New Book Day: The Library of Chester Fritz

It’s homecoming week at UND and we have a homecoming themed book for New Book Day! It’s the first book in what should be a pretty exciting 2022/2023 publishing season!


Brian R. Urlacher’s, The Library of Chester Fritz, is the first novel published by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, but is very much in keeping with our focus on the history of the state, our campus, and the region’s remarkable characters.

More importantly (especially to anyone without a real connection to North Dakota or UND), the book is a good story. Urlacher’s novel weaves his story into the real journals of Chester Fritz to produce chimerical narrative where Fritz’s words, Urlacher’s story, and the landscape of early 20th century China combine to create a world where the line between truth and fiction is so blurry as to be almost indistinguishable.

If that sounds pretty cool to you, you can download the book for FREE from The Digital Press website or buy it for the low, low price of $7 from Amazon. Remember being a paperback copy offers more than just the fine sensation of holding a paper book in you hand, but also supports The Digital Press’s mission to publish more open access books in the future!

If you’re still on the fence as to whether to download a free book, I offer a slightly more dramatic version of the book’s plot below:

Fate has entangled a library, a businessman, and the future of humanity. A trail of documents left behind by an eccentric businessman, traveler, and philanthropist Chester Fritz is the only way to understand the urgent danger. This book brings together Chester Fritz’s journals and follows his travels through war torn China and his ascent to the heights of global capitalism.

As World War II plunges the world into chaos, Fritz and his traveling companions wrestle with what to do and what forces are too dangerous or too dark for humanity to wield. But something must be done, and the decision will fall to Chester Fritz.

Thank you, as always, for supporting The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and, if you like this title, do share your enthusiasm over twitter (@digitalpressund) or Facebook.

If you don’t like this title, that’s ok! It was FREE. And I’m pretty sure we’ll publish something that you DO like later in 2022-2023 season!

The formal press release is below and you can download the book’s full media kit here.


Time is Running Out!

The Chester Fritz Library holds the secret of its mysterious donor and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Anyone who has spent time on the University of North Dakota’s campus knows it to be an enchanted place. A new novel takes this feeling to the next level.

The Library of Chester Fritz, is the debut novel by Professor of Political Science, Brian R. Ulacher. This daring and imaginative work hints that the power of the UND campus might go far beyond its well-kept gardens and collegiate Gothic architecture. Urlacher’s novel traces the travels of former UND student and benefactor, Chester Fritz, through early 20th-century China and speculates that his experiences on this journey introduced him to a powerful, and dangerous, secret.

Chester Fritz’s journal a version of which was published by the University of North Dakota Press in the 1980s and describes his work and travels in China prior to World War II. Fritz was born in Buxton, North Dakota and attended UND before heading to the West Coast and then abroad to make his fortune. In 1950 and 1969, Fritz made sizeable donations to UND which funded the library and auditorium that bear his name. Urlacher built from this manuscript and developed his story in a way that integrates seamlessly with Fritz’s own words. The result is a chimerical narrative where Fritz’s words, Urlacher’s story, and the landscape of early 20th century China combine to create a world where the line between truth and fiction is so blurry as to be almost indistinguishable.

Urlacher points out that Fritz’s journals themselves offer more than enough fodder for the imagination. He said, “I’m fascinated and frankly perplexed by Fritz’s choice to travel across China in 1917. He was utterly unprepared when he set his course through the heart of a civil war in which warlords, bandits, and crusader armies vied for every inch of territory.”

In Urlacher’s novel, Fritz’s mysterious experiences abroad become entangled with his monumental library at the heart of the UND campus. Urlacher explains that he was inspired by the Chester Fritz Library: “I’ve spent a lot of time just wandering among the stacks. I’m not sure if other people experience this, but I get a static tingle in libraries. Something about massing books, each representing a lifetime’s worth of experience, in such close proximity is powerful. There are so many stories about books being more than just pages, and libraries being more than just buildings. When I sat down to start world building, there was never a question of where to anchor the story. It had to be the Chester Fritz Library.”

Urlacher noted that something of Chester Fritz’s spirit lingers on our campus, observing, “Fritz had this unshakable optimism, and it comes through in his journal. He writes with an understated North Dakota humor, which is makes for very charming prose.”

Like all books from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, The Library of Chester Fritz is available as a free download or as a paperback book from


More Pseudoarchaeology

As readers of this blog know (perhaps too well), I’ve been slowly exploring the topic of pseudoarchaeology over the last couple of years (here and here are links to most recent posts). Recently, I’ve explored the concept of an anti-racist pseudoarchaeology that rejects narratives infused with white supremacy and colonialism and amplifies anti-colonial and Black voices. This is both a move to challenge dominant narratives that seek to white-wash pseudoarchaeology and to celebrate the long tradition of alternative archaeologies that mark out the intersection of indigenous knowledge, popular perspectives on the past, and disciplinary archaeology.

With this as a preamble, I was really thrilled this weekend to read the newest edition of Pauline Hopkins’s “Radium Age” science fiction, pseudoarchaeology classic Of One Blood. The introduction of Minister Faust is well worth the modest price of this edition from MIT Press. And I look forward to the usual suspects blogging, Tweeting, and dissecting this book!

The story is a familiar one. The main character, Reuel Briggs, is a Black man passing as white at Harvard Medical School. His deep sense of alienation and depression belied his brilliant medical studies which combined conventional medicine with spiritualism, the occult, and mesmerism. A miraculous intervention by Reuel’s saved the life of a beautiful young woman, Dianthe Lusk, with whom he falls in love and marries. Despite his growing fame of a doctor, Reuel’s lack of wealth led him to despair of his ability to support his young bride. Reuel’s wealthy friend, Aubrey Livingston, took an interest in both Briggs’s predicament and his new wife, and arranges a lucrative opportunity for Reuel to travel to Ethiopia as the doctor on an archaeological expedition.  

While in Ethiopia, Livingstone feigns his own and Dianthe’s death and sneaks off to his ancestral home in Maryland with her. At the same time, Reuel discovers the secret city of Telassar hidden among the ruins of ancient Meroe on the Nile. This hidden city has survived for thousands of years with only limited and deliberate contact with the outside world and had consequently escaped the depredations of colonialism and racism. In the city, Reuel find that he is, in fact, the city’s long-anticipated ruler and he ascends to the throne as King Ergamenes and marries the queen (appropriately named Candace). The advanced spiritualism and technology of Telassar, however, soon reveal to him that Dianthe is still alive and he leaves the city bent on saving her from his former friend’s clutches. Meanwhile, Dianthe meets with a former slave of the Livingston family who tells Dianthe that not only is she Reuel’s sister, but she is the half-sister of Aubrey Livingston. This discovery drives her to try to poison Aubrey while Reuel rushes to save her from the other side of the globe… 

The novel hits upon a number of key themes in pseudoarchaeology:

There’s a hidden city whose residents had both technological and spiritual powers that far exceeded contemporary society. While readers seem tempted to compare Telassar to Wakanda from the Black Panther comics (and films). Wakanda, however, is a more conventional resource state which draws upon its supply of vibranium (which itself derives from a meteorite) for both its technology and its citizens’ super human powers. Thus Wakanda follows a more conventional narrative that connects Wakanda’s ability to escape and resist colonization to its access to resources (and perhaps more nefariously, its connection to extraterrestrial power). In short, Wakanda’s independence is more like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia than Telassar’s more mystical autonomy which stems from its ancient connections to the ancient wisdom of various African and Near Eastern people: the Chaldeans, Nubians, Egyptians, and Ethiopians. 

Conventional archaeological practices did not provide the expedition with access to the hidden city. Reuel discovered it quite by accident (or through the complicity of the political leaders of Telassar who abducted him as he wandered the ruins of Meroe). The expedition came to Meroe looking for treasure. The archaeologist (the professor!) learned of this treasure and the various traps that protected it from a map acquired from an individual with intense local knowledge rather than rigorous scientific prospecting or conventional academic knowledge. Thus Reuel’s appearance at the site relied upon both indigenous knowledge and a spiritual awareness derived from his royal bloodline.

Another thread common to Black pseudoarchaeology is Reuel’s ignorance of both his own royal bloodline and his family connections to Dianthe (and indeed Aubrey). The existence of a hidden city that had escaped the colonial conquest of Africa depends, in part, on the historical continuity (as well as the loss of family and ethnic ties) introduced by the Middle Passage and exacerbated by the inhumane disruptions to the family life of enslaved Blacks. In this context, pseudoarchaeology — in various forms — served as a way to reconstruct relationships between the global Black diaspora community and the African society. Reuel’s rediscovery of his royal blood (and his sister Dianthe) allowed him to resolve his own sense of alienation by reconnecting with both his family and his ethnic and political community in Africa.

The important role that spiritualism, mysticism, and occult practices played in Reuel’s reconnection with his African heritage and family finds parallels with both the turn of the century mysticism of individuals such as Edgar Cayce (whose works appear, for example, in Sun Ra’s library and) whose unorthodox interpretations of the Atlantis myth and the Sphinx contributed to his overtly racist theories of polygenism. At the same time, spiritual approaches to knowing the past appear across a wide range of modern indigenous and “popular” practices ranging from Angelos Tanagras’s parapsychology (and dream archaeology) in Greece, to the Ghost Dance among Native Americans, and the prophetic and messianic elements of Nation of Islam and Rastafarianism (and observation made my Minister Faust in his thought-provoking preface to the MIT version of Of One Blood).  

In this broader context, then, pseudoarchaeology demonstrated its capacity to undercut the colonial roots of disciplinary archaeological practices and connect alienated communities to meaningful pasts. As the cultural, scientific, and spiritual aspects of Telassar demonstrate, the power of pseudoarchaeological discoveries is that they disrupt arguments for the modern, linear expectations of social, political, economic, and cultural development. To be clear, I recognize that challenges to such developmental or (social) evolutionary models can sometimes be used by racists to demonstrate the implausibility of certain achievements or to imply the intervention of aliens or other non-human forces. The classic argument that aliens built the pyramids because Africans simply did not have the technology or sophistication to construct such monumental buildings is patently false and grounded in a view of African society as (racially) incapable of such achievements in the past. Moreover it suggests that the alien intervention which allowed Egyptian society “jump the queue” and to acquire technological sophistication without the social and cultural resources to support it, created a dangerously hybrid society doomed to instability and violence. Some critics have offered similar arguments in a more modern vein against the development of post-colonial societies in the Persian Gulf where oil accelerated economic development and allowed these states to “jump the queue” without the putative democratizing pressures of industrialization. Wakanda, after all, is a kingdom, even if its ruler is an enlightened super hero.   

At the same time, most archaeologists accept that various modern developmental models represent racist efforts to justify the superiority of white European civilization from the start. In this context, counter narratives constructed by Black and indigenous pseudoarchaeologists in the early 20th century represent a significant and influential gesture of resistance to colonial practices (including conventional archaeology). 

Three Things Thursday: Data, Books, Teaching

This semester feels very odd to me. Not only did I start the semester a bit more tired than I expected to be, but I also didn’t have a clear set of goals and deadline ahead of me. After I submitted my revised book manuscript at the end of August, my fall semester seemed oddly under scheduled. It’s taken me a while to recognize that this is probably a good thing and more of a feature than a bug at this point in my career. 

This sense of being under-committed this fall has given me the space to work on a number of other projects in a less frantic way than I have in the past and today’s Three Things Thursday is about that.

Thing the First

Earlier this week, I posted about my work with the Isthmia data and my effort to corral and clean up various datasets produced by the Isthmia excavations over the past 50 odd years. My primary goal has been to work on Roman and Post-Roman material from the excavation and to focus particularly on Byzantine and Roman pottery. Earlier in the week I finished recoding the inventoried Roman and the Byzantine pottery so that it can be integrated with the stratigraphic data and context material from the site.

Then I moved on the the lamps from the site, figuring that most of the lamps found in the Ohio State and Michigan State excavations at Isthmia were Roman and later. Fortunately, Birgitta Wohl has just published a volume analyzing the lamps from these excavations, but her substantial catalogue identifies the lamps according to the inventory number and the area where they were found, but not their stratigraphic context or even trench. This is annoying, but perhaps not too unusual. 

More vexing is that I don’t have a table that includes all the lamps in Wohl’s catalogue. Instead, I have a partial table that I excavated from an Access database whose creator and purpose is unknown and I’ve spent about four or five hours now transforming Birgitta’s catalogue into data. This, of course, is both absurd and a completely normal part of archaeology as early-20th century practices and late-20th century digital tools continue to find opportunities for incompatibility. 

Thing the Second

This summer, I spent a good bit of time fretting about the number of projects I had wending their way through The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. In particular, I was worried about a collaboration that I had hatched with our sister project, North Dakota Quarterly. This project involved the publication of a translation of Jurij Koch’s novella, The Cherry Tree, which would be the second book in our emerging NDQ supplement series.

Cherry Tree Cover FINAL

Our current plan is to release this title on October 11th. In fact, we don’t even have a landin page for the book yet, but the translator convinced us to accelerate the timeline so he could take some copies with him to Croatia next week. Because my fall is under scheduled, we were able to make this happen and while the book has not officially dropped yet, you can, if you know where to look, find a copy from a major online retailer

Thing the Third

Finally, I continue to think about whether being under scheduled is a privilege or something that university faculty should aspire to, and this has started to impact how I teach. In some ways, the current “syllabus as contract” driven environment creates an expectation that the schedule on the syllabus represents an accurate summary of student work during a semester. Because faculty (and students) recognize that under representing the quantity of material creates problems with student expectations, we tend to over represent the amount of material (or at least represent the maximum amount of material) that we hope to cover in a semester. This tends to compound a sense among students (and even among faculty) of being over extended or scheduled “to the max.” 

This doesn’t feel very healthy to me.

A Book By Its Cover: The Cherry Tree

This fall looks to be a busy one for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We not only have three (and maybe a four!) books on tap for the next couple of months, but we also have plans to publish our first two novels. 

The second novel scheduled to appear this fall is in collaboration with our friends at North Dakota Quarterly as the second volume in our little NDQ Supplement series. The first volume in the supplement series was Snichimal Vayuchil, a collection of Tsotsil Maya poetry translated by Paul Worley. In 1984, NDQ published its first full-length novel, Thomas McGrath’s This Coffin Has No Handles

Today, we’ll share a copy of the cover of our next novel, Jurij Koch’s The Cherry Tree, translated by John K. Cox whose talented wife Kathleen T. Cox designed the fantastic cover.  

Cherry Tree Cover IMAGE

Without giving too much away, the cover captures the role of motion and movement in Koch’s compelling tale, while preserving the sense of mystery at the core of the story.

If you want to read a bit more about the book and what it’s about, go here

Book by its Cover: The Library of Chester Fritz

As the semester looms, I’m working to wrap up some publishing projects with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota Quarterly including two new novellas. One is entering typesetting soon but the other is almost ready for prime time!

The first should be out in time for homecoming at the end of September: The Library of Chester Fritz by Brian R. Urlacher. It’s brilliantly entertaining piece of University of North Dakota-themed Gothic horror! 

As a little sneak peek, here’s the current, almost complete, cover draft.

CCF COVER pdf 2022 08 10 05 24 01


Drop me a line in the comments if you want to see an advanced copy!

Planetary History

As I’ve hinted for the last week or so, I’ve been reading Dipesh Chakrabarty’s The Climate of History in a Planetary Age (2021). It’s a fantastically rich book that I neither have the depth of learning to review nor the time to digest even partially (and this appears to be my fate in life). The book takes as a point of departure, Chakrabarty’s seminal article “The Climate of History: Four Theses” from 2009, which he republishes in the book with some commentary.  

That said, I do want to offer some book notes if for no other reason than to tempt historians and archaeologists to pick up this book. As per usual, these are random and reflect things that stuck in my mind rather than a systematic review. 

1. Global versus Planetary. One of the main themes of the book is the relationship between our concept of the global, which Chakrabarty locates in the mid-20th century with the development of not only post-war economic and political networks, but perhaps as importantly the post-colonial move to modernize the “developing world” in political and economic terms. This view of the “global” forms the basis for the notion of globalization that has come to dominate certain kinds of late-20th century and early 21st-century thought and certainly has influences our experiences and the kind of history that we write. Of course, Chakrabarty recognizes that various moves – from Atlantic trade to post-war “neoliberalism” – contributed to the history of globalism in our contemporary world. 

Chakrabarty distinguishes the global from the planetary which he sees as a way of seeing the world developed by James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis and later by the field of Earth Systems Science. These theories seek to understand the planet Earth as a system with its own regulating mechanisms that operate on the scale of millennia rather than decades or centuries. Reconciling the historical notion of the global with the vast time scales indicative of the planetary systems is part of the challenge for history, the humanities, and even our experiences as humans.

2. Deep Time and Experience. One of the main issues that Chakrabarty addresses is how do we reconcile our distinctly human (even phenomenological) experience of time with the planetary scale. The latter Chakrabarty recognizes as “deep time” which intersects with our experience in ways ranging from our dependence on fossil fuels and the evolutionary scale of the development of species and the human mind. Climate change at a planetary scale forces us to confront the messy intersection between deep time and the immediacy of the present. 

One of my favorite dilations on this topic is Chakrabarty’s discussion of Reinhart Koselleck’s distinction between experience and expectations. Experiences are the “present past” and expectations are “the future made present” and “that which is to be revealed.” For Koselleck, experience and expectations coexist in humanity, but in the modern period, the gap between the two is ever expanding but at the same time it is this efforts to reconcile expectations and experiences that constitutes historical time. For Koselleck and Chakrabarty, this tension ensures that historical time is not simply reflect past experiences, but also embodies affect and emotions. In the context of planetary level climate change and our expectations of catastrophic change and efforts to avert it contribute to a sense of historical time that is infused with both hope and anxiety. Thus, the deep time of the planet influences the historical time in which the past and present co-create the present.

3. Labor and Time. One of the key elements of Chakrabarty’s thinking derives from his long association with the subaltern studies project and post-colonial historiography. This not only informs his view of modernity which he sees as a global project informed by both the traditional colonial metropoles and in the post-colonial world as it sought to improve and develop their communities and nations in way that respond to local needs, accommodate distinctive priorities and beliefs, and enable them to integrate into the globalized work.

Here Chakrabarty admits that his earlier concern for the post-colonial experience overlooked the planetary concerns of climate change despite being contemporary with its formulation. I’m particularly interested in how he thinks about the relationship between labor and climate change which he just starts to develop in the final section of the book in his dialogue with Bruno Latour. Here he develops a distinction between labor (in a Marxian sense) and work as energy and the extent of capital’s reach. And here conventional understandings of labor (even in the context of subaltern and post-colonial studies) breaks down and gives way to a theory of work redefined as the extent of capitalism’s reach into planetary stores of energy. Here, then, labor, work, energy, and deep time intersect in ways that require new paradigms to understand.  

4. Deep Time and Archaeology. One of the interesting oversights of Chakrabarty’s book is that it overlooks the role that archaeology can play in bridging the gap between deep time, history, and experience. Moreover, archaeology is situated in place where it can find ways to integrate approaches developed in science, social sciences, and the humanities. Indeed, archaeology’s intense interest in methods creates an opportunity to foreground the tensions that different time scales and different types of knowledge.

Even something as basic and routine as stratigraphic excavation involves understanding that soils are not necessarily contemporary with the human artifacts that are typically the objects of archaeological study. Without understanding the character of the soils present in stratigraphic excavation or even the surface of ground in surface survey, it becomes impossible to recognize the context for the human-made objects present in these contexts. 

I suspect this capacity for archaeology to contribute to our ability to reconcile the global and the planetary is part of the reason we’re seeing an outpouring of recent work on the archaeology of climate which not only brings together multiple sites on a global scale, but also planetary scale data that traces not only long-term processes, but requires us to understand both these processes as they occurred and the results of these processes to make sense of human scale activity.

I wonder, then, whether this is a missed opportunity for Chakrabarty and a vote of confidence in archaeology’s efforts to imagine new ways to reconcile deep time and history.

4. Finally, this book clocks in at about 230 pages. It is a long-weekend read, but it’ll take me months to unpack the implications of this book, however.

This isn’t a criticism, but a demonstration that short, intense, and compelling works continue to exist even as we weekly confront some or another 500+ page magnum opus from this or that ambitious senior scholar. And, I’d rather read a 200-odd page book than any of the recent crop of mega-tomes and spend time that I might have spent reading thinking though what the author had to say. 

From Corinthian Twilight to the Busy Countryside: Remaking the Landscapes, Monuments, and Religion of the Late Antique Corinthia

One of my summer projects was collaborating with my good friend and colleague, David Pettegrew on an article that surveys the Corinthian landscape in Late Antiquity. It’s for an edited volume published in Germany and directed primarily toward a European audience. 

This paper doesn’t so much propose any radically new analysis or interpretations, but offers a solid step toward a new synthesis of what we know and how we understand the Corinth and the Corinthian countryside.  

Since we have no real idea when this will come out, we thought we should share a complete working draft should anyone be interested. 

You can download it here.

This years should be a banner year for those interested in the Roman Corinthia. First, in May, Paul  Scotton, Catherine de Grazia Vanderpool, and Carolynn Roncaglia have published The Julian Basilica: Architecture, Sculpture, Epigraphy, which is Corinth XXII for those of you who still keep a scorecard. Here’s the announcement.

Earlier this month, John W. Hayes and Kathleen Warner Slane published Late Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Pottery, which is Isthmia XI on your scorecard. Here’s the announcement.

Finally, I remain optimistic that we’ll see Eleni Korka and Joe Rife’s On the Edge of a Roman Port: Excavations at Koutsongila, Kenchreai, 2007–2014 which will appear as a Hesperia Supplement. Here is the announcement page for this volume.

Three Things Thursday: Corinth, CHAT, and Climate

Over the next week or so, I need to work on three different projects, each of which have their own charm, but are less connected to each other than I would like. 

Thing the First

Today is a Corinthia day and as soon as this post is done, I’m heading over to Google Docs to work on a an article that tries to bring together a good bit of recent and historical research on the archaeology of the Late Antique Corinthia. I’ll certain share this piece when it’s done, but for today, the goal is cut about 1000 words and make it a bit less scrappy, in general. 

As part of this, I’m very much looking forward to the long anticipated publication of Elena Korka and Joseph L. Rife’s On the Edge of a Roman Port: Excavations at Koutsongila, Kenchreai, 2007–2014 which is apparently due out sometime in the next month or so! They’ve also released a significant dataset via Open Context which you can view here

Unfortunately, we won’t have time to integrate their data or analysis into our piece, but it’ll be really great to see it out.

Thing the Second

A couple years ago, Rachael Kiddey and I were named inaugural editors to a new CHAT book series. CHAT is the Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory group. We are working to put out our first volume which is a publication related to the festivalCHAT conference.

We need to put together an introduction to that volume over the next week or so and get the entire thing ready to be sent out for review with a hope that it can see publication by the end of the year. Our paper, which we haven’t started, will consider how the festival analogy informs the contemporary and historical archaeology. In particular, I’m interested in the role of the ephemeral in archaeology and perhaps in the way that our modern view of festivals represent an expression of the commodification of experience characteristic of Late Capitalism. Archaeology of the contemporary world (and to a certain extent historical archaeology) has the capacity to document experiences in ways that allows for us to capture and assess the working of Late Capitalism.

Thing the Third

Finally, I have a very short paper that I’m going to write for an issue of Near Eastern Archaeology which focuses on climate change. I’ve blogged about this a bit in the past (most recently here) and I’m chomping at the bit to get writing it, mostly because I think it’ll be fun, but I need to stay focused on other things.

As part of this project, I got a copy of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s The Climate of History in a Planetary Age (2021) which I can’t wait to read and maybe, just maybe, I can start on it this weekend!

Reviewing An Archaeology of Structural Violence

Over the weekend, I re-read Michael Roller’s book, An Archaeology of Structural Violence, for a formal book review. I excitedly blogged on this book a couple of years ago, but I didn’t exactly read it with an eye toward writing a formal review. 

It turns out that writing a formal review is much harder than reading a book for my own research and this book was especially challenging for some reason. Here’s my first effort at it:

Michael P. Roller’s An Archaeology of Structural Violence: Life in a Twentieth Century Coal Town is a provocative and compelling study of, Pardeesville and Lattimer, two former company towns outside of Hazleton, Pennsylvania in the heart of the state’s middle anthracite coal fields. The book has two goals. The first is specific and focuses on the particular history of these communities in the 19th and 20th centuries. For this, Roller draws on archival material, oral histories, and archaeological field work. The second is more general and perhaps more significant. Roller uses the specific history of these communities to elucidate the various forms of structural violence that have shaped the 20th century more broadly. In this way, the book contributes to a long-standing and important theoretical conversation in historical archaeology that explore how racialization and labor, capitalism and consumerism, and heritage and suburbanization broke down collective forms of life and create modern individuals susceptible to exploitation. Roller frames his goals with the Lattimer Massacre of 1897, an episode of lethal violence by deputized citizens and law enforcement against striking immigrant union members protesting unjust labor practices in the anthracite mining industry. This moment of subjective violence offers a foil to his diatonic treatment episodes of structural violence across the remainder of the twentieth century.

The book is complex and and its precisely articulated and expansive theoretical framework resists easy review. After a perfunctory introductory chapter, Roller concedes to convention and makes an initial effort toward framing the history of the anthracite coal mining region of Pennsylvania within a more expansive theoretical framework. Roller anchors his definition of structure violence in various Marxist and post-Marxist thinkers as well as critical theory, psychoanalysis, and literature. Giorgio Agamben and Hannah Arendt inform Roller’s understanding of the connection between nationalism, race, and capital long twentieth century. In this context, the immigration process striped new arrivals of their rights as citizen or subject and reduced them to “bare life.” This created conditions where they could form pools of inexpensive and surplus labor which capitalism, and the vagaries of national coal markets, required for profit. Roller draws upon Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin to articulate a concept of governmentality which both subjects individual freedoms to the state and accelerated the creation of citizens as consumers. This process involves breaking down their collective ethnic, religious, and social identities and replacing them with individual rights defined in relation to state and to capital as both producers and consumers. This change did not occur all at once, through over “nuanced periodicity of structural violence” across the longue durée of the twentieth century.

Roller continues to refine and adapt his model of structural violence through the following chapters which consider both singular episodes of physical violence and violence associated with everyday life in the the coal industry, in company towns, and in the region’s struggling post-war economy. Chapter two provides a brief survey of the history of the Pennsylvania anthracite coal industry which emphasizes the key role of waves of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe. Chapter three drew upon archival evidence and archaeological prospecting in an effort to untangle the events of the Lattimer Massacre which left 19 striking miners dead and forty more injured when law enforcement and deputized citizens fired into the marching miners in an effort to disperse the unarmed crowd. From an archaeological standpoint, the recovery of three or four fired bullets dating to late-19th century adds very little to our understanding of the events.

Archaeology plays a larger role in chapter three which Roller dedicates to the study of the two company towns, Lattimer No. 1 and Lattimer No. 2 (now Pardeesville) and the development of neighborhoods of “shanties” adjacent to the neatly organized rows of company housing. Roller argues that these shanty towns developed contemporary with the company towns and represented a deliberate strategy by the companies themselves to maintain a supply of low-paid immigrant workers as a surplus labor supply necessary to ensure the maximum profitability of the coal mines during the early twentieth century. Historical maps and aerial photographs, oral histories, and a targeted excavation of one now-demolished home offered a narrow glimpse into the ephemeral histories of these buildings. Chapter five focused on the analysis of privy deposits excavated from the home. The deposit was the product of a single clean up event in 1959 and consisted of household material dating from the middle decades of the twentieth century. Rollers uses this material to explore the development of machinic mass consumerism. At the very moment when the mining economy of northeastern Pennsylvania falters and the company towns released to become private property and public institutions, the residents of these towns demonstrate their own place in American society by consumption habits explicitly developed by the state and the private sector. The ideas explored in this chapter are among the most significant in the book and produced a stimulating debate in volume 53 this journal.

The final two chapters consider the moments of structural violence that occurred after the decline of coal. The chapter six deployed psychoanalytic theory to considering how the strategies developed by the communities who continued to live in the former company towns allowed them to find enjoyment in the emerging post-Fordist economy. Roller emphasizes the existence of surplus enjoyment present in communities fortified through their shared struggle to survive in the mining economy and is manifest through the self-sufficiency earned through backyard gardens to religious festivals and a deep sense of community. The final chapter considers the breakdown of these strategies in the face of the relentless pressures of late-twentieth century post-Fordist individualism which dissolves the tightly knit coal-patch communities and reconstitutes them as atomized suburbia while paradoxically seeking to benefit from a nostalgia for the region’s industrial past.

Roller’s book offers a rich theoretical template for the diachronic study of structural violence over the long twentieth century. Readers looking for a detailed study of the archaeology of extractive industry in Pennsylvania coal country will likely be disappointed by the relative lack of attention to the industrial archaeology of labor in the various aspects of coal production. The book likewise lacks discussions of comparanda outside of a narrowly regional context nor does it explicitly contribute to recent surge of interest in community archaeology. These limitations should not overshadow the book’s contribution to the history and archaeology of capitalism and structural violence in the twentieth century. Roller’s work offers a nuanced and sophisticated template that should exert an meaningful influence in the discipline for years to come.

Three Things Thursday: Plagiarism, Laptops, and the End of Antiquity

I submitted grades, my summer plans are coming into focus, and I’m almost ready to decamp for the Mediterranean for the first time in two years. I feel like everything is going on at once, and this is more or less a good thing and it feels like a solid backdrop for a Three Things Thursday.

Thing the First

Earlier this week, there was a moderately interesting long Twitter thread in response to an incident of plagiarism in academia. The situation was discovered at the peer review stage and other than a bit of outrage, the harm seems to have been minimal. That said, whenever someone talks about plagiarism in academia, they tend to complain about the crime rather than the underlying system that makes plagiarism both unethical and problematic. To be clear, I’m not condoning plagiarism and I realize that I’m writing from a position of privilege. At the same time, I wonder whether our tendency to become outraged at incidents of plagiarism serves to reinforce a system that is fundamentally toxic. Stoking outrage at incidents of plagiarism in academia reinforces as system that seeks to commodify knowledge and connect the public good that might come from new ideas, processes, and products to private gain.

Of course, we all like it when a colleague recognizes our contribution to our field and citation, in its simplest form, represents a kind of acknowledgement. Unfortunately, over the past seventy years, institutions and the market has weaponized this gesture of collegiality and turned it into a way of measuring and even quantifying impact, reach, and significance. As is so often the case, publishers and institutions have found ways to leverage our desire for collegiality and recognition to support a system designed to generate profits and prestige. The rise of i10 scores, h-indices, and journal rankings that leverage citations to track impact and influence is yet another effort to sort and rank academic labor and to find new ways to profit from both the media through which scholars gain influence and the tools that measure such influence and reach. Plagiarism in this context is as much an economic crime as a breach of scholarly decorum.

By sounding off about plagiarism, then, we both reinforce an age old system of academic recognition, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but also bolster system that allows individuals and institutions to profit from the working of scholarly networks. To my mind, over the last 30 years, the tail has come increasingly to wag the dog with the desire for measurable accomplishments increasingly shaping the landscape of academic work. At the same time, academics celebrate the call to be “against cop shit” in our classrooms and finding ways to subvert the status quo. We also have brought critical attention to the way that the COVID pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in the world. Maybe it’s this recent willingness to consider burning it all down that has made social media outrage over plagiarism ring a bit hollow or at least leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Thing the Second

You might not be able to tell, but I’m writing this post on a Dell laptop rather than my trusty MacBook Pro. For better or for worse, I’ve been an Apple guy for the last 15 or so years and have appreciated the tidy integration between my phone (and especially its camera) and my laptops. Each summer, though, I switch over the my PC which I need to run Microsoft Access and ESRI’s ArcGIS which don’t have native Mac implementation. Usually, I bring along a MacBook Air when I go to the Mediterranean and use it for writing and blogging and to access my Apple ecosystem more easily and natively. My MacBook Air is pretty long in the tooth these days and while it can do what I would like it to do, it’s battery is no longer what it was, its pre-Retina screen is pretty underwhelming, and it’s tiny hard drive makes it more like an early-21st century netbook than a modern laptop. I just wonder whether this year is the year that taking my PC and using it for my writing.

This is a bit nerve wracking because I can’t help but feel that abandoning my Mac will make some part of my work more difficult, even if I’m not entirely sure what part of my work it will negatively impact. I suspect this reflects the success of the Apple ecosystem in making us feel dependent (or at very least comfortable) in their world. What is the most remarkable thing to me is how it descends to the gestural level. My years of working on Macs has shaped how I interact with the keyboard, touchpad, and applications and these habits are profoundly hard to break!

Thing the Third

Yesterday, I posted my annual “Summer Reading List” post and a number of friends reached out and said, in various ways, “whoa! so little ancient history!” This was mostly an oversight. I have considered reading Jack Davis’s new book: A Greek State in Formation: The Origins of Civilization in Mycenaean Pylos (2022) which is available Open Access from the University of California Press. I also want to read Alex Knodell’s newish book: Societies in Transition in Early Greece: An Archaeological History (2021). If I had all the time and energy in the world (and just a modicum of discipline), I would certainly read Nathan Arrington’s latest: Athens at the Margins: Pottery and People in the Early Mediterranean World (2021) from Princeton.

California has also continued its long tradition of publishing novel and significant works in the study of Late Antiquity and Early Christianity. Since it’s open access, I’d be keen to check out Mary Farag’s What Makes a Church Sacred: Legal and Ritual Perspectives from Late Antiquity (2021).

I also have a copy of Michele Salzman’s The Falls of Rome: Crises, Resilience, and Resurgence in Late Antiquity (2021) from Cambridge which is not open access, but would help me think about my class for next spring on Late Antiquity.