Snichimal Vayuchil

It is pretty exciting to announce the paper publication of the first volume of the new North Dakota Quarterly Supplement Series. This series is a collaboration with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota designed to provide a bit more space for poetry, fiction, or other creative projects that embrace the same values as the Quarterly, but can also stand on their own. The books will be available as open access digital downloads and print-on-demand paperback.

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The first in this series is Paul Worley’s edited and translated collection of Tsotsil Mayan poetry, Snichimal Vayuchil, which has a new introduction by Gloria E. Chacón. 

You can download or purchase the book from the NDQ site here or from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota site here

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This project has had a special place in my heart because it involves a collaboration with Paul Worley. Five years ago, UND had this gaggle of ambitious and creative junior scholars: Paul Worley, Kyle Conway, Brett Ommen, Crystal Alberts, Mike Wittgraf, and Joel Jonientz. I was lucky enough to hang out with them and, from time to time, scheme and dream up projects.

In fact, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota was a project that Joel Jonientz and Kyle Conway and I dreamt up together, and from its earliest days we had envisioned that Paul Worley would have some part in it. (Actually, I still want to publish a series of old baseball manuals with some historical introductions… I wonder if there exist manuals in Spanish, from Mexico or the Dominican Republic or Cuba that Paul could translate and edit?).

As readers of this blog know, Joel Jonientz died four years ago, Paul Worley, Kyle Conway, and Bret Ommen left UND, Crystal Alberts and Mike Wittgraf are still around and when I get a chance, we catch up and still scheme a little. Kyle Conway and I still work closely together on The Digital Press. But none of our collaboration has the same kind of frenetic energy. Maybe it’s because we lack the critical mass of people here in Grand Forks, maybe because we’ve settled into our mid-career malaise, or maybe just because we don’t see each other every weekend, but we haven’t really collaborated like we used to.

This book with Paul Worley, reminded me of those days when we used to scheme up big plans over beers and bitch about things we couldn’t change. I think you’ll see that Paul and I find some ways to collaborate more over the next few years. And who knows, maybe a enough of the old energy is still around to bring the gang back together. (I’m thinking the first Maya Language Space Opera… ) 

 

 

Teaching Thursday: Two Classes and a Textbook

I haven’t written a Teaching Thursday for a while, and this semester, my teaching has been particularly invigorating (aside from having to fix a million broken links in an online class!). 

Teaching the Controversy: The UND Budget

First, my class on the University of North Dakota’s budget cuts has been a joy to teach. (Here is my syllabus). In fact, I’m doing far less teaching and mostly working hard to stay out of the way as the students explore the complexities of higher education. They’ve already wrestled with the big picture issues related to state-supported higher education as a “public good” and the small scale complexities of the methods used to distribute funds on campus. They chatted with our budget gurus, a dean, and, this week, with UND’s Provost. Next week, we welcome a vice chancellor, the following, an important legislator, and then the VP of Research and the Dean of the Graduate School at UND. We’re working our way through Christopher Newfield’s book, The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them (Johns Hopkins 2016). As we gain momentum in the next six weeks, I’ll post some more substantial information here.

Abandoned Campus Buildings as Laboratory Classrooms

Second, because I just can’t leave well enough alone, I decided to teach a one-credit (well, this is pending our ability to create a class at his point in the semester and allow students to enroll!) class on two buildings on the UND campus slated to be destroyed this year. The buildings are hybrid structures and twins with the original buildings dating to the first decade of the 20th century and additions dating to the 1920s. They were originally part of Wesley College, a Methodist institution that from its early days was associated with the University of North Dakota and offered classes in arts, music, and religion. They are beaux arts classical in design. A. Wallace McCrea was the architect of at least Sayre and Corwin halls, if not the entire complex. They form the east and west sides of a lovely quad that opens onto University Drive and stand as a orderly counterparts to the college gothic of most of the UND campus. They’ll be missed! 

My plan to document these buildings currently involves three phases. First, we make sure that the architecture of the buildings is thoroughly documented – including plans, 3D scans, and photographs – and the location of the buildings and the surrounding space and situation is documented as carefully as possible. Second, we need to do some archives work and sift through the relatively extensive records on the history of Wesley College and these two hybrid-buildings. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, I’m going to put together a team to comb through the buildings looking for the traces of their past lives in both the building fabric and the things left behind. In short, the last intervention in the life of these buildings will be an archaeological one. 

Open Education Textbooks

The last week or so, I’ve been working my way through a pretty complete draft of an open access textbook on Late Antiquity. The book offers a compelling political and ecclesiastical framework for the Late Antique world. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that some of the author’s discussions of the religious controversies in Late Antiquity are among the clearest that I’ve ever encountered. 

What is intriguing to me is that Late Antiquity, despite being defined by political events and institutions (whether the fall of Rome or the reign of Diocletian, Constantine, Justinian, or Heraclius), has become increasingly described as a series of cultural phenomena ranging from the rise of Christian practices (and various forms of syncretism) to architectural forms, decorative practices (like spoliation), urban transformation, tastes in movable goods, literature, art, and even ritual practice. A political narrative is not necessarily outside the realm of culture, of course, but for Late Antiquity, the long shadow of Peter Brown and his amazing lineage of students has ensured that cultural issues have eclipsed political ones. The concept of the “long late antiquity” is almost always a culture one which argues that despite political and religious differences, certain aspects of the Late Antique world persist into the 7th, 8th, or 9th century. While this sometimes harkens to Pirenne’s old argument that the end of the ancient world occurred when the caliphate moved its capital to Bagdad and the Mediterranean moved from the front yard of both Western Europe and the Early Islamic world to their collective backyard, it also embraced similarities and connection around the Mediterranean that produces common cultural affinities. 

In the next month or so, I’ll be returning to this project and asking for folks to help me navigate this unique open educational resource into the public realm! Stay tuned!  

 

Book (re)Launch: The Old Church on Walnut Street: A Story of Immigrants and Evangelicals

Book launch days are always the best days, and today’s book (re)launch is particularly sweet.

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The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is happy to announce its tenth book, Chris Price’s The Old Church on Walnut Street: A Story of Immigrants and Evangelicals. The book is a microhistory of a single building in Grand Forks, North Dakota that opens onto a century-long story of immigrants and evangelicals in this community. The turn-of-the-century wood-frame church is sadly long gone, but the story that Chris Price tells of the pastors, the congregation, and life in Grand Forks is a timely reminder that the state of North Dakota and its communities grew from religious diversity and immigrant roots.

Download the book here or buy it for $10 on Amazon. (While you’re at it, download (or buyDavid Haeselin’s Haunted by Waters: The Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997 and The Old Church on Walnut Street for a Grand Forks themed bundle! Or grab William Sherman’s Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota. 2nd Edition (NDSU Press 2017) for a statewide story of immigrants!)  

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Long time followers of my antics will remember that this book is not exactly new, although this edition has a new preface that Chris Price Kindly penned and I’ve added an ISBN and an LCCN as well as a snazzy new cover. The original edition of this book dropped when The Digital Press was only a glimmer in my eye as an effort to generate interest in a Grand Forks Neighborhood History Series. My longtime co-conspirator Bret Weber and I had this vision of a series of books that would tell the story of various neighborhoods in Grand Forks. We were even willing to put some money behind it. Unfortunately, I make prospective authors an offer that they couldn’t refuse and the project foundered. Despite my lack of success of the series, I remain incredibly proud of the first (and only) book in the series. 

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Chris’s book reminds me of one of my favorite buildings in Grand Forks. A simple wood-framed church, the last of its kind, tucked into a quiet wood-framed neighborhood. Casual passers-by would have no idea of the rich history that this building preserved in its walls and its community. The church is gone now, reduced to a pile of bricks shortly after this book was released.

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A house built by the Grand Forks Community Land Trust now stands on the lot. That’s a pretty good consolation prize for the loss of the church, but I still can’t quite bring myself to going down Walnut Street. 

That being said, I do hope that the book will stand as a monument even through the building is lost. I’m proud that this book was both the prequel and now is tenth book published by the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. 

Facing Gaia

Over the weekend, I squeezed in a couple of hours to finish reading Bruno Latour’s Facing Gaia. As readers of this blog know, I have a soft spot for Latour and have used various (mis)readings of his ideas in several articles and papers of the last few years. Facing Gaia demonstrates Latour’s willingness to creatively complicate the simplistic assumptions that so often shape our view of the world, but to do so with humor and style. The eight lectures published in this book, for all their seriousness of purpose, are fun.

If I were slightly more ambitious as a teacher, one could easily teach a class based on Latour’s book. First, each lecture can stand on its own, and each lecture begs to be unpacked, explored, and even tests both in terms of the historical situations that Latour invokes as well as the epistemological (and post-epistemological) and scientific theories that shape his ideas. I don’t have the chops to do this, but I sincerely hope someone does somewhere. 

I won’t review the book here, but offer a few of the more useful points as a little list:

1. Gaia. Latour looks to revive or invigorate the James Lovelock’s concept of Gaia in the service of the current climate crisis. In Latour’s hands, Gaia bridges the gap between nature and culture, religion and science, human and non-human agents and embodies – quite literally – the seething mass of forces, agents, and perhaps even idea(l)s that forms the system in which human life exists.  

2. Science and Religion. Among the more intriguing aspect of Latour’s book is his playing about with Jan Assman’s idea of religion. Assman, is an Egyptologist and I’ve read only a tiny of bit of his work. He argues that the “Mosaic Division” transformed religion from being open to translation, syncretism, and combination to exclusive, incommensurate, and incompatible. Latour follows Assman in calling these “counter-religions” which like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, demand an exclusive claim to an individual’s world view. I’ve tended to call this view of religion and the world “totalizing.”  Science, for Latour, is another example of a “counter-religion” that is similarly totalizing in its scope. This view of science, however, makes it distinctly incapable of understanding Gaia because it sees the Earth as the manifestation of certain abstract concepts rather than a generative space that is constantly forcing humans and non-humans to respond to myriad, often-contradictory, stimuli. This is not replacing one totalizing view, science, with another, Gaiaology (or whatever), but demonstrating that in a world where an incommensurate view of existence prevails, the only possible recourse for change is a kind of total war.

3. War. Latour invokes Carl Schmitt (and like most people who haven’t read much Schmitt, this makes me nervous). He looks to Schmitt’s view of war which is outside the potential for existing forms of arbitration and which requires a completely new form of peace for resolution. For Latour, our relationship with the Earth as established by science permits a kind of resolution within existing structure of knowledge and “diplomacy.” The system of causality is known and outcomes are predictable within this system. In other words, victory can be known. Gaia, however, will not allow such an easy victory because the system does not offer a single point of predictable resolution. Any new peace within Gaia must be negotiated anew according to new expectations, new conditions, and without the comfort of new rules. The kind of total war for human existence, at least as understood by Latour, cannot be won and the peace must be created on Gaia’s terms.

4. Modernity and Apocalypse. Latour considers why it is that humanity is so reluctant to see Gaia and to understand the crisis. Latour once again evokes counter-religions and notes that the exclusivity and incommensurability of counter-religion (and, by extension, modern science) has placed us all in an apocalyptic era at the end of time. As a result, our ability to recognize, anticipate, and affect change has been compromised by views of the world that located us outside of time, at the end of history, and at the culmination of human experience. A different future is inconceivable because we have already made sense of the world. 

5. Agency and Sovereignty. Latour concludes his work by arguing that only an expanded view of agency – the kind of multitudinous agency embodied by Gaia – will allow humanity to undermine the concept of sovereignty that has so far impaired our ability to understand our place within the Anthropocene era. The Anthropocene, in this context, is not simply an era fundamentally shaped or defined by human actions. After all, within Gaia every era receives its shape from more than a single agent. The Anthropocene, for Latour, represents a construction of reality whose very modern, counter-religious rules accelerates the demise of group who constructed it. The Anthropocene is not a recognition of primacy or supremacy of human agency, but the understanding of its limits. The humanity that came to thrive in the Holocene era will not endure the Anthropocene.    

Voices of the Bakken (and some other cool stuff)

Last weekend, the night before the Eagles punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, a group of us got together to talk punk rock in the Trump era at Ojata Records in Grand Forks.

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As part of that event, I put together a little grab bag of music, books, and documents donated by punk rockers, interested fellow travelers, and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Thanks to Andrew Reinhard, Chris Matthews and Quiz Show, June Panic, Brian Schill, Bret Weber, and everyone else who made this possible and contributed something fun to the little handout.

Here’s a link to that packet.

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The part of this little packet that excites me the most is the first little glimpse of a huge project brewing at The Digital Press: Bret Weber’s Voices of the Bakken. Over the half-decade life of the North Dakota Man Camp Project, Bret Weber and his colleagues have interviewed dozens of people in the Bakken. The plan has been to publish all of these interviews with commentary. At present, we’re offer a sample of six of them to give a taste of the range and character of the interviews. 

Here’s a link to that book.

Weber Voices of the Bakken Cover

Some Digital Press Updates: Punks, The Old Church, Epoiesen, NDQ, Kaepernick, and Robinson

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is looking ahead to its most exciting year ever. Various projects are rushing to maturity in the next few months, and my schedule for 2019 is already shaping up. So this seems as good a time as any to do a quick update.

First, come and hang out with some Digital Press authors and editors on Saturday night at Ojata Records here in Grand Forks, North Dakota from 7 pm on. For conversation, books, music, and, of course awesome free gifts thanks to The Digital Press, North Dakota Quarterly, June Panic, Andrew Reinhard, Chris Matthews, and Bret Weber (and the North Dakota Man Camp Project). Special thanks to Brian Schill of NDQ who is pulling this all together.

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Next, by this time next week, I hope that the first Digital Press Edition of Chris Price’s The Old Church on Walnut Street is available for download and purchase. Here’s the cover:

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Epoiesen layout is now almost complete, and I expect it to be available by the end of the month. After going around and around on cover designs, I think Shawn Graham and Andrew Reinhard have convinced me to go with some variation on this design. More on that thought process here.

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The final issues of North Dakota Quarterly for 2017 (volume 84.3/4) is almost ready to be mailed out to subscribers. I can take almost no credit for this volume, other than helping stuff envelopes, but as NDQ is moving into The Digital Press portfolio this winter, I’m spreading the news and excitement. Shawn Boyd’s most excellent cover design celebrates the immeasurable contributions from our retiring managing editor, Kate Sweney.

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The NDQ and Digital Press folks are well on our way to publishing Snichimal Vayuchil, an anthology of translated Tsotsil Mayan poetry as a print-on-demand volume. You can download it here for free.

We’re also excited to announce Eric Burin’s project on Colin Kaepernick. Eric spilled the beans on Martin Luther King day:

MLK Day seems like an appropriate time to tell folks about my latest project: assembling and editing an anthology on the Kaepernick-inspired protests. Protesting on Bended Knee will include brief essays from scholars in different disciplines (e.g., history, political science, philosophy, communications, psychology, gender studies, law, etc.) as well as pieces written by veterans, athletes, coaches, sportswriters, national anthem singers, and others. The volume, which soon will be published by the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, aims to elevate and expand our conversations about patriotism, free speech, and race in 21st America.

Anyone familiar with Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College (2016), should know that Protesting on Bended Knee will be insightful, thought-provoking, and compelling.

Finally, I’m starting to pull together various Elwyn Robinson related content including a recent forum in North Dakota Quarterly and some parts of his memoirs to create a Digital Press/NDQ version of Robinson’s History of North Dakota, which was recently released under a somewhat-open license from the University of North Dakota.There will be a to-do announcing the open publication of this book and UND’s Scholarly Commons repository sometime in late February. My hope is that we can announce our special edition of the book as just the kind of remixing that open publication can provide!

As always, stay tuned!

Wishful Thinking Wednesday: A Book Proposal for The Archaeology of Contemporary American Life

About six weeks ago, a colleague out of the blue asked whether I’d be interested in writing a book on the archaeology of contemporary American life. Because I almost never say “no” to anything, I responded: “Of course, DUH?! I mean, who wouldn’t? Why wouldn’t I?” 

I then went on a long walk or two, sat on my stationary bike, and thought about what a book proposal on this topic might look like.

My proposal started with the idea that I have two anchor case studies for the book: The North Dakota Man Camp Project and the Alamogordo Atari Expedition. Both projects represent, in some ways, essential traditions in the archaeology of the contemporary world. The former reflects the longstanding interest in industrial archaeology, archaeology of extractive industries (particularly mining), and the archaeology of short-term or ephemeral settlement (e.g. the archaeology of camps, of homelessness, and of modern squats of various kinds). The latter looks toward both the tradition of Bill Rathje’s “garbology” and the emerging fields of media archaeology/archaeology of media, and with a nod to “archaeogaming.

The book would consider the place of the archaeology of the contemporary world within the distinctly American tradition of historical archaeology. This tradition grounds the archaeology of the contemporary world in the empirical traditions of careful and intensive fieldwork and processual archaeology. The influence of Rathje and Schiffer loom large in this work and their earnest respect for objects and things, from garbage to portable radios, anticipates what Tim LeCain has called “new materialisms” and Graham Harman’s immaterialism. I’d argue that the American tradition of archaeology of the contemporary distinguishes it from similar efforts in a continental mode that have drawn more freely on the work of Tilley and Shanks, for example, in their famous study of beer cans. Tiley and Shanks, in my mind, anticipate recent studies that consider the agential character of things drawing on symmetrical archaeology, “object oriented ontologies,” and the ANT of Bruno Latour. This distinction, of course, is not a tidy one, and plenty of cross pollination has occurred (and my recent review essay on “ontology, world archaeology, and the recent past” recognize the range of methods, theoretical perspectives, and forms of presentation that archaeologists of the contemporary world draw upon to make their arguments. Rodney Harrison’s and Esther Briethoff’s survey of the field from this years Annual Review of Anthropology (here’s a preprint), demonstrates a similar diversity. 

The various approached to an archaeology of the contemporary world share an interest in objects, buildings, places, and, to steal a word from my old buddy Kostis, situations. They also share a commitment to the potential of archaeological approaches to shed light on overlooked communities, groups, and individuals, to redefine the relationship between humans, objects, and the environment, and ultimately to affect social change. 

This is where I am right now. To organize these areas into a book, I have a provisional table of contents:

Part 1: Objects and Contexts
1. Atari
2. Garbology
3. Objects
4. Media

Part 2: Landscapes
1. Precarity and Marginal Places: homelessness, borders, and squats. 
2. Institutional Landscapes: campuses, military bases, and parks.
3. Industrial and Extractive Landscapes
4. The Bakken

Conclusions, Prospects and Problems

I’m open to any and all thoughts about this. My goal is for the book to come in under 100,000 words, probably in the neighborhood of 60,000-80,000, so 30,000 each for Part 1 and Part 2 and then 5,000 words each for an introduction and conclusion. 

My plan, for now, is to work out the book proposal over the next month or so on my blog! But, for now, back to abandonment… 

Bruder’s Nomadland and Briody’s The New Wild West: Mobility and the End of the Suburban Dream

I grew up in a house on Wheatfield Drive in a northern suburb of Wilmington, Delaware. I lived there until I was 18 and then on-and-off during the next few summers while I attended college. Growing up, I never moved.

My experience growing up on a suburban street named after the rural vision of the Wheatfield may be one of the quintessential expressions of 20th century, middle-class. In this context, the RV, the mobile home, and the camper represented a respite from the banal conformity of suburban living. While my family never camped or had an RV, we nevertheless recognized the freedom to travel and live untethered to a single place – even the idyllic wheat field – as an appealing fantasy. My dad long talked about getting an RV and rolling across the American West, stopping wherever the spirit moved him, and seeing the sights and sites of the country. As recently as this summer, as my wife and I saw the campers lining the route of the Tour de France, we fantasized about renting a camper-van in Europe and touring. In fact, my wife did just this on a walkabout year in Australia when she and a friend cruised the Australian coast finding seasonal work when money ran low or opportunity presented. Life in a camper van was a temporary departure from the conventions of middle and upper class life. Life in the suburbs represented being part of the establishment – the modern equivalent of the yoeman farmer – who connection to a place demonstrated economically, physically, and socially his or her connection to a community.

Jessica Bruder’s Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st century (W.W. Norton 2017) and The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown (St. Martin’s 2017) tell a different story. These two books tell the story of people who live in RVs, mobile homes, camper vans, their trucks and cars between short stints on the couches of friends and relatives. If Mathew Desmond’s Evicted sketched out the persistent challenges of housing for the urban poor whose constant struggles against eviction thwart their efforts to climb out of urban poverty and garner the social, economic, and political benefits of a stable life and address, Briody and Bruder present a group who have slipped downward from the stability of middle class life in suburban and rural homes in the U.S. and are living in vehicles designed for occasional and recreational uses or the transport of good or people.

Briody’s book explores life around Williston, North Dakota, during the most recent Bakken oil boom in The New Wild West. The cost of housing in boom time Williston made apartments and homes prohibitive for most people who came to the region to reap the benefits of the boom. As a result, Briody’s characters live in RV parks, public parks, camp grounds or most famously, the Williston Walmart parking lot. She joined them living in an RV while doing the research for her book. This paralleled the experience of our research team when we first visited the Bakken at the height of the boom in 2012. We had to plan well in advance and found that accommodations a modular man camp outside bustling Tioga, a more affordable and convenient alternative to a hotel. 

The characters in the New Wild West lived in their RVs on a less voluntary basis and often without the security of a home somewhere else. They had come to the Bakken as a result of troubled lives, desperate circumstances, and, in many cases, the economic and mortgage crisis of 2008 which led to millions of foreclosures and contributed to the growing group of workers who lived in RV and other forms of temporary housing. For some of Briody’s characters, the Bakken was a chance to recover what they had lost. At the same time, the struggle to make a living in the Bakken is always present and optimism is a commodity far more precious and rare that the oil that fueled the Bakken boom. This doesn’t necessarily square with our research in the Bakken, where the optimism was so ubiquitous even as late as 2016 when the boom was well in decline that we called it Bakktimism. For Briody’s denizens of the Bakken, no matter how good the money, the American dream appeared increasingly fragile.

Bruder’s Nomadland tracks the fates of a group of older Americans who likewise lost the fixity of the suburban home and took to life on the road. Bruder’s work is a more subtle book than Briody’s The New Wild West. Her sensitive reading of the modern nomads is particularly evident in the tensions between kind of optimistic adaptability of these RV dwellers and the rough realities of life on the road. Many of Bruder’s character had lost their jobs and, then, savings in the financial collapse of 2008. They experienced the reality of the “jobless recovery” in the unforgiving job market for experienced and well-educated adults in their 50s and 60s. Then, they lost their homes. To adapt, they became nomads living in RVs, modified vans, cars and trucks and supplemented their social security benefits by traveling the U.S. managing campsites, staffing amusement parks, working at Amazon’s distribution facilities during the Christmas rush, and retreating to Quartzsite, Arizona each year winter to escape the cold and recharge.

Bruder describes this loose tribe brought together by circumstances who form communities through social media and share both philosophical and practical tips on the nomadic life through blogs, discussion boards, and listserves. Many of her characters maintain a fragile optimism about their golden years, and draw upon an anti-consumerist philosophy that sees their material losses as an opportunity to experience true freedom. Ironically, these modern nomads often survive by working for the ultimate purveyor of American materialism, Amazon, as well as other short term employers across the U.S. who value the optimism, adaptability, experience, and mobility of these modern nomads. The irony of this situation is further driven home by the practice of these nomad maintaining campsites for people who continued to see RV, campers, and tents as escapes from the fixity of everyday life.

One of the things that Bruder’s book helped me to see more clearly is the deep irony of my little book. Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape. By intentionally ignoring the traditional tourist sites in the Bakken – for example, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park –  and privileging RV parks and man camps, I transformed the temporary settlements in landscape of Western North Dakota and tourism from the space and experience of leisure to the space and experience of work. In the same way, Briody and, especially Bruder, demonstrate how the suburban dream is giving way to a more mobile reality. 

Both authors recognize that the quiet growth of this mobile population represents a seismic shift in the structure of American democracy. It seems hardly ironic that the growing anxiety concerning “voter fraud” (as just one example) has led to policies and practices that will make it more difficult for mobile voters to have political representation. The anxiety about refugees and migrants represents the recognition of these same trends in a global context. I wish I had developed this connection a bit more in my little article in the most recent Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. (I’ve made a preprint available here.)

Book Notes for a Travel Day

For reasons that remain a bit hard to understand entirely, I’m heading to Boston this afternoon to spend a day at whatever is left of the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting. I’ll get to see some old friends, have a couple business meetings, and be in a place where its safe to for exposed flesh to be outdoors for more than 5 minutes. 

For those of you who didn’t catch it, one of the two papers that I was scheduled to present is posted here.

Along the way, I have a few books that I started with the vague hope that I could have them read by the end of winter break. Part of the reason I’m still willing to trek out to Boston today is that it gives me some time to finish one of two of these book en route.

First, the finished book: Blaire Briody’s The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown (St. Martin’s 2017). While this book certainly represents another volume for the Bakken Bookshelf, I’m not entire sure that I enjoyed it. The book lacked a certain sense of irony. The author clearly positioned herself as a coastal elite by starting the book in her apartment in Brooklyn, and then traveling with her parents to North Dakota from California. The subjects of the book who have come to the Bakken to try their luck in the boom, all hail from broken homes, troubled relationships, and hard places and times in rural America. Briody tells the story of their struggle with both personal demons and the precarity of the boom (and the 21st century American economy).  Their stories are compelling, but I’d hate for these stories to be read as representative of all the newcomers to the Bakken during the boom. They run the risk of confirming the long-held (but rarely articulated) belief that being a part of the working class involves some kind of personal tragedy or flawed character. Briody’s book seems to tell us that people end up working in the Bakken because they had no other choice.

I’m tempted to write a review comparing Briody’s book to Jessica Bruder’s Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st century. (W.W. Norton 2017).  While I’m only about 40 pages into the book, it seems to describe the experience of precarity among older adults in the U.S. The individuals Bruder follows move around the U.S. living in mobile homes taking season or occasional work. The juxtaposition between retirement-aged Americans living their “golden years” in mobile homes out of economic necessity and those who enjoy the freedom of a mobile home for leisure evoke certain connections that we made during our research in the North Dakota Man Camp project.

I’m also reading Dietmar Offenhuber, Waste is Information: Infrastructure Legibility and Governance (MIT Press 2017).  While working on my book, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (NDSU Press 2017), I became fascinated by infrastructure. So much of the activity in the Bakken over the past five years has focused on infrastructure. The Bakken boom has been as much about improving roads, building pipelines, creating oil storage capacity, drilling produced-water wells, adding rail yards, and building permanent and short-term housing. Of particular interest is the unseen infrastructure of pipelines and wastewater disposal wells. Offenhuber’s book analyzes the movement of waste – essentially trash – in U.S., in part, through the use of GPS trackers places in various kinds of trash discarded in Seattle. Offenhuber argues that making the movement of trash visible and legible allows communities to make more informed decisions in how they organize the hidden infrastructure that is every bit as vital for their social, economic, and physical well-being. 

So many recent debates about the Bakken center on moments when the hidden infrastructure suddenly becomes visible in a moment of crisis or controversy. The controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline and both recorded and undocumented waste-water and oil spills demonstrates these moments when the literally buried infrastructure became visible and compelled the world to take notice.

Anachronistic Books, Cricket, and Whisky

Book people are a funny bunch (and I count myself among them). I spend a good bit of time thinking about books, publishing and designing books, teaching from books, and sometimes even writing books.

There is nothing more fun than someone pointing me in the direction of a cool new book or an overlooked old one. Well designed books like those published by MIT Press genuinely excite me and make the reading experience more pleasurable and increase my willingness to be immersed in a book. I still think about the brilliant design of Manuel Herz (ed), From Camp to City: Refugee Camps of Western Sahara (Lars Müller 2013), for example, or the clever layout of Kate Eichorn’s Adjusted Margins (MIT 2016). My interest in the art and design sensibilities of producing an attractive and engaging page is one of the main reasons that I continue to work in the PDF format at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.  

Every year at Christmas, my wife gets me a copy of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. Published every year since 1864, the Wisden is by an measure a quirky book. First, it runs to over 1500 onion-skin pages pages, which include articles on major matches and figures in the sport, descriptions of the various tours and domestic leagues, and their longstanding tradition of naming several Cricketers of the Year. 

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They also include the boxscores for all the international matches of the previous year and all the first-class English domestic matches.

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In other words, they include data, but not just data on each match, historical data as well both for each country and for various tournaments or series. For example, below is the list of record partnerships in the England-Australia test series colloquially known as the Ashes.

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Of course, since the book is published in the spring, before the Northern hemisphere’s cricket season, and I receive mine in the winter, amid the Southern hemisphere’s cricketing season, the statistics are usually already out of date. Moreover, it’s easier albeit less fun to get up-to-date cricket stats from, say, ESPN’s Cricinfo, although these statistics tend to be a little less granular than those in the Wisden (and Wisden now makes their own database available online). On the other hand, it is usually far more convenient to use an online database than it is to flip through Wisden.

Every other year, I get a copy of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. Like the Wisden, the Whisky Bible is idiosyncratic and quirky book. It consists of renown whisky critic, Jim Murray’s rankings of thousands of whiskies from around the world. Each review, which rarely runs to more than 100 words, reads like a little prose poem in its elegant description of the scent, taste, and effect of each whisky.

Murray and I don’t always agree on the rating, but his little reviews are a joy to read and while they often coincide with my impressions, they also have helped me describe the complex flavors of various whiskies in different ways. The creepy cover is just an added bonus.

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They layout of the book is complicated, of course, with myriad categories representing the place of distillation, the type of whisky, and the age and bottling, and the name of the distiller. Like the Wisden, basic information of whiskies and reviews are just as easily found online. Moreover, the book itself is densely printed with little room for margin notes or other annotations.

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The quirkiness of both Wisden and the Whisky Bible represent part of their charm. These books are not useful in a conventional sense. They do contain information and a certain basic functionality, but in practice, they are more counter-design studies that anachronistically evoke an era where books were the best source of complex data sets. There is something palpably cool about that.