Digital Approaches to Teaching the Ancient Mediterranean: Dissecting Digital Divides

Next month, I’m giving a paper at a conference called “Digital Approaches to Teaching the Ancient Mediterranean” and hosted by NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. It’s title is “Dissecting Digital Divides: Teaching, Writing, and Making Knowledge of the Mediterranean Past.”

Right now, I only have a title and the dread feeling that I really have nothing significant to say about digital approaches to teaching the Ancient Mediterranean. 

I do, of course, have a little swarm of unrelated ideas and a strong yearning to be the kind of senior professor who can give a paper on three of four random things to a rapt audience. (Rather than feeling like an undergraduate who is trying to recycle the same three ideas that I’ve had since 2004 into another paper and hoping that nobody notices!).

So here are my ideas.

1. Digital Divide. There’s been a good bit of scholarship on the digital divide in secondary and higher education. The digital divide, in its most basic form, argues that a significant divide exists between those who use and have access to digital technologies and those who do not. This divide usually mapped along social, economic, and regional lines. Rural states, like North Dakota, tend to fall on one side of the digital divide especially when access to broadband internet is concerned, but I’d also argue —at least anecdotally— that students at UND are generally less technologically savvy and comfortable in digital environments than their more affluent and more suburban counterparts elsewhere in the U.S. 

I need to get data for this, but just observing my classes over the last few semesters, I continue to be struck by the significant number of students for whom technology is not a constant companion. Many of my students do not bring their laptops to class regularly, for example. In a recent field project that involved using mobile phones to take video, a number of students had such outdated phones that they could not accommodate more than short video clips; one student had a flip phone. While it was easy enough to negotiate the different access to technology, it remains clear that the digital divide—in terms of hardware—remains firmly in place. (A recently updated “smart classroom” with a series of small group work stations relies on students to use their own laptops too access the large, shared monitor. This seems like an optimistic implementation of technology.)   

Access to the right hardware, however, is only part of the digital divide. Over the last decade of teaching at UND, it has become clear to me that something as simple as a broken hyperlink or a pdf document oriented the wrong way, represents a significant barrier to accessing information. A significant group of students lack the standard tool kit of web “work arounds” that range from savvy web searches to negotiating the standard elements of user interfaces across multiple software. Even something as simple as using a mobile device as a quick and dirty scanner or looking for an article on Academia.edu or institutional repositories that they can’t access at UND remains on the fringes of their practice (even when such approaches are modeled in class).     

In my larger Scale-Up style class where groups of 9 work together to produce text, it was pretty apparent that even relatively simply digital interfaces – like editable Wikis or shared documents in Google or Microsoft 365 – caused myriad small scale obstacles that frustrated students and complicated group work. 

2. Prosumer and Consumers. My experience teaching at UND has suggested that access to hardware and familiarity with software (and these often go hand-in-hand) sketches one level of the digital divide and contributes to the existence of the “second level digital divide.” The second level divide maps the difference between individuals who are consumers of digital material on the web and those who are so-called “prosumers” of digital and web-based content. I contend that this second level divide is far more problematic that the first level divide for implementing digital approaches to teaching and, as a result, I have dedicated more time to cultivating prosumer culture among my students and demonstrating how digital tools facilitate certain kinds of collective knowledge making.

I will admit that my general approach is a naive one. I continue to have a certain amount of faith that the last unfettered wilds of the internet hold out a glimmer of hope for a society that is far more likely to be shackled, monitored, and manipulated by technology than liberated by it. I want my students to understand the power of Wikipedia, the ecosystem that produced the growing number of open educational resources and good quality open access software, and the potential, if not unproblematic character, of maker culture, and be prepared to contribute to it. 

On the other hand, I also understand that most aspects of prosumer culture have been coopted by the usual suspects of capitalism, exploitation, sexism, racism, and technological solutionism. By producing new knowledge, creative works, and tools, we are also likely to be producing profits for transnational corporations who are as comfortable limiting access to our own work as they are preventing us from foment even very small revolutions that cannot be monetized. As the kids say: “the revolution will now be monetized.”   

I still have hope, though, and at very least I want to work to undermine still-persistent attitudes that certain incredibly exploitative industries (like textbook publishing) represent a meaningful source of authority in the time of Wikipedia. 

3. The Other Digital Divide. History students obsess over and are baffled by the distinction between primary and secondary sources. For students of the ancient Mediterranean, their consternation is understandable and useful in unpacking the relative uselessness of this distinction among practicing historians. A source is a source and only primary or secondary in relation to its use. 

Practicing archaeologists sometimes find ourselves in the same bind, of course. The divide between “data” and “interpretation,” for example, coincides with the primary and secondary source divide among historians. The persistence of terms like “raw data” (which I think is enjoying a well-deserved retirement from use) reveals an understanding of archaeological knowledge making the divides data from interpretation. It seems to me that digital data makes this divide all the more convenient in part because the data itself appears so distinct from interpretative texts, and partly because digging down into the data represents a useful play on the modernist assumption that excavation (literally or metaphorically) provides access to a view of the past less encumbered by present interpretation. While intellectually, we may understand this divide as naive—as generations of archaeologists who celebrate reflexivity and methodology has taught us, we nevertheless tend to lean on the distinction between data and interpretation to frame our conversations. Endless references to archaeological data populate academic conferences, publications, and, I suspect, our teaching. For students who continue to want to see “facts” as the antidote to “fake news,” the transparent use of data appears to be a compelling ontological tonic for their epistemological anxiety. 

To my mind, this digital divide is every bit a pernicious as the other digital divides described in this post. In fact, it might be more dangerous in the era of “Big Data” than the other digital divides because it tends to see data as holding a particular kind of fundamental and inescapable authority in how it describes the world.  

4. Prosumption Critique. For the last 5 years, I’ve taught a large, Introduction to Western Civilization class at the University of North Dakota in a Scale-Up style classroom. The class generally enrolled 150-180 students and the room was set up for them to sit around round, 9-person tables. Each table had three laptops connected to a monitor and also came with a whiteboard and a microphone for the students to play with when bored. A central teaching station allowed me to observe most of the groups and to project content from the tables onto four large projection screens in the corners of the room.

The design of the room encouraged students work together and at least in theory sought to mitigate the hardware aspects of the digital divide by ensuring that at least three students had access to a laptop. In the most common implementations of this design, a student or students worked as the scribe for the table on a provided laptop or students worked in smaller groups, three to a laptop, sometimes installed with appropriate software for the task at hand. While I did not formally leverage the practical aspects of three-laptop design, it did work to mitigate the uneven access to technology among my students.

The class sought to mitigate the “second level digital divide” by encouraging students too critically work as prosumers of educational content. In practice, this involved having the students write a Western Civilization textbook with each table working on a series of chapters that would come together at the end fo the class as a completed book. This task encouraged students to recognize the value of their own voice, critical abilities, and their ability (and maybe even responsibility) to produce their own historical narratives and analysis. It also subverts some of the economic and political power of textbook publishers, although, I do ask them to buy a used copy of an older version of a textbook as a model.

Finally, the students start with more or less a blank document. I do not provide an approved list of primary or secondary sources or even offer much in the way of a critical guide to navigating the internet. Most students get that journal articles are “better” than random webpages (of uncertain authorship and content), that Wikipedia is a good place to glean chronology, geography, and additional sources, and that historical arguments are only as good as the sources they identify to build their arguments. If they can’t find good evidence for an argument, then no amount of rhetorical savvy is likely to make it compelling.

 

At the same time, this approach de-emphasizes the idea that there is a body of data “out there” ready for consumption, analysis, and interpretation. Instead, it encourages the students to see the body of useful evidence and data as the product of their research questions and priorities. The “raw material” of history is not something that is “mined” for knowledge, but something that’s built up as evidence FOR arguments about the past. 

In an era where relational data is literally being treated and traded as a commodity, it is hardly surprising that we envision knowledge making as a kind of extractive industry (and, here, I’m thinking of a paper that I recall my colleague Sheila Liming giving a few years back on the metaphor of “data mining” and “text mining”) rather than, say, performative or generative. It seems to me that encouraging students to be critical and conscientious prosumers of historical knowledge offers a little space to push back on both the economic and intellectual (or at very least metaphorical or rhetorical) underpinnings of our digital world.     

 

Five Quick Reactions to the 2018 European Association of Archaeologists Meeting

I just got home from the 2018 European Association of Archaeologists annual meeting in Barcelona and was really impressed by my experience. Since, I’m still shaking off jet leg and racing to play catch up with my classes and other responsibilities, I’ll keep my comments here pretty short and impressionistic, but hopefully I’ll have to space to post something more involved later in the week.

1. So Many Panels. The EAAs were literally the opposite of the old joke that the food is bad and the portions are too small. The panels were good and there were so many of them. It was impossible to get anything more than a taste of the conference with panels stretching for four, five, or six hours, huge numbers of overlapping panels, and panels that might appeal to the same audience being held at the same time (e.g. a panel on Early Medieval transitions in the archaeology of Europe at the same time as a panel on Medieval archaeology more generally). At times people had to scoot between two panels in which they were participating or to see papers.

To be clear, this isn’t a complaint, after all there’s a limit to how a conference can organize over 1000 papers in over a 3-day event, but it’s important to recognize that any observation on the conference will only represent a small sampling of panels at the event.

2. Socially Conscious Archaeology. The theme of the conference was “Reflɘctiᴎg Futuᴙɘs”(weirdly, there are no flipped lowercase versions of Latin “n” or “r” in unicode), and, if I came away with one impression, it’s that the future of archaeology is socially engaged with pressing problems facing the world. I was particularly impressed that papers the dealt with the challenges of climate change, political pressures, and neoliberalism generally avoided the “c-word” (crisis) and preferred a sober, practical, systematic, and disciplinary approach to problems facing the future of the past. 

In fact, I sort of wanted a bit more urgency at times, but I also appreciated that so much of my desire for the urgent (OUTRAGE) demonstrates my own addiction to the excitement offered by our hyperactive media cycles and “theory of the day” approaches to problem solving and knowledge making in the humanities. What the EAAs showed me is that concepts like anarchism, decolonization, indigeneity, and public engagement have deep roots in archaeological work in the present that could produce a strong, relevant discipline for the future.     

3. Heritage, Contract, and Academic Archaeology. Maybe I’m more used to attending the ASOR or AIA annual meeting than, say, the SAAs, but I was particularly struck my the interaction between heritage and museum professionals, contract archaeologists, and academic archaeologists at the EAAs. In my panel on transhuman archaeologies, several of the heritage archaeologists deftly applied the more conceptual and academic papers to their own sites in the discussion periods. In a panel on climate change, heritage managers, contract, and academic archaeologists shared their work in documenting and preserving sites made vulnerable by coastal erosion and other climate change driven environmental concerns. 

It was really energizing and challenging as an academic archaeologist thinking in terms ontologies and epistemologies mediated largely by academic practice, to get pressed earnestly by folks involved in contract work and teaching contract archaeologists as to how what I’m saying is relevant to their work and students. This wasn’t done in a dismissive or confrontational way but as a genuinely intellectual challenge to my work and it was very much appreciated.   

4. More Bakken than Byzantine. I joked with my colleagues the week before going to the conference that every once in a while I remember that I’m a Europeanist and should attend conferences on the Continent and engage with my colleagues in Europe in a face-to-face way. What was funny though is that I found myself reflecting on my work as an Americanist far more regularly than my work in Cyprus or Greece throughout the conference. The sessions that I attended on time, climate change, and digital technologies had stronger grounding in “historical” or “world” archaeology than the work that I do when wearing my “Classical Archaeologist” hat (safety first, kids!) in Europe.

In the future, I’d like to present my work in the Bakken to the EAA audience as much to engage more thoughtfully with the social impact of my work as to grasp the role of heritage management and memory in ephemeral modern landscapes.

5. Barcelona Backdrop. Finally, Barcelona was a genuinely inspired place to hold a conference on Reflɘctiᴎg Futuᴙɘs in archaeology. The city provides a master class not only on past futures visible in the Modernisme movement as well as museums dedicated to Picasso and Miró, but also a legacy of radicalism, industrialism, post-nationalism, and neoliberalism as well. A visit to Gaudí’s unfinished Sagrada Família is a literal reminder of modernism as an unfinished and deeply ambiguous project which juxtaposes profound, religious truth and rebar protruding through roughly finished concrete spires. 

Just to make this point more clearly the conference itself was situated at the edge of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic where the Medieval plan of the city is best preserved and tourists and pickpockets jostle with each other down this tree-line and commodified thoroughfare. We were a short walk from Richard Meier’s well-known Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (a museum that famously opened without a collection!) whose glass and white walls reminded us of the fraught character of transparency and cosmopolitan ambivalence in the 21st century.

The University of North Dakota’s Writers Conference

The first week after spring break every year (well, at least for the last 49 years), is the University of North Dakota’s Writers Conference. It’s an annual gathering of writers and readers from around the world and around the state.

This year’s theme is “Truth and Lies” which seems both intriguing and contemporary. The features authors include Molly McCully Brown, Nicholas Galanin, David Grann, Marlon James, Lauren Markham, and Ocean Vuong who offer readings, speak on panels, and show films that inspire and excite them.  

Undwc18 11x17 layers new nd

The complete schedule is here.

This year, there will be a parallel event called the Grand Challenges Information Symposium. It features panels that intersect in some way with the Grand Challenges articulated by the visionary president of the University of North Dakota. Two editorial board members, David Haeselin and Eric Burin, and yours truly will be at a panel on Wednesday, March 21, from 2-2:45 in the Lecture Bowl of the Memorial Union to talk about the future of publishing. 

So if you’re in the region, please plan to attend the Writers Conference and our panel at the Grand Challenges Information Symposium! 

Cyprus Papers and Posters at the American Schools of Oriental Research Annual Meeting

The 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research happens this week in Boston. You can check out the schedule and program here.

For your convenience and interest, I’ve compiled a list of the papers and posters with explicit reference to Cyprus in their titles. As you can see there are four panels dedicated this year to Cypriot topics and a number of other papers, posters, and digital demonstrations scattered throughout the three-day conference.

Do check them out if you’re in Boston! 

Thursday, November 16

1F Archaeology of the Ancient Near East: Bronze and
Iron Ages 1

9:05 Igor Kreimerman (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “Destructions at the End of the Late Bronze Age: A Comparison between the Northern Levant, the Southern Levant, and Cyprus” (15 min.)

Friday, November 17

5A Landscapes of Settlement in the Ancient Near East
Harbor 1

9:25 Georgia Andreou (Cornell University), “The River Valley as a Study Unit and Conceptual Boundary in Settlement Studies: The Case of South-Central Cyprus” (15 min.)

5E Archaeology of Cyprus I

CHAIRS: Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University) and Walter Crist
(Arizona State University)

PRESENTERS:
8:20 Lindy Crewe (Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute), “Excavating Souskiou-Laona Chalcolithic Cemetery” (20 min.)

8:45 Peter Fischer (University of Gothenburg) and Teresa Bürge (OREA, Austrian Academy of Sciences), “Tombs and Offering Pits at the Late Bronze Age Metropolis of Hala Sultan Tekke, Cyprus: Results from the Excavations in 2016” (20 min.)

9:10 Paula Waiman-Barak (University of Haifa), Anna Georgiadou (University of Cyprus), and Ayelet Gilboa (University of Haifa), “Early Iron Age Cypro-Phoenician Interactions: CyproGeometric Ceramics from Tel Dor and Cyprus, a Study of Ceramic Petrography” (20 min.)

9:35 Giorgos Bourogiannis (Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities [Medelhavsmuseet], Stockholm), ”The Ayia Irini Project at the Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm: New Research on an Old Excavation” (20 min.)

10:00 Andrew McCarthy (University of Edinburgh), Kathryn Grossman (North Carolina State University), Tate Paulette (Brown University), Lisa Graham (University of Edinburgh), Christine Markussen (University of Vienna), “A Transriverine Hellenistic Settlement at Prastio-Mesorotsos, Cyprus” (20 min.)

6E Archaeology of Cyprus II

CHAIRS: Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University) and Walter Crist (Arizona State University)

PRESENTERS:
10:40 Thomas Landvatter (Reed College), “Cremation Practice and Social Meaning in the Ptolemaic East Mediterranean” (15 min.)

11:00 Karolina Rosińska-Balik (Jagiellonian University in Kraków), “Architectural Features of the Agora of Paphos (Cyprus)—Some Remarks” (15 min.)

11:20 Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University), “The Workshops of Ancient Arsinoe” (15 min.

11:40 Pamela Gaber (Lycoming College), “The 2017 Season of the Lycoming College Expedition to Idalion, Cyprus” (15 min.)

12:00 R. Scott Moore (Indiana University of Pennsylvania), Brandon Olson (Metropolitan State University of Denver), and William Caraher (University of North Dakota), “The Circulation of Imported Fine Wares on Cyprus in the Roman and Late Roman Periods” (15 min.)

12:20 Ann-Marie Knoblauch (Virginia Tech), “Excavating Cesnola: Public Interest in Archaeological Field Techniques in 1880s New York” (15 min.)

7E Archaeology of Cyprus III

CHAIRS: Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University) and Walter Crist
(Arizona State University)

PRESENTERS:

2:00 Katelyn DiBenedetto (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), “The First Permanent Settlers of Cyprus: Pushing the Neolithic Boundaries” (15 min.)

2:20 Walter Crist (Arizona State University), “Changing the Game: Bronze Age Gaming Stones from Cyprus” (15 min.)

2:40 Louise Steel (University of Wales Trinity Saint David), “What Happened in Room 103 at Aredhiou?” (15 min.)

3:00 Kevin Fisher (University of British Columbia), “From Duplex to Courtyard House: Re-assessing Bronze Age Social Change on Cyprus” (15 min.)

3:20 A. Bernard Knapp (University of Glasgow), “Piracy and Pirates in the Prehistoric Mediterranean” (15 min.)

3:40 Joanna S. Smith (University of Pennsylvania), “Facing a Crowd: Dedicatory and Museum Displays of Cypriot Art” (15 min.)

8E Digging “Lustily” into Cypriot Prehistory: Studies in Honor of Stuart Swiny

CHAIRS: Zuzana Chovanec (Tulsa Community College) and Walter Crist (Arizona State University)

PRESENTERS:

4:20 Introduction (5 min.)

4:25 Helena Wylde Swiny (Harvard University), “Why Cyprus?” (15 min.)

4:45 Francesca Chelazzi (University of Glasgow), “Settlement Archaeology in Bronze Age Cyprus: The Pioneering Legacy of Stuart Swiny in the Southwest Forty Years Later” (15 min.)

5:05 Thomas Davis (Tandy Institute for Archaeology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), “The House of the Dancing Bird” (15 min.)

5:25 Laura Swantek (Arizona State University) and William Weir (University of Cincinnati), “A Dig of a ‘Certain Kind’: Stuart Swiny and the Past and Future Potential of Sotira Kaminoudhia” (15 min.)

5:45 Zuzana Chovanec (Tulsa Community College) and Sean M. Rafferty (University at Albany), “A Legacy of Education and Collaboration: Stuart Swiny’s Role in Cypriot Studies at the University at Albany” (15 min.)

6:05 Alan Simmons (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), “Thinking Outside the Hippo: A Personal Tribute to Stuart Swiny” (15 min.)

8A GIS and Remote Sensing in Archaeology 1

5:10 Carrie Fulton (University of Toronto), Andrew Fulton (Independent Scholar), Andrew Viduka (Flinders University), and Sturt Manning (Cornell University), “Using Photogrammetry in Large-area Survey of the Late Bronze Age Anchorage at Maroni-Tsaroukkas, Cyprus” (20 min.)

Saturday, November 18

10D Archaeologists Engaging Global Challenges

11:15 Louise Hitchcock (University of Melbourne), “Aged Tasmanian
Whiskey in Boston Is the New Faience Rhyton in Cyprus: Globalization and Plutocracy, Populism, and Piracy” (25 min.)

10K Maritime Archaeology

11:55 Stella Demesticha (University of Cyprus), “The Cargo of the Mazotos Shipwreck, Cyprus” (20 min.)

12H Archaeology of the Byzantine Near East

5:45 Charles Anthony Stewart (University of St. Thomas), “The Alexander-Heraclius Stele: a Byzantine Sculpture Discovered in Cyprus” (15 min.)

Posters

“Evolving Architectural Function in the ‘Earthquake House’ at Kourion, Cyprus” Erin Beatty (Tandy Institute for Archaeology) and Laura Swantek (Arizona State University)

“Against the Grains: The Story of Early Agriculture in Cyprus” Leilani Lucas (University College London; College of Southern Nevada) and Dorian Fuller (University College London)

Digital Archaeology Demos

“The Archaeology of Rural Landscapes: Surface Survey and Magnetic Anomaly Test Excavations at Maroni, Cyprus”

Catherine Kearns (University of Chicago), Peregrine Gerard-Little (Cornell University), Anna Georgiadou (University of Cyprus), and Georgia Andreou (Cornell University)

Final Draft: The Bakken Gaze

Last week, I posted a serialized (actually in process) version of my paper, “The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of an Industrial Landscape,” for the Northern Great Plains History Conference. On Friday, I tightened it up some and cut some words (although it’s probably still too long). 

The paper explains my interest in using tourism as lens to understand the Bakken oil patch and is written to support the release of a book that Bret Weber and I co-authored titled, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape and published by NDSU Press this month (!). You can preorder the book now.

Or, better still, you can read, download, or comment on the paper via the Hypothes.is plug in here. Or you can join us at the Northern Great Plains History conference on Thursday from 2-4 at the Ramada Inn in beautiful Grand Forks, North Dakota!

BakkenCover

The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of the Industrial Landscape (Part 3)

Here’s the final installment of my paper for the Northern Great Plains History Conference next week here in Grand Forks. 

As I wrote about on Monday, I had hoped to make this paper paper more accessible and more breezy and personable, but by about word 1500, it had turned into the typical academic trudge. (I did manage to avoid using the word Foucauldian until 1600 words in!). Here are links to part 1 and part 2

That being said, I think it is probably the best thing I’ve managed to articulate on book, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (2017). You can preorder the book now.  

I’ll post a more complete and ideally more polished version of the paper in a few days!

“The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of the Industrial Landscape” (part 3)

To return to the Bakken. It is simple – and superficial – enough to note that the Bakken and tourism relied on the same fossil fuel revolution that powered westward expansion in the United States, the growth of the middle class (and a persistent cycle of capital deepening) and the rise of tourism as mode to recognize the totalizing discourse of industrial modernity. More importantly, I think, is that tourism embodies this tension between the convenient familiarity of the modern world and the quest for authenticity. The rutted routes of the oil patch are literally inscribed with the movements central to a historic Bakken taskscape that has all but eliminated the possibility of being local. The stunning night vistas offered by flaring natural gas from a hotel parking lot in Watford City are in some ways indistinguishable from the well-known satellite photo that shows the Bakken aglow with light from flares and electrical lights. 

The term “the Bakken” further demonstrates how modernity has coopted the very authenticity that its absence was though to produce. While I have used the Bakken as shorthand for a part of the 200,000 sq. mile oil patch in western North Dakota, eastern Montana and southern Saskatchewan, the name derives from the North Dakota farmer Henry Bakken and, in fact, refers to a relatively thin layer of oil bearing rock some 3 miles below the surface of the ground. As another well-known image demonstrated, Bakken wells if extended above ground would produce a skyline that would put Manhattan to shame. Last year’s controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline further reveals how even the physically occluded Bakken taskscape stands prominent in our modern awareness of that place, perhaps, leaving only the Native American landscapes as a window into an authentic North Dakota past. 

In a sense, then, a tourist guide is not some kind of cypher that reveals hidden meaning to the educated visitor to the Bakken, but an effort to understand the complexities of the modern world. In this way, I think that the tourist guide offers “an archaeology” in a Foucauldian sense of describing the physical discourse of petroculture in the Bakken taskscape. The man camps, convenience stores, small-town mainstreets, rail yards, tank farms, drill and workover rigs, roadside memorials, boot cleaners, pallets fences, frank tanks, bobbing sucker rod pumps, and salt water wells are not foreign to our modern world, but part of its fabric. Oil production and the habits formed by its consumption is the modern world, and ss my editor noted when our book was still in draft, there are no locals in the modern world, only tourists. 

Writing Wednesday: The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of the Industrial Landscape

I’m continuing to work on my paper for next week’s Northern Great Plains History Conference. I started the paper with a little introduction on Monday, and here’s the second part of it.

With any luck, I can get this wrapped up over the weekend… stay tuned:

“The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of the Industrial Landscape” (part 2)

This is bring us to tourists and tourism. The same processes that opened Western North Dakota to white, European settlement, also created the modern tourist. The industrial revolution, propelled by the increased use of fossil fuels, transformed the economic landscape of Britain and the U.S. by producing a growing and prosperous middle class. The middle class increasingly committed their surplus capital to enjoying the industrial improvements in transportation via rail and steamship and This produced a growing sense of cosmopolitanism among the middle-class and introduced a world where – to use David Harvey’s observation – the speed of travel and production increasingly compressed space. For the modern tourist, the world was becoming both smaller and more familiar.

The tourist guide became a vital traveling companion for the modern tourist. It organized the chaotic world outside the train station or port into well-defined sites and experiences. Along with the tourist guide came hotels, resorts, and conveniences designed to offer a safe and controlled vantage point for the tourist to survey the world. The railroad brought late 19th and early 20th century tourists to the American west where they could experience nature from the comfort of well-appointed cabins or chalet style hotels that sprung up around the newly-designed national parks. As our contemporary world continues to shrink, we encounter the experience of industrial travel in the familiarity of the modern airport which represents the quintessential example of Marc Auge’s concept of non-places. These liminal, interstitial spaces designed to facility familiar movement is likewise expressed in the landscape of the modern suburb which is defined by its connectivity and convenience. Connected to the urban core by a tangle of highways, dotted with tidy mass transit stops, and replete with anonymous sounding subdivisions, strip malls, and manicured lawns, the experience of suburban life is eliminates the need for localness in the name of familiar convenience. 

At the same time, even the most modern tourist continues to crave the experience of authenticity even if it remains neatly bounded by familiar conveniences. In fact, this tension between convenience and authenticity defined the modernizing character of the tourists’ gaze and affirmed the cosmopolitan position of the tourist and the superiority of the modern world. In the 20th century world, the experience of authenticity might be as limited as a conveniently choreographed luau on the carefully maintained lawn of a Hawaiian resort or as adventurous as a night in a well-prepared Berber tent in the Moroccan desert. The tourist might also find authenticity in their encounters below the surface of their own modern life. World Fairs, for example, represented the quintessential tourist destination of the modern world, allowed the casual visitor a glimpse into the workings of the industrial age through exhibitions for modern manufacturing and technologies. 

Industrial tourism exposed the tourist to authenticity by revealing the hidden mechanisms through which the modern world functioned. The wonders of technology presented at world fairs became a staple of tours of manufacturing facilities and plants as well as monumental industrial installations like the Hoover Dam. In the late-20th century, the rise in ecotourism or even poorism which leads the environmentally conscious or “ethically woke” tourists to experience authentic nature or human experiences ostensibly foreign from their own. As numerous critics have pointed out, the quest for authenticity in the modern world makes for some bizarre ethical compromises.

To return to our tourist guide to the Bakken… 

Localness and Tourism in the Bakken Oil Patch

This weekend, I started getting some ideas on paper for a conference paper that I’ll be delivering next month at the Northern Great Plains History Conference on a panel on the Bakken. My paper is part of my ongoing efforts to adapt my research on the Bakken to the larger discussion of global petroculture. Despite the fact that my book with Bret Weber is due out in less than a month, I’m still struggling to argue that tourism represents a useful way for understanding the economy of extractive industries (and perhaps late capitalism in general) in the 21st century. 

At the same time, I’m trying to make my writing style – especially for conference papers – a bit more accessible and maybe even personal. A long time ago, when I started this blog, I really wanted to work on writing in a more conversational way, but over the past decade (!!) the pressure to write for academic publication has slowly wrung any life from the turgid prose that regularly appears on this blog.

[That all being said, and after reflecting on Gary Hall’s Uberfication of the University, maybe there is something to be said for the scientistical and relatively anonymous character of academic prose which forms a barrier between the reader and the individual writer and protects a kind of professionalism in an era where personal brands are taking on growing influence.]

In any case, here’s the start of my paper for the October 5th conference:

“The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of the Industrial Landscape”

My paper today is part advertisement and part confession. The advertisement is for my soon-to-be-published book, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape, by my friends at North Dakota State University Press.

The confession is a bit more involved, but it involves my efforts to locate my research as the co-PI on the North Dakota Man Camp Project with larger trends in petroculture.

I started writing The Bakken during a little break during my sabbatical year on my blog, as a way to think critically but also playfully about my regular trips to the Bakken from 2012 to 2016. I wanted to find a way to describe they dynamism of the Bakken while taking into account my interest in landscapes, settlement, and the role of the modernity in shaping our world. At the same time, I was working on too many other things and lacked sufficient discipline to produce a sustained, book-length argue, so I wanted to have some ready-made structure for my ideas. To that end, I adopted the from of the traditional tourist guide which offered itineraries for the curious traveler. It gave me a structure into which I could compose my observations.

As I worked on this project more, my thought became increasingly influenced by the anthropologist, Tim Ingold’s idea of taskscapes. Taskscapes are landscapes shaped by repetitive actions that range from the long term indications of intensive agricultural work to the ephemeral paths in the snow linking university buildings in the winter or the momentary bustle of cars and students at the end of a school day. As I poured over my notes and photographs and then visited the Bakken with various drafts of the guide in hand, I became increasingly attuned to the movements associated with the oil industry as well as our movements as we visited workforce housing sites throughout the region. I came to recognize the parallels between our movement in the landscape as we stayed in mancamps, stopped at truck stops and convenience stores and crisscrossed the dirt roads that provide access to wells, drill rigs, pipelines, rail sidings and other work sites in the region. While I’m not particularly inclined to compare our work to closely to that of people working in the Bakken, we nevertheless encounter a taskscape with similar features.

The final bit of focus came from a comment that the series editor, Tom Isern, made on an early draft of our work. He recommended that we avoid using the word “local” to describe longterm residents of the Bakken. This was, in some ways, the final piece of the puzzle for me as it pushed me to think about the nature of localness in the Bakken. As a scholar who regularly studies communities and landscapes associated with the pre-modern world (particularly Greek and Roman antiquity), I associated localness with having a sense of place in the landscape. For me, intense familiarity conferred a kind of intimacy that made space into place and connected a community or an individual to a particular landscape. The sense of place is key to being local.

Critics of the modern world have questioned whether this kind of place-making is still possible. The most famous expression of this is Marc Auge’s concept of non-places. Auge argued that non-places were characteristic of super-modernity. They are uniform, generic, independent of the particularities of culture or geography, and limit in substantial ways the development of an “organic social life.” While these may seem deeply negative traits of the modern world (and, indeed, Auge saw them as such), they are also some of the very features that allow diverse communities and groups to integrate. My use of the word “local” to describe long-time residents of the Bakken effectively separated these people from the modern world of oil boom. I located them in place, whereas the rest of the landscape that our book described was anchored in the time of taskscape.

The shift from space – that is localness – as a defining feature of communities in the Bakken to the more universal measure of time reflects a long-standing desire for communities to be modern. (A cynic might even go so far to suggest that the presence of indigenous communities in the region with identities deeply connected to a particular spatial context (as is evident in the meaning of the word indigenous) offered a racial motivation for avoiding the term “local.”) In a world that is increasingly emphasizing the global, being local is a liability.

More to the point, the long-term white, European communities in the Bakken are, to some extent, the product of the same forces that created the most recent oil boom. In the late-19th century, coal powered trains opened the prairie to organized settlements and town popped up (and disappeared) across a neatly organized grid. The names of towns preserve not some archaic sense of place, but the names of railroad magnates and promoters. The difference between the residents of these towns and the new arrival to work in the Bakken boom is primarily temporal. Both groups were depended upon fossil fuels, produced for markets distant from the region, and experienced the contingencies of the global economy, and both groups inscribed the landscape with marks of modernity. By eliminating the term “local” from our guide to the Bakken, we conflated the experience of long-term residents with folks who came to the Bakken in the most recent boom.

This is bring us to tourists and tourism…

Three Cypriot Thing Thursday

Just a quick post today centered on three interesting Cypriot related things that have come through my news feed recently.

First, if you’re looking for funding to do research on Cyprus and at the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), go and check out their website for a glorious gaggle of fellowship opportunities. As anyone who has worked on Cyprus for any length of time will attest, CAARI is the institutional heart of foreign archaeological work on the island. Its recently improved facilities include a spectacular new library for paper books and a air conditioners (egg nishnahs for our Australian colleagues) in the hostel. 

Second, if you find yourself on Cyprus this October, be sure to check out the Nea Paphos and Western Cyprus Colloquium. It is being held in celebration of Paphos being named a European cultural capital for 2017. My colleagues, Scott Moore, Brandon Olson, and I, will have a paper presented by the inestimable Joanna Smith who will probably single handedly represent the recent flurry of activity at Polis in Western Cyprus. Here’s a link to the program.

Finally, my buddy David Pettegrew sent along a little article from the Cyprus Mail recently that announced that the tennis courts which have long stood to north of the Larnaka District Archaeological museum and the to the east of the excavated area of the ancient harbor of Kition. The goal is to make this site more visible to visitors and, perhaps, expand the excavated areas while also creating a new welcome area. The site of Kition is among the most under appreciated on Cyprus largely because its tucked in and around the modern city of Larnaka. The last few years, however, have seen a concerted effort to make the site more visible and understandable to the visit and when the museum reopens with redesigned and expanded displays, I suspect the Kition will return to its rightful place among the ancient cities of Cyprus.

UPDATE: To this we can add a conference to celebrate the centenary of Honor Frost’s birth to be held at the University of Cyprus from October 19-24! Titled “Under the Mediterranean” the program looks at Frost’s legacy of underwater research on ancient harbors across the Levant and Cyprus.  

Call for Papers: Archaeology and Social Justice

I was pretty excited to see the theme of this year’s Joukowsky Institute of Archaeology and the Ancient World workshop: archaeology and social justice. Here’s a link to the call for papers or, if you’re too lazy to click on a link, you can read it below!

It would be very cool to see something at this conference on the archaeology of care or even the recent discussion about the value of punk archaeology as an ethical critique. 

So check out the call for papers below: 

State of the Field 2018: Archaeology and Social Justice

Friday, March 2 – Saturday, March 3, 2018
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World will host a workshop called State of the Field 2018: Archaeology and Social Justice on March 2-3, 2018. The workshop will be the culmination of two years of discussion on this theme, and is also intended to raise new issues, ask new questions, and encourage ongoing dialogue. Our gathering builds on a tradition of “State of the Field” workshops hosted by the Joukowsky Institute to reflect upon trends in archaeological work, each year focusing our discussion on issues impacting an area of particular interest to our faculty and students. While previous versions have dealt with a country or region of archaeological significance, this year’s event will focus on archaeology’s relationship to ongoing movements for social justice.

Within the context of archaeology, we conceive of social justice as pertaining to issues of privilege and opportunity that affect the makeup of scholars in the field, efforts among archaeologists to engage with the public and with broader social and political discussions, and the degree to which archaeological scholarship and pedagogy intersect with or impact these issues. It also refers to the asymmetries of power and structural inequalities in society at large. This choice of topic has been inspired by recent global social and political concerns, responses from universities and academia that seek to address issues of representation and access, and, most importantly, grassroots movements for social justice.

This workshop thus seeks to engage primarily with the role of archaeology in contemporary social justice movements, while insisting that discussions of diversity in the past can inform experience in the present. We welcome papers that explore the relationship between archaeology and the present political climate, with the intention of addressing the challenges currently facing the field of archaeology and the academy more broadly. We also seek to engage in conversations about the biases and structural problems that make archaeology more accessible to some than to others, in order to help the discipline reach a broader and more inclusive public.

The workshop will include four sessions, each addressing issues of the relationship of archaeology to ongoing struggles for social justice and/or the role of archaeology in those struggles. Rather than predefining the content of these sessions, we intend to shape them with contributions from this call for papers; we wish to offer an open space for discussion of the following, and other, relevant issues:

· The materiality and temporality of current social issues
· Disciplinary decolonization
· Archaeology’s role in discussions of “diversity and inclusion”
· Identity and inequality in the past and present
· Structural and practical access to archaeology and the academy
· Activism and engagement within archaeology
· Archaeology in/of social justice movements
· Archaeology’s relationship to white nationalism
· Archaeology in moments of crisis

To submit a proposal for a paper of approximately 20 minutes, please send an abstract of 350 words or less to Joukowsky_Institute@brown.edu by October 1, 2017.

For questions about this CFP, or about the conference, please see our conference website or email Joukowsky_Institute@brown.edu.