Being Digitally Humane

Last week, I wrote a little piece drawing attention to Jeremy Huggett’s recent article in Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology titled “Resilient Scholarship in the Digital Age.” You can read it here. A few colleagues on the NDQ editorial board suggested that I tweak it a bit and post it to the NDQ blog partly because it evokes ideas that I originally started to play with in an essay that I published a few years ago in NDQ. Since I’m a slave to flattery, I worked on it a bit over the last day or so. Here’s a draft. I’ll tidy it up and run it for real at NDQ tomorrow.

In the latest issue of Ploughshares, Viet Thanh Nguyen states “literary change at the structural level will not happen without quantification. We will not be able to see how prejudiced our tastes are if we do not track who we are publishing and who we are hiring.” He recognizes, of course, that qualitative considerations have long held the center of literature and the humanities, but quantitative work allows us to recognize patterns of practice at scale.

Nguyen’s sensibilities feel jarring today (even to me as a scholar who move between qualitative and quantitive work in my own research) because the humanities so often find themselves between the twin pinchers of funding models that privilege STEM programs and the growing reach of the modern assessocracy who seeks to reduce all aspects of campus life to numbers (and then, at the end of the day, dollars). I have heard the subtle grumbles from my own editorial board when it comes to reducing the submissions and contributions to NDQ to numbers. I remain committed to tracking gender and genre across our submissions (race is harder, but national origin is relatively easy). I also recognize that a journal like NDQ needs to have a certain number of subscribers to survive, that the length of the journal is reckoned in the number of characters, and our webpage statistics is important to understand our reach, submission patterns, and popularity. (Facebook and Twitter drive most of the traffic to our site, so you should follow us there!) In most cases, my editors just ignore my quantitative ramblings, but some send snarky little emails. It’s fine. I get it.

Earlier this month one of may favorite scholars, Jeremy Huggett at Glasgow, published a piece in the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology titled “Resilient Scholarship in the Digital Age.”  In it, he faces head on the tensions between the digital practices that bravely lately come to dominate the quantitative culture of our neoliberal universities and digital practices that we embrace in our academic work (and, in Huggett’s case, digital archaeology, but the broader digital humanities and social science apply here). The same digital tools that I employ to monitor the performance of the NDQ website and the diversity of our authors are used to assess the popularity of majors, rank the performance of faculty research and teaching, and distribute funds to programs. More than that, the blog on which your reading this piece, our digital archive, and even the digital version of NDQ that critiqued the university in this age of austerity, all offer a compromised experience compared to the paper copy of the Quarterly that is set to arrive in your mailbox later this fall. Even as I write this, I’ve been interrupted by emails, tracked down a wayward citation, and checked the time of the Phillies game tonight. My attention is regularly so divided through my digitally mediated work that while many things happen, fewer things get done, despite the ease with which I can communicate with publishing partners, co-authors, and my growing body of “born digital” data. As Huggett notes, the same tools that allow us to connect with our professional lives more easily also contribute to the “always on” culture and professional burn out.

Huggett’s paper doesn’t stop at critique, however. He concludes his article by asking is whether we can use the same tools and practices to build more resilient academic and professional communities. A similar question has haunted us as we have persisted with NDQ even after it seemingly terminal budget cuts. By leaning more heavily on digital tools and their relationship with quantification and, ultimately, the market, we have tried to create space for the journal to continue. In fact, we’ve argued that the persistence of NDQ serves as a kind of statement of resistance to the practices of the 21st century university and contemporary ways of measuring social and cultural value (see my essay in NDQ 85).  The humanities can not only play the commercial, digital, and market-driven game, but we can subvert it even as university administrators and public officials attempt to pull the rug out from under us.

There are risks to this approach, however. As we increasingly use bits, bytes, and digits to mediate our world, I feel increasingly concerned that we not confuse these things with the experiences, people, places, and relationships that the are supposed to represent.   

The Page

I had an interesting conversation with a contributor to the next issue of North Dakota Quarterly. We accepted some poems with really long lines and the author asked whether we could find a way to publish them without breaking them. There are, of course, printing conventions for interrupting lines in poetry that must be broken because of the page width rather than for poetic effect. Generally publishers use indentation to show that a line has been terminated prior to a line break in the poem.

This poses a problem, of course, because line breaks of any kind impact the shape of the poem which is one way that an author communicates meaning. Our standard page width (NDQ publishes as 6 x 9) and font size (I think it’s published at 11 point font), however, produces certain limits. There’s a temptation to see page limits, then, as artificial or outside of the intent of the poet. In some (perhaps even many) cases, the page size is the product of the commercial goals of the publisher which leverage the economy of standardized sizes, designs, and layouts. On the other hand, most art encounters practical (and in many cases economic) limits that shape its expression. In fact, the practical limits of say, a modern piano or the printed page, are coincident with the way music and prose create meaning. 

Digital publishing challenges some of the conventions of the page. The width of a website produced through standard responsive or adaptive design varies with the width of browser and the screen of the device. In other words, line breaks and page width are dynamic.

In contrast, a PDF maintains the integrity of the page as the frame for a text. Anyone who has tried to read a PDF on a mobile device recognizes the limits to this kind of publication. But, the PDF also allows for a publication to maintain certain conventions associated with pagination including page numbers (for references), line structure, and other visual cues that assist with recall, organization, and traditional practices. For example, I tend to remember key ideas or arguments based in part on where they appear on the page even if I’ve read these pages on a digital device like an iPad or laptop. 

The interplay between the digital page and line is pretty interesting. I’ve thought a bit about publishing a book of poetry and prose where every page is a different size and designed to accommodate a particular work. It would undermine a bit of the commercial character of the traditional printed page while also maintaining the integrity of the page as a stable space for the presentation of text. 

Who’s in? 

Public Domain Day at North Dakota Quarterly

On January 1st, the public domain saw the first large-scale infusion of works since 1998. Any work published before 1924, now is in the U.S. public domain. This is an almost unprecedented catalogue of books, journals, films, and music has entered the public realm. This means that these works have been freed from almost all restrictions on how we use, distribute, contort, convolute, remix, and enjoy these works. Duke Law School offers helpful explanation of what this means. The HathiTrust has collected an overwhelming catalogue of digitized material that entered the public domain this year, and you can access the full texts here.

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This has an impact on us here at North Dakota Quarterly. While we have no reason to believe that we ever renewed copyright on any of our early works, we also have almost no idea what the agreements were between the Quarterly Journal of the University of North Dakota (as it was then known) and our authors. In effect, these issues were orphans and would require a time consuming and expensive search for their status for someone to be sure that they were free of copyright entanglements.

In 2017, we took a little risk and released the digital versions of these works on the HathiTrust under a Creative Commons By-Attribution, No Derivative license, figuring that we, at least, have the right to distribute the entire volume. Unfortunately, the no derivative aspect of the license made it difficult for anyone to repackage, rearrange, or remix this volume. As this work has now entered the public domain, they are now free of those constraints!

Lest one think that this is just some dusty back catalogue of a little magazine, for folks interested in the history of North Dakota and of the University of North Dakota, volume 13 (1923) of NDQ is a relatively untapped resource. Issue 13.4 is dedicated entirely to the history of UND, with articles written by various faculty luminaries of the “early days” including John Gillette, Vernon Squires, Earle Babcock, and the well-known financier and class of ‘03, John Hancock. Issue 13.3 focuses on the history of the state of North Dakota with articles dedicated to the pioneer physician, the North Dakota bar, politics, banking, religion, and, of course, farming. Issues 1 and 2 were more general issues with articles by faculty and local scholars, and with ample overlap with the themes of the last two issue of the year. 

In short, this volume is among the most important volumes of NDQ’s early history or “first series,” and while it bares only scant resemblance to the journal of the 21st century, it speaks to the fundamental role that the Quarterly played is sketching out the “first draft” (to use a colleagues helpful expression) of the history of the state and the University. In this way, NDQ reflected the interests of its primary audience, people in the small, but growing body of intellectuals, academics, and professionals in North Dakota who sought to create institutions to support their priorities in the world.

Today, I like to think that NDQ continues in that tradition, albeit with a wider audience, and, in terms of topics and genres, a more expansive view on how to shape our world. I’m just now starting to think about what to do with the newly released volume of NDQ, but the great thing about the public domain, is that it’s not up to just us here at NDQ!  Anyone can go and do something neat with it, and let us know what they did!

Getting the Brand Back Together

I really dislike the concept of branding. In particular, I dislike the idea that brands have value and that there is a responsibility to the value inherent in a brand particularly in the humanities. Over the past few years, I’ve been confronted by a number of individuals who view the brand as major part of their responsibility toward public humanities institutions. To my mind, the investment in the brand – whether financial, intellectual, strategic, or emotional – has produced a kind of conservatism.  While I’d never suggest that these individuals valued the brand above content, there is a tendency to use the concept of the brand and its definitions as a way to create barriers to collaboration or even prioritize risk taking because, in the end, social and historical capital that has accumulated around the brand matters.  

At the same time, as I take on the role of editor of North Dakota Quarterly and sit in an office surrounded by 85 years of the journal and am incredibly aware of the history and legacy of the publication. As we move from being self published to being published by University of Nebraska Press, we have a chance to refresh our cover and interior design. I intentionally asked that we try to evoke some of the design elements during the Quarterly’s heyday under Bob Lewis in the late-1990s and early-21st century. (This is a nice example of it). Despite liking some of our more adventurous approaches to layout – including columns and a volume designed “Tête-bêche” – I got into my head that a more consistent approach might make the journal easier to understand and consume… in other words, ugh, branding.

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I also really liked the cover of our recent issue (84.1/2) dedicated to Transnationalism with it’s full width image and was pleased that UNP looked at that cover as a possible template for future NDQs. We need to find a cover image that has the same appeal as Marc-Antoine Frébutte’s “Waiting for the Train,” but I think that’s possible. UNP also played a bit with the NDQ logo while keeping its iconic Davida font. Here’s one example of what they’ve shared:

NDQ Cover Sample

Before I knew it, I was thinking about BRANDING and what was important to preserve in NDQ’s identity so that our readers and contributors recognize that despite the changes, we are going to maintain as much of the traditional NDQ identity as possible. I still don’t like branding or the idea of investing in the brand, but I suppose in this case it has a function of reassuring our audience that the core values of the Quarterly will remain intact. 

 

 

 

I still hate branding, though.

NDQuesday: Announcing the Dakota Access Poetry Prize!

Things are picking up over at North Dakota Quarterly

We’re really happy to announce that a donor has made a poetry prize available to celebrate our move to a new press and the re-opening of submissions after a recent hiatus. My shadow poetry editor proposed a poetry contest that brings together some of NDQ’s recent themes from transnationalism to austerity. 

The contest is officially live today and will run through August 15. The prize is $500 in American Cash Dollars.

Check it out here and below.    

Celebrating our recent Submittable subscription (which means we can now take submissions on line (and that we once again haz accessible), NDQ is now accepting submissions for the first Dakota Access Poetry Prize (DAPP).

This prize is in line with our forthcoming collection of essays on the humanities in the age of austerity. To be considered, we’d like to see your best critical work on the global moment, understanding this as encompassing everything from oil to borders to water to Syria to cotton socks. Or in reverse order, we welcome approaches to the topic as diverse as those found in Pablo Neruda, C.P. Cavafy, Homer, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Mikeas Sánchez.

Translations welcome, but only of living poets. 

Because money makes the world go ‘round, we have $500 in total prize money. 

The poems will be vetted by the mysterious poetry division of the North Dakota Quarterly editorial board with finalists being select by Juan Sánchez. Sánchez has published works of poetry, some titles include Rio, Salvia, and the anthology Indigenous Message of Water (pdf). In 2016 he received the National Prize for Literature in Colombia, for his work Altamar. He is currently a professor at the University of North Carolina – Asheville.  

Selected finalists will go to the NDQ editorial board for a final decision. 

Follow #YesDAPP on the Twitters.

NDQuesday: On Cricket and Basketball and the Future

I have this idea, it’s not a good idea, but it’s an idea nonetheless to put together an essay the NBA and cricket that brings together some of my research on the Bakken Oil Patch, on the age of austerity, and my interest in these sports. In my fantasy world, I imagine this as a penetrating essay in this fall’s volume of North Dakota Quarterly. In reality, these ideas are probably best left shoved deep down in the ole “idea box.”

On Cricket and Basketball and the Future 

I’ve been watching a good bit of cricket and the NBA lately. Most people tend to see the former as slow-paced, obscure, and unapologetically aristocratic and the latter as up-tempo, almost jarringly athletic, and deeply rooted in American urban experience.

Of course, these simplifications do not hold up to even superficial scrutiny. With countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and now Afghanistan playing cricket at the highest level, it is hard to continue to associate the sport with a genteel aristocracy (to say nothing of the explosive play that characterized West Indian cricket and the recent rise in short-form T20 cricket). The NBA is now, more than ever, a global league with superstars hailing from Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia as well as across the U.S. In short, both sports are global in scope and whatever their historical roots, the significance of the game is now translated into numerous local idioms. 

What has intrigued me lately is that the NBA is undergoing some pretty significant changes in how it is played. When I started paying close attention to basketball in the 1980s, there were clearly defined positions that, with some variation, had clearly defined roles. Centers rebounded and scored in the low post, power forwards did likewise, but often had a bit more athleticism and range. Small forward and shooting guards were typically assertive scorers whose main distinction was range and size. Shoot guards tend to be smaller and more accomplished shooters and small forwards more athletic and slashing with a bit more size and defensive acumen. Point guards distributed the ball and generally had defensive responsibilities around the perimeter.

In the last 5 years, all this has changed. Point guards have become scorers; power forward and centers without outside shots have become one-dimensional role players; small forwards and shooting guards have become so interchangeable that teams generally play three guards without distinguishing. My team, the Philadelphia 76ers, has a 6-10 point guard, Ben Simmons, who can switch to playing power foward, small forward, or even center. In short, the idea of positions has broken down in the NBA and as a result, the game on a play-by-play basis has become a bit more chaotic, less predictable, and, for lack of a better word, elastic with the dominant tactic on any possession, to simplify greatly, to stretch a player to the absolute limits of their comfort zone. 

Cricket has always been a game where positions, particularly in the field, are fluid. Unlike baseball, it’s closest relative, there are only two defined positions in Test match cricket (which is the 5-day form of the game): a bowler, who pitches the ball, and a wicket keeper, who stands like a baseball catcher behind the wicket. Early in the history of the game, fielders were limited to one side of the field, and in shorter form of the game, there are some limits on how fielders can be arranged, but this never created designated positions for players. In fact, any player can play any position. I recall, for example, the great Indian wicket keeper M.S. Dhoni, taking off his wicketkeeping pads and bowling in a Test match in England and nearly getting out the great English batsman Kevin Peterson

I’ve always assumed that this relative fluidity in positions in cricket harkened back to its pre-industrial roots. Absent is evidence for the kind of specialization found on the assembly line (or in industrialized sports like football). In fact, the absence of industrial specialization of the players is also reflected in its leisurely pace stretching over five days in the purist form of the game and stretching the weekend to include Thursday, Friday, and Monday as well. In fact, what is curious from the history of cricket is that prior to the 1930s, timeless test matches were not uncommon meaning that teams would simply play until one side got the other side out in the second innings. It was shipping schedules, in particular, that doomed the timeless test as a number of the games were brought to a premature conclusion because one team had to depart home. Timed tests introduced the draw where neither side could declare victory and historically over a third of all tests have ended that way. Even today, a drawn test can be revetting viewing as one team eagerly pursues victory and another endeavors not to lose. I’d argue that draws remains consistent with pre-industrial practices because it separates playing the game from the need to produce a winner.  

Recent trends away from specialized position players in the NBA might seem like a revival of an older, perhaps even pre-industrial, style of play, but I wonder whether the convergence of a less specialized NBA and a historically less specialized cricket actually reflects key trends in the globalization of sport (and in global economics). First, as innumerable critics have observed our world is accelerating and the economic and technological realities of this rapidly changing world mitigate against any specialization that occurs at the expense of adaptability. Of course, this may have always been the case on the assembly line where management expected a worker to perform with highly efficient familiarity at his or her post, but the worker also knew that the assembly line was always being tweaked and updated requiring a kind adaptability in both the workforce as a whole and the individual worker. At the same time, the 21st century economy, defined by precarity and the radical deskilling of workers demands both efficiency and flexibility in way that makes developing all but the rarest forms of specialization undesirable. As we tell our students, we’re training you for jobs that do not exist yet.

Second, the breakdown in the trajectory of modernity and, its related logic of assembly line, occurs with globalization. Cricket has always been a global game, initially mediated by the scope of the British Commonwealth, but now articulated largely along national lines. The style of play, conditions, and traditions remain local, however, demonstrating the kind of hybridity that thinkers like Homi Bhabha have articulated as characteristic of the postcolonial condition. The result is a delicate tension between the tendency to demand specialized “horses for courses” who can play in certain conditions (e.g. on the dry pitches of the sub continent or in England’s fickle summers) and the desire to maintain a side that can triumph with equal proficiency at home and abroad.   

The globalization of the NBA lacks the keen attention to the local that persists in cricket, but is no less hybridized. The breakdown of specialization, for example, in the power forward and center position can be traced, in part, to the arrival of big men like Arvydas Sabonis and later Dirk Nowitzki and Kristaps Bazinga with skills honed in Europe and with the ability to both post up and play facing the basket at the perimeter. Today, of course, this is not limited to European imports, but a fairly common aspect of many big mens’ games. Hybridization eroded specialization as the basic logic of the game in one place encounters counter logic from elsewhere.    

In this context, cricket and the NBA both manifest the tensions of globalization that disrupt the neat linearity of modern progress. The skills involved in cricket evoke craft in their disregard for specialized efficiencies born of the assembly line. The archaic characteristics of the game has tempted me to call it pre-industrial. At the same time, the same features in the NBA appear to evoke the contingent dynamism present in a globalized modern economy and this tempts me to label them post-industrial. It may well be that the convergence of cricket and the NBA do not represent points on the modern continuum of progress at all. At their best, they may be places of protest where the economic logic of culture is rebuffed by the logic of practice. At their worst, the lack of specialization in these sports might reflect the global logic of precarity where the risk associated with valuing specialization is increasingly offset by a deskilled workforce that are as valuable as they are disposable.    

 

 

 

NDQuesday: A North Dakota Quarterly Reader

When I first became interested in North Dakota Quarterly about five years ago or so, I floated the idea that we mine the back content of NDQ to create a series of readers on various topics. I figured that this might be a way to show off the “best of the best” from NDQ’s storied history and perhaps to generate a little cash flow if we sold them online as print-on-demand volumes. Aside from a few trial balloons, including a little volume on North Dakota and the Great War which attracted a handful of downloads, there wasn’t too much real interest. 

The other day, while hanging out in the NDQ offices, I decided to shelf-surf a bit and stumbled across a few paper bound volumes that were collections of past NDQ articles edited by Elizabeth Hampsten and Stephen Dilks and published in 1997.    

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The entire volume is re-set and re-paginated into columns. I offer the table of contents for the first of the three volumes below. It would be possible to link to each contribution because they’re now available online, but I also wonder whether folks might like a paper copy of the reader for a nominal price (i.e. <$20). There would be some production time and effort, to be sure, but it would seem worth it if folks see a volume like this as a suitable way to celebrate the legacy of NDQ.   

Let me know in the comments and in the meantime, here’s the table of contents: 

North Dakota is Everywhere
A North Dakota Quarterly Reader, 1910-1996

Contents

Frank Allen, “The Two-fold Function of the University” (September 1910), 1
Luther C Freeman, “The Problem of the Teacher” (September 1910), 8
Frank L. McVey, “Syndicalism and Socialism and Their Meaning” (April 1914), 11
James E. Boyle, “Notes From an Agricultural Field Trip Across North Dakota” (January 1917), 17
VeraKesey, “Free” (play, July 1917), 21
Albert Tangeman Vollweiler, “Roosevelt’s Ranch life in North Dakota” (October 1918), 24
Luther H. Lyon, “Choosing a Name for The Product” (November 1928), 34
Elwyn B. Robinson, “Lewis & Clark-the North Dakota Phase” (Winter 1956), 38
Robert P. Wilkins, “Middle Western Isolationism: A Re-examination” (Summer 1957), 46
John F. Kennedy, “The Obligation of a Society to Preserve Its Natural Endowment” (Summer 1963) 52
Wynona H. Wilkins. “The Idea of North Dakota” (Winter 1971), 56
Rodney Nelson, “Politics in North Dakota: A Short Story” (Autumn 1976), 69
Max Westbrook, “Story Telling as a Way of Thinking” (Spring 1979), 72
Peter Nabokov, “America as Holy Land” (Autumn 1980), 81
Thomas McGrath, “Journey by Sled to Midnight Mass in the 1920s” (Autuman 1980), 89
Dale Jacobson “Review of Thomas McGrath, Letter to an Imaginary Friend: Parts III & IV” (Winter 1987), 94
James H. Rogers, “Vision and Feeling: An Interview with Thomas McGrath” (Winter 1985), 96
Thomas McGrath, “North Dakota Is Everywhere” (Summer 1982), 104
Dale Jacobson, “For Thomas McGrath” (poem. Fall 1982), 105
Valentina Borremans, “Appropriate Technology and the Modernization and Feminization of Poverty” (Winter/Spring 1984), 107
Deborah Fink “‘Mom, It’s a Losing Proposition’: The Decline of Women’s Subsistence Production on Iowa Farms” (Winter/Spring 1984), 113
J. M. Coetzee, “Michael Kin the Camp” (Spring 1983), 117
James Summerville, “Rural America: An Index” (Fall 1985), 123
Kathleen Norris, “Gatsby on the Plains: The Small-Town Death Wish” (Fall 1985) 128
G. Keith Gunderson, “Letter: A Reply to ‘Gatsby on the Plains’” (Fall 1985), 134
Mark Phillips, “An Introduction: ‘Creativeness and Social Change’” (Fall 1985), 137
Derek Savage, “Creativeness and Social Change” (Fall 1985), 138
Catharine R. Stimpson, “Needling” (Summer 1987), 142
Brian Swann “‘The dusky body of IT underneath’: Some Thoughts on America and Native Americans” (Winter 1987). 146
Ron Vossler, “The Last Casualty of Shipka Pass” (Fall 1988) and “The Last Survivor of Shipka Pass,” 158 and 162
Patricia Sanborn, “An Odyssey Through Schools: Notes of a Learner and Teacher” (Winter 1988), 167
Robert W. Lewis, “Introduction: Gleanings” (Fall 1991), 175 and “Declaration of Quito” (Fall 1991), 180
Lise McCloud, “Heart of the Turtle” (Fall 1991), 182
Claude Clayton Smith, “Red Men in Red Square” (Fall 1991), 187
Susan K. Martin, “Go (Further) West Young Man: The New (True Blue) Frontier of the American Imagination” (Winter 1992), 196
Robert Sayre, “Rethinking Midwestern Regionalism” (Spring 1994-95), 205
John Tallmadge, “Moving to Minnesota” (Spring 1996), 214
Lennart Pearson, “Feeding Pork to the Pig: Swedish Proverbs and Wellerisms” (Spring 1996), 222

~

Bill Caraher is the editor of North Dakota Quarterly. He is a historian and archaeologists at the University of North Dakota who specializes in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Eastern Mediterranean and contemporary America. He blogs at Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

NDQuesday: Three Thoughts on a Tuesday Morning

Today is one of those super hectic days that’ll run from before 7 am until after 8 pm with barely time for quick bites to eat and think between obligations. These obligations are almost all good and fun, but “wowf” will today be full.

There are three things on my mind about NDQ this week, though, and I present them here.

The First Thing

I worked this weekend on trimming and streamlining my contribution to the NDQ special issue on Humanities in the Age of Austerity. I did four things. First, I tried to make it all a bit more direct a bit less like an academic paper. Whenever I try to write for a public audience, I find myself being dragged back into academic writing. So I cut out the most egregious examples of academic writing (including the more or less dreadful bibliographic paragraphs). This helped focus my article on NDQ as an example of the situation in the humanities on a national level. Third, I tried to develop my concept of the billboard and the factory a bit more clearly. To my mind, this is really the heart of the paper and whatever its flaws, I think it offers a genuine perspective on my view of higher education. In a sentence: we’re are too interested in demonstrating the efficiency of our methods (this is the billboard which is constantly telling our stakeholders that we’re efficient, careful with public funds, and open to private partnerships) and not interested enough in selling the product (which is education, research, and various non-market advantages to society). Maybe the metaphor is a bit weak or tortured, but I’m sticking with it. Finally, the original version of the paper ended in a depressing way. While I still feel pessimistic about the future of the current version of higher education in the face of the long trajectory of American (and, really, global) political culture.

If you’re interested in how the sausage is made, check out the newest version of my paper here.

The Second Thing

In my class on the UND Budget (Cuts), I’ve become pretty interested in the idea of privatization and value. Christopher Newfield has argued that privatization has cost public higher education dearly in that most ploys to privatize aspects of university life has lead to greater costs for students, fewer resources for faculty and teaching, less efficiency and fewer opportunities for innovation. In other words, privatization is more about transferring public wealth to the private sphere and less about any real benefits for higher education.

UND is poised to see several major private initiatives on campus in the coming months. Like most public universities we have already enjoyed some of the opportunities from public/private partnerships and seen privatization nibble along the edges of university life with private dorm-style apartments ringing campus, private vendors leasing spaces in the student union, private companies handling key function like email, course management software, and the technology help desk. In many of these cases, the private sector has leveraged economies of scale and experience to provide a superior solution than could be achieved in house (but at an obvious cost). At the same time, each contract has eroded some of the university’s autonomy to function and made it a partner both in generating wealth for shareholders who have no real interest in the mission of the university and in producing the next generation of students as consumers. In particular, privatization reinforces the idea that the market is the main measure of value.

This of course, leads me to the terrifying topic of value. For most of my academic career, I’ve looked at the concept of value with fear and admiration. On the one hand, the folks who speak most fluently on value are clearly steeped in Marx and Das Kapital and The Poverty of Philosophy (and elsewhere). It’s complicated and to acquire even a basic familiarity with the ideas requires sustained commitment to a dense body of literature.

Despite these challenges, it seems essential to understand value in the context of higher education. What is higher education worth and how do we measure it?

Where do I start?

The Third Thing

This is still a bit of a secret, but only a little bit of a secret. Next week at the Associate of Writers and Writing Programs, the University of Nebraska Press will announce that they have reached a verbal agreement to become the publishing partner with North Dakota Quarterly. This will be a big step for NDQ which has since 1911 been published in house at UND.

Part of me is happy and relieved that Nebraska will take on NDQ and help us expand our reader and subscriber base, to manage subscriptions and distribution, and to help with production.

Part of my is a bit bummed, though, as it makes the end of an era of independent publishing of NDQ on our campus and it feels a bit like we’re selling out. Of course, selling out is, as always, relative. UNP is a non-profit, academic press, so it’s not like we’ve sold to Pearson or some profit-driven publisher. And while we will, inevitably, lose some autonomy and independence, our editorial independence will be maintained. And, we’ll have a partner to help us expand our reach and our impact.

After all, the goal of NDQ isn’t just produce a journal, but to produce a journal that matters.

NDQuesday: The Humanities in the Age of Austerity: An Epilogue

Over the last few weeks, I’ve received some very helpful feedback on my article for the upcoming North Dakota Quarterly special issue on the Humanities in the Age of Austerity. The most significant critique was that my essay may have diagnosed the problem, but it does not really offer a solution. More than that, the essays starts with a focus on NDQ, but by the conclusion, NDQ has settled into the background as the detritus of global trends in higher education. 

In short, my essay is depressing, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m not really a depressing person and while I certainly despair for the future of the humanities (if the humanities does anything, it imparts in us an immense capacity for despair as it reveals over and over again, the basically selfish character of humanity), I am not the type to allow even the most rational opportunities despair to overwhelm my impulse to do something and find my way to make a plausible argument for some form of productive resistance.

With this in mind, I realized that I need both to tighten up my essay throughout and I need to add a conclusion or epilogue. 

Here’s my first swing at it:

It is my hope that by continuing to edit and publish North Dakota Quarterly, we offer a challenge to prevailing direction of the modern university in two ways. First, North Dakota Quarterly presents a counter-billboard to efforts to paint the university as the rational outcome of market-driven competition. If resources at the university tend to flow toward programs, degrees, and projects that can make particular arguments for their economic value, then a successful, sustainable public humanities journal demonstrates that this work can generate economic value. In other words, the persistence of NDQ gives the lie to the idea that it is not efficient or reasonable for the university to help promote and sustain the humanities in the current economic climate. More than that, by loudly persisting, it refuses to be an example of how a commitment to efficiency at the modern university should exclude the humanities. The best counter-argument to defunding the public humanities because they are not competitive, is simply refusing to lose. In fact, a particularly puckish reading of the rhetoric of sustainability at the modern university allows us to point out that NDQ can survive in the competitive space of the modern market even outside the university, whereas STEM research requires a constant stream of funds for the same outcome. It difficult to assert a situation in which the public humanities have partners that are better prepared to provide sustainable funding than exist for STEM fields which supporters point out have much higher returns on investment in the private sector. The place of the university in providing public subsidies to bolster the technologies and workforce needed of private sector at least complicates any view of a neoliberal economy functioning outside of the inefficient and interfering influence of the state.

Setting NDQ up as a counter-billboard offers a sense of the ironic satisfaction, but such gesture of resistance, are hollow if resistance alone is the goal. After all, the need for thoughtful, public interventions in the humanities goes well beyond pointing out the contradictions in a neoliberal worldview. North Dakota Quarterly continued significance depends upon its ongoing, substantive contributions to the world through the thoughtful creativity and criticism of our authors and editors. In recent years, NDQ has explore the character of transnationalism, the potential of the slow moment as an antidote the modern acceleration, the spirit of defiance in the works of Thomas McGrath, alongside a regular stream of poetry, fiction, and art to enliven a world increasingly defined by fake new and click bait. The commitment of a journal like NDQ, that my editorial board has reinforced in me over the last few months, to listen to voices from indigenous communities, marginalized groups, students and teachers, big thinkers and tinkerers, new writers and old hands, and most importantly, our readers to craft volumes that make the world better.

NDQuesday: Odds, Ends, and Convergence

NDQuesday is always pretty exciting around here, and this week is even more exciting because NDQ is taking some some dramatic, but important steps to secure its future.

For now, I can’t really talk about it, but hopefully by next NDQuesday, they’ll be something cool to announce!

Meanwhile, we’re expanding our web presence a bit by rolling out some contributions from the last print issue 84.3/4 including a serialized version of a novella, To Acknowledge Distance  by Chris Wells. This follows up on last week’s post of W. Scott Olsen’s photo essay “The Speed of Nostalgia.” I love the idea of serialized essays and fiction both because it evokes the traditions of little magazines in the first part of the 20th century when leading authors would serialize their work over various issues of Harper’s or The Atlantic, and also because it encourages a kind of slow, reflective reading where each installment of a story becomes an object to contemplate and savor.

I’m also really excited to very quietly announce the print publication of the first NDQ Supplement published in collaboration with The Digital Press. Don’t tell anyone about this, yet because I want a more formal roll out, but this might be the start of something particularly exciting for both NDQ and The Digital Press. 

BillCaraher 2018 Feb 18

Finally, as I get ready to wander over to Corwin/Larimore Hall for the morning to do some archaeology of the contemporary world, I find myself thinking a good bit about the humanities (and the university) in the age of austerity. We received a nice little gaggle of contributions for this digital volume and I’m particularly excited to think about how my archaeological interest in these two buildings and my little essay fit together. Better still, Mark Sanford, the chair of the North Dakota legislature’s higher education funding committee, will come to my class on the UND budget cuts. Convergence!!