Ruins and Memories

A few weeks ago I posted a short piece on Bjørnar Olsen’s and Þóra Pétursdóttir’s,Ruin Memories: Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past. That was a warm up to a long book review which I have now drafted.

It was a bit tricky to review an almost 500 page book with 25 contributors. And it was relatively difficult to post this blog while being rammed by the Mighty Milo and his stuffed elephant. Finally, have I mentioned that it’s cold here? Today it’s -17 F and falling (don’t worry, it’s a dry cold and it only feels like -33). 

Somehow I managed, so here it is with complementary typos!

Review of Bjørnar Olsen; Þóra Pétursdóttir, Ruin Memories: Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past. Routledge 2014.

The last decade has seen a rise in the use of archaeology to interrogate the contemporary world. The publication of Harrison and Schofield’s After Modernity in 2010 and the the awkwardly-titled Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World in 2013 will likely mark watersheds in applying archaeological methods to contemporary situations. The volume edited by Olsen and Pétursdóttir continues along these lines and offers much to consider even for archaeologists focusing on eras more distant from our own.

Olsen’s and Pétursdóttir’s volume represents the outcome of a four-year Norwegian Research Council grant titled Ruin Memories and focused on cultivating a cross-disciplinary dialogue on modern ruins in heritage practices and scholarly discourse. The 25 papers divide into an introduction and five sections: Things, Ethics, and Heritage; Material Memory; Ruins, Art, Attraction; Abandonment; and Archaeologies of the Recent Past. As such, there is a slight bias toward recent work in northern European countries, but none of the contributions to this volume are location specific. The papers address issues of memory, material agency, modernity and ruins through approaches ranging from the theoretically and conceptually challenging to the poetic and descriptive.

Much of theoretical work in this book continues recent work focused on a critical examination of “things” and agency. Heidegger’s various considerations of things, particularly his well-known “tool analysis” from Being and Time, informs the introduction as well as a Andersson’s two contributions and Pétursdóttir reflections on abandonment. Introna’s valuable essay, “Ethics and Flesh” does the most to leverage the duality between tools “present-at-hand” and those “ready-to-hand” to provide a way of understanding the absent presence of ruins, the agency of things, and the philosophical foundations for a ethical and symmetrical archaeology. Heidegger’s recognition that things exist outside of the human world is foundational to understanding agency in Bruno Latour’s actor-network-theory. The myriad recent archaeological publications that have adopted versions of Latour’s ideas to argue for the material agency of archaeological objects, and many of the contributions to this book continue to expand and develop these ideas. The complex processes involved in the decay of abandoned and ruined buildings offers a vivid way to consider the agency of objects. Moreover, the discussions of agency and ethics in these conceptually demanding contributions offer suitably complicated frameworks for understanding issues of preservation, conservation, and heritage surrounding ruined monuments of the modern era.

More striking, if somehow less substantial contributions to this volume are those that approach modern ruins through less conventional modes of archaeological description. A. Gonzalez-Ruibal’s poetic engagement with archaeological and human remains from the Spanish Civil War was both haunting and thought-provoking commemoration of events and individuals for whom politics has overwritten their heroism. H.B. Bjerck’s archaeological investigation of his recently deceased father’s things connected memory to objects in a viscerally engaging way. A. Á. Sigurðsson poems and N. Elíasson photographs offer a penetrating perspectives on abandoned farms on Iceland. E. Andreassen and D. Bailey approach the activities of a modern Norwegian port and historical memory in the Balkans respectively through visual media with almost no text. Bailey offers a series of chapter headings (“Chapter 1: Art,” “Chapter 2: Built Environment,” “Chapter 3: Mortuary Records,” et c.) with mixed media images that juxtapose archaeological tools – particularly a Munsell soil color chart – with photos of modern and ancient artifacts, sites, and situations. Andreassen’s work is less literal; it shows the closing of some kind of machine at the port of Trondheim in 8 photographs. While the goal of Andreassen’s work remains obscure, the efforts to approach the archaeological discourse through poetry, reflection, and visual media even when less than successful complements the probing tone of the book and the contemporary archaeology project. Applying archaeological approaches to the contemporary world both demonstrates the limits of our archaeological methods and conventions and presents new opportunities.

The remaining contributions to the book present more conventional approaches to the archaeology of our recent past. Several papers treated the archaeology of the World War II: J. F. Jensen and T. Krause documented the remains of German weather camps in Greenland; M. Persson presented the work of her excavations at refugee camps in Sweden; G. Moshenska reflected on children and play among boom site in World War II Britain; and B. Olsen and C. Wittmore detailed their excavations at a POW camp in far north Norway. These contributions revealed that archaeological investigation of sites and events can reveal omitted or occlude details even when documentary and ethnographic evidence exists. The archaeology of modern urban spaces, Cold War installations, industrial ruins, and contemporary conflict zones forges clear links between things, places, and memories. These papers, however, neither appeal to a uniform social memory nor do they dictate a clear course of action for a critical care of contemporary archaeological heritage.

For scholars more familiar with publications of old world sites and studies, the relative scarcity of formal description, catalogues, and architectural and archaeological illustration common to publications involving the archaeological of the contemporary world might appear surprising. Some of this can be explained by the nature of the book which was intended to interrogate the confluence of ruins and memories in the modern era rather than provide formal documentation for particular modern sites. Nevertheless, only a few papers foregrounded the results of excavation with even trench designations or photographs. Discussions of methodology, so common in archaeological publications over the last four decades, were largely absent with the exception of T. Webmoor’s discussion of the use of video to document an abandoned building on Stanford’s campus. No papers built interpretations upon quantitative or other data driven approaches or detailed the use of scientific techniques in either the conservation or discovery of modern sites.

While it is always inadvisable to review a book based on what it lacks, this critique is perhaps justified for a book that focuses so significantly on absences. The abandonment of techniques associated with longstanding disciplinary practices as well as the New Archaeology in the 1970s represents an effort to distinguish the tool used to document modernity from our deep disciplinary commitments to archaeology as a modern discourse.

Visions of Substance: The Dead Tree Version

I’m very pleased to announce that the paper version of Visions of Substance: 3D Imaging in Mediterranean Archaeology is now available on Amazon.

Visions of Substance CoverALL loosefront

It is a little more expensive than I would have liked at $24.00, but still within the acceptable range for academic books. It’s in color.

And, while I’d love for some folks to buy paper copies of the book and get them into their libraries. Everyone can always enjoy the free, digital version.

Review of Mike Dixon’s Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 138-196 BC

I started this review about six months ago, and then a million and one things intervened. The review is now done (just in time for me to get another book to review) and a working draft is at the end of this post.

One thing that Dixon’s book did get me thinking about – other than Corinth and the Corinthia – is the recent boom in interest in the Hellenistic world. When I was in graduate school, the next big thing was Late Antiquity, and this was really the long tail of a small, but influential body of scholarship in the 1970s and 1980s that inspired a generation of Late Antiquitists. These Late Antiquitists, in turn, produced a generation of graduate students who finished their degrees in the last decade of the 20th and first decades of the 21st centuries. Peter Brown’s The World of Late Antiquity (1971) and the late antique contributors to Alexander Khazdan’s Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (1991) provide useful bookends to the formative phase in the development of Late Antiquity as a boom field. 

I’m not as familiar with the develop of the Hellenistic world as a field, but my two main regions of study have show and significant uptick in the number of dissertations and scholarship focusing on the Hellenistic era. Much of the scholarship with which I am familiar is archaeological and I suspect that Susan Rotroff’s work has had a significant impact in our view of the archaeology of Hellenistic Greece and Aegean. As far as Hellenistic Cyprus, there is an impressive cohort of freshly minted Ph.D.s ready to write the history of this period on the island. If I was an investor in academic futures, I’d be all-in on the Hellenistics, right now.

So Dixon’s work represents the first in what will most likely be an impressive groundswell of scholarship on Hellenistic Greece and Hellenistic Eastern Mediterranean more broadly. As such, it should be seen as a useful bellwether.

Booking at the Speed of Blog

This week, I’ve spent time doing two things (let’s say). One is reading Hartmut Rosa’s recent book on acceleration. The other thing is working on the final edits of the next book from the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, Visions of Substance.

Visions of Substance began its life about 15 months ago as a series of blog posts on my blog in a series called “3D Thursday.” The response to these posts was really good, with a few of the posts ranking among the most frequently viewed on my blog and attracting thousands of page views and a few academic citations to boot. I was pleased by how easy it was to publish substantial blog posts and to get ideas and practices, particularly in the fast moving area of 3D imaging in field archaeology.


Visions of Substance Cover

My goal as a publisher was to move this content into a book form. To do this, we invited the contributors to revise their papers and provide better quality images when necessary. Those inclined can see their work move from from the realm of the blog to the less ephemeral world of a digital and bound book.

This process was interesting to me for a number of reasons. First off, my hope is that the blog to book process continues the process of expanding the boundaries of “scholarly communication” to include the less formal space of the blog. Since the early days of my blog, I have made a little show of migrating it to a “paper ready format” as a light-hearted gesture in this general direction. I still don’t have the nerve to actually count my blog as part of my academic output, but it’s hard not to see it as part of my scholarly identity.

I also have become more and more interested in the publication process. I’ve long admired the Journal of Roman Archaeology for its austere and – let’s say – uneven editing; the spirit of the journal is captured beautifully in their website. I imagined it as a model of publishing efficiency as it dispensed with even the most basic formatting cues beyond footnotes, page numbers, and titles. My second love, has long been Hesperia, which subjects its authors to an arduous editorial process, exacting standards, and a good bit of design swagger in its presentation. Hesperia is – for an academic journal – sexy and it knows it. As some new to publishing, I realized that nothing I did would come close to Hesperia, but I could approximate a Journal of Roman Archaeology vibe. In fact, I think I could even do a tiny bit better than the JRA without succumbing to the need to actually take design seriously. This means that a respected academic template already exists for efficient publication with relatively little polish.

A colleague and I were chatting yesterday and we both noted how, in some point over the last half century, the correspondence or note has vanished as an academic genre. I recall Hesperia having published short epigraphic articles maybe a decade ago and I certain cite a few short notes in my own work, but as far as I can tell, few journals in the humanities continue to publish contributions under, say, 8,000 words. An editor once told me that it was because short articles took every bit as long as long articles to lay-out and edit, so it was more efficient to have 5 long articles rather than, say, 4 shorter notes and 3 longer articles. Book reviews continue to appear because, generally speaking, they are less editorially intensive (that is, they less editorial contact with authors and peer reviewers). I wonder if we can create a model for these think a streamlined publication flow that emphasizes public peer review through a blog like interface, and making the publication of notes no more intensive than a book review.

I’ve been thinking about the influence of speed lately. To return to Harmut Rosa’s book, he argues – and I’m simplifying greatly here – that acceleration and speed in late modernity have led significant and recognizable social change. (For a much better consideration of Rosa’s work in this context go here.) He is not the first to make these arguments, but he does summarize a vast swath of recent scholarship on the topic (and I’ll write more about this soon) and identifies the acceleration of the late modern world as the key instrument to social transformation. Among the many direct effects of speed, for Rosa and others, is its tendency to collapse space and distance, and, I might add, promote the creation of spontaneous communities around events that might otherwise exist in physical or intellectual isolation.

To apply it to our case here, Rosa’s concept of social acceleration explains how rapid publication has the potential for creating a sense of scholarly immediacy in print publications that we usually reserve for, say, the communal experience of academic conferences. Streamlined publishing from blog to book preserves some of the rawness of conference presentation (or blog post) while formalizing what might otherwise be ephemeral, informal interaction between academics. So as I work toward booking at the speed of blog, I have become increasingly interested in how publishing old-style, paper (or for that matter digital books) quickly based on academic ephemeral could make social and intellectual ties between academics more transparent and to localize, even if it’s just on a page, the liquidity intrinsic in the modern academy.

Some thoughts on Marilyn Johnson’s Lives in Ruins

Over the last month there has been steadily more buzz on Marilyn Johnson’s Lives in Ruins. I was lucky enough to get and enjoy an advance copy and had planned to write a traditional review as soon as book came out. Then I remembered that I don’t usually write formal reviews here on The Blog, so I shelved the project and time passed and other things came up.

This past week a few friends have been bantering about the book and it received some good press over at The New Yorker.  So now, amid the social and old media buzz, I figure I should write down a few of my thoughts on the book.

In the interest of full disclosure (which is rarely very interesting), I met with Johnson after an AIA talk in New York City last year and chatted a bit about my work. We then corresponded about contemporary and punk archaeology over email. She was curious and gracious and even apologized for not including material from our conversations in her book. 

Not only did I like her, but I also liked her book. I bought a copy for my mother for Christmas!

I thought that she was very effective in drawing characters as lively as any I’ve met in the archaeological profession. She also balanced the struggles of professional archaeologists against their triumphs and the haves, personified by none other than Joan Connelly, against the have nots like Kathy Abbas who scrubbed floors to fund her quixotic campaign to document an 18th century fleet in Newport Harbor. Her survey of the field ranged from historical archaeologists of the Caribbean to Connelly’s work on Cyprus to contract archaeologists in New York state, forensic archaeologists in New Jersey, and government archaeologists for the US Military. Her book, then, provided a sweeping view of the profession and lingered well outside the insulating walls of academia. I suspect that the picture of the field and the discipline will sit well with many of my professional colleagues. 

Despite this, I still felt something was a bit off in the book. Something did not quite coincide with my experience in the discipline. Some of this feeling was almost certainly a product of the medium – popular non-fiction. The stories included in the book tended to follow a certain formula that created a satisfying rhythm to the narrative: first I did or said THIS, and no one believed me, peopled didn’t recognized my work, or people thought I was crazy, but then THIS, and everyone realized that I was right all alone. I think Hayden White would call this comedic mode of emplotment, not because it’s funny, but because her narratives tend toward the conservative and the socially integrating. In the end, Grant Gillmore, our struggling Caribbeanist hero, gets a job; Bill Sandy is able to forestall (for now, good reader!) the destruction of an important 18th century cemetery; Laurie Rush was able to promote to meaningful changes to the US Military’s policies toward cultural heritage. This is not to suggest that Johnson’s book is naive or unrealistic. She recognized the ongoing struggles of Sandy and Abbas in funding their projects, but there is this optimism throughout that, ultimately, the intrinsically compelling nature of our discipline and its practitioners will win out. This, of course, makes for compelling reading especially to a generation raised on the satisfying glow of situation comedies where confusion, antics, and pratfalls resolve themselves and life goes on the way that it should. Archaeology and truth win out. 

This is not to suggest that there wasn’t some hints at personal heroism (that is, suggestive of the Romantic or even the Tragic modes of emplotment) reinforced by the moral good of the individuals and their pursuits, but generally speaking the integrity of the discipline and methods, practices, and truth carry us forward.

So maybe it was the focus on individual and their place within the discipline that left me a bit unsatisfied. I think that I wanted to read something less conventional and less resolved. Archaeology for all its romance and appeal is not something that is achieved as much as something that is constantly produced through interactions between archaeologists in the field, in publications, and both within and outside of disciplinary media. The challenge of constructing a discipline with practice, methods, policies, ethics, and expectation constantly run ahead of modernist ideologies that see our fixation on the past as a hinderance to constructing a more enlightened, rational, and perfect future (perhaps, but not necessarily driven by market forces?). For example, notice the consistent critique of NSF funding archaeological projects.

Archaeology, then, like the discipline of history, is in a constant state of remaking itself and pushing back against the very Enlightenment values that defined its place within the modern academy. This tension does not lend itself to the comedic mode of emplotment, but is, to my mind, far more suitable for satire where the actors struggle to find a resolution within the world of their own making. The poetic structure of irony, then, that most 20th-century way of seeing the world is the most suitable for understanding the nature of archaeology as a discipline. Our discipline’s efforts to evince a conservative, scientific character run counter to our goals of understanding the past. This tension not only produces an atmosphere of dynamic questioning in the discipline, but also ensures that typical forms of resolution –  employment, solved problems, contributions to a fixed body of knowledge, professional recognition – can hardly represent the culmination of lives in ruins. 

Cyprus and the Balance of Empires

I was pretty excited to pick up at the ASOR annual meeting the volume titled Cyprus and the Balance of Empires edited by Tom Davis, Charles Stewart, and Annemarie Weyl Carr. The volumes consists of a series of papers focused on the period from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion originally presented at Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute in a 2011 conference.  This work should be read alongside the recently published volume from the Cahier du Centre d’Etudes Chypriotes on the “Archaeology of Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus (4th-12th centuries AD)” to provide a sweeping overview of recent research on Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus.

As per usual, I will not provide a full review of this volume, but make some quick observations. I’ll mainly focus on the first eight chapters which focus on the Late Antique and Early Byzantine period on the island. 

1. Churches. Like Cypriot archaeology, this volume is very interested in churches. It contains summary publications by D. Michaelides on his newly excavated church at Ayioi Pente in Yeriskipou, E. Procopiou from her martyrium at Katalymata ton Plakton on the Akrotiri peninsula, and a massive synthetic article by Charles Stewart on the development of Byzantine architecture on Cyprus.

The most famous of these churches is the massive martyrdom at Katalymata with its western facing apse. Procopiou interpretation of this building as a 7th century martyrdom with clear architecture ties to both Egypt and the Levant is almost certain correct, and reinforces the position of Cyprus as a major center of pilgrimage in the 6th and 7th centuries with important churches at Amathous, Salamis-Constantia, Limassol (Neapolis), and now on the Akrotiri peninsula.

D. Michaelidis publication of the salvage excavations at Ay. Pente expands the corpus of Early Christian churches on the island and provides particularly useful parallels for the basilica at Polis-Chrysochous which I’ve been working to publish. Both the Ay. Pente church and the South Basilica at Polis are surrounded by graves and the stone lined ossuaries at Ay. Pente are similar to those a basilica EG0 at Polis. The relationship between contemporary burials and cult activities across the island in the 7th century is quite clear and consistent. I was similarly intrigued by what appears to be a south porch on the basilica at Ay. Pente which is another feature shared with the South basilica at Polis. Unfortunately the plan of the church at Ay. Pente is pretty disturbed so it is difficult to understand whether this south porch was associated with a southern atrium like at the South Basilica. I’m beginning to wonder whether these south porches provided sheltered access for rituals attached to important burials on the island. 

2. Architectural Development of Churches on Cyprus. Charles Stewart’s sweeping review of church architecture on Cyprus deserves its own number in my non-review. His survey was, as one would expect, thought provoking. Stewart began his work by critiquing the dichotomies that have structured past studies of church architecture on the island. Starting with Megaw who asked whether Cypriot architecture was “metropolitan or provincial” and continuing through Curcic who asked whether Cypriot architecture was provincial or “regional” in character. Of course, Dikigoropoulos 1961 dissertation located Cyprus “betwixt Greek and Saracen” and numerous subsequent scholars have found both productive and reductionist parallels between the islands current divided political situation and its historical place a crossroads in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Stewart, then, was right to critique the overdetermination of these binary readings of Cypriot architectural history. In its place, Stewart argued that throughout the Early Byzantine period Cyprus’ place in the Mediterranean shifted according to local political, economic, and religious influences. There was no single core for which the island stood as the periphery, but multiple cores and peripheries that shaped the island as an architectural space.

Without getting into the detail of Stewart’s article, I do wonder whether he replaced on set of dichotomies with another. He seemed inclined divide architecture influences between those from the island and those from outside the island creating a Cyprus: Not Cyprus dichotomy. While historically this makes sense, as the corpus of basilicas on Cyprus have generally been seen as unique, I do wonder whether we should look at the communities on Cyprus as independent actors rather than simply individual representations of some island wide tendencies. I suspect that some communities on the island looked at their neighbors for inspiration while others looked far beyond the island’s shores. 

3. Survey and Early Byzantine Cyprus. Marcus Rautman’s article provides a nice overview of the work done by regional surveys to illuminate the Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods on the island, and the rural landscape in particular. A key point in this article is that the late 7th century and 8th century landscapes may be much more elusive from an archaeological perspective. Rautman argues that the disruption of region trade, particularly sponsored by the imperial government, created a landscape dominated by short-term settlements rather than substantial and stable investments on the countryside characteristic of 6th and early 7th centuries. These short-term settlements and more contingent practices are less visible to the archaeologist and sometimes misinterpreted as population decline or abandonment.

4. Chronology and Ceramics. It was pretty remarkable that a collection of articles dedicated to the Late Romana and Early Byzantine period on Cyprus did not include a single article focusing exclusively on ceramics. David Metcalf’s article on seals and coins and Maria Parani’s all-too-short contribution on everyday life reminded us that small finds can play a key role in understanding the island’s economic, social, and administrative context. The lack of an article dealing specifically with locally made cook pots, the long-lived Late Roman 1 amphoras, or the regionally produced Cypriot Red Slip table wares, speaks to archaeological traditions on the island that despite well-known contributions by no less a scholar than Hector Catling or David Soren, continues to be dominated by students of architecture, icons, styles, and top-down history of church patrons, imperial officials, and bishops. Davis’s and Stewart’s overview of the study of Byzantine archaeological work on Cyprus emphasized the long-standing nature of existing research agendas despite the continued inroads of scholars like Marcus Rautman, Michael Given, and … err… me, Scott Moore, and David Pettegrew.

The book has much to offer the student of Late Roman and Byzantine Cyprus and contributes to the impressive and growing body of knowledge about the island during these periods. Now, we just need to get scholars from outside the island of Cyprus to read and consider the work done on Cyprus, and for archaeologists who work on Cyprus to continue to work to place the island within a wider context. 

Some Thoughts on Punkademia

Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly making my way through Zack Furness’s edited volume Punkademics (2012), which brings together a wide range of academic voices on the influences of punk rock on the “ivory tower.” As a colleague of mine quipped, I like that this book exists. In fact, I wish I had known about while putting together Punk Archaeology; Furness would have been a great contribution to our work.

The book consists of a wide range of essays that, generally, interweave the history of punk with the personal stories from professional and academic life. The contributions are generally readable and a pair of interviews with Alan O’Connor, who studied the punk scene in Toronto, and Milo Aukerman, a research biologist with DuPont who is a member of the Descendents, added to the immediacy of the volume. 

I won’t do a full review, but I do have a few quick, day-before-Thanksgiving, observations:

1. Politics over Aesthetics. One of the key points of this volume is that the punk movement was more than just aesthetic posturing by bored, image-conscious youth (as postulated by, say, Dick Hebdige’s 1979 classic, Subculture: The Meaning of Style), but a legitimate form of political expression. Furness and company paid particular attention to the late 1970s punk scene in the U.K. where bands like Crass brought together left-wing, anarchist sensibilities in their lyrics and approach to performance and the music industry. The devoted less attention to, say, the American version of punk rock which developed in close connection with the New York art scene of the late 1960s and had close ties to, say, Andy Warhol’s Factory. American punk particularly as it developed in New York City had a much greater focus on aesthetic challenges to the increasingly banal world of American consumer culture. This was a critique of consumer culture, suburbia, or even the absurdity of everyday life, but it was less overtly political. 

2. Gender, Race, Orientation, and Community. Furness’s contributors considered the tensions that existed between the attitudes within the punk scene toward women, minorities, and gay and queer participants. These attitudes vacillated between the open and accommodating to the overtly hostile. Even a casual listener to the punk rock music can appreciate the misogynistic sentiments expressed in punk lyrics and the use of insensitive (at best) and intolerant language in the sometimes tense relations between groups and bands. While in some ways, the anarchic and left-leaning politics of punk created a safe place for minorities of all kinds, the aggressive tone of the music and adversarial posturing could sometimes create a hostile environment as extreme political and social rhetoric masked puerile oppositional showboating. 

I was particularly struck by the critique of gender in punk, and it made me very aware that the first, published iteration Punk Archaeology was very much a boys’ club (with the exception of Colleen Morgan, the Patti Smith of the Punk Archaeology movement, Kris Groberg, and Heather Gruber). This was all the more troubling because Mediterranean Archaeology has tended to be an (old) boys’ club in many ways and remains almost exclusively the domain of white folks.

3. Punk Pedagogy. Several authors dealt explicitly with the influence of punk on their classrooms, and it was fun to see some of my approaches to teaching considered to be punk pedagogy. Two particular things stand out. First, I share with punk pedagogy a willingness to cede power to my students, within limits, and to attempt to create a space for radical creativity in my classroom. I think that some of Furness’s authors would see the punk in my experiments in the Scale-Up classroom which drew heavily on the thinking of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Moreover, I was happy to see that punk teachers shared my deep skepticism of the industrialized academy, but none appeared interested in exploring what a return of a craft approach to higher education might look like (at least in those terms). 

4. DIY. The essays advocate do-it-yourself practices that sought to intentionally undermine our dependence on mass produced consumer goods and practices. Of course, this has become increasingly difficult in an academic setting as the creeping spread of regulations, standards, assessment practices, and corporatized expectations has encroached upon our ability to operate outside of institutionally controlled practices. It was interesting to me that few of the articles spoke to any resistance to DIY practices from institutional concerns. For example, there was considerable outcry surrounding the development of a DIY book scanner, and the increasingly stringent copyright laws which we’re told protect our “intellectual property” often make it more difficult to produce meaningful scholarship or to circulate our works. DIY practices offer a way to subvert, endrun, and defy these policies and practices, but also carry increasing risk as our intellectual and creative autonomy is seen as a threat to those who want to monetize it.

(Some day, I will write about my efforts to start a press at the University of North Dakota.)

5. Punk as Failure. One of the most redeeming things about this book is author’s openness regarding the successes and failures of their efforts to … (continued below)


Ok. I really want to continue this post, but when we woke up this morning our dog looked like this:

IMG 2374

His eyes usually look like this:

IMG 2367

So now I’m going to take him to the vet. I’ll finish this post when I get back.


… integrate a punk ethos into their academic lives. The stories of failed efforts to create a punk infused classroom or to integrate their intellectual and political commitments to the shrill rhetoric of punk performance. The willingness to the contributors to admit and scrutinize the failures of punk to accommodate the academic life and professional world was heartening to me as I look back on my own struggles to bring my most ambitious and personal projects to satisfactory completion. The process of punk is perhaps more important than the product. Or, as my colleague quipped: I’m like that this book exists. 

Have a very punk rock Thanksgiving.

Three New Novels

The State Board of Higher Education, emboldened by the failure of North Dakota Ballot Measure 3, issued a proclamation that no faculty members outside of the English, language or literature programs can read novels, and people in those programs can only read novels directed toward (1) research, (2) classroom activities, or (3) other professional development. Ostensibly, this policy stems from the “pernicious advance of modernism in our universities, communities, and state” but many faculty think it is simply designed to focus our attention on academic pursuits.

Needless to say, this new policy will crimp my summer reading list which I sometimes pepper with so-called “fiction.” It will also make long intercontinental and cross-country flights less pleasant. Since it does not come into effect until January 1 and I had a few flights over the last month or so, I decided to take advantage of my last remaining months of free reading.

Here are three novels:

1. William Gibson, The Peripheral (2014). The novel is set in the both the near future (say 20 years from now) and the slightly more distant future (say 100 years from now) and starts with a description of an 1970s Airstream RV winterized with some kind of spray foam. The setting for much of the action in the more distant future is a tricked out Mercedes RV designed for long range trekking across the Gobi desert. The plot is fast-paced, baffling, and interesting enough, but the real power of Gibson’s books comes from his sensitivity toward future trends ranging from the rise of the internet to virtual reality. Anyone who does not see a future where we live in mobile housing has not been reading my blog very carefully. 

2. Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (2014). VenderMeer’s novels present a darker, even more distopian vision of the near future. The trilogy of Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance focus on a group of bureaucrats, scientists, and intelligence officials who the vaguely articulated “Central” has tasked with studying a mysterious Area X which suddenly appeared along a stretch of the Forgotten Coast. When the phenomenon that created Area X occurred, the sparse population of this stretch of coastline vanished and a barrier arose between the area and its surroundings. Southern Reach is the government agency investigating Area X, and while the descriptions of the mysterious area tend toward the etherial, they are unmistakably archaeological in character. The desolate beauty of abandonment permeates the novel and provides VenderMeer with an appropriate backdrop to explore the alienating effects of modern society. 

3 Julia Schumacher, Dear Committee Members (2014). This lovely, short novel explores a year in the life of Prof. Jason Fitger through his letters of recommendation. It chronicles his relationships with his ex-wife and ex-girl friend, his desperate efforts on behalf of a once promising friend and a student whose funding is cut by an increasingly rapacious administration, and his various letters to support students looking for work. The letter themselves range from the pathetic, to the charming, hilarious, and all-to-real, but they all embody the tension between Fitger as the devoted egoist and as the dedicated mentor, colleague, and friend. His letters become opportunities to reflect on his own situation in life as well as those of the students and colleagues who he recommends. The situations will be depressingly familiar to anyone who has spent time in academia: the grass is always greener (in another department), the plight of the overlooked genius, the anxiety surrounding creative and scholarly production, and the alternation between naivety and suspicion.

One more set of flights starting this afternoon and then I’ll be home for the holidays. I don’t have any more novels to read, so I’ll have to do work. Hopefully spending some time with creative folks like Gibson, VanderMeer, and Schumacher rubs off and makes me work better. Isn’t that the promise of modernity? 

On Books and Blogs

This is the 1000th post on the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. About 950 of them, I’ve authored and the other 50 or so were penned by my remarkable colleagues and contributors.

My average post length is about 300 words, which puts the entire endeavor at around 280,000 words or so. That’s a lot of words. These words have had about 145,000 page views and average around 1000 views per week. I think this is a sustainable clip for me as the author, and, I hope, for you as readers.  

I’ve posted a number of times on how blogging fits into my daily workflow and its benefit to me as a writer and scholar. It ensures that I write every day and smooths the transition from the jumbled nest of ideas in my head to (what I try to pass off as) linear arguments. As readers of this blog know, my posts tend to be messy and unedited and filled with inconsistencies, but I trust my readers to filter out what makes sense and what doesn’t and to cull the good from the posts here and discard the crazy. I hope, on the measure, that my posts produced more wheat than chaff.

If the threshing process is too time consuming, you can, of course, go right to the main coarse of bread. Yesterday afternoon we got the cover image for the book that I wrote with David Pettegrew, Scott Moore and a few other remarkable colleagues.


I love the cover image because it humanizes our work as archaeologist and stands in contrast to recent covers in the series which tend to focus on objects or buildings. It fits our volume because we spend many pages talking about the interaction between the human work of archaeology and analysis that this work produces. The invisibility of antiquity on the cover reminds the reader that archaeological knowledge is not out there waiting to be discovered, but is generated through the relationship between humans and the landscape. The presence of modern artifacts – electrical wires, metal signs and other features – highlights the diachronic nature of our survey work on Cyprus. All this is to say that the cover of our book shows that knowledge production is a messy process and this has fine parallels with the blobs of words that my dedicated readers frequently encounter here. I think this cover really makes our work stand out!

We’re optimistic that the book will available for Christmastime shopping (and everyone’s life is better with a bit of Koutsopetria!), and if it’s not available yet, you can always make it a Very Punk Archaeology Christmas!

I have a few experiments in mind for my online word-making projects in the next couple of weeks, so please stay tuned. And, while it goes without saying, thanks for reading! 

Fracking Made Personal

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading popular treatments on fracking. While in the Bakken I read Lisa Peters’ Fractured Land in anticipation of her visit to UND at the end of the month (more on that soon!). I then, while ambling about admiring Punk Archaeology, I bought Alex Prud’homme’s Hydrofracking in Oxford University Press’s What Everyone Needs to Know series and picked up Russell Gold’s, The Boom as well for fun. (Ok, I also indulged my hobby of Late Antiquity and bought Jonathan Conant’s Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700, but I won’t talk about that book in this post.)


I really want to write about Peters’ book, because in some way it’s the most interesting in presentation and the most relevant to any stray North Dakotans who might stumble on my blog, but Prud’homme, Gold, and Peters all do something similarly in their work. They begin with first person anecdotes about the boom. Gold talks about his liberal, aging-hippy parents being offered $400,000 by Chesapeake Energy to lease the rights for the gas under their rustic retreat in central Pennsylvania. Prud’homme finds himself at a public debate over fracking in New York City. Peters is on her way to be by her oil-loving father’s side at his death bed. For some reason, popular books on the oil boom and fracking demands a kind of first person intimacy.

I got to thinking about why these authors used this particular device to introduce their treatment of fracking. It’s not like fracking has been dehumanized in the mass media. The oil-smeared faces oil workers have already offered a human face of the industry, but these books seem to substitute a different face. They have replaced the dirty hands of the laborer with the soft hands of the journalist. Appealing to middle class ambivalence about fracking, the writer takes on the confusion of information confronting someone who might have oil stocks in their portfolio and appreciate their performance, but also have a twinge of guilt that perhaps profiting from petrochemical industry is not compatible with genteel environmentalism.

One of the key aspects of this bourgeois environmentalism are the attitudes of Gold and Peters toward private property. Peters, in particular, demonstrates a delicate ambivalence. On the one hand, she recognized the homesteading claims of her grandfather who tried to make a living from the difficult North Dakota soils. She admired her grandfather’s prescience in retaining mineral rights to his land and making leases to oil companies. Her childhood and environmentalism developed, ironically, from the conversion of these oil rights to property on the scenic St. Croix river and a lovely cabin. On the other hand, Peters knowingly trespasses on the St. Croix property after it was sold to reminisce about her childhood. Elsewhere in the book she was traumatized when she encountered an overzealous security guard at a fracking sand quarry. The final encounter in the book, which involved spreading her father’s ashes at a well site, was made more sweet when an oil field technicians at the well gave an impromptu tour rather than chasing the family away from the site. Despite his generosity, Peters made clear that the risk was there and the reader could only think of the earlier encounter at the quarry. In fact, a key tension throughout the book is the complexities of ownership whether of oil, property, or mineral rights, and the benefits and (ethical and emotional) risks associated with ownership.

In a sense, then, the story of the oil boom revolves around a complicated American dream which recognizes property ownership – whether the Jeffersonian farm, the modern suburban retreat, or the urban condominium – as part of a package of rights derived from a particular reading of John Locke. Environmentalism, in contrast, appears to ask the individual property owner to resist the fullest expression of those rights for the common good. In some cases, the state intervenes as mediator between the rights of the individual and the community, but Peters’ book problematizes this relationship between the individual and property.

The first chapters of Prud’hommes and Gold’s book likewise articulates the oil dilemma facing Americans as they locate themselves between the arguing factions, competing narratives, and the conflicting myths of private property, energy independence, and progress. I’m no environmentalist, but I do worry that the emphasis on the individual story undermines the genuine power of collective action. By making the hard work to keep the oil industry safe and as environmentally and culturally sensitive as possible a distinctly middle class operation guided by a set of middle class expectations, we run the risk of minimizing the responsibilities of the state (as in the federal, state, county, and local governments) and the community (loosely construed as people who share space, resources, and social ties) to negotiate the complex interests of its stakeholders.