More Books by the Cover from The Digital Press

This summer, I’m doing a bit of design work for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota as we prepare for a very busy fall.

We’re eagerly anticipating the publication of the Dakota Datebook in book form. For those of you who aren’t from North Dakota, Dakota Datebook is a beloved Prairie Public Radio program that offers short interesting (and often fun) stories about North Dakota history on a daily basis. Over the past decade, Prairie Public Radio has produced and broadcast over 3000 of these 300-500 word stories. The students in David Haeselin’s Writing, Editing, and Publishing class selected 365 of the best for the book. 

For the cover, which is not final, of course, we partnered with North Dakota artist Jessie Thorson who provided the menagerie of character for the calendar set into the outline of North Dakota. The bold color bars combine the shade of blue used by Prairie Public and the yellow from the North Dakota state flag. The font is the ubiquitous “ChunkFive”. 

Dakota Datebook WRC Draft2 01 01

The second book cover that I’ve been working on is for a new book of essays by the Electric Archaeologist, Shawn Graham. It’s titled Failing Gloriously, and we wanted a cover that was both uncluttered, a bit playful, and makes reference to the digital aspect of his work. Here’s the first draft:

Failing Gloriously Cover Draft 1 01

More on these two books (and their covers!) as we move forward this summer. The Digital Press is looking forward to an exciting fall!

Summer Reading List

It’s almost summer and my stack of books and stalled projects has grown to the point of being embarrassing. But each summer brings a bit of hope with, maybe, a bit more time and a bit more clarity of purpose, or at very least some long flights and hazy jet-lagged nights where reading can happen.

To add a bit to the difficulty level this summer, I managed to break my glasses yesterday and leave for the Mediterranean on Wednesday armed with a pair of “store boughten” reading glasses that makes everything a bit more consistently blurry.

It’s an exciting time to consider my annual summer reading list.  

You can check out my past reading lists here:  2018, 20172016201520142013, and 2011. I try to go back and re-read them each year to keep from feeling a sense of accomplishment at the end of a long semester. Reinforcing inferiority and failure is a key element to scholarly productivity.

This summer, my top priority is writing and databasing. Reading is secondary, but I do have a paper in the fall that deals with Cyprus and insularity. I need to think more about what it means to work on an island. This has pushed me read Anna Kouremenos recent edited volume: Insularity and Identity in the Roman Mediterranean  (2018). I also need to check out Constantakopoulou’s Dance of the Islands: Insularity, Networks, the Athenian Empire, and the Aegean world (2007), Paul Rainbird, The Archaeology of Islands (2007), James Conolly and Matthew Campbell, Comparative Island Archaeologies (2008), Thansis Vionis, A Crusader, Ottoman, and Early Modern Aegean Archaeology (2012),  Helen Dawson’s Mediterranean Voyages: The Archaeology of Island Colonization and Abandonment (2013), Jane Francis and Anna Kouremenos’ Roman Crete: New Perspectives (2016). I’m sure there is more.

Dimitri Nakassis has nudged me to think about landscapes in a different way in the run up to our field season on WARP and on his recommendation I’ve grabbed a copy of David Hinton’s Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape (2012). It’s also got me thinking a bit about drones and dronoscopy and seeing the landscape from above (with a hat tip to conversations that I had at the EAA’s with Becky Sefried!).  I’ll try to read Caren Kaplan’s Aerial Aftermaths: Wartime from Above (2018) and the book that she co-edited with Lisa Parks, Life in the Age of Drone Warfare (2017). 

[As an aside, Duke University Press and the University of Minnesota Press are just killing it right now!] 

I also know that I need to keep thinking a bit about what I do as editor of North Dakota Quarterly and at The Digital Press. Last year I started but didn’t finish Peter Ginna’s What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing (2017) and this year,  a copy of Benjamin Dreyer’s Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (2019). I still need to finish Joy Williams’ The Changeling (1978), and since she appears in the next issue of NDQ, it seems like a good time to try to do that. I also got a copies of Kiese Laymon’s Heavy: An American Memoire (2018) and Long Division: A Novel (2013) because I was really struck by him at the 2019 UND Writers Conference

Along similar lines (with another hat tip to the UND Writers Conference), this spring, I read Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019) while listening to Sun-Ra and some more recent Afrofuturist space jazz (The Comet is Coming’s latest, for example) convinced me to get some Octavia Butler, particularly the Xenogenesis trilogy, collected as Lilith’s Brood, and her Patternist series collected as Seeds to Harvest.

There are some other odds and ends that I’ll work through this summer, I’m sure. Some of it will invariably chasing this or that footnote; some of it will be what passes for fun these days; some of it will be a flailing effort to think more critically about what I do as a teacher and a scholar. 

In the end, if I read 25% of these books, I’ll have done something. I probably won’t manage to do even that (as a gaggle of J.G. Ballard and Ursula K. LeGuin novels stare at me from lists of reading past). Maybe making the list public will keep me humble, though, and remind me that for every book I intend to read there are three or four more than I really should read instead.  



New Directions in Cypriot Archaeology

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks hanging out with Catherine Kearns’s and Sturt Manning’s new edited volume, New Directions in Cypriot Archaeology (2019). It’s a pretty interesting read and was a good way to start thinking in a more sustained way about the archaeology of Cyprus in the run up to a summer study season at Polis. 

The volume derived from a conference in 2014 and, as a result, the papers are not on the bleeding edge of archaeological research. In some ways, this is a good thing. The editors assert that recent trends in Cypriot archaeology follow three registers: efforts to rework established chronologies, an interest in archaeometric techniques that range from the petrographic and chemical analysis of ceramics to remote sensing, and new ways to think about landscapes and space on the island. For better or for worse, there is relatively little discussion of our disciplines current interest in assemblages, agency, symmetry, and materiality. Most of the contributions to the book are unapologetically processual (with one or two exception). 

The book also focuses almost exclusively on the heart of Cypriot archaeology: the Bronze and Iron Age. When the authors talk about the diachronic, they mean the relationship between the Bronze and Iron Age. That being said, the most historically productive discussions of the archaeology of Cyprus have tended to focus on the earlier periods and most of the issues that the authors in this volume consider can be applied to later periods in various ways. In fact, I joked on Twitter that replacing the word “Cypriot” in the tripartite Bronze Age chronology of the island with the word “Roman” (e.g. the Middle Cypriot III-Late Cypriot I transition can be the Middle Roman III to Late Roman I transition) is an amusing and not entirely frivolous exercise. So many of the basic issues of continuity, change, and periodization exist across the entire history of the island. More than that, the long shadow of Evans’ and Blegen’s tripartite chronologies, shapes how we define essential elements of each period in Cypriot (and broader Mediterranean) archaeology. Plus, I can’t stop fantasizing about how an audience might react to a paper that calmly uses the unfamiliar, yet recognizable periodization scheme to discuss the transition from the Middle Roman IIIC to Late Roman I period at the site of Polis on Cyprus. It would be really fun to do.

Finally, the book nudged me to think more about what constitutes an archaeology of Cyprus for later periods. I’m scheduled to give a paper at Dumbarton Oaks in the fall at a conference on the “insular world of Byzantium” that will have to consider what makes Cyprus just like any other island in the Eastern Mediterranean and what makes it distinct. Like it’s neighbor Crete, the archaeology of Cyprus has its own history of practice, theoretical predilections, and priorities and these have – as any number of archaeologists have acknowledged – shaped the study of all periods. Moreover, scholars like Sturt Manning, Hector Catling, Michael Given, Maria Hadjicostii, and many others have shown a willingness to work across multiple periods on the island ensuring that ideas, questions, and frameworks from one period cross pollinate with others. A moderately ambitious scholars can keep up with scholarship from almost every period on Cyprus, even if some of the finer points of the discussion remain obscure or difficult to grasp. 

I admit to getting a bit lost in the details of the individual contributions to the book, but a few themes stood out as significant for how we think about any period in the archaeology of the island. I found the keynote paper by David Frankel and the two contributions from the editors the most useful for thinking diachronically about the archaeology of Cyprus. I took three things away from the book:

First, we need to continue to work to establish tighter and more nuanced chronologies for assemblages, if we want to understand the complexities of change and community identity on the island. In most cases, this means getting a better grasp on ceramic forms and fabrics and unpacking the relationship between these various forms within assemblages across the island. These ceramic assemblages need also to be correlated with architectural forms, settlement types, and other artifacts, which have their own distinct temporal and chronological characteristics. This is challenging work at the level of a single site, but renewed attention to the kinds of typologies and the character of assemblages offers significance at an island-wide scale.  

Second, understanding the ancient climate of Cyprus in a more nuanced way is essential to understanding the organization of space and change across the island. Sturt Manning’s contribution complicates the notion of Cyprus as a wealthy and “blessed island” which is often projected back from the Roman period into prehistory. Using contemporary and historic climate data he was able to show that rainfall across the island varied widely and the agricultural potential of the island in antiquity varied from year to year. Strategies to endure dry years and to maximize access to more consistent water sources shaped settlement and the organization communities.

Finally, Catherine Kearns contribution on the environment and ecology of Cyprus over time has pushed me to think about the variables that led to settlement at our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria as well as changes to the urban fabric at Polis. While Kearns does not explicitly discuss post-Iron Age Cyprus, her approach to understanding how access to resources, resilience, and climate intersect has widespread applicability on Cyprus particular when mapped atop landscapes shaped by monumental investment, historical memory, and extra-insular resources provided by trade routes, neighboring communities, or state functions. While these latter characteristics of the Mediterranean landscape have tended to take precedence in scholarship on historic periods (although not always), the data necessary to develop more dynamic models of settlement across the island and region have become increasingly available. 

As an archaeologists who tends to think of both Cyprus and landscapes in a fairly traditional way, New Directions in Cypriot Archaeology offers a useful primer for current trends in the field. There is no doubt that future research on the island, for all periods, will develop with a more expansive methods and more complex theoretical and scientific toolkit. These new directions will invariably produce a more nuanced and dynamic landscape and a more collaborative and specialized archaeological practice as well.

As a random aside, the book is published by Cornell University Press which is celebrating its 150th birthday this year. I love their commemorative logo which is on the back of this book. You can check it out here on the front cover of their Spring/Summer 2019 catalogue


Late Antique and Byzantine Anatolia

Last week I worked my way through John Haldon, Hugh Elton, James Newhard, Archaeology and Urban Settlement in Late Roman and Byzantine Anatolia: Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü and its Environment (Cambridge 2018) in preparation for my annual trek to the Eastern Mediterranean for field work. As the major field seasons for the survey phase of the Western Argolid Regional Project have concluded, we have begun to think more about what we need to do to publish our results. While I have tended to focus on the sherds on the ground (and in the project’s GIS), Haldon et al. reminded me that there was much more than just field data to producing a significant regional study. 

I don’t really write reviews here, but here are four or five thoughts on the book:

1. Low Density and Limited Collection. The area around Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü produced very few sherds and even fewer that were diagnostic. Moreover, they could only collect sherds from the Roman period and later, and this created a particularly challenging relationship between their study assemblages and the distribution of material on the ground. James Newhard’s clever methods for smoothing ceramic densities over different sized units, different surface conditions, and different visibilities provided a foundation for interpreting the assemblages collected and studied from the survey area. 

A bit less clear was the relationship between these artifact densities and the kinds of sites that the project asserted existed in the landscape. It was a bit hard to understand the difference between an independent structure, house, farmstead, and watchtower, for example, in the text itself, but the detailed discussion of these functional categories appeared in a later appendix. I’m still not entirely sold on this method of creating sites, but there is something compelling about the complexity of the historical, landscape, and archaeological variables considered in site definition.    

2. Climate and the Environment. I tend to look at the surface and artifacts when I think about archaeology. In a pinch, I’ll think about a building or a strata. I rarely step far enough away from the artifactual landscape to think clearly about the environment and climate as important factors in understanding how people in the past lived in their world. This is obviously a blind spot in my research focus, and as I extend my interests into more recent periods, the pressing realities of climate change, for example, and our adaptation to the changing environment in the last 50 years, has nudged me to expand how I think about the archaeological universes that I study.

Archaeology and Urban Settlement demonstrated the potential of a careful study of the ancient environment at a regional scale for understanding the development of settlement, agriculture, and land use in their region. Interestingly, their study area had rather few opportunities for sampling pollen or other scientific approaches to studying paleoenvironmental variable. Nevertheless, the team was able to draw one evidence from Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern texts as well as modern agricultural and climate date to model the ancient environment in useful ways. They demonstrated that the landscape around Avkat was not unproductive, but as relatively marginal in antiquity as it was in the 21st century with most communities surviving on the cultivation of cereals and pastoralism. Climate change appears to be just one of the variable that shaped changes in agricultural practice, settlement and life in the area. 

3. Roads and Routes. In the Western Argolid, we think constantly about roads and routes through our survey area. In fact, travel through the Inachos valley and its relationship both to neighboring Arcadia and Corinthia as well as the Argive plain to the east, was part of the original plan for the survey project from the onset. So far, we’ve written a few papers that attempted to understand settlement and movement in our landscape and have thought about the relationship between water, routes, bridges, and churches. In general, we have not used least-cost path kinds of analysis, in part because we have some ethnographic and archaeological information on movement through the valley, and in part, because the flat or gently sloping Inachos River valley bottom exerts a strong pull on any path through the area. As a result, we’ve leaned a bit more heavily on cultural factors on movement through the valley, and considered the ways and reasons for which known routes defy least-cost expectations to avoid crops and fields, to follow the line of an aqueduct, or to pass close or far from settlements.

 Archaeology and Urban Settlement does a nice job integrating historical and topographic information into mapping movement in their survey area. This not only provides context for the relationship between sites and routes, but also demonstrates the tension between persistent major routes that shaped the significance of major settlements in the region and the dynamism of smaller routes that linked settlements to their fields or rural sites to other rural sites. While such temporal variability across the landscape is hardly surprising, it is worth noting the trans regional movement on major routes likely represented a less common and regular kind of movement in a landscape. The permeability of the countryside, in contrast, might have reflected myriad, changing smaller routes that accommodated more regular traffic on a daily basis. 

4. Foodways and Ceramics. One of the more intriguing sections of the volume was Joanita Vroom’s chapter of Byzantine foodways and ceramics. Because the local ceramic typologies were relatively poorly know, it was rather difficult to identify and date the surface assemblages. Rather than create an unmoored typology or speculate too wildly on potential economic or social links between the ceramics present in the survey area and potential production sites, Vroom focused on the evidence for Byzantine foodways in the region. By compiling evidence for food, trade, and the related vessels need to provide sustenance to communities who lived in the region.

On the one hand, there is little that is specifically related to the region around Avkat, but, on the other hand, her chapter continued her effort to redefine the study of ceramics from the vessels themselves to their role in the everyday life of Late Roman and Byzantine communities. When this attention to foodways intersects with routes through the area, paleoclimate studies, and agricultural history and ethnoarchaeology, and, of course, excavated and survey ceramics, I can imagine an opportunity to connect the broadly general with the individual at the scale of the landscape, and this is an exciting proposition. 

5. Publishing Data. One particularly intriguing element of the book is that most of the maps and many images were published digitally via Open Context rather than printed in the book itself. This is useful for the digital book, where, if you’re on wifi, the image is just a click away. I was reading on my iPad, on a flight, so I lost a bit of that convenience, but back at my laptop everything worked fine. I imagine that for a reader of the paper book, this would be a bit more inconvenient. 

More promising still is the prospect that the project will publish its full datasets on Open Context in the future.  


Politics of Mass Digitization

This weekend I read and really enjoyed Nanna Bonde Thylstrup’s The Politics of Mass Digitization (2018). The book considered the approaches, implications, and politics behind the early 21st century move to mass digitization. Thylstrup unpacks the responses, for example, to Google Books from the European Union and their Europeana portal or platform to the various shadow libraries that emerged to provide access to collections overlooked or paywalled by conventional digitization schemes. It is a sophisticated, but accessible primer to the main issues surrounding mass digitization from a range of perspectives and theoretical paradigms. It’s good.

As someone who has thought a good bit about digitization in archaeology – although certainly not at the scale of Google Books, for example – and is alternately drawn to the potential of large scale digital collections and worried about the ways in which these collections tie archaeologists to ways of thinking, working, and interpreting, the book offers some useful observations. 

There are four that I found especially compelling:

1. Assemblages. Thylstrup emphasizes that the work of digitization is far more than simply a technical challenge or even economic or legal one. Instead, a wide range of pressures, technologies, systems, social expectations, rules, governments, and objects interact to shape mass digitization projects. This cautions us from reading mass digitization as simply a technical challenge that must be overcome or a set of legal or political challenges that will invariably give way to progress. It was particularly interesting to understand how various project – particularly the European, Europeana project – situated itself as a response to Google Books – and, as a result, showed the imprint of this formation on how it sought to preserve and disseminate European culture. At the same time, different European copyright laws, priorities, and the organization of cultural institutions, also gave Europeana a distinct character.   

2. Standardization. Anyone who has read this blog knows that standardization is something that has fascinated me over the last few years. The need to prepare archaeological data in such a way to make it susceptible to linked open data standards, for example, links standardization of data with certain expectations of use. Thylstrup noted that the need to standardize data in mass digitization, however, resisted the rigidity of the Fordist assembly line and instead promoted interoperability. This interoperability promoted the “free range of actions” and “innovation” that are so central to neoliberal ways of thinking. In other words, standardization is a method of displacing and decontextualizing information that allows for it to exist within a world that values the flexibility of use and reuse over the restrictive notions of context. This has obvious relevance for archaeology as it seeks to leverage both the potential of largescale linked datasets and the tradition of provenience and context.  

3. Labyrinths, Flaneurs, and Serendipity. One of the more intriguing sections of the book considers the models of discovery present in mass digitization projects. In particular, Thylstrup considers the the social context for serendipitous discover or the leisurely and unstructured encounter of the flaneur who invariably is a white, able-bodied, male. The labyrinth, in contrast, speaks to intimidating character of the digitized and seemingly infinite library that always is expanding. The need for the ambivalent figure of the disinterested flaneur to tame the terror of the always expanding labyrinth presents a compelling counterpoint to the economic and cultural imperative for standardization and the need to create digital objects that can freely mingle in the service of innovation. This is a subtle but fascinating critique that suggests that the very structure of the digital world serves to simultaneously intimidate and liberate, to make information useful and to promote serendipity, and to ultimate to reinscribe the control within a new space of digital encounters.

For an archaeologist, this reality should give us pause. After all, the importance of context and structure to the archaeological encounter motivates most of the fundamental positions in disciplinary ethics from the need to maintain and preserve an archive to our understanding of repatriation and provenience. By presenting data as both susceptible to the unconstrained ambivalence of the flaneur as well as the structured world of fragmented data, we’re creating a tension that challenges some of the basic professional expectations of our work.       

4. The Politics of the Digital World. Finally, Thylstrup’s work emphasizes in both the micro and macro level the role of politics in shaping mass digitization projects. While there is always as risk (as she herself notes) of using the word politics so broadly to undermine its very meaning, by recognizing the political character of the assemblages responsible for our digital repositories, she offers a useful lens through which to consider the power relations that even the most utopian mass digitization projects create and reinforce. 

This reminder that our digital world is fundamentally political is not new, but its always a useful reminder in an age where it becomes so easy to use and celebrate the potential of digital tools and data without much critique.

Four Articles and a Book

I’ve been writing and reading intermittently over the last month trying to get a basic draft of my introduction done on an unrealistic schedule and with delusional expectations on its quality. Who writes the introduction first anyway? Fools, that’s who.

One nice thing is that I’ve had a chance to read some new stuff and go back and read some old stuff. Here are five things that I’ve read lately:

An Archaeology of the Contemporary Era by Alfredo González-Ruibal. This new book is brilliant and provocative and considers both contemporaneity as a framework to understand the very recent past and the longer arc of modernity. The topical chapters are rich with case studies and demonstrate the genuinely global scope of the archaeology of the recent past. They also support a political agenda that will be familiar to anyone who knows González-Ruibal’s other writings. Apparently the book was originally sub-titled “the age of destruction” and the archaeological critique of neoliberalism and capitalism is prominent and compelling throughout.

Colleen Morgan and Daniel Eddisford’s brand new “Single Context Archaeology as Anarchist Praxis,” in the newest Journal of Contemporary Archaeology is among those articles that I wish I had written (or at very least READ) two or three years ago. They argue that single context archaeology, far from being the neoliberal culmination of uberified (uberized?) archaeology where every archaeologist is their own boss as long as they keep on time, on task, and within the standards set by management (and the all-seeing, all-knowing discipline) and more an expression of anarchist praxis bringing together aspects of craft, Bakunin’s articulation of authority within anarchism, and years of practical experience. It’s good and thought provoking and important.

Paul Mullin’s “Imagining Conformity: Consumption and Homogeneity in the Postwar African American Suburbs,” which appeared last year in Historical Archaeology (2017). is a remarkably vivid discussion African American suburbanization in Indianapolis in the postwar period. It is based on the careful study of existing evidence – largely from published sources and oral history – for African American suburbs and consumer culture. Because of various policies at the local and national level, suburbs in the 1940s experienced strict racially segregation. In the end, he argues that African Americans did not see their move to the suburbs as an expression of black resistance or as a way to challenge white privilege. In fact, they behaved in much the same way as their white counterparts in white suburbs. The expectation that they should aspire to suburban homeownership and conform to certain standards of display and behavior that constituted a kind of “quiet homogeneity rather than expressive individuality.” In other words, African American suburbs demonstrated the same elements of conformity that characterized white suburbs.

For various reasons, I re-read Shannon Lee Dawdy’s “Clockpunk Anthropology and
the Ruins of Modernity” which was published in Current Anthropology in 2010. This is an article that I read as soon as it appeared. It appealed to my interest in punk archaeology and juxtaposition of different times within the clock punk or steampunk genre of science fiction writing. Reading it again after a few years was an uncanny business and resulted in me underlining everything. The most interesting observations, however, are similar to those in both González-Ruibal’s book and Dawdy’s book Patina. An archaeology of the modern world involves recognizing the past in the present and the deeply anti-modern currents present in our contemporary world. The presence and celebration of urban ruins, for example, and the pressure to erase them or designated them as blighted, demonstrates the ongoing tension between aspirations toward progress and social projects that exist outside of capitalism and modernity. 

Finally, just this week, I discovered Dan Hicks’ monumental chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies (2010), “The Material-Cultural Turn: Event and Effect.” It’s sweeping, it is exhaustive (if a bit dated now), and it’s really smart. More than that, it includes over 100 pages of bibliography and appears to cite every major work in material culture studies, historical archaeology, and archaeology of the contemporary world. I haven’t had the document closed on my laptop since I grabbed it from a couple of weeks ago. If you want to know where the material turn came from, this is the place to go.  

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.