Photo Friday and a Few Random Links

It’s the start of the “Frog Days of Summer” when it’s so hot, we all become a bit amphibious to beat the heat. 

The dogs are doing their best to keep cool and hydrated.

The Barge in Summer

and to endure the terror of summer thunderstorms.

IMG 6312

I still don’t have quite enough energy for a full on “Quick Hits and Varia,” but a few links to some late-summer reading never go astray. Do check out Carl Schiffman’s essay posted over at the North Dakota Quarterly blog or reminisce about a summer on Swan’s Island with the late Donald Junkins.

If you have a digital project that you love, do consider nominating it for the AIA Award for Outstanding Work in Digital Archaeology

If you’re looking for something at the intersection of poetry and photography, check out Kyle Cassidy’s Optimized for Likes: Kerning the Human Altered Landscape. It’s $3 and you can get the PDF here.

If you have itchy writing figures, do consider submitting something to this coming fall’s pilgrimCHAT conference. You can read the CFP here.

This is a neat little piece on jazz violinist Billy Bang.

I’m reading Rosemary Joyce’s The Future of Nuclear Waste: What Art and Archaeology Can Tell Us about Securing the World’s Most Hazardous Material. Oxford 2020.

Three Things Thursday: Blogging, Archaeology and Climate, and Poetry

I’ve reached the point of the summer when all my projects seem to melt together into chaotic ball of deadlines, half-met expectations, and long bikes rides. Needless to say, it has not been very productive.

At the same time, I am having fun thinking about things to blog about and then stretching my morning blogging time well into my second cup of coffee. So this morning, I have three things that might, someday, mature into full blog posts.

Thing the First

Years ago (let’s say 2008), I wrote a piece on the archaeology of blogging (and blogging archaeology) for Archaeology magazine’s website. I returned to some of the ideas in that article with a piece co-written by Andrew Reinhard for Internet Archaeology which considered the place of blogs in the academic ecosystem.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how blogging has changed over the past five years. When I started blogging, I imagined an audience who would be interested in understanding how the [academic] sausage was made. Along those lines, my blog would serve as part idea box, part academic scratch pad, and part preview channel for my various research interests. At my most optimistic, I considered it to be living supplement to my academic CV (with occasional dog photo!) and as a way to move back the veil on how academics produce new knowledge. In any event, it may be that this was an optimistic program from the start, but I continue to think that it has relevance. I suspect that this is even more true for today as the general public has become increasingly invested in understanding how scientific knowledge forms the basis for public policy, authority, and expertise.

That said, I can completely understand how my blog is not to everyone’s taste. Indeed, it seems like public scholarship has two main areas of emphasis. One is works that approach historical problems with a journalistic flair for narrative, description, and analysis. Ed Watt’s recent book on the fall of the Roman Republic fits this category as do works by the likes of Eric Cline or my colleague Eric Burin. These works have the potential to attract the elusive crossover audience that includes both academics and the general public and have emerged as a revenue stream for publishers and scholars alike. This is important at a time when library purchasing power is in decline and faculty salaries have tended to stagnate.

The other major strain in public scholarship, and one that has particular prominence in the blogging community, is politically engaged outreach. This involves writing — often for blogs, but also in more established publications — on both academic issues that have an impact on contemporary society and in efforts to demonstrate how the contemporary political discourse has had an impact on what we do as researchers. I find the work of folks like Sarah Bond, Rebecca Futo-Kennedy, and the folks who blog at places like Everyday Orientalism (and previously Eidolon) compelling and important voices. At the same time, I recognize that this kind of public outreach often puts you in the crosshairs of the political outrage machine on social media. On the other hand, their work also attracts significant positive attention from readers within and outside the academy and if the goal of public outreach is actually reaching the public, then these authors have succeeded in spades. 

That said, it is a very different kind of blogging than what I envisioned when I started my blog and one wonders whether the changing political and cultural economy of academia has fundamentally transformed the character of outreach and public oriented scholarship? 

Thing the Second

I really enjoyed this article in the Journal of Field Archaeology by Karim Alizadeh, M. Rouhollah Mohammadi, Sepideh Maziar, and Mohmmad Feizkhah titled: “The Islamic Conquest or Flooding? Sasanian Settlements and Irrigation Systems Collapse in Mughan, Iranian Azerbaijan.” It is another in the recent gaggle of articles interested in considering the role of climate change in the transformation of settlement and activity in the ancient Mediterranean (broadly construed) landscape. Alizadeh and colleagues look at evidence for fortifications and irrigation systems in the Mughan Steppe region of the Azerbaijan-Iranian borderland.

They argue that the Sassanians constructed a complex network of irrigation canals throughout the region that only faltered as a result of two major flooding events in the 7th century. These floods cut down the Aras River bed making disrupting its relationship to the steppe’s irrigation network. These flooding events may well be connected to changes in climate and hydrology precipitated by the Late Antique Little Ice Age. The subsequent abandonment of settlement in the Mughan Steppe in the late 7th century, then, may not be related to the Muslim Conquests and the arrival of Muslim military forces in the world. Or, alternately, the faltering irrigation may have made the regional less resilient in the face of political and military challenges. 

This kind of work has had me thinking more carefully about the settlement change in Greece in the 7th century and the relationship between climate change, changes in economic structures, and the evident reorganization of Greek rural settlement. While the data that we have for the environmental conditions at the local level remains fragmentary and inconclusive, comparisons with other regions of the Mediterranean give us another reason to resist assuming that political and military events precipitated changes in the settlement and economy.   

Thing the Third

Do go and check out the North Dakota Quarterly blog today. I’ve posted a poem by John Walser titled “Chronoscope 181: And that spot.” It’s a great example of how poetry (and music!) can do things with time that we struggle to accomplish in the more linear world of academic prose. Plus, it’s a perfect poem to read heading into midsummer and thinking about how long days can slow down time and make even the chaotic disorganization of summer feel like something significant… 

Summer Reading (and Publishing) Thursday

I’ve been trying to make more time for reading this summer (and not entirely failing, but perhaps not succeeding as brilliantly as I imagine that I will). I have a stack of literary magazines that I really want to get though. I have at least three novels on my “to read” pile, and I want to keep reading in my various fields, keep up with my readings for my classes, and expand my perspectives. Finally, I also want to keep reading manuscripts for my press and for North Dakota Quarterly

Needless to say, this is too much for any summer to accommodate, but the challenge is exciting.

So, for today, I’m going to offer three things that have made me particularly happy this summer.

Thing the First

I know I’ve pitched Cindy Prescott and Maureen Thompson’s Backstories: A Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook, more than a few times on this blog. I do this not only because I’m the publisher and it’s my job, but also because I find the book a brilliant example of public history. It’s also well-suited for summertime consumption with short chapter, stories, recipes, and experiences. You can download or buy the book here.

You can hear Cindy Prescott talk about the book here.

I also want to give a bit of attention to Calobe Jackson, Jr., Katie Wingert McArdle, David Pettegrew’s, One Hundred Voices, Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920. It is the perfect book to enjoy on Juneteenth and you can download it for free or buy a copy here.

The editors of this volume discuss it with folks from the State Library of Pennsylvania here

Thing the Second

One of my great joys in my academic life is editing North Dakota Quarterly. It gives me change— actually a responsibility — to read essays, fiction, and poetry consistently every year and for a few weeks each year, it becomes my main responsibility.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been sharing some of the work in the most recent issue over at the NDQ blog. Go and check it out here.

Since this post is about summertime reading, I would encourage you to read, in particular, Sanjeev Sethi’s poem “Chronicle,” Katrin Arefy’s essay: “The Day the Sun Didn’t Rise,” and Katie Edkins Milligan’s story “Witness” (which I just posted today!). These are the kind of meaty contributions that invade my walks, runs, and bike rides and push me to think about the world and my experiences in different ways.

(Katie Edkins Milligan’s story is a great example. The story focuses on a woman who witnesses a car accident and her subsequent efforts to understand and deal with the experience. The story contrast the time of the accident in its brutal immediacy, and the way in which the accident informed the rest of her day-to-day life. There’s something very compelling about this contrast between the moment and the response that feels, albeit in indistinct ways, useful for our COVID inflected world.)

Thing the Third

My little press has TWO books currently in copy editing. This means that I’ll have TWO manuscripts that will shortly arrive on my desk. The first one is a book on the titled The Archaeological Culture of the Sheyenne Bend by Michael G. Michlovic and George R. Holley. The book provides an introduction and survey of the archaeology of the Sheyenne bend in southeastern North Dakota. I should stand as a fundamental work for understanding the archaeology of some of the earliest settlers residents of Southeastern North Dakota and appeal to specialists (for their rather comprehensive bibliography) and non-specialists alike.

The other book is by a long-time friend and colleague Rebecca Romsdahl, and it’s titled Mindful Wanderings: Nature and Global Travel through the Eyes of a Farmgirl Scientist. It’s a fantastic book that blends Romsdahl’s deep, professional understanding of environmental science and policy with her global travels which have taken her to the UK, Egypt, Asia, the Galapagos, and back to the Northern Plains. The book is candid and earnest without giving up its learned underpinnings. Like The Archaeological Culture of the Sheyenne Bend, this book should appeal to a wide audience, and I feel confident that it will find a particular happy home among the cosmopolitan residents of Northern Plains and I would love for it sit along side books like Tom Isern’s Pacing Dakota

Stay tuned for these books this fall.

Three Things Thursday

Things are happening this week in publishing in the Red River Valley. That it coincides with the start of the summer is an added bonus. It is, after all, a traditional reading season, even if there will be fewer vacations and less travel this year!

Thing the First

I received my copies of North Dakota Quarterly 88.1/2 from our partners at University of Nebraska Press. They look great, as always, and include over 100 new essays, stories, and poems. You can check out the table of contents here

IMG 6182

This week, I published the editor’s note that explains the cover design. The essay is by our art editor and my long time friend and colleague, Ryan Stander. Check it out here.

The essay is a reflection on the way that COVID has shaped our daily lives and drawn to mundane actions with new perspective. For me, this essay rung particular true. My walks in the park, uninterrupted by travel and made all the more routine by my efforts to social distance and work from home, have take on a new subtlety and nuance. 

At the same time, the draw back to our daily lives has thrown into relief how the global course of COVID has taxed our compassion as a society. Not only have the profiteers started to discuss the suffering and dislocations as an opportunity for profit, but victims made vulnerable by complex and divisive social pressures have become the objects of ridicule and derision. These are challenging days and I can’t help but wonder whether our scientific solutionism, which sees COVID as a first and foremost a medical and scientific problem to be solved, requires tempering with the insights offered through poetry, fiction, and thoughtful, reflective arts and essays. The problems facing the world right now are not simply because of the virus, but because of our lack of compassion for those who suffer either in countries that lack the resources to distribute vaccines and provide treatment effectively or among communities who struggle to understand the severity of the risk.

If you want to read more of what appears in this issue, go here, and check back each week for more from the issue. If you like what you read, consider subscribing

Thing the Second

It looks like our friends at Theran Press, in Fargo, ND, have published a new book this week: Popeye and Curly: 120 Days in Medieval Baghdad by Emily Selove.

Here’s the blurb: 

Enjoy one hundred and twenty scenes from the vibrant city of Abbasid Baghdad, starring book-loving author Popeye (Al-Jahiz) and winebibbing poet Curly (Abu Nuwas), along with their friends Coral (a singing girl) and the Caliph of one of the world’s most influential empires in history. Each episode is derived from historical sources, and designed to entertain, educate, and amaze.

It looks to me to be the ultimate summertime read. A perfect companion to slow summer evenings on the porch and 

In 2019, she published what I think is perhaps the only introductory level textbook to Medieval Baghdad: Baghdad at the Centre of a World, 8th-13th Century: An Introductory Textbook.

Thing the Third

Finally, there’s been some nice buzz around the latest book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota: Cynthia C. Prescott’s and Maureen S. Thompson’s Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook.

First, there was this lovely blog post by Maureen Thompson about the book on the Rural Women’s Studies Association website.

Then, closer to home, my colleagues at the University of North Dakota have shared this celebratory posting on the university’s press site.

If you haven’t checked out Backstories, you really should. You can download it for free – we don’t even ask for an email address – or buy a copy for the low low price of $20 on Amazon.com.

NDQuesday: A New Issue’s Cover

I don’t remember whether NDQuesday is a thing or not, but it does appear as a category for this blog and, so, it’ll be a thing for at least one more week.

Yesterday, we received page proofs from our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press and this included three options for the cover. The cover art is based on a series of prints by our art editor Ryan Stander called “Pursue _______________:” The sentiments on the panels were crowd-sourced and printed using a letterpress.

With a little big of luck, the issue should be out in early May, just in time for summer reading!

Here are the cover design options:

1.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 1

2.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 2

3.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 3

4.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 4

Do you have a preference? Let me know in the comments!

Three Things Thursday: Teaching, Sevareid, and Rolex

It’s been a long semester and a long (academic) year, but I’m still here, slogging and blogging toward its conclusion. I have the amazing good fortune to have my plate full of exciting, interesting, and stimulating  things to think about this morning and this weekend. Some of these things are probably formative, some of these things are curious, and some are just plain frivolous. In that spirit, I offer this modest Three Things Thursday. 

Thing the First

One of the big things that I’ve been trying to do in my classes this semester is to be more transparent in my pedagogy. In other words, I’m trying to explain why I made choices of material, organization, and assignments in each class. At the same time, I’m trying to give the class a clearer sense of when they achieve certain learning benchmarks. For my intro-level history class this includes things like marshaling specific evidence for their arguments rather than relying on broad generalities or reading primary sources with a kind of sensitivity to authorial voice and perspective.

So far, this approach, which seeks to reveal some of the “mystery” of teaching and learning, seems to be working for the students in my intro-level class. While the hybrid method of teaching, where some students are online and some are in the classroom, presents certain challenges, it is clear that students are developing key historical skills in a more orderly way than in the past when I relied on less transparent approaches to teaching. 

That said, I still worry that making my limited pedagogical goals so clear, leads to students focusing too much on the next step in the learning process rather than a more wholistic view of education. Am I creating an environment where students expect learning to be a series of rote steps rather than the chaotic diversity of encountering new knowledge?

Thing the Second

Right now, North Dakota Quarterly is caught in a liminal state. The next double-issue is at the publisher for typesetting, but we have yet to receive page proofs. This is both an exciting time, in that much of the hard work is done, but it’s also frustrating because I like to synchronize publicizing the new issue with its imminent publication. So what should I be doing to keep NDQ in the public eye?

At the same time, my colleagues and I have been clearing out our offices and stacks of North Dakota Quarterlies have periodically appeared in the hallways. This has led me to leaf through past issues and to sample some of the articles. This week, I read a piece published in 1970, that was the text of a speech given by famed journalist Eric Sevareid at UND’s spring commencement. 

The article is titled “The National Crisis” and reminded me that the current sense of crisis is not new and that there were always voices calling for moderation and order which, intentionally or not, have tended to dampen the spirits of those calling for urgent reform. At my weakest moments, I find myself among those who have decried violence at the expense of understanding its causes. In this regard, Sevareid’s view made me distinctly uncomfortable especially as he counseled caution surrounding some of the very issues—race, economic inequality, and political representation—that have been flashpoints in contemporary society. 

You can read Sevareid’s piece here (with some of my additional commentary).      

Thing the Third

From the deeply social to the entirely frivolous! The watch world is agog at the new version of the iconic Rolex Explorer. To be clear, I’ve never really seen myself as a Rolex guy. Of course, I have admired their design language, their history, and their commitment to producing durable and accurate mechanical watches. At the same time, I’ve often found them to be a kind of “tweener” brand: their cases are not as tech-forward as, say, (LVMH’s) Zenith, (Swatch Group’s) Omega, or Grand Seiko; they do not dabble in the exotic complications of Vacheron, Patek, or Lange; and their designs are not not as flashy or sophisticated as any number of Swiss high end brands. Instead, they’ve tended to trade on their iconic forms and solid mechanics. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great watches, but I’ve never managed to muster quite as much excitement about them as I do other brands (such as Richmont’s Jaeger-LeCoultre or Grand Seiko). 

This week’s release of a new version of Rolex’s iconic Explorer (the watch famously worn by Sir Edmund Hillary on his ascent of Mt. Everest) actually got me excited. While I’ve not seen one in the metal (and it seems unlikely that I ever will considering the idiosyncratic nature of the Rolex distribution practices and the generally middle class character of most of my friends and colleagues), I’m honestly smitten by the single press photograph released by The Crown. The deep black lacquer dial, the 36 mm size, the very solid (if unexceptional) movement, and the slight reduction in price make it something that I’m sure I’ll covet for many years to come. For the record, I’m ambivalent about the tone-town variant. I like that it exists, but I have no need to see it.

Check it out here.

Three Things Thursday: Teaching, Writing, and Hope

Next week is spring break and this means that the semester has only six weeks or so left. It also means that spring deadlines are barreling at me with alarming speed. This is both invigorating and challenging, of course, but I suppose the on-rush of deadlines, overlapping obligations, and complicated priorities is part of what makes academic life is so intoxicating to so many people.

This week’s Three Thing Thursday will focus on spring time and spring semester hope.

Thing the First

I’ve made no secret of my attitude toward hybrid and hyflex teaching this semester. I’ve come to dislike the grid of black boxes that constitute most of my Zoom meetings with students and dividing my attention between faceless and largely unresponsive students on Zoom and face-full and rather more responsive students in the classroom. 

That being said, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the work done by students in my History 101 class. As the number suggests, this class is an introductory level history class with a range of students from freshmen to graduating seniors. They mostly work in groups and do weekly assignments that involve both short form writing (500-1000 word essays) and both the synthesis of secondary source material and the analysis of primary source material.

Because of room capacity restrictions, I meet with each group for only about 40 minutes per week, and during this time, I lay out in detail the weekly work and give detailed feedback on previous assignments. The groups have time to ask questions, get comments clarified, and indulge their curiosity about the weekly subjects. As one might expect, the students are not particularly eager to engage with me during the class sessions, but the work that they’re producing in their groups is among the best that I’ve every encountered in my five or so years of running a class on this basic model. 

In other words, despite the hybrid Zoom situation, despite COVID, and despite all the other challenges of this strange academic year, my students are generally outperforming my classes during more typical semesters. I don’t think this is because I’m doing better as an instructor. I think it’s because the students have started to not only adapt, but also figured out how thrive in this strange learning environment.

Thing the Second 

I’m having fun writing this semester. While I don’t have a tremendous amount of time to commit to sustained writing projects, I’m finding little windows to write and savoring those moments. Right now, I’m trying to finish up the conclusion of my book project. This is a strange thing to write as I don’t want to be so arrogant to suggest that my book resolves in some kind of structured way. And I certainly don’t want to suggest that any kind of resolution offed in the conclusion somehow reflects reality. In other words, I don’t want to ever imply that my book could represent a plausible or totalizing reflection of the world. So, I’m trying to wrap up what I’ve said in my various chapters and then open the book up again to the complexities of the real world. This has turned out to be a challenge!

I’m also starting to work with David Pettegrew on a short piece about the Early Christian baptisteries in Greece. It’s wonderful to dip my toes back into the world of Early Christian archaeology and architecture and familiarize myself with some recent work and some older works that I haven’t looked at since the early 21st century! I’m enjoying thinking about the archaeology and architecture of these buildings with eyes refined by 15 years of more detailed study Early Christian buildings and their contexts. 

Finally, I have lots of bits and bobs projects to finish that involve filling in a little gap here and editing a little thing there. I really have come to enjoy these opportunities to think more carefully about my writing in a narrowly defined context. For so long I’ve struggled to put words on the page in a consistent way and worked to find ways to get over my writers’ block. Now, I feel like I can start to build some habits that allow me to not only write, but even to write reflectively and reflexively.

Thing the Third   

I can’t help feel a certain amount of hope the kind of year. Over at the North Dakota Quarterly blog I posted a couple poems from our forthcoming issue (88.1/2 for those keeping track at home!). The poems speak of the promise of spring (no matter how fragile and fleeting) as well the possibility for hope in a world full of potential. 

At the risk of being maudlin, do go and enjoy some poetry! 

Three Things Thursday: Black History Month, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and a New Book

I’m almost making a habit of these Three Things Thursdays! This week, I’m mostly sharing things that happening at my other two projects: The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota Quarterly.

Thing the First

Please go and check out this long interview with David Pettegrew on the making of the book One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 that he co-edited with Calobe Jackson, Jr. and Katie Wingert McArdle.

It’s a brilliant example of public, digital archaeology that involved a diverse group of individuals and produce a wide range of products, experiences, and community.

Thing the Second

I brought together some stuff about the late Lawrence Ferlinghetti for the NDQ blog including a couple amusing stories about Ferlinghetti’s visit to the UND Writers Conference in 1974 which of course involved the cops and Tom McGrath because North Dakota. 

Thing the Third

This one is a bit top secret, but I want to share it with loyal readers to this blog.

On Monday, The Digital Press will release Rebecca M. Seifried and Deborah E. Stewart Brown’s Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean. This book is brilliant and brings together nine substantial papers on deserted and abandoned villages in a wide range of contexts (including North Dakota). 

If you want to download a copy for free, in advance of the official publication date, go here or you can be the first to receive your very own paper copy here.

1 Deserted Villages book cover

Three Things Thursday: Art, Books, and Classics

I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above the whelming tide these days, but fortunately the incoming deluge seems to be those plastic balls rather than the roiling surf. As a result, there are dozens of things jostling for my attention and it seems best to tame three of them with a “three things Thursday post.” A few of these things might grow up to 

Thing the First

I just posted over at the North Dakota Quarterly blog a gaggle of prints by artist Marco Hernandez. They’re really pretty great. I love how he not only uses contemporary media to illustrate the complexities of Mexican identity and his experiences as a Mexican-American in the US. We published his prints in grey scale in the Quarterly, but he generously allowed us to post them in color on the NDQ website. The appearance of color is particularly compelling as Hernandez used it to add an edge to his often incisive cultural critiques.

Anyway, the prints are pretty great and if you don’t feel like reading my solipsistic ramblings this morning, please go and check them out.

Thing the Second

The History Department is being moved from its offices in the University of North Dakota’s O’Kelly Hall while our floor is being renovated. We’ve also been asked to downsize into smaller offices with less bookshelf and file space. This seemed like a good opportunity to go through the books that I have collected over the past two decades and determine which are worth keeping (and moving!) and which I could afford to give away or discard.

Going through the books has been a pretty interesting (and somewhat sobering) experience. First, my book collection has a clear stratigraphy with clear layers of book collected during particular periods in my academic life. For example, I still have dozens of books on the Roman Republic from my graduate school days before I drifted towardLate Antiquity. I also have a layer of books that reflect that interest and my growing interest in field archaeology. Finally, I have a clear break between my graduate school days and my days as a professor and the books that I collected to support the classes that I was teaching with a particular emphasis on books that deal with historical methods and major trends in historiography. Most recently levels reveal my drift toward historical archaeology and archaeology of the contemporary world.

More sobering was the prevalence of white, male authors throughout my collection. It is really depressing to realize that amid my hundreds of books, I probably have fewer than 50 books by women and people of color. Part of this might reflect a bias in my book buying habits in that for my recent research I have relied more heavily on digital resources and library subscriptions. Thus the most recent levels in my library’s stratigraphy are less representative of the earlier levels. Anyone who reads this blog know that I continue to lag behind on the wokeness scale, but I hope that over the five years or so I have shown some signs of progress toward a more diverse reading list. On the opposite end of the chronological spectrum are a few books that date to my undergraduate days whose yellowing paged and faded spines form a small, but distinct residual assemblage. 

Finally, going through my collection has made me think about which books I want to keep and are worth keeping. Which books are classics that might draw my attention in the future and which are books that I consumed and can be more profitably passed onto a more interested and welcoming student. There are a few books – desk copies of textbooks, trade novels bought for travel, and books grabbed on a whim from used book sales – that I can just discard. But there remains a distinct handful of books that I’ll probably never read again, but have sentimental value. It’ll be nice seeing them on the shelves of my home office.

Thing the Third

There’s been a good bit of thoughtful conversation about the future of Classics prompted in no small part by the recent New York Times magazine article on whether Classics can survive and a few “burn it down” threads on Twitter. I’ve appreciated the discussion, but have also felt further from the core of academia more than ever.

My university doesn’t have a Classics Department. In fact, the two or three of us who could be loosely considered Classicists teach in languages, history, and Philosophy and Religion. We do not really collaborate for many reasons including our different career paths and priorities, departmental territorialism, and general ambivalence toward building something (or anything) on the shifting sands of our institutional budget, priorities, and leadership.

What the conversation revealed to me, however, its that many places retain a sense of agency in the future of Classics and continue to have the administrative, disciplinary, and institutional support to grow, revise, and transform that discipline. On the one hand, this means the future of Classics – to some extent – remains in the hands of Classicists. On the other hand, it made even more apparent that Classics has really become a discipline –  in the formal sense – that is restricted to only the top (say 100?) universities and liberal arts colleges in the U.S. I wonder how much this institutional reality will impact the future of the field.    

It seems to me as long as the top schools view themselves as leaders in the field, then they will continue under the assumption that changes to Classics as a discipline have transformative potential. 

It also seems, however, that with the dissipation of Classics at lower tier and smaller schools, that there is another locus for changes to the study of Greek and Roman antiquity. I can only speak for my fairly narrow experience, but being at an institution that does not explicitly support Classics qua Classics has led me to think about my discipline (which to be fair, is Ancient History) in new ways. In fact, my stretch into historical archaeology and the archaeology and history of North Dakota has come because I’m part of a history department and my colleagues are interested in local history, archaeology, and material culture.

What I’m playing with here is that people trained as Classicists (Ancient Historians or whatever) who get jobs outside the top tier of institutions seem as likely transform Classics as those who are working at the top. I wonder whether a model for understanding change in Classics might involve imagining greater permeability between lower tier institutions and those at the top. The Classics diaspora might offer some post-disciplinary wisdom to departments who are working to transform the fields in a different institutional context.   

Poetry

It was wonderful to see the excitement surrounding Amanda Gorman’s remarkable poetry during yesterday’s inauguration. I wonder whether this will spur people to read more poetry – especially contemporary poetry – and support its publication?

Over the last few years, I’ve been reading much more poetry than ever before both for myself and as the editor of North Dakota Quarterly. I’m convinced that poetry speaks in unique ways to our contemporary situation. I has the capacity to be ambiguous, elusive, and shifting while also speaking significant and, at its best, profound truths to the world. It reminds me that being true shouldn’t be a watchword for a kind of desiccated empiricism or descriptive practices that value reportage over judgement, interpretation, and understanding. Despite recent calls to embrace “truth,” poetry makes clear that being true doesn’t mean being tidy or straightforward. Truth is messy and, in most cases, unclear.

Anyway, maybe we’re living in an age where poetry matters.

My colleagues and I post poetry regularly at the NDQ blog. You can check it out here.

If you like what you read in NDQit would be really great if you subscribed. Poets need venues for poetry to thrive and one way to make sure that the next generation of poets have places to publish, to be read, and to be discovered.

This week, I’ve be reading my way through the latest issue of Rattle, a poetry journal with an impressive circulation, some remarkable poetry, and an enviable track record. Check them out here.

I’m always excited to get a copy of the Beloit Poetry Journal and read through the remarkable collection of poets that it assembles each quarter. NDQ’s stablemate at the University of Nebraska Press is the wonderful Hotel Amerika, which always features provocative and new poetry.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the poetry of Sun Ra (here’s a nice little essay on what they can be like) and I’m looking forward to getting a copy of Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal collection of Black poets published in 1968: Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro American Writing, which is currently published by a Black owned press, Black Classic Press. You can get a copy here. It’s worth remembering that Alain Locke’s classic anthology of African American literature, The New Negro: An Interpretation, that sought to capture the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance just as Baraka and Neal captured the anger and frustration of Blacks in New York though the Black Arts Movement.

In any event, I’m not trying to convince you to read any particular poetry or to subscribe or purchase any particular journal or collection. At the same time, I AM trying to encourage you to channel your admiration for Amanda Gorman into supporting poets and poetry more broadly. So please, at very least click on one of the links and maybe you’ll find something amazing to read.