The Bakken Goes Boom

It is really exciting to announce that the Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota went live this morning. As readers of this blog know, The Bakken Goes Boom is the first conventional edited volume that The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota has released. It was peer-reviewed and drew upon a wide range of scholars, artists, and thoughtful writers to offer a distinct and significant contribution on how we understand the Bakken.

Needless to say, this project would not have happened without the support of my co-editor, Kyle Conway, and all the contributors to the volume. 

The book is available for free download under a CC-By open access license. Go here to get it

Download it, share the link, read it, criticize it, review it, fear it, and revile it:

Bakken Goes Boom Front Cover

Bakken Goes Boom Preview

This morning I woke up with plan to roll out a sneak peak at the newest book from The Digital Press: The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota. I got paper galley proofs yesterday evening, and started to go through them and found lots of little niggling issues (most of which… cough… all of which… are my fault), but these will be generally quick fixes. After one more round of gentle editing, we’ll probably approach the point of diminishing returns.

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All books have mistakes in them, and these mistakes are part of what makes publishing a craft and an art. They reveal the steady, but not flawless hand of the human publisher and, with any luck, the irregular contours of an author’s work.

But, the book does exist and it’s being straightened out even as we speak, and there is some chance that a little preview happens tomorrow and the digital version of the book is released (very quietly) on Friday with the paper version appearing later in the month.

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What is more fun is that I’m going to speak for a few minutes to a class in our undergraduate editing and publishing program this morning. My talk sounds a bit like a pep talk which is embarrassing, but I encourage the students to embrace a decentered model of publishing where every one can be an author and everyone can be their own publisher, but also to be generous with their creativity, skills, and energies. If we want to get out from under the genuinely rapacious behavior of publishers, we have to offer an alternative and support that alternative. The Digital Press offers our contribution to an independent, collaborative publishing model. It’s not the only model that should exist, but I think academic publishing is better and stronger that it does exist.

Words, words, words

I’ve spent three days making maps for my Tourist Guide to the Bakken (brace yourself for a two-for-Tuesday blog post), so I work up this morning with my head filled with words.

Over the past two months, I’ve avoided working on a book project to which I’m a pretty minor contributor, but thanks to a late evening email, I started thinking about it again. I’m fascinated with the idea of the American West as this kind of national hinterland filled with all sorts of fascinating stuff begging for me to juxtapose it in random ways.

I was thinking of the Atari Excavations and the concept of “fake archaeology” once again, and my mind drifted to sites like the Manitou Cliff Dwelling museum near Colorado Springs were a cliff dwelling from the Four Corners area was reassembled in the early-20th century. While I don’t mean to suggest that a similar method of presentation could not be used “back East” (and, indeed, sites like The Cloisters in New York repurposed the European ecclesiastical architecture to create a space for the Rockefeller art collection), a degree of dissimulation was possible at the Manitou site because of the remoteness of western cliff dwelling sites and the basic lack of familiarity with the archaeology of the region. No one likely believed that The Cloisters was an “authentic” site. It was possible to situate the excavation of Atari games from the Alamogordo landfill as “authentic” because it took place in the “hinterland.” In fact, media reports were reluctant to accept accounts from local residents, there was an absence of basic historical research (for example, we really don’t know whether the dumping of Atari games left a paper trail), and quick transformation of the event from a curiosity to an urban legend. 

The issue of authenticity and the American West intersects with some of the conversation about tourism and how it keys on the desire to experience the “frontier” or to experience “nature” or whatever. Again, this is not a distinctly or exclusively “Western” phenomenon. Places like Colonial Williamsburg (once again a Rockefeller connection), offered authentic experiences “back East” at least as mediated through various reconstructions. Williamsburg may offer a colonial Deadwood or Medora, but it pales in comparison with Yosemite or Yellowstone which were set aside to preserve nature in its “primordial” state. The Atari excavation, then, depended on a suspension of disbelief and perhaps benefited from a view that the American West preserves a palpable authenticity long ago deemed improbable among the cynical cities of the “the east.” 

Finally, I got to thinking about excavation in the American West. I’m not sure how this will fit into something that I write up for this little book, but excavation in the American West is pretty broad topic. First, I thought about the excavation of mountain sites like Yucca Mountain or the WIPP in New Mexico for depositing radioactive waste. Of course these sites draw upon a long tradition of mining in the west, which both pocked the region with pits and tunnels, none more famous, perhaps than the Berkeley Pit near Butte, Montana, but has also fueled a thriving cottage industry of mining archaeology. Finally, there are the massive craters of the Nevada Test Site where detonations of nuclear and conventional bombs excavated tons of earth. 

Sedan Plowshare Crater

Somehow I want to weave these themes together in a short chapter on excavating contemporary trash in the West with a focus on the Atari excavations. 

Open Textbooks, Cost, and Value

On Thursday, I heard an inspiring talk by David Ernst of the University of Minnesota. He’s the CIO of their College of Education and Human Development and an open educational resource activist. His talk to at UND focused on the importance of open textbooks and was part of a larger “open educational resources seminar” put on by UND’s working group for open access resources. 

The main thrust of Ernst’s talk was that textbooks cost too much and this has had real implication on the quality of education at American universities. You can check out his slides from the talk here. He makes the point that textbooks were the one area of cost in higher education that faculty could control. While I bristled a bit at the suggestion that somehow faculty should feel obligated to solve a problem (that is not of their own making) because they can, I do think his call for action is a reasonable one. No one really benefits from the high cost of textbooks except publishers who actively work against the best interest of the academy in their quest for larger profit margins. He then showed a series of short videos that reinforced the idea that textbook costs were a problem for students, and this led students to make decisions that often worked against the educational goals of the course. 

This is where I began to rankle a bit. I think (and in a very engaging conversation with him afterward, more or less confirmed) that Prof. Ernst conflated the cost of the textbook with its value. As I told him, my experience was that students are just as willing to not read a free or a very inexpensive textbook (and I provide one in some of my classes) as a textbook that cost more money. Moreover, a video that shows a student remarking that he sometimes had to wait until late at night to use a textbook that he shared with a few other students seemed a bit disingenuous. After all, college students have access to copiers, scanners, and – most importantly – smart phones which make it possible to copy and distribute printed material instantly and at a minuscule cost (or, if nothing else, using technologies already at hand). While many of these techniques are strictly illegal, I can’t believe that something as relatively arcane as copyright law (particularly unenforceable copyright law!) would stop a student from making a copy of a book for personal use especially when the alternative is doing poorly in a class or losing out on precious sleep. 

My suspicion, then, is that cost alone is not the factor that is driving frustration over textbook costs and leading students to avoid buying them or engaging in strategies that might appear academically questionable. I think the issue is that textbooks are declining in value to students. Even just 20 years ago, textbooks were invaluable resources for basic information. A history student relied on textbooks for such basic things as names, dates, and maps, and maybe snippets of narrative that do not come from lecture. Today, our putative history student can find much more, and frequently better organized information on the web. And, I’d contend that this is true not just of history students, but of many students in introductory level classes. Moreover, as faculty move more toward problem-based learning or other active learning techniques which ask students to do more than to dutifully follow a narrative in a textbook or complete problem sets. In other words, the more textbooks become sources for basic information, the less value they’ll have for a student and the less inclined the student will be to spend money on them. 

Of course, the declining value of textbooks to students is something that open access resources can impact because many open access resources are easier to divide, modify, remix, and repurpose for a range of educational environments. The downside of this approach, however, is that for universities, and faculty in particular, to take on the development of open educational resources, the funding has to come from somewhere. Fortunately, the state of North Dakota has appropriated over $100,000 to fund the adoption of open educational resources. This is good.

The downside, of course, is that the move to open educational resources and the process of re-valuing the textbook for the 21st century, is not something that can be solved by a one-time infusion of resources. Adopting open textbooks, for example, is not enough. For open educational resources to make a meaningful impact on higher education – and this goes beyond just lowering textbook costs for students and gets to positively impacting learning outcomes – there will have to be a sustained investment in their development, revision, and implementation. Open educational resources is a dynamic ecosystem that requires us to return to the pool at least as much as we consume from it. Cutting publisher profits from textbook costs passes on immediate savings to students, but production costs and revision costs will remain and require subsidy from across higher education. And adoption and adaptation costs will devolve to individual institutions and, if current trends continue, students.

This isn’t to suggest that Ernst’s talk was bad or that the seminar was unhelpful, but it is to point out that however rhetorically useful our focus on student cost is (and there’s no doubt that this rhetorical position got the North Dakota University System funding for this initiative), it is not a realistic understanding of how open educational resources could transform higher education. Cutting out publisher profits from the cost of higher education will not eliminate production and revision costs, for example. Building a better textbook will involve investment in the actual improvement of higher education. In recent years, this kind of systematic, long-term, educational investment has become rare.

Oil and Tourism in the Bakken

I learned last week that my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch has been accepted for publication. It received two more or less positive peer reviews, a good editorial review, and the endorsement of an established, but up-and-coming press. 

I now have about a month to make some serious revisions to the manuscript and to prepare maps for each of the seven tourist routes through the Bakken. The biggest challenge will be to revise the final section of the guide which is a more scholarly treatment of landscapes, tourism, and archaeology. In keeping with ideas that I began to hash out in my work on “slow archaeology,” I focused on the intersection of archaeology and modernity but instead of relating it archaeological methods, I consider how archaeology can help us to understand the dynamic landscape of the Bakken.

I make this move using a bit of puckish trickeration. Archaeology intersects with tourism to transform the past into our modern concept of heritage, which can then be commodified and monetized. This parallels the role extractive industries play in transforming geological formations into fossil fuels available for the market. Tourism binds the two together as the Bakken landscape – for both the tourist and worker – depends on oil to structure our interaction with it. 

I recent book titled After Oil from the Petrocultures group at the University of Alberta emphasizes the link between oil and the foundation of modern society. Oil is not just another commodity or resource, but also a key structuring element in our economy, political culture, and society. For the conclusion of my book, I play with Dean MacCannell’s idea that tourism (particularly self-guided tourism) provided a quintessentially modern way to organize bourgeois dominion of the world through the creation of highly mobile tourist class, and mash it up with growing interest in the archaeology of the modern (and even contemporary) world. Tourism in the Bakken (and, perhaps more broadly, industrial tourism) offers the tourist a chance to subject their own world to the critical scrutiny of the “tourist’s gaze.” Through this process, the Bakken gains a kind of authenticity – produced ironically from the tourist expectation that their encounters with the wider world exist outside the influence of tourism. In other words, tourism, particularly in places where tourists are not expected, plays directly to our modern, Western, 21st-century ways of viewing the world. What’s more exciting is that by authorizing this kind of industrial, contemporary tourism, we’re offering glimpse of the founding acts of modernity in the production of fossil fuels. Without oil, tourism, the tourist class, and our modern world would not be possible.

By re-appropriating the founding moment of modernity through the tourist gaze, we confront the complexities and contradictions necessary to produce the energy that our world – including the act of tourism – requires. In other words, we creating a way for modernity to look at itself in the mirror. 

These ideas are complex and require a familiarity with both the discourse of modernity and the more specialized critiques of industrial archaeology, archaeology of the contemporary world, and tourism. The series editor requested that I revise the final section of the book significantly and, instead of offering an academic critique, make it as accessible to a wide audience as the rest of the book. After a bit of grumbling (to myself) I decided to start that process this weekend. Keep an eye out for revised and clarified text!

More Work at North Dakota Quarterly

One of my most intriguing and rewarding projects this year is to work with the good folks over at North Dakota Quarterly to develop their digital presence. 

Today, we’re excited to post the first “Short Take” which are short essays centered on various media from books to music and film. So instead of reading my babble, go and check out Sharon Carson’s essay on Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World (Princeton 2014)

I’ve also been messing with a new header image that incorporates SUN FROGS

This uses my conventional template: 

NdqSundog

This one is a bit different. I wish there was a way to make the NDQ more numinous. I wonder if fading the edges would help a bit… but that’s tricky because if I reduce the edge contrast to introduce a gradual fade to our white website background, I’ll lose the sun frogs. 

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Well, adding non-opaque white outlines to the NDQ helps a bit as does cropping a bit less aggressively.

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This is probably best left to professionals. Go read Sharon Carson’s reflections on Tambora (the book and the volcano) and the social impacts of climate change.

Sneak Peak of the Bakken Goes Boom

Over the next few weeks, Kyle Conway and I will be offering some sneak peeks at our forthcoming edited volume: Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota which should come out early next month from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. 

Here’s our introduction:

0a Conway

The Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota

This book is about the human side of the oil boom in the Bakken formation in western North Dakota. We began work on it in 2013, when a barrel of crude oil sold for a little more than $90. At that time, economic optimism was the order of the day. People were asking, would the boom last twenty, forty, or sixty years? Harold Hamm, the billionaire CEO of Continental Resources, went so far as to tell the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, “I still think we will reach 2 million barrels a day [by 2020]. I don’t think that’s over the top, folks” (quoted in Burnes 2014).

Now, as we write this introduction at the end of 2015, that same barrel sells for less than $40. What we did not know—what we could not know—when we began was that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would refuse to cut production in the face of dropping oil prices, in an apparent attempt to make oil production from shale, such as in the Bakken, too expensive to continue (Murtagh 2015; Olson and Ailworth 2015). In retrospect, the estimates of a forty- or sixty-year boom seem naive: by all appearances, we were at the boom’s peak. In December 2014, there were 174 rigs drilling in the oil patch; a year later, there are 65. There are also five thousand fewer jobs, and monthly in-state income on oil royalties has dropped from $128 million to $69 million (Donovan 2015). Inadvertently, it seems, we captured an important moment, when the bust people dreaded (but thought would never happen) was just on the horizon.

Our purpose in putting this book together was to give voice to as wide a range of people as we could. We were both professors at the University of North Dakota, so we sought out other scholars. We researched the boom, so we sought out our collaborators. We taught about the Bakken, so we sought out students. But we also read the news, went to art galleries, and read poetry, so we also sought out journalists, artists and museum curators, and poets. The boom was one of the most interesting things we had ever seen, and there were more ways to know it than through the cold rationality we privileged in our scholarship. Journalists, artists, and poets could reveal things we would not otherwise see, experiences or emotions that academic prose could not capture, but art or poetry could. As much as drilling for oil in the Bakken produced an economic and demographic boom, it also was an intellectual and cultural moment for North Dakota, and our book tries to capture that.

Our approach was propitious, if the controversies around hydraulic fracturing (or simply “fracking”) are any indication. In the time since we began soliciting submissions, a wide range of books have been published, each more polemical than the last. In one, an environmentalist asks what happens when she inherits mineral rights in North Dakota and has to choose between her ideals and financial security (Peters 2014). In another, a conservative media darling calls out environmentalists for what he sees as their duplicity and willful ignorance of the human rights abuses inflicted by governments of oil-rich countries on their own citizens (Levant 2014). In yet another, an investigative reporter tells the story of an Alberta woman’s fight for justice from the oil industry (and her own government) after fracking poisons her water supply (Nikiforuk 2015).

In this back-and-forth, it is clear that the pro- and anti-fracking groups are talking past each other. This is where our book does something different. By and large, contributors sidestep the controversies about fracking and focus instead on the social impact of the boom. There is much to learn here: whether we support or oppose fracking, it has had a significant impact on people’s lives. For people living in the Bakken region, life has changed, and we want to understand how. What impact did the boom have on longtime residents? On newcomers? On women? On Native Americans? How did it reshape the healthcare infrastructure? Housing? The media? These are the questions we asked our contributors to answer.

Scholars and journalists shared insight that they gained from their particular perch. But artists and poets did something more: as they talked about how the boom has reshaped North Dakotans’ sense of self—how North Dakotans see themselves and imagine their future—they evoked something akin to emotional truth. For that reason, we have devoted considerable space in this book to their work. Because art has to potential to affect viewers at a gut level, we included, among other things, a catalogue from an exhibit about the Bakken at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo. We also included comments left by members of the public.

We also decided to open this book with a prologue in the form of a prose poem. Language is an imperfect tool. It serves us relatively well when we describe technical aspects of a situation, but in other cases it falls short. We know this most acutely when we experience powerful emotions such as joy or grief and words fail us. In the Bakken, for instance, it is relatively easy to describe the monetary or environmental costs of an oil boom, but it is much harder to find words for the ache we feel when our home no longer looks the same. But in poetry, language comes closest to breaking free of its bounds. When poet Heidi Czerwiec writes, “Given enough time, a sea can become a desert; given enough time, even a desert has value,” she presents us with an image not unlike the art in the catalogue. In the dried up sea, we see our own fall from plenitude to emptiness. But the loss is paradoxical, in that it brings a new type of value. Her image brings the contradictions that undergird our experience into view. Even if we cannot put them into words, we can see them and feel them.

So what do we learn from all of this? What do scholars, journalists, artists, and poets reveal about the human side of North Dakota’s oil boom? Resources are stretched thin, and to compensate, people have had to rethink the social and physical networks that link them to others. As a result, the geographies of western North Dakota—the ways people understand their relationship to space and place—have changed. Part of this change is material, such as the demographic shift from the eastern part of the state to the western part. A decade ago, nearly a third of the state’s residents, those in Grand Forks and Fargo, lived in the narrow strip between Interstate 29 and the Red River. In other words, almost one out of three people lived within five miles of Minnesota. No longer is that the case, as towns such as Williston, Watford City, and Dickinson have doubled or tripled in size, creating unmet needs in social services, law enforcement, healthcare, housing, and other forms of infrastructure.

Part of this change is psychological, too. The stories people tell to make sense of their place in their community or the world have changed. They understand their relationships with their neighbors differently. Some longtime residents and newcomers view each other with a suspicion that grows out of a disparity in wealth and access to resources. Others look for what they share in common.

One result of these changing physical and mental geographies is that many people have had to make do with less, especially those who were already in vulnerable positions. Rents have gone up, but the stock of quality housing has gone down. Travel takes longer and is more dangerous, and unfamiliar people congregate in once familiar places. Even as the boom has subsided, social networks remain stretched for longtime residents, who face new disparities of wealth and ongoing political challenges, and for newcomers, who have left families in faraway homes in search of work. In short, there are more cracks to slip through.

But there is also resilience and creativity. Longtime residents have found ways to extend hospitality to newcomers. Artists have found ways to reimagine their place—which is to say, our place—in a landscape punctuated by oil rigs and tanker trucks. We cannot understand the challenges posed by the boom without considering the creativity it has brought about, nor the creativity without the challenges. One tugs constantly on the other.

To close, let us consider an interesting potential symmetry. In 2013, the bust was on the horizon, but we could not yet make it out. We must not forget that booms and busts are cyclical. Perhaps the next boom is on the horizon now, but as with the bust, we will see it most clearly in retrospect. As Karin Becker writes in her chapter, change has reached a plateau. North Dakota in 2015 is not the same as North Dakota in 2005. People talk of a “new normal.” The state has reversed its longstanding trend of outmigration, and the population is up almost 20 percent compared to a decade ago. The median age is younger, and jobs pay better: even Wal-Mart has to pay $17 an hour to its employees in Williston, where the average annual salary is still more than $75,000 (Donovan 2015).

The changes North Dakota has undergone are real, and we owe it to ourselves to ask how they have shaped us. We would do well to listen to everyone—citizens, public figures, artists, poets, and even scholars. This book is not the final word on the Bakken oil boom, but we hope readers will find in it something useful, a starting point for understanding how the boom has affected us and who it is we have come to be.

References

Burnes, Jerry. 2014. “Hamm: Bakken Will Double Production by 2020.” Williston Herald, May 23. bit.ly/1JDpCHv.

Donovan, Lauren. 2015. “Oil Patch Slides Toward a New Normal.” Bismark Tribune, December 25. bit.ly/1Sk2ULN.

Levant, Ezra. 2014. Groundswell: The Case for Fracking. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart.

Murtagh, Dan. 2015. “Shale’s Running Out of Survival Tricks as OPEC Ramps Up Pressure.” Bloomberg Business, December 27. www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-28/shale-s-running-out-of-survival-tricks-as-opec-ramps-up-pressure.

Nikiforuk, Andrew. 2015. Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry. Berkeley, CA: Greystone Books.

Olson, Bradley, and Erin Ailworth. 2015. “Low Crude Prices Catch Up with the U.S. Oil Patch.” Wall Street Journal, November 20. www.wsj.com/articles/low-crude-prices-catch-up-with-the-u-s-oil-patch-1448066561.

Peters, Lisa Westberg. 2014. Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil. Minneapolis: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Ontology, World Archaeology, and the Recent Past

Here’s the final draft of my review essay for the American Journal of Archaeology. In it, I review the books listed below in just over 4000 words. Needless to say, it was a super fun and very challenging project and I think the final draft of the review essay walks the perfect line between unsatisfying and incomplete and “Thank God! It’s done.”

Enjoy as I try to get my feet under me for the first week of classes! 

Alberti, Benjamin, Andrew Meirion Jones, and Joshua Pollard, eds. Archaeology After Interpretation: Returning Materials to Archaeological Theory. Pp. 417, figs. 74, tables 2. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, Calif. 2013. $94. ISBN 978-1-61132-341-2 (cloth).

Graves-Brown, Paul, Rodney Harrison, and Angela Piccini, The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World. Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology. Pp. 864 pages + figs. 140. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2013. $195. ISBN 978-0-19-960200-1 (Hardback)

Martin, Andrew M. Archaeology Beyond Postmodernity: A Science of the Social (Archaeology in Society Series). Pp. x + 247, figs. 6, table 1. AltaMira Press, Lanham, Maryland 2013. $85. ISBN 978-0-7591-2357-1 (cloth).

Olsen, Bjørnar, and Þóra Pétursdóttir, eds. Ruin Memories: Materials, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past (Archaeological Orientations). Pp. xviii + 492, figs. 173. Routledge, New York 2014. $205. ISBN 978-0-415-52362-2 (cloth).

Rathje, William L., Michael Shanks, and Christopher Witmore, eds. Archaeology in the Making: Conversations Through a Discipline. Pp. xii + 436, figs. 28. Routledge, London and New York 2013. $220. ISBN 978-0-415-634809 (Hardback)

Fowler, Chris. The Emergent Past: A Relational Realist Archaeology of Early Bronze Age Mortuary Practices. Pp. xii + 333, figs. 24, charts 6, tables 25, maps. 14. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2013. $135. ISBN 978-0-19-965637-0 (cloth).

Errata: Chris Wittmore pointed out the POW camp that he and Bjørnar Olsen documented was in Norway, not Sweden. You’d think I could keep Norway and Sweden straight after a decade on the Northern Plains…

Three Quick Things

I’m on the road for the rest of the week and flailing about to get ready for the new semester. If you’re planning to be at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting in San Francisco, make sure to check out one of the papers that I’m giving over the next couple of days. So, this will likely be my last post for the week, but next week should be particularly full of new semester and archaeological goodness.

Here are three quick things to distract you while the blog is on the last bit of its holiday hiatus.

1. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, grab a copy of Nan Rothschild and Diana diZerega Wall’s The Archaeology of American Cities (Florida 2014). It’s in the University Press of Florida’s excellent The American Experience in Archaeological Perspective series. If I was one of THOSE guys, I’d teach an entire class using these books starting with the remarkable general surveys on cities, capitalism, race, gender, and labor, and then move to the specific studies on tobacco, the fur trade, the Cold War, forts, et c.  

The Archaeology of American Cities is as much a book about urban archaeology as a book about American urbanism. Organized as a topical survey with a historical introduction, the book would lead even the most text bound historian through the value of material culture in understanding both “great man” history and the history of social class, gender, race, and the economy in the US.

2. Stereo Subwoofers. I recently (like last week) installed a pair of very fast, stereo subwoofers to my main stereo. For years, I’ve avoided adding sub woofers to my system saying things like “I’m really concerned with the midrange” and “I don’t trust them to integrate with my current speakers” or “my room is boom-y enough.” I have no idea why I waited so long. My speakers are the fantastic Zu Omen Def (Mk Ib) which are lovely down about 45Hz or 40Hz, but lack real low end punch. In general, I was cool with that because I figured that I don’t listen to much music real intense lower bass and true full-range speakers in my price range sacrificed too much in the mid-range in an effort to do everything (and, yes, I know there are some good full range speakers out there, but I also gravitate toward tubes and modest wattage amps).

Adding two quick Zu subwoofers to my system and setting them to pick up from around 45Hz has after a single day of listening blown my mind. There is so much musical information below 45Hz and these new additions to my happy speaker family have expanded the soundstage, defined instruments more clearly, and, of course, added impact to rock, hip-hop, and reggae. I can also say with some confidence that I now have enough subwoofer power (400 watts x 2) to destroy my 19th century house and perhaps the core of the earth. I won’t do this, but it’s empowering to know that I can.

3. North Dakota Quarterly. If you don’t care about subwoofers or American archaeology, I probably can’t help you that much… other than to point you in the direction of North Dakota Quarterly’s site. Go and check out me and managing editor Kate Sweney talking NDQ on Prairie Public Radio’s Main Street or go and find something cool to read from the archives.