Beyond the Book

This post will seem pretty ordinary to anyone who has thought critically about the digital humanities or digital archaeology over the past few years, but since I’m up, it’s early, and I’m thinking, I thought I’d post it anyway.

Last fall, my co-editors and I saw our first book appear from our work at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria. About six months earlier we had published the data from our site on Open Context. Unfortunately, since the book only appeared in paper, there was no way to connect the PKAP I volume and the Pyla-Koutsopetria book. The great thing about being an author, though, is getting page proofs (although the worst thing is having to read through them one. last. time.) Page proofs are usually just .pdfs of the final draft of the book, but they’re also a bit of a blank canvass. They provide the author or authors with all the value of layout and copy-editing (provided by the press) but also flexibility modify the content. 

So, I began to go through the catalogue section of the volume and insert links connecting the various objects in the catalogue to the entries in Open Context. 

For example:

94.29. Rim (fig. 4.10, reproduced at 1:2). Diam.
= uncertain, PH = 0.020, PL = 0.035, Th. (rim)
= 0.006, Th. (body) = 0.005. Medium-grained,
yellowish-red fabric (5YR 4/6) that is poorly fired
with a discolored gray exterior and a discolored
dark gray slip (10YR 4/1 to 7.5YR 4/4) on the ex-
terior. Fabric contains rare, sparkly inclusions.

With one click in Open Context, you can move back to the survey unit where the object originated, Unit 94; and another click allows you to see photos of the artifact here, here, here, here, and here

More recent updates to the Open Context database will expand the links throughout the volume. My edition of the book will be much better, more dynamic, and potentially more accurate than the paper original.

Pretty cool, right?

The problem is, how do I circulate this modified version of the book. Technically, I do not own the copy of the book that I’m modifying so I can’t really circulate it. So what I have is a private circulation book that has significantly added value on an “Unofficial Digital Edition.”

ARS 21  PKAP Text  Unoffical Digital Edition SQRpsd

So I got to thinking about my press and dynamic books. I know this is old turf for people thinking about the future of the book, but I have a current project at my press that will initially have only a very limited circulation. Bret Weber and I have been working to layout a collection of interview transcription from our work on the North Dakota Man Camp Project, which the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota will publish. The book is tentatively titled: Voices of the Bakken, and some time soon I’ll produce a snazzy cover for it (soon as in, um, today; see below).

There are two issues. First is that we need to sort out the organization of the interviews and decide whether we might obscure the identities of some of our informants (although we don’t have to according to our IRB paperwork) or contextualize certain aspects of our interviews more thoroughly. 

Second, we are in the process of developing online digital content for this project. Since our dataset is relatively large, we’ll likely publish parts of it over time rather than all at once. So the book will continue to accrue online content as we make more available. At present, though the book is in a private alpha which will probably expand to a private beta before being made available as a public beta sometime before the end of the year. The public version will then get a version number 1.0 that will be updated over time. The book then becomes an entity undergoing continuous development, like a piece of software, until it is formally retired. The final publication of the book, then, is the end of its existence as a living document rather than the start.  

I’m not saying that this will be the cover, but I’m also not saying it won’t be the cover. (Note the Gill Sans for the cover. I really, really wanted to use Cooper Black which to me invoked the 1930s and industry, but it was just too heavy to use in this mock-up.)

Voices of the Bakken 01 01

The Soon and the Summer

I bought by tickets to Greece for next summer and I need to buy my tickets from Athens to Cyprus this week. After a year away from my work on Cyprus to focus on the Western Argolid Regional Project in Greece, I’m going to return to Polis-Chrysochous for a three-week study season starting May 5. Then heading to Greece for almost two months on May 25th or 26th. This all means that planning for the summer has to start now.

First, the next few weeks will prove to be busy, but exciting.

On April 8th-11th, I’ll host Andrew Reinhard and Richard Rothaus on campus for a public showing of the documentary, Atari: Game Over, and an academic round-table on the archaeology of gaming and the contemporary world.

On April 7th, I take a quick trip to Fargo for a dissertation defense. 

On April 18th, I’ll be in at the Mary Jaharis Center in Brookline, MA to participate in a roundtable on “Byzantium in the Public Sphere” and somehow simultaneously at a Man Camp Dialogue presentation in Ellendale.      

Over the same stretch of time, I need to put the finishing touches on two sabbatical projects. One is the final round of revisions on the North Dakota Man Camp Project paper for Historical Archaeology, and the other is a book proposal for the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, which is become a more and more compelling project every passing week. The book proposal is virtually done and I have a meaningful draft of the manuscript in hand. Now all I need to make is a few final touches and pull the trigger. I’m also doing the final revisions on an article for Internet Archaeology on archeological blogging.

At the same time, I’ve been trying to put together the kit of necessary summer gear that has to be ordered and sorted out before the start of May.

1. New Laptop. My three year old 15-inch Dell XPS has finally become unusable thanks to a combination of Windows 8 and some kind of nagging hardware issues. So I have to order a quad-core Dell Precision 15-inch today with 16-gb of ram. 3D image processing takes a tremendous amount of power.

2. New GPS unit. My trusty, 10 year old Garmin Gecko was stolen from my 12-year-old truck this past fall. We used Garmin Oregon 650s this past summer in Greece because we could upload aerial photographs to them and they had 8-megapixel cameras. In turns out that the cameras were not particularly useful and drained the battery. So this summer, I’ll purchase a Garmin 600 which is the same unit without a camera.

3. Camera. I love my Panasonic GX1, but the camera will be going on its third field season and has enjoyed such exotic opportunities as being used in a landfill in a dust storm, being lugged up every elevation in the Western Argolid without a lens cap, and several trips to the froze tundra of North Dakota. My hope is that it survives this summer, but I bought a fall back camera, a Canon ELPH135, which is discontinued and sells for less than $90 on Amazon. It’s nowhere near as good as the Panasonic, but it’s small, cheap, and good enough for a backup camera.

4. Microphone. With my career as a podcaster slowly gaining momentum, I need a small, decent USB microphone. Suggestions? For our podcasts, I’ve used a Blue Yeti, but this is a heavy microphone and I need to save some weight for, you know, three months of clothing.

5. Music. Living away from home for this long of a time is hard on me for a range of reasons (wife, dog, house, other responsibilities), but part of the thing that makes it hard is that I go from being alone most of the time to being surrounding by people most of the time. My escape is listening to music. To facilitate this, I have seriously upgraded my mobile music kit. First, I got a pair of new Audeze EL-8, closed back headphones and a little bird has hinted that I’ll get a new ALO Rx MK3 B+ amplifier which appears to be getting phased out of the ALO line-up and is now available at steeply discounted prices from their warehouse page. The amp is probably overkill for the EL-8s, but I suspect even in single-ended mode (balanced cables are not yet available for the EL-8s) it’ll provide a bit more oomph for the relatively efficient EL-8s as well as the option to move to a balanced set up in the future. 

6. Books. Usually I make a request for summer reading recommendations, but this summer, it looks like the American Journal of Archaeology has that all sorted out for me. I’m going to be working on a review article featuring several new books on the archaeology of the contemporary world and the growing interest in materiality among archaeologists. That being said, I’ll need to track down a few recreational books to read this summer, preferably with spaceships in them. 

Poetry for Greece

My post today is about poetry. It is also an advertisement. It’s not, an advertisement for myself, which will probably come as a shock to many of you.

My old friend James Bradley Wells has prepared his second book of poetry, The Kazantzakis Guide to Greece. His first book of poems, Bicycle, appeared a few years ago and you can get it here. He also wrote a book on Pindar.

If you like Greece and like poetry, then you should pre-order a copy of his book


So, I’m advertising James’s poetry book here for a few reasons. First, the book is about Greece and is due to appear on July 15th. While I complained that this publication date made it impossible for me to take the book to Greece and read it after a long day in the field, James assured me that the best time for reading this book is in the late summer as I reminisce (fondly at that point) about my times in Greece while sitting on my front porch ignoring the start of the semester.  

Some of the poems came from his time at the American School of Classical Studies when we had neighboring rooms in the annex. He introduced me to performance theory and Erving Goffman and Richard Bauman, and patiently (tried to) explain to me how their ideas could expand my reading of Pierre Bourdieu and Anthony Giddens. To this day, I have never felt smarter (and more humble) than when I was sitting at Kolonaki Square with James on a Sunday morning, drinking coffee, talking about our work.

I can clearly recall his excitement when he returned from Crete having seen Katzantzakis’s tomb in Heraklion. So while I’m just making my way through a generously-offer (ok, I begged) manuscript now, I can already hear certain rhythms in his poetry that remind me of my time in Athens over a decade ago, and the list of sites evokes will only be more meaningful to people who endured the famous American School Regular Program. The American School should certainly pre-order a copy and add it to their collection of work produced under their auspices.

Finally, the book is being published by a small, but award winning press in Georgetown, Kentucky: Finish Line Press. They are counting on a certain number of pre-orders before they’ll begin production. While this might horrify those of us used to working with larger commercial ventures or subsidized academic, university presses, these kinds of strategies are what small presses need to do to make ends meet. What I like about this system, though, is that it makes buying this book less of a straight commercial transaction (I want, so I buy) and more of a decision about whether one thinks this kind of thing should exist. 

Here is some of the poetry:

I do not have the tonguefeel for nomenclature.
Names of things are the second fork beside
a dinner plate. I never know just what

to say if checkerspots, coppers, elfins, azures,
metalmarks light upon salvia, lavender blossoms,
coneflower, or coreopsis. If cedar waxwing

or purple finch complains when I compete
with them and pick serviceberries, I do not know
the words to mark the surprise of its being the case

that these creatures heckle me so. Nomenclature clouds
me over, but the panorama of wing
possesses me. A skybound god’s same unsayable

hemline trailing down the aisle of time’s
cathedral, wing and horizon are the same.


Here’s some more, a ghazal (which is not the same as an antelope, but some form of poetry). For those who know something about poetry and the ghazal, in particular, check out the last line for some insider, poetry cleverness. This is what happens when someone who studies Pindar

Olympia in nimbostratus October chronicles the word naós.
Zeus Olympios, Phidias’ art, Jesus Pancrator, each Lord’s naós.

Gold leaf, ivory panels, glass sheets, jewels, and copper fixed
to wooden core, the skyscraping icon dwelt in god’s naós.

One of the ancient world’s seven wonders, Phidias sculpted
Lord Zeus’ icon in his unquitting workshop, this replica naós.

Libation vessels, golden censers, the table where the reverent
offered bread, Antiochus pillaged the Jewish Lord’s naós.

Assyrians handwove a woolen curtain dyed in Tyrian purple,
the Temple veil that Antiochus offered at Zeus’ naós.

Archaeologists discovered sculptor’s tools, terra cotta molds,
centuries after Christians repurposed Phidias’ replica naós.

I belong to Phidias inscribed on the bottom of a cup.
Lichened, pockmarked column drums, Greek is a language scarred by naós.


So pre-order copies of his book for yourself (because it’s good), for other people (as a gift), and for the entire community. Doing what we can for small presses like this to thrive and for passionate work to see the light of day is good for everyone. Plus, the book only costs a penny less than $12.50.  

Carl Blegen in the Warm Greek Sun

I thoroughly enjoyed the small volume titled Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narrative edited by Jack Davis, Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, and Vasiliki Florou and published by the Lockwood Press.

The tone of the volume is pure American School. I mean that in a nice way. The contributions which deal primarily with his professional life evoke sun-dabbled fall afternoons in the American School saloni drinking tea and reminiscing over the great figures in the field of archaeology. There was praise, some light-duty prosopography linking Blegen and friends to their equally distinguished peers (and occasionally to students), some veiled references to Blegen household arrangements (and equally broad assurances), and enough references to intrigue Blegenophiles and historians of American archaeology alike.

Blegen, it would seem, was a genuinely nice person with only the barest suggestion that he could be Minnesota-nice (a kind of deceptive niceness designed to move people along without unnecessary conversation or disagreeableness). He was genuinely nice, generous with his time and knowledge, and respectful to those who disagreed with him. For example, Blegen and Arthur Evans famously disagreed on the origins and character of the Bronze Age civilization on mainland Greece. Evans was convinced that Helladic civilization was an offshoot of the Minoans that he studied on Crete whereas Blegen regarded mainland Greece during the Bronze Age as independent. Y. Galanakis’s and Y. Fappas’s contributions to the volume outline how despite the sometimes rancorous scholarly debate, Evans and Blegen remains personally cordial. The correspondence between Blegen and his close friend and collaborator Alan J. B. Wace showed just a touch of annoyance that they couldn’t bring the Evans around to their point of view. 

The contributions from N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, R. Pounder, and E. French provide some insight into Blegen’s personal and family life. Vogeikoff-Brogan offers what scant information is available about Blegen’s family life prior to his career in archaeology. I was a bit surprised that the rather substantial collection of material from Carl’s brother, Theodore, in both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Historical Society archives [update: Jack Davis just informed me that copies of the outgoing correspondence from Carl to his family, including Theodore, in various Minnesota archives were presented to the archive at the American School, so this was available for the authors of the book.]. I’d be curious to know whether some of these papers preserve correspondence between Carl and his brother Theodore who became a prominent American historian and academic, serving as president of the OAH and as the dean of the graduate school at the University of Minnesota. (One wonders if he corresponded with Carl about his work to debunk the Kensington Runestone toward the end of his life.) 

R. Pounder’s contribution is perhaps the most intriguing articles in the collection. He examined the rather unusual marriage of Carl and Elizabeth Blegen and Bert Hodge Hill and Ida Thallon Hill. Elizabeth and Ida had an existing, intimate relationship and Blegen and Hill were close friends. The four lived together in Athens as a quartet of presumably three intimate couples (Ida and Elizabeth, Carl and Elizabeth, and Bert Hodge Hill and Ida). Equally intriguing was that both Carl and Elizabeth become close to their teachers with Hill exerting an important and formative influence over Blegen’s early career in Greece, and Ida being Elizabeth’s teacher at Vassar. In a world increasingly concerned with both the structure of a proper marriage and the problems with asymmetrical power relationships between students and faculty, Pounder presents the Blegens and the Hills in a disarmingly innocent way.

E. French is the daughter of Blegen’s close friend and collaborator, Alan J.B. Wace, and offers some personal memories of her encounters with Carl in their family home. Her contribution is one of the few that capture some of Blegen’s puckish side as she described him and her father racing a train to get the best hotel rooms at Mycenae ahead of some German colleagues. Apparently the “Govs” as they affectionately called each other in their correspondence, were known for “naughty boy behavior” as young archaeologists in Greece, but beyond the tale of their daring train chase, little of that comes through in this volume. 

This is a subtle book which I suspect was intentional. There is no indication that Blegen revealed himself easily to the contributors choosing instead to allow his prodigious professional accomplishments be his legacy. His humor comes across through calling Alan Wace, “gov” in his correspondence, and his tendency to call academic works in progress a “bilge.” (One wonders how many contemporary archaeologists would refer to their life’s work in such informal terms!). His modern sensibilities come through in his unusual personal life and faint references to his interaction with the famous Greek modernists collectively known as the “Generation of the Thirties.” It would have been useful to understand how these interactions influenced Blegen’s own artistic sensibilities including his literary output which he presented at the Literary Club in Cincinnati. Finally, I wish the volume talked more about Blegen’s intellectual legacy through his students and colleagues. His life in the field spanned such a crucial period for the development of Mediterranean archaeology that I really wanted a more formal accounting of his intellectual, practical, and academic influences. But, in the end, I suppose that many of these explicit statements of Blegen’s place in archaeological history can be safely left understated much like the man himself.

One last thing, the color photo of Blegen by Manuel Litran on page 188 is remarkable. In particular, it draws attention to Blegen’s eyes. There is something about the eyes of an archaeologist that reflects the visuality of our field. I’ve often thought that a photographic exhibit of archaeologist’s eyes would be a compelling thing. This photo would certainly have an important place in that collection, and that image as well as those painted throughout this book makes it a worthwhile addition to any library. 

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.