Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College

One of the real benefits of the collaborative and cooperative publishing model at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is that ideas can mature very quickly because the author and the production team work together to frame the project. Last week, my colleague Eric Burin approached me with an idea for a short and quick book on the Electoral College. The goal was for us to prepare a slim volume and have it available by the inauguration.

The book would feature essays the both consider the current utility and significance of the Electoral College and its historical roots in both the early American Republic and its historical inspirations and predecessors. Fueled by the good will and enthusiasm of our contributors, we are now ready to announce the forthcoming publication of Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College.

The book will feature contributions by Eric Burin, Brad Austin, Bill Caraher, Mark Jendrysik, Don Johnson, Benjamin Kassow, Timothy Prescott, Patrick Rael, Andrew Shankman, Mark Trahan, and Jack Weinstein.

To whet your appetite, Eric Burin has prepared a little book trailer for us here.

Here’s our quickly produced and provisional cover. As per usual design tips and suggestions are always appreciated! 

EC Project Cover 01

Mobility and North Dakota

This weekend, I binge read Tim Cresswell’s On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World (Routledge 2006). I was familiar with his Place: A Short Introduction which I read a few years back alongside Raymond Williams’ Border Country. The book is as good an introduction to mobility as I’ve ever read, and it should be required reading for anyone living in North Dakota.

The introduction is particularly useful for understanding the social issues facing the state of North Dakota. He makes clear that mobility is both a product of modernity, but also something that – for both historical and political reasons – seen as a threat. For example, the tourist or the mobile worker is expected element of the modern world where travel for work or pleasure is common. At the same time, there persists a distrust of certain kinds of mobility. Refugees, vagrants, and “drifters” continue to be stigmatized as individuals who lack commitment to a place. Cresswell recognizes mobility then as a central and politically charged element in the discourse of modernity and explores its intersection with such diverse expressions as dance, photography, airport architecture, and women’s suffrage. Mobility becomes a way of talking about the contradictions that core of modern experience and the impetus to move embodies both the pace of modern capital (and Marx’s (and David Harvey’s) that time obliterates space) and the growth of what many critics have called the carceral landscape (riffing as it were on Foucault’s carceral state).

Cresswell could have just as easily considered the role of fossil fuels in the construction of modern mobility. They both make travel and the shrinking of the world possible and require a kind of urgent globalization as extractive industries relentlessly search for new resources. The need to move fossil fuels – oil, gas, and coal – from the ground to refineries and markets has attracted attention lately. In some ways the movement of fossil fuels via pipeline, train, truck, and ship reflect another aspect of their problematic character in the modern world.

Here in North Dakota, the intersection of mobility, politics, and fossil fuels demonstrates the political uses of mobility in our modern discourse. Recently, supporters of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) have called the protestors camped at Cannon Ball river “outside agitators” and using their purported lack of connection to the place as a way of delegitimizing their protests. At the same time, the (albeit somewhat faded) vitality of the oil industry in western North Dakota relies on workers from outside the region to extract the oil, build the pipelines, and maintain the infrastructure in the Bakken oil patch. These workers, of course, are not universally embraced as the antithesis of outside agitators and often seen as threats to the stable life in the small rural communities across the western part of the state. In an effort to replace the mobile workforce with a more permanent one, community leaders have resisted and discouraged the use of crew and man camps in the region preferring to invest in the construction of houses, condominiums, and apartments. In sum, outside agitators and workers are threats even if they contribute in a meaningful way to the economic or ecological future of the state. The risk, it seems, is in their mobility tempered by political expediency.

As an aside, the media can enjoy the irony of the DAPL protesters enduring the polar vortex in their temporary protest camp which for some embodies the a fleeting nature of the protest in the face of the inevitability of the pipeline. The same media was far less attentive, smug, and ironic in their reporting of oil workers huddled in substandard housing while working to extract oil that keeps so much of the country warm. 

My experience of the Bakken oil patch was one of unmitigated movement and I chose the genre of the tourist guide to represent this sense of movement in the landscape. I wish I had been more familiar with Cresswell’s book while I was working on the guide!

In Praise of Pointless Publishing

This past couple weeks, I’ve begun working on the next book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The book is a field manual for a major archaeological excavation and once we have the final permissions cleared, we’re get the book into production. As I’ve talked bout this book with various people on my editorial board and some cooperative reviewers, many have responded “what’s the point”” 

On a practical level, I appreciate the question. We all have limited reserves of energy and any activity – whether scholarly, academic, or simply recreational – should have a goal, a point, or some value. After all, our ability to do for a reason is what separates humans from my two dogs. At the same time, I’ve begun to think about books and publishing outside the immediate reward of a clearly articulated, receptive audience. 

I’ve enjoyed in particular the recent trend toward publishing design and standards manuals for various public entities. Standards Manual in New York has revived the 1975 NASA graphics standards manual, the 1976 Bicentennial Symbol guide, and the 1970 NYCTA standards manual. I’ve also enjoyed the 1965 British Rail Corporate Identity Manual. These books no longer serve their purpose as design and standards manuals, but nevertheless offer an intriguing perspective on how institutions implemented complex design programs. The purpose of these books is unclear. On the one hand, they aren’t archival copies of rare editions. They aren’t particularly useful guides – unless you’re researching an institution that is as expansive as NASA or British Rail. They don’t reflect contemporary digital practices or corporate standards. They’re monuments to design, to be sure, but design situated in a particular time and place.

This week, I got a lightly used copy of Bill Dever and and Darrell Lance’s A Manual of Field Excavation: Handbook for Field Archaeologists (Cincinnati 1978).  The book originated as the field manual for their dig at Gezer in Israel. The guide is dated, in as much as it doesn’t feature the latest elements of digital practice, but at the same time is utterly charming. It circulated widely enough that it isn’t difficult to find an inexpensive copy in good condition. Field manuals are like graphic design and standards manuals. They typically have a limited life-span, a particular purpose, and a very specific context. Their utility as field manuals is limited except perhaps as general guides to other projects and they’re usually common enough in project archives or on the web that publishing them offers little in terms of access or circulation.

Despite that, there is still something about making a book and presenting these manuals formally even if our intended audience remains a bit vague. 

Violent Borders

Nothing like an unexpected snow day to give me some time to catch up on reading (and grading). This week, I finally finished Reece Jones’s Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move (Verso 2016). Richard Rothaus brought the book to my attention largely in connection to a recent, short paper that we wrote that considered the parallels between the modern European refugee crisis and Bakken oil book. You can read that paper here

Reece’s book argues that national borders are to blame for the current crises of movement in the late modern world. He connects the plight of political and economic refugees through his attention to borders which impede the flow of people away from danger and toward economic opportunities provided by the global movement of capital. In fact, he argues that borders work to preserve low cost labor pools reinforced by uneven laws protecting workers’ rights. In Reecee’s work, borders become tools for an increasingly militarized state to preserve labor markets while, at the same time, permitting the flow of goods and capital. He goes on to note that the disjunction between national economies and global flow of capital works to make it difficult to manage, say, the environmental problems like climate change through institutions, like the United Nations, which rely upon the idea of national sovereignty to function. Here Reece makes a nice observation that border fences themselves are transformative when they impede the movement of animals, the flow of water, and the integrity of local ecosystem. In other words, there is a real (if almost symbolic in comparison to larger, global issues like climate change) impact of borders on the natural world.

The connection between economic and political refugees and the role of the nation in defining the character of modern movement has increasingly informed my thinking about workforce housing in the Bakken. Workforce housing represents the material manifestation of the movement in human capital as it ebbs and flows in a world where a “periphery” may no longer imply a core. In some of my recent works, I’ve toyed a bit ineptly with idea like Andre Gunter Frank’s “development of underdevelopment” (pdf) which argued that the core had a vested interest in preserving the underdeveloped status of the periphery (e.g. see my contribution to this volume). Reece’s work helped me understand that part of the strategy to preserve the underdeveloped status of certain “peripheries” involved the establishment of national border and restrictions on movement of human capital from these places. He is careful, though, and does not suggest that borders alone prevent movement. As the arrival of a new workforce in North Dakota demonstrates, even when people are free to move into a new area to take advantage of economic opportunities, they still consider someplace else to be home. Only time will tell whether the increasing pace of global capital will erode this sense of home as people move more and more frequently to support the contingencies of profit.

This, then, is the broader context for a broader questions that Reece and I have both flirted with a bit. If we assume that history as a discipline – at least in its modern guise – emerged alongside and in the service of the nationstate, can we envision a post-national history? In particular, if our notions of place and time are deeply indebted to national spaces and time, can the discipline as it is now constituted adapt to the speed of capital and a world without borders?

More on Mobilizing the Past

Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology is the most recent book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota continues to produce downloads, sales, and page views. 

If you feel like the prospect of a free download or a $20 book is just too much of a commitment, then check out editor Jody Gordon’s summary of the book’s scope and perspective. He presented this paper at the recent American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting and released it to the world under a CC-By license. So rather than read something blather I’ve hacked out, go and read Jody’s summary.


(And if you’re still hungry for more, go and check out the next book from The Digital Press, Micah Bloom’s Codex. We’re doing a very quiet little conversation and preview here.)

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A Deep Map of the Bakken

Over the long weekend, I immersed myself in William Least Heat-Moon’s PrairyErth: (a deep map). (1991). I didn’t know this book until a conversation with a few graduate students this summer after my tortured attempts to explain my tourist guide to the Bakken project. I wasn’t particularly familiar with the term “deep map,” but as I explored PrairyErth, I came to realize that Heat-Moon’s project with this work, which explores a single county in Kansas, was fundamentally similar to what I wanted to do with my tourist guide. The biggest difference was that Heat-Moon was a kind of story-teller, ethnographer, and oral historians where my speciality was in things.

So, the base map for the deep map that I want to prepare for the Bakken is the tourist guide (which should appear next year from NDUS Press). It provides a route through the space of the Bakken which runs across US Route 2 before turning south at 13-Mile Corner to trace US Route 85. This inverted L forms the main artery of the Bakken both from its origins around Tioga to its current heart in William and McKenzie Counties. Our anchors are the towns of Ray, Stanley, Tinga, Williston, and Watford City, but we recognize that the Bakken is also made of places like the abandoned town of Wheelock, the depopulated township of Manitou, the area called Johnson’s Corner, and the numerous nameless agglomerations of tanks, unit yards, mobile workforce housing, and gas plants. This is the framework for a deep map.

When we submitted the original draft of the guide to new Heritage Guide series editor at the NDSU Press, he suggested that we add more people to our work. I begrudgingly did this, thinking all the while, that tourist guides aren’t really about people but about places, monuments, and stories. If people do appear, they’re past people or individuals who make short cameos (like the kindly priest who has the keys to the historic church or the vivacious merchant who will offer you tea while you browse his wares). Complicating matters more is that our guide is not about a landscape forged in the distant past but about a dynamic contemporary space. In other words, historic personages who populate traditional tourist guides played a relatively small role in our work because our primary focus was on the present. While I don’t regret the decision of inserting a few people in our guide, I think the object-oriented approach to our guide limits how one can encounter the Bakken landscape.  

Heat-Moon’s deep map is, in contrast, all about people. Most short chapters, even those with a rather more empirical bent, focus on the people from Chase County, Kansas. In fact, he uses the ugly word “countians” so many times that I am almost comfortable with it. For the Bakken, we have hundreds of pages of transcribed interviews that could populate our deep map and we received a small grant from the University of North Dakota to publish these interviews next year.

Heat-Moon’s deep map is more than just people, though. He uses people to tell the geological, the historical, the political, the cultural and the economic story of the county’s various landscapes and places. We’re fortunate for western North Dakota to have not only an outstanding (and new) geological history, but also have an intriguing (and growing) body of literature about the region and some solid historical treatments of the places. 

As I continue to turn the idea of a deep map over in my head, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that guide to the Bakken is just a beginning for a deep map. 

Another Book by the Cover

One of the really fun things about being a publisher is that I get to help bring amazing projects to a wider audience. I have a book in the very early phases of production and another project that is just gaining some moment.

After a little nudging I’ve managed to convince Micah Bloom to publish (part of) his remarkable installation Codex with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The ink isn’t quite dry on the agreement, but we’re far enough along that I feel like a quiet announcement on my personal blog is in order. I blogged about Codex when it was an installation at the North Dakota Museum of Art.

Our plan is to expand Codex by adding a series of short, incisive essays by archaeologists, historians, and scholars of the book to Bloom’s arresting photographs. The book will be released in a archival edition, a digital edition, and a lower-cost paperback each with slightly different content.  

Right now, we’re working out some of the production details, but Micah drafted a few potential book covers just to get some ideas flowing. 

Codex cover digital press  no micah

Codex cover digital press copy

Codex covers i copy

Codex covers 4 copy

We also set up a website for some conversation between the authors and contributors. You can take a peek at it here and do check out the gallery to get an idea what this project is about.

More on Lolos’s Sikyon and Regional Scale Archaeology

The arrival of the Journal of Roman Archaeology – by mail no less – is one of the highlights of my year. I was very excited to see an extensive review of Y. Lolos’s Land of Sikyon: The Archaeology and History of a Greek City State. (2015) by long-time colleague in Corinthian archaeology, Joe Rife.  It’s “Surveying Sikyon from the State to the Land,” JRA 29 (2016), 864-874.

(As an aside, it’s one of two reviews of recent work on Sicyon (the other being a review by K. Slane of Conor Trainor’s The Ceramics Industry of Roman Sicyon (2015)) and this reflects the quantity and quality of work being done in the northeast Peloponnesus. In fact, it shocked me that there were two books on Sikyon and no books reviewed on Roman Cyprus.)

Joe is smarter and better scholar I am, and his review is smarter and more expansive than mine. The review not only deals with the book in detail, but addresses the larger issue of how to think about regional level archaeological projects. Rife points out that while Lolos’s work is carefully considered and reasoned (which it is!), he, nevertheless, tends to view the territory of the city of Sikyon as a persistent lens for social, political, and economic analysis. While the Lolos’s focus on the Sikyonian chora was undoubtedly appropriate for the pre-Roman era, Rife rightly asks if such “state-bound” approaches are optimal for regional level studies. The association of places with say the defensive needs of the state implies that existence and persistence of boundaries though time.

Likewise, Rife is skeptical of the stability of roads through the landscape which also shaped Lolos’s interpretation and is reflected in the thorough studies of his mentors Y. Pikoulas and W. K. Pritchett. Rife’s view of a “land-bound” approach to regional work would account for the shifting routes of roads across territory and decouple long-term settlement patterns from the more ephemeral pattern of routes through a territory.

Rife’s review also comments on the challenges of narrating a regional level archaeological project. The tension between a narrative confined artificially at times by archaeological, practical, and political boundaries. As he states, there is a need “to balance readability and referability.” Digital publication of the maps and maybe, in the future, the data could open Lolos’s careful documentation to new forms of scholarly attention and analysis. 

None of these observations are new, of course, but Rife’s review offers them in a compact and specific way and in clear reference to a well-done and thorough survey.

Open Access Week Musings

This week is #OpenAccessWeek which is one of those fake holidays like Halloween or University Educators Day. But like those other two celebrations, this week has a beneficial goal (as well as supporting a growing number of Open Access Week cards and gift): to promote open access publishing.

OpenAccessWeek logo

This week also marked the release of the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s newest book: Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology. If you haven’t checked it out yet… why not?

With about 3 days under our belt, I can report on some of the early statistics for the book. So far, we’ve had just under 550 downloads of the book or parts of the book. 53% of those downloads were of the entire book, and no other chapter really set itself apart as the leading individual chapter download. Contributors have started to post their contributions and the entire book onto their Academia.edu pages and institutional repositories. So my numbers will only reflects the most centralized points of distribution. The real circulation takes place far from the center. There are no originals! 

We’ve sold a handful of paper copies, but the real circulation impact will likely come from digital downloads. And that’s fine with me, but I do wonder whether this book will lag in paper sales compared to downloads. Punk Archaeology, for example, which has well over 2000 downloads, has never sold more than handful of copies (52, to be exact). In contrast, The War with the Sioux, has had about 900 downloads and sold 232 copies. The Bakken Goes Boom has had about 1000 downloads and has sold 115 paper copies. We were particularly excited to see it appear on the Standing Rock Syllabus project and hope that its open access status makes it useful to folks on the front line of the Dakota Access Pipeline debate. What’s interesting is that Punk Archaeology – perhaps anticipating Mobilizing the Past – has been cited more times and more widely than my first official monograph which appeared in the same year, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: An Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town (2014). This is despite PKAP I appearing in almost 70 academic libraries and Punk Archaeology appearing in … like 4. I’m sure that over time, this will level out, but considering Punk Archaeology was published as the first book from a new press, I think this speaks to the potential of open access scholarship to reach new audiences quickly.

As we look ahead to the next year with The Digital Press, we are making plans to continue our open access and digital trajectories with both new “conventional books” but also some interactive or serialized works that develop as conversations over time and then crystalize – to some extent – into a formal volume later before once again heading off into the world under an open license (CC-By 4.0). So stay tuned! 


More on Adjusted Margin

Readers of this blog can probably tell that I’m enamored with Kate Eichhorn’s Adjusted Margin (MIT 2016). The book traces the history and use of xerography and argues that it offered a medium for folks at the margins to find a voice. I’ve blogged a bit on her argument that copy shops and photocopying in general serving as a third space, for today, I’d like to think a bit about how xerography served as an archaeological predecessor for digital practices.

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Eichhorn looks at the role the xerography played in the ACT UP movement to raise the awareness of the ravages of the AIDS epidemic especially, but not exclusively among gays in the 1980s. She examines how photocopies allowed this group to produce and distribute posters, to create graphically interesting media  designed to generate awareness (like the printed money that they rained down on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when they occupied that building in 1989), and to distribute information to people suffering from AIDS, their supporters, and the medical community. Eichhorn described the weekly newsletters prepared by ACT UP organizers that summarized the media stories, promoted events, and generated a sense of community. She also discussed the stacks of photocopied articles, fliers, and other media arranged on tables at ACT UP meetings and quickly circulated among the attending activists. Many activists credited the rapid and expansive distribution of ACT UP media to their access to photocopiers either in the ACT UP office or in their places of work (often in the publishing world). In other words, production of photocopied media was at least partly decentralized. 

Zines provided an opportunity to explore how xerography promoted the rise of decentralized distribution networks. While most Zines had a place of origin – usually on the East or West Coast – they circulated widely and often co-promoted other Zines by including the mailing address of other Zines in their pages. This allowed for the formation of dendritic networks where Zines led to Zines. Anyone who was interested in music in era before the internet understood the importance of these kinds of informal associations for discovering new bands and understanding the culture associated with, say, punk rock music.

I got thinking of these decentralized networks of distribution because, on the one hand, they anticipated the the hyperlinked networks of associations that came to dominate the distribution of digital media through the internet. In fact, xerography allowed for the development in paper form of such common internet structures as links, blogs, and memes. As someone with a growing interest in publishing, I’ve thought about how Zine culture – with all its imperfections and irregular distribution – provided a model for publishing on the web and in digital media. As Eichhorn states throughout her book, with xerography, there is no need for an original and, as such, no need for a definitive point of origin. This likewise seems to anticipate open-access, digital publishing which depends upon a community and an ecosystem for media to circulate, but does not depend as heavily on the originating point of the publisher. Without a center there are no margins or, more properly, the influence of the center diminishes rapidly as it becomes less vital to the circulation of a work.