Not All Dead White Men

This weekend I had a couple of flights and took that quiet time to read Donna Zuckerberg’s Not All Dead White Men (Harvard 2018). The book has created a good bit of buzz lately, in part, because of Zuckerberg’s pioneering work at the web journal Eidolon and partly because any book subtitled “Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age” is sure to have relevance in our current political landscape.

On the surface, the book considers the way that “Red Pill” communities across the web use Greek and Roman texts to support their deeply misogynistic views of women, reactionary standards of masculinity, and support of Alt-Right political groups with their racist and militarist agendas. The visibility of the groups in the current political climate makes critical and serious discussion of their values, attitudes, and methods a pressing matter for both academics and informed citizens. The appropriation of the Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, the Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus, or the Hippolytus of Euripides and Seneca to justify their attitudes toward women, to craft political and personal identities, and to critique claims of sexual misconduct, abuse, and rape should give pause to any of us who study and teach the ancient world.

At the same time, Zuckerberg is clear that the arguments advanced in this book are unlikely to change the views of members of the Red Pill community and her book isn’t directed at these groups. Zuckerberg directs this book toward people who consider themselves progressive and who share her passion for the ancient world. The appropriation of Greek and Roman texts by the Red Pill community draws upon methods that are not unfamiliar to those of us who study the ancient world. In fact, very idea of the “red pill” which Neo took in the Matrix allowing him to understand that humans were enslaved, has obvious parallels with the older concept of being “woke” (“I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I’m gon stay woke. And I’m gon help him wake up other black folk.”) that has currency among progressives. The idea that what we think of as reality is a dream or an illusion from which we need to awake cuts a broad swath through the academic and political discourse grounded in an ironic view of the world that demands deconstruction to expose the real forces at play. In other words, Zuckerberg expects us to see something of our own discursive proclivities in the Red Pill movement. She doesn’t do this to imply any kind of moral or ethical equivalency, but to grab her audience’s attention. To remind them that our ways of viewing the world require certain ontological (and even epistemological) moves to produce a cohesive reality. The choices that we make to create our worlds are not the same in terms of their ethical, moral, or even practical value, but we cannot assume that our perspective alone justifies the decisions that we make. Being woke involves difficult choices.

For example, Zuckerberg notes that Red Pill communities often read ancient sources as revealing fundamental and timeless realities about relations between the sexes. While it is easy enough to understand why this is a problematic approach to texts like Ars Amatoria, the larger project of looking to ancient texts as persistent commentaries on contemporary situations should not be foreign to us. Who hasn’t looked to Tacitus’s Agricola as a model for the virtuous life under tyranny or reflected on complex and tragic portrait of Sallust’s Catiline or even the turmoil present in Augustine’s Confessions and allowed these texts to speak directly to us across the centuries. In fact, it’s not foreign to us to celebrate certain aspects of the Classics as a field of study for its timelessness. In many cases, this is innocent rhetoric which our own commitment to historicism undermines. At the same time, it is difficult to deny the power of Syme’s The Roman Revolution or to see something compelling in Tarn’s Alexander despite both book’s ahistorical reading of the past (or perhaps because, from a distance both books appear overly burdened with history). Again, this isn’t about moral equivalencies, but how we understand time and past.

An appeal to timelessness might serve as a useful effort to bolster the power of Classics and particular texts and make them relevant in the 21st century. It might even help us avoid the challenges associated with “othering” the past and reducing it to being “a foreign country.” Instead of these easy categories, Zuckerberg calls on us to be more subtle critics of the Greek and Roman world and to recognize that a hybridized view that recognizes the problems with strategies that essentialize or historicize ancient texts.

Zuckerberg’s book does just that as she preemptively unpacks the story of Hippolytus as a particularly challenging text for anyone who loves the ancient world. Her own reading of the Hippolytus of Seneca and Euripides show the potential for even volatile texts like these to speak across centuries in ways that are relevant and historical. They don’t offer easy answers and, as she says in reference to Euripides’s version of the play:

It has no clear hero and no clear villain. Every character is both wrong and wronged. The chorus ends the play by saying, “Floods of tears shall come over us again and again,” and that indeed seems to be the only appropriate response to such a painful story with no apparent moral.

It is easy for us to dismiss Red Pill communities on moral and political grounds alone, and, I would argue, we have a responsibility as scholars and students of the ancient world to do this. On the other hand, by viewing their methods, their attitudes toward the past, and how they position or “frame” their relationship to the real, it compels us to come to terms with our own views of the ancient world. As she points out wryly in her title, Not All Dead White Men is not meant as an apologia for antiquity, but a call for us to do better in making the Greek and Roman world meaningful today.

Nature Behind Barbed Wire

After some nudging from Richard Rothaus and Kostis Kourelis, I read Connie Y. Chiang’s Nature Behind Barbed Wire: An Environmental History of Japanese Incarceration (2018). The book was pretty enthralling, in part, because I was not particularly familiar with the details of Japanese internment during World War II, but largely because Chiang manages to weave the environmental context for this internment throughout her narrative in a compelling and intriguing way.

Chiang divides her narrative into three basic sections: the pre-internment landscape of Japanese settlement in on the Pacific coast; the landscape of internment at four camps, Manzanar, Minidoka, Topaz, and Gila River; and the post-internment return of the Japanese to the Pacific coast. As per usual, I won’t offer a review here, as the book is outside even my casual knowledge, but I’ll make some observations that intrigued me or coincided with my own work on short term settlement in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Bakken and Japanese internment were in any way equivalent, but there were some intriguing parallels between Chiang’s careful consideration of the space of the internment camps and the strategies that Japanese residents used to make them comfortable (and in some cases livable) despite the harsh surroundings. 

1. Environmental Expertise. Before the relocation process began, Japanese farmers, gardeners, and fishermen found diverse ways of engaging with and making a living from the Western landscape. They developed a range of regionally specific expertise in growing crops in the various microclimates and microenvironment present on the Pacific coasts and played a key role in the agricultural economy of the Western states.

The specific environmental understanding acquired from cultivating backyard gardens in San Francisco, working the peat soil of the San Joaquin Delta, or growing strawberries in the dry soils of the valleys of Southern California had limited applicability in the new environments of the internment camps. The response of these farmers to their new conditions was not simple, of course, and ranged from adaptability to problems adapting to their new surroundings with unfortunate results.

2. Camps and their Environments. Chiang is at her most evocative when she describes the various environments of the internment camps. The high deserts of Minidoka and the arid valley of Manzanar receive the most attention with their settings offering the greatest challenges to both the War Relocation Authority (WRA) who ran the camps and their reluctant residents. The setting of the camps challenged the design and construction of the buildings which were often inadequate to keep out the dust, heat, or cold of the desert environments. Their setting made difficult large-scale agriculture designed to make the camps self-sufficient and to allow them and their residents to contribute to the war effort (and demonstrate their patriotism). At the same time, the residents found ways to engage their new environments by hiking and fishing and leaving the camp grounds without permission. In effect, the story of the camps cannot be told outside their environments.

3. Camps and Patriotism. The desolate surroundings of the American West created a distinct environment for the interned Japanese – many of whom were American citizens – to “demonstrate” their patriotism by supporting the war effort. While it remains challenging for me to grasp the need to force American citizens to demonstrate their patriotism, Chiang makes clear that the environment formed the backdrop to these demonstrations of patriotism and if the Axis powers were the enemy in the theater of war, the arid landscapes of the camp served as an opponent to the interned Japanese. The landscape itself intensified the call to grow crops and endure hardships as ways to show their commitment to the war effort. 

It is hardly surprising that the interned Japanese Americans demonstrated a deeply ambivalent attitude toward the use of patriotism to motivate their work and in some cases complained about this rhetorical strategy explicitly. More than that, the landscape of the camps became a place for the interned residents to both demonstrate their continued person freedom through acts of resistance which involved things like leaving the camp for night fishing expeditions. In a sense, these person acts of freedom represented a commitment to patriotic ideals that the rhetoric of compliance within the camp sought to suppress. 

4. Camps and Identity. One of the things that I struggled with on the North Dakota Man Camp Project is understand how individual interventions in the space of temporary workforce housing sites in the Bakken served as expressions of individual identity despite the functional arrangement of the camps. While the circumstances of Japanese internment and a boom-time work force are clearly different, both situations revealed how the use of gardens could act a way to assert authority over the environment and express identity. 

The development of personal and even community gardens in the internment camps served not only as expressions of individual or communal identities, but the shared experience of these gardens by all residents in the camp created shared awareness of the diversity in these communities. Carving out spaces of expression in a public way, in effect, authorized individual responses to these expressions. 

On a more practical note, it was intriguing to see that camp residents used the spaces between units as the sites of gardens and in this way navigated the boundary between public space and private spaces. Similar strategies appear to be used in the Bakken as well suggesting a similar challenge to make the private visible as an indication of personal identity, while at the same time, retaining a sense of control over the space.

5. Returns. The final section of the book explored, in parallel, the struggles of the interned Japanese Americans to return to their communities and their return to recognize the sites of the camps many decades later. The ambivalent experiences of these returns are haunting, as they should be. The failure of the government to protect the rights of citizens and residents in the aftermath of internment compounded the inexcusable failure of internment itself. The separation of the interned from their environment in the camps by barbed wire was continued through discriminatory statues and attitudes after the internment ended making it often impossible for these individuals to return to their former landscapes and communities.

I wonder whether the metaphor of “closure” is inappropriate to describe the return of former camp residents to the sites of their camps. While in most cases, the camps were removed and the sites returned to their barren conditions, the memory of their experiences there (and the monuments marking the camps’ cemeteries) re-opened the often suppressed memories of their wartime experiences. Far from closure, then, the willingness of former camp residents to return to the sites of their camps allowed them a chance to publicly and privately re-appropriate their experiences and save them from oblivion and forgetting. Whereas the failure of the U.S. government their wartime policies and in their unwillingness to protect interned Japanese Americans after the war made reintegration with American society challenging, the voluntary return of interned residents to the former sites of their camps marked these spaces as sites of public memory and reflection for the entire nation. This return inverts the cynical effort to promote patriotism through work and confinement during the war time internment by urging a nation explicitly to recognize its failures and perhaps become better for the future. 

Three Things Thursday

It’s Thursday and the week is racing toward its inevitable conclusion. I have three quick things on my mind as I struggle to get focused enough to push through teaching and a writing day tomorrow before a weekend full of layout for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

There’s a lot going on in the world, and most of it seems bad (or frankly terrifying). From the Kavanaugh hearings to Presidential alert buzzing my phone yesterday, it feel like all I can do is bury myself in either esoteric nonsense or projects that I feel like I can control. These introduce enough clutter to my brain to keep me from becoming too preoccupied, demoralized, or panicked. Maybe this kind of escapism, when recognized at scale, is part of the problem with society; maybe, for some of us, it’s the only way to stay sane. I worry that my own inability to deal effectively with what’s going on in society today is symptomatic of the problem.   

That being said, I will keep doing even if it looks more and more like I’m fiddling while Rome burns…

1. NDQ Volume 85. I am excited that the first volume of North Dakota Quarterly under my term as “Editor-in-Chief” has gone off to the copy editor. This will be a interstitial volume between NDQ publishing as an independent publisher and as an independent “little magazine” published by the University of Nebraska Press (UNP) (this is an open secret still and there hasn’t been an official announcement yet). In other words, NDQ is out of the publishing business, but still in the content producing business. This is good for us financially and in terms of workload. University of Nebraska Press has production capacity and economies of scale in terms of printing and distribution. It means that I can focus my attention on working with our genre editors on content and with Nebraska to expand our readership, contributors, and subscribers. 

The publication date for this, if we can get it into UNP’s hands by November 1, will be early 2019, which isn’t too far from the 2018 date for the volume.  

2. Digital Ephemera and the Archive. One of the interesting things that has come out of the conversation with University of Nebraska Press is the digital future for NDQ. As a public humanities and literary journal (as if these two things were really different), I always have felt that it was more than ephemera. As such, I pushed for the digital archive of NDQ to be made available via the HathiTrust and had always seen both paper and digital distribution and archiving to be part of the journal’s future. In fact, I had imagined that digital subscriptions, particularly for our institutional subscribers, might be more appealing and easier to manage. In effect, I had imagined that the digital form of NDQ would be the archival format and the paper format would be more ephemeral.

This, of course, represents a pretty significant inversion of how I’ve seen publishing. It used to be that paper versions of books and journals were for the archive because the material nature of paper made it relatively easy to preserve when compared to the changing nature of bits and bytes. Today, however, paper appears more and more as a novelty or for the sake of nostalgia or for reasons completely separate from its traditional place as an archival medium. People discuss the feeling of a book, its scent, and even the way in which paper helps us engage the text in a less distracted way.

The digital form is the archive, which I suppose makes some sense, as most of our publications today are born digital.  

3. Bakken and The Digital Press. One of the little things that have vexed me about (among the many, but this was a little one), is that it never connected my two books on the Bakken through it’s “Frequently bought together” feature. 

It was pleasant surprise this week, then, when I noticed that The Bakken and The Bakken Goes Boom were finally connected. It is now possible to buy both The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (2017) and The Bakken Goes Boom (2016) together for less then $30. That’s less than ONE DOLLAR a day or less than your favorite coffee at Starbucks.

I was sort of bummed to hear that The Bakken wasn’t selling very well (or it was selling well, but in very low numbers). I think of it as a kind of accessible experiment in understanding complex, industrial landscapes. Even if you aren’t super interested in the Bakken, maybe you’ll be interested in my approach:

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Homeless Heritage

Rachael Kiddey’s Homeless Heritage: Collaborative Social Archaeology as Therapeutic Practice (2017) is among the best books that I’ve read over the last few years. Kiddey describes the work of her and her colleagues, some of whom were homeless, in documenting the material culture of homelessness in York and Bristol. It also traces Kiddey’s own progress through her Ph.D. and her discovery and engagement with homelessness and homeless people as she worked with them to document their skips, routes, and lives through various cities and present the results of her research. The book is less about the empirical results of her research, although she does present some of those, and more about how how Kiddey and her homeless colleagues created a social archaeology project that both generated useful data on homeless practice and gave a sense of meaning to the daily lives these individuals. As the subtitle suggests, the project had a therapeutic element to it for both the homeless participants and, less visibly in the book, but certainly present, for the author herself.

The book was inspiring and incredibly positive despite the potentially heartrending topic. More than that, it embodies the kind of “archaeology of care” that Richard Rothaus, Bret Weber, and I began to imagine over the course of the North Dakota Man Camp Project. Kiddey’s work is better and more involved (and involving), but we shared her understanding that conducting archaeology communicated the significance of a situation to the homeless or to the residents of a North Dakota man camp. Here are some observations about the book (which you really should just buy and read!):

1. Heritage. The idea that the homeless produce heritage is an important because it embodies a fundamental tension within 21st century material culture. First, the era of precarity creates ephemeral landscapes that emerge and dissipate in response to various contingencies as diverse as police activity, seasonal changes, and the availability of food or shelter. The skips and squats that various homeless participants frequented often were already abandoned or access was restricted by the time that they documented them with the homeless heritage team.

The other side of this tension is the ubiquity of stuff in the modern landscape. So precarity and contingency compresses the duration over which a site remains active, the abundance of modern material produces a more robust assemblage of stuff than would otherwise be expected. The routes and sites described by Kiddey and her colleagues were filled with stuff ranging from bedding, to broken glass, beer cans, and pallets that show signs of past use and an effort to make the place a little more comfortable. 

Charting these places as heritage, then, becomes less a traditional archaeological intervention which produces a site with clearly delineated boundaries and interpretative signs, and more a documented landscape that alerts the passer-by to the potential of homeless heritage and instructs them on what this might look like and how to engage with the evidence. 

2. An Outline of Social Archaeology in Practice. The strength of the book is Kiddey’s narrative of her engagement with the homeless individuals with whom she collaborated on the project. She described how she created an inclusive environment for all the participants on the project which allowed them to share their expertise and experience without the need for an excessive hierarchy or a tidy divide between the archaeologists and the volunteers. 

This organization extended from the first phases of field work to excavation, public engagement, and scholarly publication of their research. Kiddey hints that the practical challenges of breaking down the barriers between the “researcher” and the “researched” by admitting that some of her colleagues continued to struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, struggled with low self-esteem, and had personal entanglements that made consistent participation with fieldwork a challenge, but she also detailed how inclusive practice recognized these challenges and accepted them. Here you can see the faint shadow of real practices on any archaeological project where team members regularly accommodate the different abilities of participants in a project. No one has ever changed a stratigraphic level based on my observations in the field even when I was “project director.”

While the book is clearly the work of a single author, who tellingly has both a first and a last name, the work of her colleagues is in the very near background. I was fascinated by this ambiguity. On the one hand, her homeless colleagues clearly made this work possible (and, if I understand correctly, she dedicated the book to one of them) and participated as fully as possible in the undertaking including giving a paper at Cambridge and co-curating the public exhibits on homeless heritage. On the other hand, by the end of the book, I was hoping that their participation in the project would allow Kiddey to raise the veil a bit and re-craft them from participants to authors. For example, none of them ever get a last name, which at first reinforced the authenticity of the street voices protected as it were by monikers and nicknames, but on the other hand, as the participants took increased ownership of the academic space of writing, curating, and presenting their experiences, I desperately wanted them to break through the “fourth wall” and become academic co-authors (at least in presentation) closing the loop in their collective participation on the project. Perhaps this desire reflects my own experiences on projects where student “volunteers” who return and contribute to a project over time invariably appear as co-authors on papers and with more formally recognized academic identities. 

This isn’t a criticism, of course. If anything, it reveals my own normalizing of academic conventions which ignores the realities of folks living on the street and the challenges that they face. For example, I thought about suggesting that Kiddey should have authored this book as “Marmite” which was her name among the homeless folks that she encountered in the book, but I also recognized that this may be inauthentic. On the other hand, that one of her colleagues, Smiler, abandoned that name for his birth name “Andrew” suggests that the use of proper names and nicknames in this book does map, to some extent, onto the participants sense of self and identity. Perhaps, then, the authenticity of the book comes from the voices of Jane, Punk Paul, Dan, and others whose single names represent their identities and authority as homeless individuals as much as from Rachael Kiddey, whose full name (so we’re led to imagine) represents her (literal) authority as author of the book.

Managing identities, authority, and knowledge is hard.   

3. Narrating to Inspire. Finally, this book is well written and engaging. I read it more or less in a single sitting gripped as much by the book’s narrative arc as the compelling characters Kiddey presents. Without giving too much away, the book has a brilliant climax that involves getting lost, rain, and a daring drive through a hedgerow (which offers as brilliant a critique of enclosure and homelessness as I’ve ever read!). 

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this book was crafted to bring the reader along on a challenging journey rather than to present, in an empirical or analytically transparent way, data from an archaeological project or even a template for a similar project. As someone who has played a bit more explicitly with genre-hopping, I can only admire Kiddey’s subtlety and creativity in using a range of narrative strategies (stories within stories, dialogue, academic prose, and a broader narrative arc) to carry some of the interpretative burden of the book. In many ways, her forms a more understated parallel to Laurie Wilkie’s The Lost Boys of Zeta Psi (2010) which likewise intermingles academic prose with other narrative forms to produce a compelling study of a university fraternity in the first half of the 20th century. As I discovered with my little effort, writing in this way is difficult, but when it works, like it does in this book, the results are inspiring and compelling.

Read this book. 




Publishing Hybrids

One of the best parts of book production is that it’s a pretty intensive operation. Once a book going into typesetting, it tends to occupy all of my attention until layout is complete. In my experience, layout does not accommodate multitasking and any interruption (four-legged or otherwise) invariably leads to mistakes, delays, and problems. (And as someone who is not prone to be attentive to details, even the smallest interruption (like searching for a new album or fixing a little problem) can let an error slip into the final text.

In short, the attention required to layout and produce a book is, for me at least, delightfully un-modern, despite the fact that it usually involves sitting in front of a computer rather than setting movable type. This experience got me thinking (once again) about the modern publishing process as a distinctly hybrid process. This hybridity, at least for me, emerges both from my process and from the nature of publishing in a digital world. 

Here are three quick thoughts (before I have to put the final touches on a book!):

1. Publishing as Craft. My colleague down at the NDSU Press takes students in her publishing class to work with a series of letterpresses and movable type presses in Braddock, ND. The point of the trip, from what I gather, is to emphasize the craft aspects of publishing which stem from the deep integration of all aspects of book making from the moment a manuscript comes into our hands as publisher to the moment it leaves as a completed book. Of course, in practice, most publishers outsource various aspects of book making – from copy editing and review to layout and design – but generally this outsourcing happens internally with the publisher maintaining control over the process. 

With the re-emergence in small-scale publishing, like The Digital Press, the publisher – as an individual rather than as a corporate entity – takes on even greater control over the entire production process. Moreover, with digital publishing, even the most frequently outsources function of the publication process – printing – tends to be done in-house. In other words, digital work, despite its tendency to fragment processes into bite (byte!) sized entities also encourages the processes of publishing to be more smoothly integrated with, for example, editing, design, typesetting, and printing all taking place in the same digital environment (and often at the same workstation!). This kind of integration is typical to craft practice and challenges a view (that I myself have spouted) that digital practices tend toward dis-integration and the logic of the assembly line or the supply-chain.

2. Finding Focus. I’ve been playing with various little applications for my phone that encourage me to remain focused. I have a busy fall semester and my attention span, which is fragile in the best of circumstances, is doing me no favors (while I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve checked the football scores, responded to two emails, let the yellow dog in and out twice, had a brief conversation with my wife, and reflected on the absence of interesting “Explorer-type” watches from micro brands). While my writing process, which focuses on sentence level execution, tends to endure my scattered approach to life, integrated workflows like typesetting and layout suffer when I get distracted. (Just forwarded another email to colleague…)

For example, texts have flows. Each section of text has to work with every other section. Chapters start on odd number pages, so each section must have an odd number of pages. The first page of each chapter, should have the same design, which means that the most complicated chapter title and the least complicated chapter title must all work within one’s design parameters. Changing one chapter title, for example, requires that we change ALL the chapter titles. Changing one element of layout must extended to the entire book. A change in one section cascades through the entire production flow. Blank pages must be added or removed to make sure that the spread aligns with the binding (for tightly-perfect bound books, the inner gutters and margins must accommodate the binding) and that chapters begin on odd number pages. 

This process requires sustained attention because any change must be reproduced the same way throughout the book. Modern layout and production software does help streamline this process of course, but since every manuscript, section, and text will be slightly different, there is inevitably small adjustments that must be made by hand. For example, a text block might be extended a few millimeters to prevent an orphan line or a hyphenated word eliminated if it causes confusion or a strange rhythm in the text body.

All this requires focus because each change ripples through the entire manuscript. It is a distinctly un-modern kind of focus that reminds me a bit of archaeological work at the end of a field season when things must be done in a particular order to a particular deadline. Even the most efficient project likely finds that certain tasks must fall to the project directors who are responsible for the field season and its results. 

3. Digital and Print. The main project that I am working on right now is Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent and Patriotism in 21st Century America.  This is, on the one hand, an edited volume with over 20 individual contributions. On the other hand, Dr. Burin’s introduction runs to over 80 pages in the book and close to 20,000 words (without citations). This is a mini-monograph. 

Dr. Burin’s introduction also includes over 350 hyperlinks that stand in for footnotes or other citation systems. This is appropriate for the topic, Colin Kaepernick’s protests during NFL games and the subsequent events, that is being reported in the online, mass media and is still pretty lightly covered in traditional printed academic sources.  

Unfortunately, as I have discussed elsewhere, hyperlinks are a less than ideal mode of citation for academic work. First, they only work in online, digital contexts where the reader can click on the link and go to a resource. Second, they tend to be fragile even in a digital context and break down as media-makers disappear or social media accounts are deleted. Third, if the account is deleted or the webpage removed from the live internet, it becomes difficult to identify the author, context, or even topic of the reference from the hyperlink alone. Unlike a traditional citation that is both humanly and machine readable (ideally), hyperlinks send readers to a web address and may or may not offer much information on the nature of the destination. In this context, then, the publisher (and the author) becomes responsible for preserving both the link and the destination as much as is practical. 

For Dr. Burin’s book, we used Harvard’s to archive the online sources that he referenced in his article, and converted the 350+ hyperlinks to rather tidy links. To make these links available to reader both online and offline we added endnotes throughout his chapter and these endnotes included both the original hyperlink and the link (unless we felt pretty good about the nature of the original hyperlink (e.g. wikipedia pages or very well established publishers whose sites tend to be resistant to this kind of archiving (like the failing New York Times)). For the casual reader, the mass of endnotes at the end of the chapter are a dense and probably incomprehensible block of web addresses.

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But for anyone looking to dig deeper into Dr. Burin’s arguments or who finds a dead hyperlink in his text, this material is vital to keeping the academic infrastructure of the work alive.

The use of hyperlinks to web resources embraces the dynamism of the ephemeral web and allowed Dr. Burin to build an argument from sources that appear and change as quickly as the situation. The use of endnotes and allowed us to create the kind of stability that would give such a 21st-century work persistent value as an interpretation of a situation as it unfolded. 

Publishing as a kind of hybrid process involves a tremendous amount of stress and work over rather short periods of time and echoes the kind of ebb-and-flow of the premodern work week documented by E.P. Thompson in his famous “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” (Past and Present 38 (1967)). Dr. Burin and I are already discussing a celebration (complete with craft beer, of course) at the conclusion of this hybrid project which will offer just the catharsis necessary for The Digital Press to gear up for the next book on the docket.  

Now, I have to get back to work!


Publishing Archaeology

Over the weekend, I read Amara Thorton’s Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL 2018). The book documents the efforts by late 19th and 20th century archaeologists to publish popular and accessible works on archaeology. She brings together these books with deep dives in the publishers’ and archaeologists’ archives and offers intriguing perspectives on how and why archaeologists worked with publishers to produce accessible, popular books that introduced the public to their sites, outlined the value of scientific practices, and allowed for more thoughtful tourism to the Eastern Mediterranean. 

More than that, it provided important insights into the professionalization of the discipline. Many of the characters of Thorton’s book were full-time, Mediterranean archaeologists who looked to popular publishing to fund their work both directly through the proceeds and by attracting subscribers to support their excavations. At the same time publishers recognized the potential audience for popular works on archaeology. An interest in archaeology paralleled the growing interest in travel and tourism among an expanding and literate middle class. The turn of the 20th century was also the start of a golden age of publishing in the UK where it was possible to produce, distribute, and sell low cost books. In short there existed the infrastructure, the audience and the motivation for popular works in archaeology. 

The book got me thinking about a few things as an archaeologist and a publisher. These are not meant to be critiques of the book, but rather reflections on whether the situation that Thorton documented in the early 20th century might have significance for 21st century academics. 

1. Popularizing Archaeology. Over the last decade, there has been more and more of a call for academics to produce popular works for the general public. While I’m not opposed to this idea, I’ve often thought that the recent pressure on academics – particularly in the humanities – to share their research in popular ways was out of step with the realities of academic work. For example, most academics do not have the time to pursue vigorously both research and popular writing. Both require more than just a casual commitment to the task to be successful. Secondly, producing high quality popular history or archaeology requires the commitment of publishers and editors to work with faculty to produce accessible works that will sell to audiences. Third, there has to be an audience for this work at a scale that is sustainable for the investment from publishers. Finally, such work needs to be institutionally incentivized because writing for the public will detract from our other responsibilities whether those are research or teaching or service.

Finally, and most importantly, calls for humanities scholars to be more engaged with the general public tend to overlook that full-time scholars in the humanities teach (or are in public facing positions at, say, museums or historical sites). In other words, we already make our work accessible on a daily basis to our students.

2. Funding the Future. It was particularly striking that relatively few of the authors in Thorton’s book had regular teaching positions. Some had research positions a museums or universities or other administrative posts to support their travels and work, but few had access to the resources that we have today. The motivation to publish for a popular audience was not, then, the recognition that the public deserved to understand the work of archaeologists, but rather often driven by financial necessity. With the rise of grant and institutionally funded research in the mid-20th century, the need to write for the public declined. 

In the 21st century, funding for research in archaeology and history looks to be an increasing challenge for academics. Not only are the number of tenure-track positions in decline (with their access both to institutional stability and the sustained investment in research), but research dollars from federal coffers (via the NEH and NSF, for example) increasingly scarce and competitive to acquire. On the one hand, this would appear to be the perfect opportunity for a new wave of popular archaeology to support research and scholarly writing. In fact, this kind of market-driven view of academic work seems to inform attitudes at the NEH and among university administrators. At its best, this would seem to suggest a more democratic approach to research.

On the other hand, this approach to funding research – or at least the view that accessibility should be a criteria for funding research – creates an arena where the market drives research as much as research questions and problems. Of course, this already occurs in the sciences, where applied research receives more funding than basic science, and that has shifted the character of university research. It would be intriguing (and to my mind, not entirely positive) to imagine how shifting attention to popular research in the humanities would shape the future discipline.

3. Possibilities of Publishing. Pushing academics to publish popular works may also require a shift in how publishing itself works. There are no lack of publishers looking to monetize the production of scholars and some of the more intriguing passages of Thorton’s work demonstrate that this was the case in the early 20th century as well. In fact, Thorton’s work shows a balance between books commissioned by publishers and works proposed by authors.

In the 21st century, it’s never been easier to publish popular works, but the audience for these works (and the competition to get them recognized) has never been more fierce. Getting a book recognized is harder than just producing good content, but also requires savvy advertising, careful attention to production, and getting access to institutional markets as well individual subscribers. As archaeology looks to the new ways of disseminating knowledge, publishing also goes beyond the traditional print media platforms to codex style books. As Thorton notes, the mid-20th century saw a number of cross media ventures which crossed from print-book popularity to radio and then television. The complexities of these markets in the 21st century – especially in the age of YouTube, streaming audio, podcasts, and social media – puts added pressure on publishers and popularizers to figure out how to get their work into the hands of an appreciative audience. An iconic book cover – like Penguin Books’ famous Pelican covers – isn’t enough (although it doesn’t hurt). 

All this other stuff – from design to marketing and promotion – represents investments of money, time, and expertise. Popular publishing requires more than academic will, but also investment from consumers and publishers needed to develop the infrastructure to accommodate and promote significant works across a range of media platforms. 

If Archaeologists in Print was written to describe popular archaeological publishing in the 21st century, it would be a very different book, even if some of the main contours of the discipline remained the same.



Books in Barcelona

Like most publishers, I really like books. It’s not just the content of books, but also their physical form, the indeterminacy of the medium in contemporary society, and design that draws me in. As readers of this blog likely realize, the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota takes seriously the work of book making whether it is circulated as a digital file or as a paperback. 

This past week, I got a chance to cruise through the La Setmana del Llibre en Català (The Week of the Book in Catalan) in Barcelona. Because I don’t really read Catalan, my experience wandering through the colorful displays was drawn to the design of the books on display (and in many cases, the shear number of offering available!)

I was particularly interested in the design of various book series. Such as these lightly designed pastel covers from Comanegra press.

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Or the distinctive blue and green covers of Angel Editorial’s translations.

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Or these more bold and assertive covers offered by Editorial Barcino (top) and Fonoll Edicions (below).

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The simple graphic elements of this series from Godall Edicions work for me.

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The simple designs used for Aida Edicions series of poetry are compelling:

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As are these from Edicions 62:

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Finally, the most compelling marketing strategy of the book fair was from the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes of the Catalunya Department of Culture. The had a wall of brightly colored stacks of postcard sized quotes from Catalan poets and invited folks to come and tear off quotes that spoke to them.

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Ballard in Barcelona

On the way to and from the European Association of Archaeologists annual meeting in Barcelona, I read two J.G. Ballard novels, The Drowned World (1962) and Hello America (1981). These works are part of Ballard’s fascination with a post-apocalyptic near future shaped by ecological catastrophes. Ballard set The Downed World in in an inundated and tropic London, largely submerged beneath rising sea levels created by the melting of the polar icecaps. Hello America describes a North American continent turned largely to desert on account of changing weather patterns formed by the Soviet damming of the Bering Sea. 

The novels are explicitly archaeology both in their setting and the structure of their plots. In fact, neither book offers much in the way of compelling dialogue or complex character development. (In fact, the characters in The Drowned World are mere sketches or exemplars of types who interact only through almost comically stilted dialogue). Their beauty and power comes from the way in which the characters interact with, perceive, and respond to their environment. This alone made them appropriate books to read on my way to an archaeological conference. 

Since I’m still processing the books (and have more Ballard to read over the next few months), I’ll offer a few observations here:

1. N-Transforms. Perhaps the most obvious aspect of the two novels is Ballard’s interest in the way in which nature shaped the man-made environment. Inundated London, overrun with massive mutated animals and insects haunting the upper stories of buildings that stand amid a silted series of lagoons. In Hello America, the Appalachian mountains and the great American desert had migrated eastward to clog the avenues and streets of an abandoned New York City with golden dunes. In both novels there’s a tension between the irresistible power of nature and the dogged persistence of the urban fabric. Improbably, two of the main characters in The Drowned World squat in penthouse apartments whose aging air conditioners and diesel powered electrical systems provide civilized shelter from the intense heat of the tropical day. The New York of Hello America is largely abandoned but for the occasional camel-riding migrants who move through the sparsely populated North America. The tropical Las Vegas, on the other hand, has been occupied and restored by an eccentric and mad genius who seeks to “make America great again.” 

The archaeologist in me feels like Ballard has an overly optimistic view of the persistence of modern building (and clothing) in the time of ecological disaster, but his view of saturated London is not far from that of Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140. Perhaps the foundations of this saturated landscape would survive the shifting silt and surging tides of the surrounding sea, but I’m skeptical. His desiccated New York, in contrast, is more believable, even if his tropical Las Vegas seems a bit too robust.

2. Futures. Analyzing the plausibility of Ballard’s landscapes, however, misses the point. Set against the backdrop of Barcelona, a city shaped by its own series of past futures (especially in the work of the turn-of-the-century Modernisme movement which remains strongly visible in the city’s urban core, Ballard’s landscapes remind us that our world is simply a series of compromised futures from the past. As an archaeologist who thinks a good bit about how the past bustles with competing and compromised possible futures which await our critique, analysis, interpretation, and ultimately spoliation, Ballard’s novels are deeply compelling. 

In Hello America, a powerful, sociopathic madman bunkered down in Las Vegas and claimed the title of President of the United State long after the political entity had ceased to exist. He revealed to his loyal followers that his goal was “to make America great again” and filled the skies with holographic projections meant to evoke the glories of the American past. Published in 1981, this seems beyond prescient and underscored just how fragile the line is between futures imagined and the present.

The overgrown skyline of London, in contrast, seems to recycle Barcelona’s Antonio Gaudí’s fin-de-siecle fascination with nature and natural forms in his architectural masterpieces. As any number of the museums dedicated to Gaudí’s work remind visitors, his use of natural forms in his architecture sought to make clear the organic relationship between humanity and the creator. The dense tropical landscape of inundated London represented a literal expression of the city as a “concrete jungle.” The work of humanity neither succumbs to nature nor erases it, but reveals that it is part of the same process. Flooded buildings become lairs for giant iguanas and caimans, they stabilize sandbars and reefs giving purchase to vegetation, and even shelter desperate individuals in their struggle to cling to civilization. There is no hint of the Anthropocene in either of the novels largely because Ballard has determined that humanities and nature cannot be separated.

3. Time. Of course, the relationship between the past and the future is temporal, but for Ballard, time doesn’t simply march forward. In uterine environment of The Drowned World, time regresses from the catastrophic Holocene to the miasmic mists of the Triassic. Time drags the characters in the novel along with it as they become driven by long suppressed instincts awaken by their changing environment. These are, of course, communicated in haunting dreams which create an overwhelming impulse to regress, retreat, and survive. In Hello America, the trip from the deserted east coast to the tropic Las Vegas represents a voyage from the tense civilization of an exploratory expedition sent to investigate seismic and radioactive events in abandoned North America to a depraved form of egalitarianism grounded in violence and survival.  

In archaeology, we assume that we can remove more recent deposits to reveal deeper layers of the past. For Ballard, though, the past isn’t just revealed by physically uncovering or restoring the abandoned remains of human civilization, but also by moving forward through it. In Hello America, two characters scuffle in the long-abandoned Oval Office over who could claim to be President of the United States after taking time to clear debris and tidy up in an attempt to restore it to its past significance. The future, however, is not the Oval Office, but deeper in the human past exposed during the trip across the deserted continent. The same is the case for The Drowned World in which time starts to regress and the characters are drawn inexplicably toward the south and the place of human origins.     

Check this out.



Workflows, Hybrids, and Design at The Digital Press

This weekend was largely turned over to work on two upcoming projects from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. When I first started the press, I swore that I keep things small, avoid having two projects in production at the same time, and build slowly. 

Last year, I broke that rule and this fall, it seems like I’m breaking the rule again. I’m in production with Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee project and with Patrick McCurdy and Ad Astra Comix on the expanded, digital version of The Beast. Fortunately, the projects are both super cool and they’re challenging me to refine my craft as a publisher, develop new workflows, and think more about the nature of books. 

The first challenge that I faced this weekend was publishing a series of essays on Colin Kaepernick originally written for the web. As a result, they had hyperlinks rather than traditional footnotes or in-text citation. The links were embedded in the text, which I received as a Microsoft Word file from the book’s editor, Eric Burin. Moreover, Burin was working on a massive introductory essay (that may well initiate the field of Kaepnerick Studies) that has over 400 embedded hyperlinks instead of traditional scholarly citation.

I had two concerns with these files. First, I needed to check and, wherever possible, stabilize the links by making them as persistent as is possible for the web. Second, I needed to make these links visible so that when the book appears in paper form someone can follow the citations back to the original source.


I devised a simple workflow to extract the URLs from the Word files. First, I converted the .docx format to markdown (.md) using the remarkable and powerful Pandoc. Then I opened the markdown versions of the documents in Word and used a little visual basic that I cribbed from the internet to convert all the URLs to hyperlinks:

Sub ConvertSelectedURLTextsToHyperlink()
  Word.Options.AutoFormatReplaceHyperlinks = True
End Sub

I could then select all the hyperlinks in the document and paste them into, where I have a professional account for The Digital Press. allows me to convert all the various URLs into stable and permanent URLs as a batch which it then outputs as a .csv file. 

Once I’ve dropped the original hyperlinked document into InDesign, I can swap out the original URLs in the document with the new stabilized version. There should be a way to automate this, but I don’t know how to do it. 

More significantly, I decided to insert the permanent URLs as both hyperlinks, for the digital version, and as footnotes for the print version. 

As a little aside, anyone with a serious interest in publishing, learn how to code. I wish I know how to automate parts of this process, but I simply don’t have the coding skillz necessary to do it!


Protesting on Bended Knee is a hybrid project that will appear in both print and digital forms. Things like hyperlinks present both a technical challenge for the paper version of the book, but also presents a challenge for how we engage with a text. Hyperlinks constantly tempt the reader to move beyond the linearity of the text and embrace the dynamism of textual meaning emerging from a series of relationships between words, sentences, and other texts. The book in contrast disciplines the reader to follow an argument, page-by-page, from from start to finish. From a technical standpoint, citations are still allude to the relationship between the text in a print book and other texts and the reader is still free to follow these connections, but the book does little to facilitate or encourage it. Instead, citations stand as a kind of infrastructure supporting the text, but also conveniently set to the margins of our vision. 

My current compromise is to include the, persistent links in footnotes, but to eschew formal citation. This isn’t ideal, in that these links lack the legibility and transparency of formal footnotes, but they at least point the reader to places where the text has been linked in a conventional way. I guess this is the think with hybrids. They reflect the instability of their form and refuse to map easily onto their constituent parts.  

In the end, this is what the pages of Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee look like. 

Protesting CoreyWilliams copy


If you’ve been following my work on Protesting on Bended Knee, you’ll know that I’ve already messed about with designing the book. I got some feedback from Chris Olsen our graphic designer and tried to give the page a bit more of a contemporary look with more white space. I’m not sure that the updated design is a cool as the one that Chris proposed, but maybe it’s getting there? I wanted to retain a certain house style for this book, but not at the expense of making the book look good.

Designing the expanded content for The Beast is a good bit more fun in some ways. First, the book will only be digital. So I felt less pressure to produce a functionally hybrid text. More importantly, though, I can try to play a bit with making sure that the book looks good in digital form. I’ve decided to use a sans serif font that looks good on screen. I also played a bit more with the graphic element of the book because I don’t have to worry about how the headings will look when printed. At the same time, I did maintain the page as the basic unit for engaging the text largely because The Beast itself, the comic, is paginated and it makes sense for the essays to follow this form as well to lend cohesion to the book.

This is my page for The Beast. I quite like it.

0Conway TheBeast copy


The Grass Kings

A couple of weeks ago, Kostis Kourelis sent me the first volume of Grass Kings, a comic book by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins. The comic tells the story of a the Grass Kingdom an independent trailer park situated on a lake somewhere in the heartland. The Kingdom is ruled by the troubled character Robert and his brother, Bruce, who also serves as the Kingdom’s sherif. Surrounding these two is a cast of distinctive characters rendered in a frenetic style rich in muted gold, brown, grey, and blue.

The Grass Kingdom itself has all the features of a neglected prairie town: an elevator, a quonset hut hanger for crop dusters, a water tower, some ponds for livestock, lots for mobile homes, and a number of wood-framed houses. It lacks the tidy grid of a settlement on the North Dakota prairie, but the nearby lake might have shaped the town site or the violent history of activity in the area, which the authors flashback to throughout the work, incised the landscape with an unavoidable structure.

It is hard to avoid a comparison to one of the sites we documented in the North Dakota Man Camp Project. The Grass Kingdom certainly echoed the tangled paths between RVs that defied the neat prairie grid of Wheelock, North Dakota. In fact, one of the characters in Wheelock declared himself the mayor, even though there wasn’t an official municipal government or even much of a town to speak of. Demonstrating an ingenuity that seeps through the panels of the Grass Kings, the mayor’s RV park featured his homemade sewage and water systems. Like the Grass King’s Robert, who charges through the mayhem of a police raid to secure the water tower, the mayor of Wheelock understood that water (and sewage) is the stuff of life and community.  

The dominant theme of the first volume of Grass Kings (and I’d argue our experiences in the Bakken) is freedom. But the freedom afforded by the Grass Kingdom comes a the price of violence. Kindt’s and Jenkins’s historic flashbacks remind us that over the millennia the Grass Kingdom was secured through violence, and the violent scenes that seem to define the efforts of the Grass Kings to preserve their freedom seem less like a necessary response to an intrusive and unsympathetic outside world and more like a basic requirement of being free. The corruption of the sherif from the nearby town of Cargill presents an uneasy parallel to Robert’s troubled past and the haunting specter of unsolved murders and disappearances in the Grass Kingdom hints that freedom also involves a tolerance for mysteries and allowing a community to remember or forget its own past.

I won’t spoil the book, but do check it out. The art, the story, and the setting made it an addictive read at the end of my summer.