narrative (much less a plot).  

Politics, Utopias, Heritage, and Publishing

This weekend I read and really enjoyed Lynn Meskell’s recent-ish book, A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace (2018). The book argues, in remarkable detail, that UNESCOs origins in a modern post-war view of the world instilled with an irrepressible faith in progress has created an organization that not only has failed to use culture, sincere, and heritage to bring peace, but also become a tool in political and economic conflicts. The rise of a bureaucratized technocracy within UNESCO reinforced its status as an institution committed to reinforcing the colonial relationship between European states and their former colonial possessions. In short, the book is a sophisticated indictment of the UNESCO project laced with the subtle suggestion that some of the issues associated with UNESCO in the late 20th and 21st century emerged from the marginalization of archaeology (and anthropology more broadly) from an increasingly politicized UNESCO mission.       

Meskell’s work focused in particular on the rise of the World Heritage sites as a kind of brand that countries sought to acquire for a range of political and economic reasons. In many ways, the inclusion of a site on the World Heritage list was a kind of virtue signaling that marked the site, a particular kind of heritage, and the nation as part of an official past that could then be leveraged for outcomes ranging from tourism and development to border disputes.

Meskell’s book reminded me a good bit of Richard Poynder’s recent critique of the Open Access movement in publishing. Like UNESCO, the open access movement emerged from the the giddy triumphalism of the first decade of the internet. Budapest Open Access Initiative document offers the same utopian perspective that Meskell traced in the early years of UNESCO. For the Budapest group, the idea that the internet would provide the basis for the free and unfettered flow of scientific knowledge, offers eerie parallels with the optimism that shaped the potential for international collaboration in the early post-war years when UNESCO managed the massive archaeological and heritage projects associated with the Aswan Dam project on the Nile. In subsequent decades, both the open access movement and UNESCO became pawns of national and corporate interests who seek to manipulate the status of these increasingly powerful brands for their own goals.

For UNESCO, Meskell documents any number of projects saturated with political intrigue. The inscription of the Preah Vihear temple complex in northern Thailand, for example, revealed the close connection between U.S. interests, oil companies, and the disputed border between Cambodia and Thailand in the vicinity of UNESCO World Heritage Site. The refusal to designate the old town of Panama City, Panama as in danger despite the encroachment of development demonstrated the willingness of nations and developers to collaborate in the diplomacy of heritage and blatantly overlook the risks facing sites. In effect, the successes and failures of UNESCO trace the currents of diplomacy in the post colonial world with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) often working together as a counterweight to the European powers in efforts to advance diplomatic goals.     

It’s hard not to expect the battles over Open Access publishing to see similar political and corporate contours. Already, as Poynder has identified, China has seen the value in open science initiatives and used it to accelerate their technological development in certain fields. At the same time, there is real concern over whether China will be willing to reciprocate and provide open access to their own research and literature. Communities in the “Global South,” who often depend disproportionately on publishers located in the “Global North” who are rapidly working to align themselves with open access publishing initiatives. As a result, the strategies of these publishers (including the problematic Plan S) look poised to make it more difficult for authors and communities in the Global South to protect and monetize their labor and to create situations where North American and European publishers profit from their work. The power of major publishing houses (both non-profit and, more predictably, for profit) to aggregate open access content, manage its distribution, and to continue in a gatekeeper role makes it possible that the open access utopia envisioned by the Budapest Initiative could metastasize into a publishing world even more heavily shaped by corporate interests.  

Of course, this isn’t the only scenario possible for open access publishing, just as there exists a potential for heritage that while never unpolitical is at least more diverse, more responsive to communities, and less technocratic and colonial. The incisive critiques of Meskell and Poynder serve as a useful reminder that politics of capital are constantly adapting to transform our world.

Alternative Design, Innovation, and Imagination in Higher Education

I did some traveling this month and that always gives me time to sit still and read without being distracted by a million other things. On my last flight, I read David Staley’s Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Higher Education (2019). It was a pretty fun read and despite the book’s ostensible audience of higher ed administrators and leaders, it offers some intriguing and imaginative proposals that could be of use for anyone working at a university today.

The most appealing thing about the book is that the Staley allowed himself to imagine 10 different forms of post-secondary education. These ranged from a industry focused liberal arts college to free form “platform college” where faculty and students are combine and disperse on the basis of interest and demand, to decentralized microcolleges that operate with loose coordination to offer almost individual instruction and radical colleges based on play, advanced cybernetic interfaces, and the body. The willingness to speculate and to imagine a future to higher education with only the barest number of institutional constraints and appeals to tradition is refreshing. More than that, it demonstrates that there is a place for “solutions in search of problems” in higher education, although Staley does conclude by saying that he hopes his experiment in imagination will demonstrate that alternatives exist to the increasingly commodified character of contemporary higher education.

At the same time, Staley’s alternative universities do have certain similarities that suggest a particular understanding of the higher education landscape that goes beyond his rather cursory diagnosis of the contemporary “crisis.” For example, nearly all the alternative universities managed to exist with a minimum of administration who tended to serve as coordinators and facilitators rather than leaders. Conversely faculty took center stage and while their work was often subject to the whims of the market (and students), the mentor-student relationship remained fundamental most fo the alternative universities proposed.

Likewise absent from his alternative universities were the onerous burden of assessing learning. In fact, Staley largely accepted that both students and faculty operated in good faith. Students committed to learning and faculty committed to teaching. In some of his scenarios, faculty will be on an island with students either instructing small groups as part of single-teacher micro universities, leading students in immersive experiences abroad in the “Nomad University,” or connecting and dispersing with demand and interest in the “Platform University.” Such free form experimental spaces as the Institute for Advance Play and Future University have outcomes that seem to almost resist formal assessment. A university based on play or the producing models of future society may have rules and expectations (i.e. humans won’t suddenly develop the ability to fly), but these do little to narrow the wide range of potential student outcomes.  

At times, I felt like Staley’s book was a bit naive about the ability of the market to self-regulate both within academia and the relationship between academic institutions and industry. The idea of a “Humanities Think Tank” and “Nomad University” rely on the idea that the private (and public sector) would consistently reach out to scholars in the humanities or in various applied sciences for collaboration. On the one hand, it’s Staley’s fantasy which always involves a certain suspension of disbelief and maybe that’s enough to sanction his exercises. On the other hand, I’m not sure that his more naive approaches to the functioning of the market offer a useful way forward. The idea that students will gravitate toward majors and funding will flow from industry toward innovative institutions ignores the complicated roles that ideology, politics, and tradition plays in shaping the economic and educational landscape. Of course, Staley acknowledges that his exercises in imagining operate at the margins of the possible, but how he defines these limits remains unclear. For example, he does not propose “Mars University” where students study Mars and the role of space on the terrestrial economy over the course of the multiyear curriculum taught during a trip to, from, and on the Red Planet. His selective reading of existing experiments in higher education – with example such as Deep Springs College – rarely explores less successful (or at least sustained) experiments (e.g. Black Mountain College) to understand the real limits to what is possible. This isn’t to suggest that the book isn’t worth reading and thinking about. Perhaps, he designed the fuzzy limits to his imagined solutions to push us to think about the constraints that currently exist within higher education or to encourage us to engage in a kind of “design thinking” that recognizes the interplay between ideas and constraints as the key environment for producing real change.

Lest my review seem too critical, I should emphasize that the book is inspiring. In the spring semester, I’m teaching a class that will focus not so much on a problem or a series of educational outcomes, but on a building on our campus that is scheduled for demolition. I was fretting a good bit about the point of the class, but Staley’s book put me more at ease. I was particularly drawn to the idea of an “Institute for Advanced Play” that Staley based on the idea that “play and the imagination define higher learning.” 

My one-credit course will focus on play and the idea that our bureaucratic, outcome driven education system leaves rather little time for engaging the world thoughtfully, critically, and carefully without a particular goal. To my mind, this might be the best thing about Staley’s book. Even if the problems that it seeks to solve and the limits to Staley’s imaging are fuzzy, the book encourages all of us to think about higher education in radically different ways and to enjoy the silliness of unwarranted provocation and the freedom from consistency, well-defined goals, and tidy outcomes. 

Wide-Ranging Wednesday: ASOR, Alcatraz, and Failing Gloriously

I’m heading out west today to the annual meeting of ASOR in San Diego. As per usual, I’m pulling together a gaggle of books to keep me company on the flights and during down times at the conference.

For the flight, I’m going to read Joyce Carol Oates On Boxing as I prepare myself for a winter of rather remarkable fights starting on Saturday with the Wilder vs. Ortiz heavy weight tilt, December 7th with Joshua vs. Ruiz, and on December 14th with Bud Crawford, Mick Conlan, and Teofimo Lopez in action. I’m pretty excited.

I’ve also packed along a copy of François Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2015) as I think about the practical, methodological, and ethical time of legacy data. Along similar lines, I’m carrying with me the intimidating works of Reinhard Kosselleck, but I’ll probably start with Niklas Olsen’s History in the plural an introduction to the work of Reinhart Koselleck (2012) before dipping my toes into Futures Past: on the semantics of historical time (2004) or Sediments of Time: On Possible Histories (2018). This was mostly prompted by Laurent Olivier and Marek Tamm’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019).

As per usual, at the 11th hour I added David Staley’s Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education (2019) to my Kindle on the recommendation of Richard Rothaus.

The flight to San Diego will also be a great chance to think through some strategies to promote the newest book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota that is set to be published on December 1. Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays is a series of reflective pieces on his life as a digital archaeologist and a digital humanist in the first decades of the 21st century. The book is part archaeological autobiography and part commentary on ways to make academia a safer place for failure.

Advanced copies of the book are in the wind and the feedback has been really positive (which I’m sure is as much a relief to Shawn as it is to me!). We were both really excited to read Quinn Dombrowski’s thoughtful review of the book on the Stanford DH blog. Check it out! 

And stay tuned to this page for a sneak peek of the introduction next week.   

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t nudge folks to read Gayatri Devi’s short essay on the North Dakota Quarterly blog on the 50th anniversary of the Native American occupation of Alcatraz. For many reasons, this event has not garnered the same public awareness as other episodes of protest in the late 1960s. That it occurred at the same time as protests by African Americans, anti-war protestors, and other movements that exposed the hypocrisy in late-20th century American political, economic, and cultural life, offers a clear reminder that the story of Native Americans remains deeply entangled in the complex critiques of contemporary America. It is hardly surprising then, that Tommy Orange’s There, There (2018) which is set in the Native American community of contemporary Oakland, looks back to the occupation of Alcatraz as a key moment in both the novel and that community’s story. Reading Tommy Orange or Dean Rader’s Engaged Resistance: American Indian Art, Literature, and Film from Alcatraz to the NMAI (2011) over the Thanksgiving is a nice way to ignore the white-washed portrayal of Native Americans so closely associated with that holiday.  

Travel Day Reading

The older I get, the more I dislike travel. The only really good thing about it (other than the destination) is a chance to get some quiet and relatively uninterrupted reading time.

As I head east today to a conference in Washington, DC, I’m taking with me the most recent issue of Ploughshares, Juliet Lapidos’s newish book Talent, Eric Olin Wright’s How to be Anti-Capitalist in the Twenty-First Century (2019) and Laurent Olivier and Marek Tamm’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019).

If you want to read the paper that I’m giving in DC go here

You should also check out some of the content from the latest issue of NDQ that went to the printers on Monday. We’re trying to get 1000 followers on The Twitters, so if you like quality poetry, fiction, essays, and reviews, follow us here. We’re also hoping to get 1 million followers on Facebook, like our page here.