An Archaeology of Care in the Bakken Oil Patch

This past week my colleague Richard Rothaus presented a paper for the North Dakota Man Camp project on a session dedicated to “An Archaeology of Care” at the Society for Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting in Ft. Worth, Texas. We’re still working through the idea, but each iteration and conversation gets us closer to distinguishing the concept from the range of similar frameworks already at play in archaeology (e.g. ethical archaeology, public archaeology, et c.) and weaving together a recognizable body of theory and practice.   

By all accounts, the paper and the panel went well, and Richard graciously allowed me to share the final draft of the paper here (although I’ve found that the final draft of a paper for Richard may only have a passing resemblance to what he presents at the conference!): 

An Archaeology of Care in the Bakken Oil Patch (North Dakota, USA)

A Paper Presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology
January 2017
Ft. Worth, Texas  

Richard Rothaus (North Dakota University System)
William Caraher (University of North Dakota)
Bret Weber (University of North Dakota)

I think I coined the term of “archaeology of care” impromptu during a podcast. I was searching for a descriptor of archaeological practice that intersects with living people in a way that they find positive and relevant; an archaeological practice that leaves subjects feeling valued and worthy of study, not gawked at, not as descendants of lost or vanishing lifeways. In this sense, “archaeology of care” is a contribution to conversations emphasizing the production of a more ethical archaeology that avoids the occasional anti-humanistic tendencies of the discipline. Such projects have surfaced across a wide range of both theoretical perspective and practices with particularly productive developments around community archaeology, indigenous archaeology, and public archaeology. These developments look to create common ground between archeologists and the communities in which they work, and to find shared values in archaeological practice and knowledge.

[SLIDE 3]

For the University of North Dakota Mancamp Project, an archaeology of care emerged at the intersection of archaeology of the contemporary world and historical research in the Bakken oil patch. We began the project as citizens of North Dakota using an academic toolkit to response to the massive influx of population that came with the Bakken unconventional shale play. In this context, our archaeology of care developed two-fold: first, by regular and sustained interactions with the residents of the Bakken living amidst the material culture that we were studying and second, by immersing ourselves in research that, out of the myriad of possible questions, chose some relevant to the lifeways of the residents of this region. We were valued in the field because we came not to fix anything, but rather to understand what was happening. 

[SLIDE 4]. 

As we travelled, invariably residents of the workforce housing sites inquired about our work. During these informal interactions with the residents of the Bakke, we became aware that our research interest in the lives of these people constituted a meaningful form of interaction for all parties. The residents of the area appreciated that scholars from the regional university considered their experiences worthy of study.  Investigators and residents recognized a shared understanding of the significance of the boom historically, and this revealed an intersection of our research goals with the experiences of individuals. The Man Camp project was an archaeology of care not just because we treated individuals with respect and involved them, but more deeply, because our academic approach to lifeways, economics, and material culture eschewed ironic and counterintuitive hypothesis building and instead found significant overlap with the experiences and expectations of residents of the Bakken.

[SLIDE 5]

While we would express it in different ways, the members of the academic North Dakota Man Camp Project and the residents of the region share many of the same concerns and expectations for how a range of social actors conceptualized the labor of the boom.  Central to these overlapping sensibilities is the issue of agency: while the vast majority of workers viewed themselves as free agents making rational choices, the reality was far more varied.  Many of the workers in the Bakken are trained professionals for whom life in crew camps and long periods of absence from home are common parts of their trade.  Distinct from that population are the large numbers of individuals who lost jobs or otherwise had their lives disrupted by the Great Recession.  There is a continuum stretching from those for whom the erratic boom/bust cycle is a regular part of their careers, to those for whom seeking employment in the oil patch was the best, worst option available during a period of great social and economic unsettlement.  Our presence and interest in the lives of the workers and residents of the Bakken oil patch is part of a totalizing discourse of the modern world. We appeared not as omniscient outsiders looking in, ready to pass judgment or solve the problems of others, but as co-residents of a world created, crafted, and interpreted by corporate and extractive industries. In distinction to certain expressions of indigenous archaeology or public archaeology, the archaeology of care subverts the paradigm that construes archaeological outreach or collaboration as between disciplinary archaeologists and “others”.

 [SLIDE 6]

The Bakken Oil Boom, and the influx of temporary labor into the Bakken in the aftermath of the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009 reflects global trends that Saskia Sassen has summarized as expulsions (2014). Displaced from their homes on account of the mortgage crisis, untethered from the historical fixity of middle-class life, caught up in dynamics of just-in-time manufacturing and contingent labor, and buffeted by the increased speed of an industrial boom-bust cycle, many of the migrant Bakken workers manifest the deterritorialized politics and the overlapping economy of the 21st-century world. The Bakken reflects the expulsions that shape a disrupted world and the tense emergence of new forms of settlement designed to accommodate and normalize the experience of the migrant, the refugee, the modern worker, and in some real ways the archaeologist and the academic. Archaeology is still developing the tools to understand what Cresswell has termed diasporic public spheres, a form without the arbitration of the nation-state, where “no place is privileged, no place is better than another, as from no place the horizon is nearer than from any other” (Cresswell 2006). Short-term settlement and movement in the landscape trace faint lines in the archaeological record and form a basis for the shared significance of the Bakken boom to archaeologists documenting the ephemeral and workers seeking a place within the unsettled modern world.

[SLIDE 7]

The North Dakota Man Camp Project identified 50 workforce housing sites in the Bakken region of North Dakota for systematic investigation. Our research sites were visited regularly over a four-year period and documented through video, photography, sketches, and text descriptions. We complemented the material culture documentation with oral interview. The open-ended sampling method captured not just the stories of workers, but also of spouses and children, of camp managers, and even long-term residents of Western North Dakota. People were almost always eager to share their stories, and seemed to quickly comprehend the intention of the study: they told their unique tales about lives lived during this specific historical moment of resource extraction. Despite the hardships, people were generally optimistic, dogged, even indomitable.

[SLIDE 8]

The interviews captured a thick description of life in temporary worker housing. Beyond basic demographic data, interview subjects were always asked where they came from, how long they had been in the patch, what brought them there, and what sort of work and fortunes they had found or failed to find. They were also asked about where ‘home’ was. After responses that were often emphatic (home is here in the Bakken! Or home is back where I make mortgage payments), follow-up questions generally provided interview subjects with an opportunity to produce more nuanced and complicated descriptions of what they meant by home.

[SLIDE 9]

To deal with the variations among the mancamps in the region, we developed a typology of three classes of camps, all of which are defined by the level of formal organization visible to outsiders and which reflect both historical and contemporary understandings by residents of the camps and their surrounding communities. The ethos, but maybe not the reality, of the Bakken Boom was not that of a worker ending up at the predestined factory job, but the cowboy-entrepreneur, fully cognizant of his own commodification and choosing his own path. These are the denizens of the 21st-century “wage earner’s frontier.” For many the choice of where to live was part of a rational decision to join the boom. For many others, life was ‘hell’ and living in the man camps was an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice, and one that disproportionately consumed a large portion of their earnings. Nonetheless, interviewees had commonly not only thought about this, they could articulate it, and our interest in their choices and articulations was a large part of the archaeology of care.

[SLIDE 10]

The type I camps, run by large providers, are the most highly organized both externally and internally, and inhabited primarily by skilled employees of the major oil companies. An individual lives in a type I camp by virtue of employment arrangement, although it must be noted that the choice to live there is almost always optional. The Type I camps typify the depersonalized non-place, and outside visitors frequently describe them as “sterile” and “prisons”.  The camps are organized as identical living spaces arranged either axially or on a grid. The function of the camps is defined by the interchangeability of parts and people. The profitability of the housing arrangement for the provider depends on its modularity, mobility, and temporal flexibility; the camp can move to where it is needed, when it is needed, and changes are easy as all parts are the same.

[SLIDE 11]

Typically, type I inhabitants are individuals who come in for 21 day stints, working 12 or more hours a day in hard and dangerous working conditions. They are physically and temporally committed exclusively to work during their stay, and thus have minimum need for living space beyond eating, bathing, and sleeping. The Type I camps are a non-place, and the workers are in a window of non-life with no sense of community and certainly no political involvement in the area or processes where they earn their living. They do not personalize their living space, because their life is not here, it is elsewhere, and it is the flow back to their real-world that punctuates time. So it is not that these are people who do not care about domestic space (although there are some such folks among them); rather the Type I camps are inhabited by people who have organized their life around the optimized, maximally efficient deployment of their labor. While we found people in Type I camps who were nonplussed by the arrangements, and reasonably happy to accumulating capital to spend at their other place, we also found other people who had turned themselves ‘off’ to become temporary cogs, waiting to return to actual lives—lives that were ‘generally’ disrupted in damaging ways.

[SLIDE 12]

Type III camps are at the opposite end of spectrum: ephemeral, chaotic places that primarily existed in the earlier days of the boom. Like the Type I camps, the organization of the Type III camps reflects the labor of those within them. The Type III camps are inhabited by semi-skilled people who had wandered to the Bakken to find jobs and careers outside of the orderly movement of skilled labor. Where the Type I camps are uniform and undifferentiated, the Type III camps were individualized conglomerations of tents, trailers, shipping containers, and piles of stuff left in shelter belts. The Type I camps were ephemeral at the discretion of the company, the Type III camps are ephemeral at the discretion of the individuals or local law enforcement. At Type III camps, individuals piece together an extralegal existence that they fully expect to be temporary. The individualization does not, for the most part, represent an intent to define personality and space, but rather an ad hoc, highly independent period of existence.

[SLIDE 13]

Type II camps are akin to RV parks. These camps, like much that one sees in the patch, are often owned by outside interests, investment groups who have sometimes never set foot in North Dakota. Within the camps, housing units are often individually owned trailers, situated in ways that most closely replicate the sense of community found in working-class suburbs. As a result, units that are only meant for temporary living have increasingly become near permanent housing structures operating independent of building and safety codes. The Type II camps occupied most of our time and effort, because within these we were able to see the complexity of individual organization and choices. Such complexity certainly was contained in Type I and III camps as well, but there it was obscured by uniformity or chaos.

[SLIDE 14]

We were drawn to the Type II camps because of the diversity and visibility of material culture. Type II camps facilitate study of the spaces between the trailers. There we are able to observe individuals adapting material culture manufactured for impermanence into at least a simulacrum of permanence. The hyper-abundance of wooden pallets, insulation, fences, gardens, grills, freezers and miscellanea opened the door to the study of personal, temporal and seasonal variations. We found our window to engage fully in an archaeology of care by not asking about the boom, but by asking the question “how have you chosen to live within a boom.” The answers, alas, do not fit within our time limits, so we refer you to our forthcoming papers in Historical Archaeology and the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology.

[SLIDE 15]

What makes the UND Mancamp project truly an archaeology of care is our relentless focus not on external economic and organizational structures, but on the organizational structures developed by the workers whose time and bodies have been commoditized in a late-capitalist 24/7 globalized extractive industry (Crary 2014). Our shared investment in understanding the modern world has caused us to arrive, to our own surprise, at a somewhat radical intellectual space, and interestingly, while we did not get there by chance, we also did not get there on purpose. Like many of those living and working in the Bakken, our study entered the stream of what British Economist Guy Standing refers to as a global reality of precariousness in which people from across a multitude of racial, educational, and income categories strive to make sense of the present neo-liberal driven uncertainties that disrupt both our social and economic lives.  While superficially our work drew upon many different disciplines to understand what was happening in the Bakken, we discovered that common ground between the workforce in the Bakken and our work as researchers at a micro-level has proved the most beneficial. How interesting that we arrived at an archaeology of care by focusing on the lifeways of commoditized labor, and in turn we found an archaeology that helps us understand ourselves, our neighbors, and the worlds we work in. We are pleased to bring humanistic tools to bear on the changing nature of labor , and our experiences in the Bakken illustrate that many non-academics are surprisingly in agreement (McKenzie Wark).

[SLIDE 16]

 

 

References

Caraher, W., K. Kourellis, R. Rothaus and B. Weber. “The Archaeology of Home in the Bakken Oil Fields.” Historical Archaeology, forthcoming.

Caraher, W., R. Rothaus, B. Weber. “Lessons from the Bakken Oil Patch.” Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, forthcoming.

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso, 2014.

Cresswell, Tim. On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World.  Taylor & Francis, 2006.

Sassen, Saskia. Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy. Harvard University Press, 2014.

Standing, Guy. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

Wark, McKenzie. Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene. Verso, 2015.

NDUS Outrage Summit: Live-ish Blog

Updated  3:45 pm

The North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit convened this morning with remarks from myself, UND President Mark Kennedy.

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Vice Chancellor, Richard Rothaus (with “Nobody Speak” running on loop in the background (muted, unfortunately)) welcomed us as well.

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Kennedy’s comments were predictable conciliatory suggesting that outrage alone is not enough for change. There has to be outrage “and” (a willingness to collaborate, compromise, and accommodate). Vice Chancellor’s comments emphasized that the somewhat confrontational and unorthodox topic represents the freedom that faculty have to take on controversial topics.

I’m now listening to a series of papers on historical outrage starting with the influence of public outrage on pioneer monuments from Cindy Prescott. 

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Next door, 100+ people have gathered to discuss the cancelling of the music therapy program this past spring at UND. 

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Dan Cooley is now talking about race and the Black Campus movement at Concordia College in Minnesota in the 1970s and the intersection of Black Power and Civil Rights. Cool stuff and saturated with outrage. The history of racism on the regions campuses including the dousing of a black students car with gasoline and lighting it on fire at UND in the 1970s. Powerful stuff with contemporary implications.

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 At 9 am Patrick Luber discusses his installation, “Light and Darkness: Tragedy and the Use of Light in Public Art” at the Hopper-Daly Spiritual Center in the Art of Outrage Panel.  

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Now Eric Burin offers longterm historical perspectives on outrage starting in the 18th century and into the economic and racially charged outrage of the 1820s and 1830s with shocking parallels to our own time. This led to intense partisanship in this period as well fueled by the steam powered printing press (as well as more movement through steam engine, steamships, and the like). Abolitionism emerged from this period and gained significant political and popular prestige through grass-roots activism. He notes that the old historiography argued that outrage among abolitionists was counterproductive and divisive; recent scholarship sees the outrage of abolitionists as being vital for “blazing the path” for more traditional statesmen to take up abolitionist causes. 

Cindy Prescott crossed the streams between historical outrage and music therapy panel in arguing that the concrete incident of cutting music therapy serves as a rallying point for a range of grievances. Outrage often needs an event to serve as a lightening rod for anger.

Brian Schill talks about numbness, detachment, and punk rock as a form of outrage in the Literary Outrage panel. Fragmentation, Delilo, Bear versus Shark. Is rage today as dead as punk? Has the distinction between real and staged outraged totally obscured? Fatigue, desensitization, indifference!

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At the same time, we have the music of outrage thanks to two ensembles from Minot State University to a packed house:

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… While Shawn Boyd from UND talks about narratives of outrage with Freud, Baumann, and others joining the outrage party. 3.5 million references to OUTRAGE on the interwebs and Homeric rage in our internet age. How do we control outrage and who imposes its limits historically? And zorn. 

John Cox from NDSU talked about rage in Tito’s Yugoslavia and as a foundation for thematic experimentation works of Billjana Jovanovic and reads from his unpublished translation of her novel Dogs and Others which is laced with outrage.

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Andrew Harnish a graduate student from UND English Department talks about the outrage of the disabled body, disability theory, and disability theory in non-western countries. He starts with an autobiographic account of his disability in larger social and political context.

Professor Jendrysik (and longtime friend) offers the keynote with a bumper sticker, “If you not outraged, you’re not paying attention!” 

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We’re mad as hell, we’re not going take it any more! Communities of outrage grounded in feeling that they’re right and their anger is righteous! And anger is liberating with venues of outrage being political churches.

An experiment: can outrage lead to enduring political movements?

Outrage is exciting, but change is hard work. The end of civility is not the same as outrage (and there is not golden age where political civility was common). Outrage is deeper and we need to interrogate it.

Outrage is performance and constant interpretation and reinterpretation and blaming people for not being what they were. Outrage is signaling and showing that we hate the same thing and same people, and we have shared virtues. Outrage is ritual. For example, the War on Christmas is a signaling discourse that shows people that they’re on the same side. As such, it’s a demand for recognition. 

Outrage is TRUTH in a post-factual world. Anger is real whereas dispassionate conversation and contemplation is boring and lacks commitment. 

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Outrage is industry! There are ritual patterns in the production of outrage. It is commodified and its predictability has become comforting, hence it’s value in today’s society. There is a hierarchical outrage market where local outrage markets get their cues from national outrage mongers who position themselves as heroic truth-speakers. Check out Rod Dreher’s blog which provides daily outrage which leverages the short lifespan of outrage (or the Drudge Report or Breitbart). And we need ever larger doses of outrage to get our fix.

Anger by marginalized groups is denigrated in many way. Political effects of outrage then is growing polarization. The ever increasing amounts of outrage that we need to get our fix ensures that political divisions are more fierce (especially in our post-factual universe). Outrage can produce apathy (a kind of fashionable despair). 

Trump’s campaign is a natural experiment on whether outrage is enough to propel a candidate to victory. And Prof. Jendrysik concludes his talk with a cliffhanger: “We shall see?” 

We’re starting the afternoon session with videos of support for the Standing Rock Reservation and the DAPL.

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The panel is chaired by Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, UND and featuring Cody Hall, James Grijalva, Jaynie Parrish, Mark Trahant. Rather than a critical engagement with outrage, they are expressing outrage as a motivating force behind their need to protect water from the risks associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline. Cody Hall speaks of the native role as protectors of water, and water is a form of prayer which exists everywhere. He is willing to die to protect the water

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Now, Jim Grijalva is an environmental lawyer on the panel and considers the policy goals of the conversation on domestic energy production. He is interested in the concept of environmental justice and “disproportional impacts” on more vulnerable communities. The differing impact and environmental consequences on indigenous peoples is a recognized problem both in federal law and by the United Nations. It is necessary to maintain the environment in such a way that allows for indigenous people to live how they want.  

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Jaynie Parrish introduces social media and community organizing, and the larger change of narrative toward growing respect for the balance between extractive industries and environmental and Native American rights. Telling the story – and using various media – is a vital part of community organizing and balancing the imbalance of power.

Mark Trahant, among many other things, is a blogger. Starts with the Paris Climate Accords to frame the DAPL protest. We can’t produce more oil and bring more oil to market and meet the targets of the Paris Accords and this pipeline is about producing more oil. Also the impact on villages of Alaska that have to move because of rising sea levels. It can’t be either/or, but it we have to “turn the dial” back in the consumption of fossil fuels. The DAPL protest is a social media story (that went to the global media and then the domestic media). Arguments for the science of the pipeline will go all the way up to climate science and then stop. So, science can says that that pipeline is “safe,” but not climate change?

There is a need to talk about what’s going on around the DAPL at UND.

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Final panel of the day: what about a third space? We start with Shelia Liming on dissolution and flux. Third spaces are not home and not work; they’re the other places where people can gather (following Ray Oldenburg’s definition). Informal public life and public spaces mitigates against privatized spaces. Adorno, Benjamin, Oldenburg, and Zombies, oh my!

New Sherry O’Donnell starts with the last bakery closing in Aleppo and then leads into Pierre’s Bakery in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, run by her partner Virgil Benoit from 1996-2003. PR matters and controlling the narrative matters to small businesses, but they can not hold off the big box stores. Their bakery stood for was an alternative to the church, school, and the bars. It was a third space.

David Haeselin wants to make Grand Forks weird OR Grand Forks is already weird, but weirdness can only happen in public. Starts with Fargo: A Town for Misfits. Rhombus Guys Brewing (is a weird square). So North Dakota is weird and downtown businesses are weird. Take Grand Forks seriously as a place; and ties it to his project to publish a reader on the 20th anniversary of the Grand Forks Flood.

NDUS Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit

We have the final program ready for the NDUS Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit. It includes a sweet cover designed by Donovan Witmer. Here’s a draft of my very brief opening remarks

The hashtag is #NDUSOutrage (which oddly enough hasn’t been used lately)!

Outrage Program Cover

Here’s the program. 

8:00 – 8:30
Welcome
Lecture Bowl

Bill Caraher
Associate Professor, Department of History, UND

Mark Kennedy
President, UND 

9:00-10:00 AM          
Panel
The Art of Outrage
Badlands Room 

Light and Darkness: Tragedy and the Use of Light in Public Art
Patrick Luber, UND

Quick Response to Outrage
Jenni Lou Russi, VCSU           

8:30-10:00 AM          
Panel
Historical Outrage
Lecture Bowl 

Public Outrage (Re)shaping Settler Commemoration
Cynthia C. Prescott, UND

From Outrage to Change: A Historical Overview of the Black Campus Movement: 1960-1980
Daniel Cooley, UND

Outrage in Historical Perpsective
Eric Burin, UND           

8:30-10:00 AM
Panel
Music Therapy Suspension: Shock, Denial, Outrage, Bargaining, Depression, but not Acceptance
River Valley Room           

Music Therapy: An essential allied health profession
Anita Gadberry, UND

Music Therapy in the Evolution of the UND Music Department
Gary Towne, UND

The Impact of the Suspension of Music Therapy on UND
James Popejoy, UND

The Suspension of the UND Music Therapy Program: A Case Study of Flawed Process
Katherine Norman Dearden           

10:15-11:30     
Musical Performance
Ball Room

Fiery Red
Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962)

Luminus
Piano Trio (MSU)

Jon Rumney, violin, MSU
Erik Anderson, cello, MSU
Dianna Anderson, piano, MSU 

String Quartet No. 8
II. Allegro molto
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) 

MSU String Quartet
Jon Rumney, violin (filling in for Will Schilling)
Nikisa Gentry, violin
Nina Coster, viola
Rebecca Randash, cello 

10:15-11:45     
Panel
Literary Outrage
River Valley Room 

The Monkey Smokes a Cigarette, or, Yelling at Your Television
Brian Schill UND

Medieval Zorn, Modern Outrage: The Narrative Aspects of Discontent.
Shawn R. Boyd, UND

Dog-Woman on a Slow Burn: Translating “Jeans Prose” by Billjana Jovanovic
John K. Cox, NDSU

The Outrage of the Disabled Body
Andrew J. Harnish, UND           

11:45-1:30
Lunch and Keynote:
Ballroom

Opening Remarks
Debbie Storrs, Dean, UND College of Arts and Sciences 

If You Are Not Mad, You’re Not Paying Attention” Outrage as Performance, Industry and Politics in Contemporary America
Mark Jendrysik, UND  

1:30-2:45
Roundtable
Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline: A Dialogue at the University of North Dakota
Lecture Bowl 

Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, UND
Cody Hall, Alumni UND
Chase Iron Eyes, Alumni UND
James Grijalva, UND
Jaynie Parrish, UND
Mark Trahant, UND 

1:30-2:45
Panel
The Outrage of History: The Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism in Modern Discourse
River Valley Room 

The Black Peter Discussion: the limits of tolerance in the Netherlands
Ernst Pijning, MSU

North V. South: The Legacy of the ‘African Holocaust’ in Ghana
Ty M. Reese, UND

Undermining Outrage: Native Participants in the Conquest of Mexico
Bradley T. Benton, NDSU           

3:00-4:30
Round-Table
How about a Third Place? A Panel Discussion about Downtown Real Estate and Building Community
Lecture Bowl

David R. Haeselin, UND
Sheila M. Liming, UND
Sheryl O. O’Donnell, UND
Bret Weber, UND           

3:00-4:00
Performance
River Valley Room

Entransed: The Making of a Transnational Woman
Monika Browne, VCSU

3:00-5:00
2016 North Dakota Arts & Humanities Faculty & Student Exhibition Reception
Colonel Eugene E. Myers Art Gallery (Hughes Fine Art Center)

The Writers Conference

There is a lot of crazy, stressful, and, frankly, bad stuff going on across campus at the University of North Dakota right now. Budget crisis, identity crisis, leadership crisis, mission crisis. In fact, anyone anywhere who is not personalizing and politicizing the sense of crisis, simply isn’t do higher education right. 

But, from all of this, we get a break for a few days. The UND Writers Conference offers a kind of Halcyon Days. Go check out the schedule and go to the events (if you’re from North Dakota). If you’re not from here, take a few days and wish you were (it happens very, very rarely). 

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The Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual Meeting in Review

After a couple of days at the AIA annual meeting in San Francisco, I started to wonder whether archaeologists should only be allowed to go to the meeting once every two or three years. This is not meant as a criticism to those there or the bustle of the conference (or the need for structured and unstructured opportunities to interact), but as a way to observe that changes in the field are thrown into high relief after taking a few years aways from the conference.

Here are a few observations:

1. Late Antiquity. When I first started to attend the AIA, panels on Late Antiquity were shoved unceremoniously into the Saturday or Sunday morning sessions, safely sequestered from the proper business of Classical archaeology. Over the past few years, however, Late Antiquity panels have migrated to the grown-up table, and this year, a panel on Greece in Late Antiquity happened at 8 am on Friday, prime time for the conference. 

The panel was a nice blend of senior scholars and new comers and established projects and new field work. The focus was on ceramics (3 papers) and to a lesser extent architecture (2 papers) and skewed later, into 6th and 7th century (4 papers) abandoning to some extent the 4th and 5th century sweet-spot favored by earlier scholars of this era. Three of the papers featured explicitly quantitative analysis, and two of the paper drew upon recent field work: a survey and an excavation. 

While 5 papers are hardly a representative sample of the work in Late Antiquity, the distribution of papers in this panel offers vague confirmation to my gut feeling that Late Antiquitists are working on later period and more fixated on ceramics than ever before.

2. Survey Archaeology. Like Late Antiquity, it wasn’t very long ago when you’d expect someone to stand up at any panel on survey archaeology and ask whether we could really base any arguments on material found on the surface. Those days have passed, it would seem (whether we have resolved the underlying issues associated with survey archaeology and formation processes or not) and the panel at this year’s AIA drew a standing room only crowd.

The papers were good, and projects appeared sound. None of the paper appear to genuinely embrace an analysis based on siteless survey, and in almost all cases preferred to talk about the landscape as a series of sites with distinct functions. At the same time, none of the paper really talked about any sites smaller than the ambiguous “settlement.” I don’t recall any farmsteads, sanctuaries, or site functions defined by size. There was also very little discussion of method.

3. Abandonment. I enjoyed the twin sessions on abandonment which both problematized abandonment as a symptom of decline, as well as a key stage in the formation of sites in the archaeological landscape. The convergence of concerns about periodization (period are frequently defined by episodes of abandonment) and archaeological formation processes points creates an intriguing and productive space around historical narratives that have become so dependent upon patterns of rise and fall. In fact, the ambiguity surrounding abandonment offered a temporary respite for anyone exhausted by popular narratives of decline that are so prevalent in our media today.

We can’t avoid change.

Two Articles: One on Punk Archaeology and One on Data

As I gear up for the start of the semester, the Archaeological Institute of America annual meeting, and catching up on some overdue or soon to be overdue projects, I’m going to lean on some other fine folks for some content on the ole blog.

First, go and check out Colleen Morgan’s fine study of Punk Archaeology in Aqueologia Publica 5 (2015): “Punk, DIY, and Anarchy in Archaeological Thought.” She unpacks the potential scope, history, and significance of punk archaeology by situating it within larger academic and social movements committed to social justice, DIY practice, and anarchy. She not only established the history of punk’s place within archaeology and academia, but provided some loose guidance for its future (as is only fitting). The only thing I would have added to the essay is that the book, Punk Archaeology, that came out of our 2013 conference was the inaugural volume for the Digital Press which took the notion of the zine and applied it to academic publishing. The book is both about punk, and punk in its publication. The co-editors collaborated throughout the publication process and participated in every aspect of the work from lay-out to copy editing, proof reading, and distribution. While the institutional affiliation of the The Digital Press probably distances it from being genuinely anarchic, an approach to publishing that intentionally challenges conventional organization of academic production and emphasizes the process as well as the product. 

You should also go and check out Andrew Bevan’s very recent piece in Antiquity 89 (2015), “The Data Deluge”. In this short, but direct article, Bevan thinks critically about the quantity of data archaeological projects are producing and the limited tool kit that we currently deploy to understand that data. He urges archaeology as a discipline to both develop better tools for understanding archaeological data, and to think more critically about the data that we are producing. 

My Work at the Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual Meeting

Next week is the annual Archaeological Institute of America meeting. I’ve sort of avoided this meeting for the last few years largely because I am more committed to the American Schools of Oriental Research meeting which happens in the fall and I don’t quite have the energy, resources, or time to go to two meetings a year. 

But this year, I’ll go to the AIA meeting and be happy about it. I appear a few times in the program. I’m chairing a standing session on the Archaeology of Greece in Late Antiquity and co-authoring a few papers based on my research in Greece and North Dakota. I’m particularly excited about the papers on abandoned villages and see them as a bit of a follow up from a panel (and publication) that Kostis Kourelis and I organized almost 10 years ago at an AIA in San Francisco. 

If my co-authors give me permission, I’ll post drafts of these papers on the ole bloggeroo over the next week or so.

The Archaeology of Greece in Late Antiquity
Thursday, January 7
8:00-10:30 AM
Continental Ballroom 3 

8:00 House Size and Elite Inequality in Roman Greece
Kilian P. Mallon, Stanford University (15 min.)

8:20 Keeping an Even Temper in Times of Trouble: Continuity and the Maintenance of Ceramic Traditions in Late Roman Corinth
Mark D. Hammond, AIA Member at Large, and Heather Graybehl, AIA Member at Large (20 min.)

8:45 Local Prosperity and Regional Economy in Roman to Early Byzantine Greece: The American Excavations at Kenchreai, 2014–2015
Joseph L. Rife, Vanderbilt University, Jorge J. Bravo III, University of Maryland, College Park, and Sebastian Heath, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University (20 min.)

9:05 Break (10 min.)

9:15 Market Access in Late Antique Thrace: The Ceramic Perspective from Molyvoti
Alistair Mowat, University of Manitoba, Nicholas Hudson, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and Thomas F. Tartaron, University of Pennsylvania (20 min.)

9:40 Excavation in the Late Antique City at Golemo Gradište, Konjuh, 2014–2015
Carolyn S. Snively, Gettysburg College, and Goran Sanev, Archaeological Museum, Skopje (20 min.)

Aegean Survey
Friday, January 8, 2015
Continental Ballroom 3

11:50 The Western Argolid Regional Project: Results of the 2015 Season
Sarah James, University of Colorado, Boulder, Dimitri Nakassis, University of Toronto, and Scott Gallimore, Wilfrid Laurier University (20 min.)

Colloquium Deserted Villages, I: Before Abandonment
Friday, January 8, 2015
Yosemite Ballroom A 

8:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m.

Sponsored by the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology Interest Group
ORGANIZERS: Deborah E. Brown Stewart, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, and Kostis Kourelis, Franklin & Marshall College

9:55 Roads, Routes and Abandoned Villages in the Western Argolid
Dimitri Nakassis, University of Toronto, William Caraher, University of North Dakota, Sarah James, University of Colorado, Boulder, and Scott Gallimore, Wilfrid Laurier University (20 min.)

Colloquium Deserted Villages, II: During and After Abandonment
Friday, January 8, 2015 
Yosemite Ballroom A 

1:45 p.m.–4:45 p.m.

1:55 Life in an Abandoned Village: The Case of Lakka Skoutara
William Caraher, University of North Dakota, and David Pettegrew, Messiah College (20 min.)

3:40 Wheelock, North Dakota: Incremental and Cyclic Abandonment on the Northern Plains
Richard Rothaus, North Dakota University System, William Caraher, University of North Dakota, and Bret Weber, University of North Dakota (20 min.)

Atlanta and ASOR 2015

I had a great week attending the 2015 American Schools of Oriental Research conference in Atlanta. The panels that I managed to attend were interesting and crowded, the committees to which I was obliged were productive, and impromptu meetings with friends, colleagues, and strangers were fun and useful.

I even learned some things. So in the interest in bringing order to a complicated few days, here’s a little list summarizing my encounter with the 2015 ASOR meeting: 

1. Bathrooms. I don’t, generally, spend much time reflecting on bathroom design, but at a conference fueled by coffee and endless pitchers of water in every room, regular visits to the bathroom punctuated my day at steady intervals. The men’s room that I visited most regularly had a small vestibule (around 3 m in length) between the door to the hallway and the door to the bathroom proper. Through this second door was a doglegged passage of 7-8 m in length featuring a bank of four or five sinks. The standard bathroom fixtures were set further into the bathroom around a partition wall.

This arrangement may sound typical, but it means that a visitor to the facilities moves through about 10 m of passage between entering the space from the external hallway and encountering the most important features of the bathroom. This space was genuinely liminal for the visitor and preyed directly upon our common, human anxieties associated with moving from the public space of the hallway to the gender-defined space of the bathroom. Is this really the men’s room? Am I in the wrong place? 10 meters is a significant distance to travel “betwixt and between,” and made every trip to the facilities involve some design-induced angst.

2. Nice Cars and Traffic. This was my first time in Atlanta outside of an unplanned night in an airport hotel after some botched travel arrangements a few years back. A few friends with Georgia roots tried to explain to me the urban landscape of the city which seemed to me to be an East Coast version of West Coast urban sprawl and truly a fitting anchor for Gibson’s Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis

The one thing that Atlanta is famous for is traffic (and streets named Peachtree). I was enchanted (see below) by the bustling traffic of Atlanta’s byways and trip to from Buckhead to the Cabbagetown neighborhood for dinner took us on vibrant and traffic-filled highways through Downtown and Midtown.

IMG 4085

The spectacular array of exotic and imported cars on the roads of Buckhead and on Atlanta’s highways reminded me that I truly live in “Pontiac and Plymouth Country (TM)” and created a moving montage of social and economic display. While eating lunch at a little burger place, I watched no fewer than three Bentleys roll by and was shocked to realize that Mercedes only sells S-Class cars to Atlanta residents.

3. ASOR and CAARI and The Digital. There were sustained and productive conversations about “The Digital” both on the ASOR committee on publications and at the board of trustees meeting of CAARI (the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute). The former is embracing the need to at least experiment with open-access digital publishing and linked data and the latter is starting to think more critically about its web site as more than just a billboard for the institutes existence. I’m increasingly optimistic that Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town will appear next year as a digital, fully linked, revised edition and Pyla-Koutsopetria II: Excavations at an Ancient Coastal Town will be born as a linked digital book in 2017. 

As for CAARI, there’s much work to do, but we’ve made some progress. Moving the CAARI site from a hand-coded page to a WordPress template would make updating the site easier and facilitate links with social media. The conversations at the trustees meeting also suggested that people are increasingly interested in using the website for… something. It may be that the website emerges as a place to solicit contributions or to market scholarship opportunities or even to publish old photographs of Cyprus. It’s clear that the board is not quite sure how to align the web with CAARI’s broader mission.

As I sat there listening to the conversation (and the many generational protests), I started to think that CAARI could use the web to disseminate scholarship perhaps in conjunction with the re-opening of the expanded library. A digital occasional paper series modeled on the ISAW Papers series might anchor the CAARI web presence in a familiar medium – scholarly publication, celebrate the benefit of the new library by linking CAARI with academic production, and provide a new outlet for publications on Cyprus now that the Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus is on sabbatical.

The key thing, to my mind, is to revamp the website with a strategy (and goals) in mind. We have work to do!

4. Slow Archaeology. I was thrilled to hear the term “slow archaeology” appear in several papers at ASOR and even more thrilled to realize that some of these mentions were not directed at my work but indicative of parallel work with the same ideas. Eric Kansa’s work on “slow data” distinguishes the deliberate and careful work of publishing, linking, and using published archaeological data from the compliance based “data dump” and suggests that a “slow” approach to data publishing will both yield far more important results and require a change in attitudes among archaeologists, institutions, and funding agencies.

Independent of my work, Ömür Harmansah has explored the intersection of archaeology and development, neoliberalism, and the modern academy to suggest that, today, almost all archaeology is salvage archaeology pushed by an array of pressures inherent to late capitalism. As an antidote to this trend, he has proposed approaches that embrace an intentional engagement with complex landscapes including a kind of “slow survey” that attempts to resist practices associated with the commodification of archaeological space, objects, and heritage in the name of documentation.

I’m exited to explore more of his ideas with him and think there is real potential for a clearly-defined slow archaeology to offer substantive critique to the discipline.  

5. Objects and Enchantment. I participated in a panel on object biography where folks used the word “enchantment” more than I’ve ever encountered at an academic meeting. The papers were good and generally well-received, although I detected a consistent skepticism that object biography represents a  productive way forward for understanding of the place of objects within the broader archaeological project.

My paper was met with skepticism including a comment that my approach to archaeology (and digital artifacts) would cause children to go running from the discipline whereas the opportunity to handle an excavated object would lead to enchantment. This may be the case, although I suspect children and students these days have a greater willingness to be enchanted by digital objects than our generation does.

Despite that critique, my time at the ASOR annual meeting was enchanting, exhausting, and though provoking. I’m looking forward to next year and following up some of the conversations that I had over the course of the meeting.  

Three Unrelated Things: the Homeshow, Lemonskinheads, and the UND Writers Conference

Sometimes I get a backlog of blog ideas and I realize that it makes more sense to push them out in a disjointed post than to wait for some opportunity to expand each idea into a individual posts. I realize that this violates a rule of writing which states that writers should give their ideas room to stretch out and not cram too many thoughts together in one place. I’ve never been good at that.

So here are three unrelated things combined in a single post: 

1. The University of North Dakota Writers’ Conference starts today! If you spend any time at the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks, or in North Dakota, you know about the Writers Conference. In fact, if you know anything about UND at all, it’s likely to be their long tradition of hosting one of the great writers’ conferences in the U.S. As people might recall, the Writers Conference was almost sacrificed to budgetary priorities advanced by careerist administrators looking to prove that they’re tough enough to stand up to faculty and make “hard choices.” Fortunately, the community and donors rallied to save the conference. 

This year the theme is “The Other Half” and will feature women writers who write about gender and race. But as always, the Writers Conference is more than that, it is an opportunity to hear writers talk about their craft. The lunchtime panels are completely enthralling and well worth sacrificing a lunch hour! So go and check it out this week! 

2. The Home Show. This past weekend, my wife and I went to the Grand Forks Home Show. I’d never been to such a thing! Apparently the purpose of the home show is to show off various ways to improve, change, or repair one’s home. According the local newspaper, over 150 vendors rented booths at the show and thousands attended. As an archaeologist with an interest in the contemporary world, the Home Show fascinated me. Here in one place was an example of many objects that might appear in an archaeological assemblage from a modern home. There were three or four booths showing off cook pots, for example, and we know from our experiences in Bakken that cookware is often left behind when a temporary settlement is abandoned. There were two or three vendors showing off windows, which if our home is any indication, are a common object set aside in provisional discard even when they have been replaces (and can, in the right hands, be the objects of salvage). There were several firms advertising landscaping services by elaborate displays. Because the materials in these displays are relatively low value and designed for a particular space, they tend to persist at a place and accumulate traces of earlier landscaping efforts. Unsurprisingly the vendors at the show were almost all men, suggesting that the materiality of the home and its immediate environs continues to be something constructed (in a physical sense) by men even if the gender balance between the visitors appeared more even.

3. The Empire Theater and Usama Dakdok. Last week, the anti-Muslim speaker Usama Dakdok came to Grand Forks. He was brought to town by one or another conservative evangelical church and sponsored by the local conservative Christian radio station. Dakdok is know as an inflammatory speaker and leverages his Egyptian heritage to purport inside information about Islam to help Christians convert their Muslim neighbors. His talks have a pseudo-academic structure where he presents his “more authentic” translation of the Quran and compares it unfavorably – apparently almost at random – to passages in the Christian Bible. Whatever one things about Christian-Muslim relations, Dakdok provides very little substance and considerable fuel to already enflamed audience who fear the imminent arrival of ISIS type militants, Sharia law, and anti-Christian pogroms in their small town. 

His reputation proceeds him, of course, and in many communities he struggles to find a venue to spout his venom. This has apparently allowed him to play the victim and to demonstrate the urgency of his message. The grand plot against God-fearing Christians is already well underway, because his truth is being suppressed. As a few of my colleagues pointed out, this kind of rabble rousing has a long history in American political life where conspiracies, secret knowledge, identity politics, and playing the victim often combine to fuel the fires of hatred. 

In light of this situation, I expressed disappointment that the Empire Arts Center (our local early 20th century movie house turned to an arts center) agreed to host a speaker like Dakdok and suggested to some colleagues that the Empire Arts Center might no longer be a great venue for, say, a lecture series organized by the International Studies program to explore ideas of global diversity. Two things made our conversation all the more emphatic. First was a confused Op-Ed piece in the Grand Forks Herald which somehow celebrated the Empire Arts Center for allowing hate speech in its venue as an important opportunity for the community to consider Dakdok’s views as a valid contribution to a global conversation on religious difference. Second, with the appearance of some anti-immigrant graffiti directed at Somali immigrants in town, the Herald cautioned us from jumping to conclusions and claiming that our community has a race problem. Ironically, if the views expressed appeared in a venue like the Empire rather than on the wall of a local strip mall, then, according to the Herald we should celebrate the vitality of civic conversation: “Some claim Dakdok’s speech was beyond the pale. But a big reason for the United States’ world leadership and enormous strength is the fact that we trust debate — not repression — to resolve political quarrels.”

The upshot of our conversations is a meeting with the folks at the Empire, mediated and facilitated by a city council member and some fine folks at the University of North Dakota. We do not want to damage the Empire as a civic institution because it’s a great venue, a good partner, and an asset to the community, but we do want to make sure that we expect more them. It’s not that we’re angry, we’re just very disappointed.

One good thing to come out of all this is that I discovered calling Usama Dakdok, Evan Dakdok is pretty fun (for me). It’s a mash-up of Dakdok with the drug-addled lead singer of the Lemonheads, Evan Dando. Evan Dakdok is the frontman of a band called the Lemonskinheads. So that’s fun.