Three Things Thursday

Back-to-back weeks with Three Things Thursday! How crazy can it be here at the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World? 

With the semester looming and outstanding project piling up, I wanted to write some shorter things over the next few week, but when I sat down to 

Thing The First

Here’s a little piece that I wrote for NDQ’s blog that darts and dodges between the past and the present: 

Yesterday, I sent the last pieces for issue 87.3/4 out for copy editing ahead to get a bit of a jump on what will likely be a hectic fall semester here in North Dakota Quarterly-land. 

To celebrate, I had planned to make a short announcement that we would be observing the great European tradition of taking some time off in August to recharge and enjoy the last of the “frog days” of summer. Instead, I found myself reading back issue of North Dakota Quarterly and writing up a short blog post.

Last fall, we were really happy to publish a piece by Jim Sallis not only because it was a good story, but also because Sallis was a long-time contributor to NDQ from the early 1980s and had returned to the journal’s pages after over a decade away. We posted his story here with links to his other pieces in NDQ.

Issue 87.3/4 will include another such contributor, Priscilla Long. We’ve just accepted her short essay “Holy Shit!” and I can’t wait to share it with our readers in a few months. In the meantime, check out these past contributions by Long to the Quarterly starting in the mid-1980s. 

Her works not only touched me personally, but they also are more than just a little prescient. The first piece she published in NDQ 55.1 (1987). It’s listed in the table of contents as a story, but it clearly draws deeply on Long’s childhood on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It’s called: “Snapshots: The Eastern Shore of Maryland. Having grown up in Delaware, the Eastern Shore has always fascinated me. It was so rural compared to the suburban bustle of northern Delaware and so remote, but it also seemed so close. It was a reminder, maybe, that our past wasn’t really that far away. She alludes again to her childhood on an Eastern Shore farm in a 2002 essay from NDQ 69.1 (2002) titled “Writing as Farming” and, it’s hard to escape Long’s interest in character in her own work as motivating her essay in NDQ 59.3 (1991). Here she critiques Mavis Gallant’s “Overhead in a Balloon” through the lens of Chekhov’s “The Darling.”

In issue 56.1 (1986), she published a poem titled “The Return,” which could serve as an epigram to this post. The opening lines are lovely: 

This sleep will wash me back
to where I used to dream

In issue, 57.3 (1989), she published an essay (or maybe a story) called “Solitude” which speaks so obviously to our current condition that I’ll simply link to it. And in the next issue, published a story called “Old Man.” 

When an author returns to the Quarterly, it reminds me that people submit multiple pieces to the same journal over time (and with each piece endure the risk of rejection) because they feel a connection. And this makes literary journals more than just little magazines. At their best, journals like NDQ create a sense of community (or maybe even family) among their contributors and readers through a shared past that shapes a common present.

As Long wrote in “The Return”:

So I wait to wake
I hardly feel the coldness
of the deep. This night is not
as long as childhood was
As then, so now,

the earth is dreaming darkness
towards the blazing sun.

Thing The Second

I’ve never been a huge Truman Capote fan, but I can’t deny that he represents one of the most fascinating individuals of the 20th century literary scene and he is a key instigator of our 21st-century interest in true crime stories, podcasts, and television.

Capote appeared at the 1976 UND Writers Conference and read from his then recent work, but the long shadow of In Cold Blood still followed Capote and he inevitable responded to questions concerning its influence and morality.

The great thing is that you can watch Capote’s reading and his response to the audience in this digitized and newly released video from the UND Writers Conference archives. 

Check it out here.   

And special credit goes to current UND Writers Conference director, Crystal Alberts, who managed to get these videos digitized and, more importantly, did the footwork needed to get permission to release these videos. I can only imagine how much energy and persistence is necessary to get an author’s estate to approve the release of material like this.

Thing The Third

Over the last week, I’ve been working on some design and layout for book scheduled to appear this fall titled Visualizing Votive Practice edited by Derek Counts, Erin Averett, and Kevin Garstki. It is the first book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota that emphasizes “The Digital” over the traditional form of publishing and will bring together text and 3D images in a fairly convention PDF package that is nevertheless linked extensively to open data from around the web.

A key component (and partner) of this project is Open Context who integrated the ability to view and manipulate 3D images into their linked open data publishing platform. Linking to individual records in Open Context allowed the authors to have stable and persistent URLs for each artifact that they discuss in the book. Check it out here

Individuals seeking to reference these artifacts will be able to cite either the rather more conventional catalogue entry in the book or the stable URI provided by Open Context. It will also allow the reader to move from the linear presentation and arguments offered in the book to a more non-linear movement through the data through integrated hyperlinks.

Stay tuned for more on this project over the next few months!  

Three Thing Thursday: A Story, an Interview, and a Map

My grades were submitted on Monday, and I made the mistake of thinking that summer would begin now. Alas, the world had other plans with zoom meetings, deadlines, and an endless stream of emails from various administrative accounts across my university.

The good news is that despite the noise, there are plenty of fun things to keep my occupied this summer, and I thought that I’d share a few on an mid-May “Three Things Thursday”:

Thing the First

If you’re like me, you’ve already started to think about how to adapt your classes to another COVID-inflected semester in the fall. It seem highly likely that digital media are going to play a larger role in what you do in the classroom. 

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota chatted a bit with Sebastian Heath about his recent edited volume DATAM: Digital Approaches to Teaching the Ancient MediterraneanYou can read the interview with Sebastian here. And you can download the a digital copy of the book, purchase it via Amazon, or from an independent bookstore

Another book that might help you think more broadly about teaching using digital approaches is Shawn Graham’s recently published Failing Gloriously and Other Essays. At a time when it is becoming more and more important that we act in a humane and understanding way toward our students and colleagues, Shawn’s book shines light on failure not as the prelude to triumph, but as a fundamental part of learning and empathy. We also had a long conversation with him that you can read here. You can download it for free here, buy it on Amazon here, or get a copy from an independent bookseller here.

Thing the Second

I’m pretty excited to have posted Shane Castle’s short story “Ursa” at the North Dakota Quarterly blog this morning. During my time as editor, it is one of my favorite stories. 

The thing that makes is so appealing is the ambiguity of it all. Is the story meant to be touching and heartfelt? Is it just an exercise in the absurd? Is it meant to be funny? All these things? 

There’s also something about the story that makes it feel appropriate for our current situation. The story reckons with the experience of coming out of hibernation, memories of our past, pre-COVID life, our efforts to stay connected over distance, and the awkwardness in how we engaged with others. In short, the story is so much of what unusual, non-commercial, and (broadly) experimental fiction can be. 

If you have a few minutes over lunch or while sipping an evening cocktail, give it a read.  

Thing the Third

The final thing this Thursday is a map prepared by a team led by my old buddy David Pettegrew. As I’ve mentioned on a previous Three Thing Thursday, he’s been leading an ambitious project, Digital Harrisburg, designed to create rich historical maps of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This past week, we released yet another update to the maps of Harrisburg’s “Old Eighth Ward” which was an African American neighborhood destroyed to produce the state capital area. Check out the interactive maps here

Needless to say, this project has inspired me to think more critically and dynamically about my own community and how constructing data-rich maps can help us understand our community in the past, but as importantly, in the present. 

NDQ 87.1/2 By the Numbers

I’ve been thinking a good bit about how what we write, publish, edit, and read reflects how we think about the world. Over the weekend, I read Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein’s Data Feminism (which will be “soon” be available open access here). They include in an appendix some statistics on how well their work fulfilled their goals of producing a diverse perspective on data science in keeping with the central theme of their work. They admit that in many cases they fell short of their goals, but this transparency allowed the authors to show their aspirations and come to terms with the limits of their field, their research, and their writing. I was deeply impressed.

I’ve been trying to do a similar thing with each issue of North Dakota Quarterly. We receive thousands of submissions each year and accept far less than 10% of them. This means that our editors exert a significant influence over the shape and character of the issue. At the same time, the world of creative writing and little magazines is a small one, and our contributors influence our readers and ultimately who submits to the Quarterly. In other words, what we publish exerts an influence on who submits and our pool of potential contributors.

Anyway, here’s what I posted today over on the NDQ blog: 

We’ve been thrilled to see that North Dakota Quarterly 87.1/2 has been downloaded over 770 times over the last few weeks! We hope that some of those downloaders like what they read and will consider becoming contributors, subscribers, or at very least regular visitors to our blog.

If you want to download our most recent issue, go here. No strings attached!

In the tradition of little magazines, our contributors tend to subscribe and our subscribers tend to contribute. This reciprocal relationship ensures that the Quarterly reflects our readers and gives our authors and editors an opportunity to create the kind of magazine that they want to read. Each issue, then sits at the intersection of our editors’ and contributors’ tastes. It also means that as editors we can move the needle on the character of NDQ which we also hope attracts new readers and subscribers.

Recent conversation among academic authors concerning the impact of  COVID-19 has given the relationship between readers and contributors in scholarly journals a new sense of urgency. According to reports from across disciplines, there’s been a steep decrease in the number of articles submitted by women to academic journals, or, alternately, there’s been a steep rise in the number of articles submitted by men. The argument is that with stay-at-home orders and the closing of most schools, women’s roles as care-givers in the family have increased, and this has cut into their research and writing time. Limited access to home work space, the increased burden of emotional labor as classes and colleagues deal with pandemic related stress, and the greater number of women who carry heavy teaching loads made all the heavier with the requirement to teach classes online likely also contributed to a decline in submission from women. The COVID-related social changes continue into the foreseeable future, the decline in submissions from women may have long-term significance especially if it’s multiplied by declining number of women who have the time to serve as peer-reviewers, participate actively on editorial boards, and other behind the scenes academic work that shapes the content and quality of scholarly journals.

Our submission data at NDQ can be a bit messy. For example, it’s not too unusual for authors to submit revised manuscripts resulting in multiple submissions by the same author over a period of time. Our poetry and non-fiction editors accept submissions over two designated reading periods per year meaning that some authors may hold their work and the date of submission may not represent the date of composition. Our poetry editor allows for up to 5 poems in a single submission which complicates acceptance rates, for example. Finally, each of our editors deals with their archive of submitted material differently.

Despite these vagaries, we can detect an uptick in submission since the start of the COVID period between March 15 and May 12, which was largely driven by a substantial increase in poetry submission. Fiction and non-fiction submissions appear to have remained relatively stable over the same period in 2019 and 2020.    

Because of differences in archiving practices, our best data comes from our Fiction submissions that remained relatively stable in number between 2019 and 2020. Between March 15 and May 2, 2019, 60% of the submissions came from authors with male names and 33% came from authors with female names. Over that same period in 2020, 70% of the submissions came from authors with male names and 25% from authors with female names. This suggests, with a bit of fuzziness, that there are hints of the larger trend of women submitting less during the “Time of COVID-19.”  Since we accept fiction, essays, and poetry often a year in advance of publication and because we sometimes accept more than we can publish in a single issue, we tend to blend material submitted over a long period of time. It may be that this will help mitigate the impact of any trend in submissions during the pandemic.

NDQ 87.1/2, our numbers reflect, to some extent, the character of our submissions. About 56% of our contributors have men’s names and 43% have women’s names. This more or less holds across all genres with the number of published pieces (poets often have more than one poem published) 53% by authors with men’s names and 47% from authors with women’s names. 

While the gender of our author’s names don’t come close to telling the whole story concerning the content of any volume of NDQ, it does give us one perspective on who reads and submits to the Quarterly. We could add that we published material from authors who live in 26 states and 8 foreign countries. We don’t collect data on the age, race, or background of our authors.  

It would be possible to perform a more subtle quantitative reading of the issue that could map topics, the gender, race, class, age, and ethnicity of characters, their sexual orientation, the identity of speakers, and other meaningful markers of diversity, but, at some point, the best way to understand the scope of our magazine and its contributors is to simply read an issue. I hope you’ll find something that speaks to you in it.

We also recognize, of course, that we still have work to do to create issues that reflect the diversity of creative voices in the world today. 

Have I mentioned that you can download it for free?

We’re also offering a discount on subscriptions with the coupon code on this page.

We’re always reading fiction, and will continue to read essays and poetry at least until the end of the month (and maybe longer in response to the chaos and confusion of the COVID-19 pandemic). It’s always free to submit to the Quarterly.

NDQ Issue 87.1/2 for Free

As readers of this blog know, I’m very proud of my work as editor of the century-old literary magazine, North Dakota Quarterly. It’s given me the chance to work with an amazing group of editors, authors, and readers. It’s also given me a chance to broaden my horizons as an editor and publisher, work close with another university press, and, most importantly, give back to a community who has over time made my life better.

For people who don’t know about NDQcheck out our weekly blog here. I think it’s been pretty great lately with interviews, fiction, and poetry. Or if you’re a bit more adventurous, keep reading this post and download the most recent issue of NDQ for free. If you like it and can, it would be great if you could subscribe. Download links and the like are below the cover image. Enjoy! 

NDQ 87 1 2 COVER

We know that things are rough out there. Between COVID-19 and personal, economic, and emotional challenges associated with social distancing, there doesn’t seem to be a lot right happening in the world.

To do our part to make the world just a little bit better, we thought we’d make the latest issue of North Dakota Quarterly available for free. If you click right here, you can download it. There’s no catch. It’ll just download as a PDF. If you’re on the fence, you can check out the table of contents here

We’re doing this in collaboration with our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press who have also offered a coupon code for a 10% discount on subscriptions to NDQ or $2 off any single issue. Use the code “9389VT” at check out. It’s good until June 30th. We’re hoping this encourages folks to subscribe to the Quarterly. If you can, go here to subscribe.

UNP has also made a bunch of their publications free on Project Muse until May 30th

It goes without saying that many cultural institutions, publishers, and little magazines are struggling these days. If you can, consider buying a book from a small or university press, subscribing to a literary journal, or otherwise supporting the arts. 

North Dakota Quarterly 87.1/2 is off to the printer!

And, it makes sense to celebrate with some short fiction which I’ve posted over on the NDQ page. Go and read it here. The story is by Terry Toma and something about it captures my mood (or maybe even the national mood).  

It feels a bit strange to manage a deadline during times like this. It goes without saying that it would not have been possible without the support of my editors, the editorial board, and our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press. The 60+ contributors to the issue with unfailing prompt with my little queries. I found it amazingly touching that they never failed to inquire about the health and safety of me, my family, and the NDQ community.

It’s hard to know how to proceed when day-to-day life is punctuated by the kinds of tragedies that make almost anything beyond reflection or mourning seem selfish. So maybe writing and publishing at times like this is irresponsible or tone deaf. 

Or maybe it’s a way to cope and try to wrestle some control of a world where our lives and health seems to be in the hands of a barely animate bundle of protein and the vicissitudes of the global economic system. It’s notable that NDQ has seen its daily submission rate nearly double since March 9th.

For whatever it’s worth, support your local arts community, support local businesses, and maybe now is a good time to subscribe to that little magazine that you’ve always enjoyed (maybe even NDQ!), to buy a book from a small press (like our friends at NDSU Press!), to make a donation to a local arts organization that makes your life better (like the Grand Forks Chorales!) or to support your favorite museum

North Dakota Quarterly 87.1/2 Covers!

It goes without saying that there are very few reasons to celebrate these days, but over at North Dakota Quarterly our publication workflow has started to adapt to the challenge of COVID-19, we are getting back on schedule for the publication of issue, 87.1/2.   

That means, if you’re a contributor, check your email for page proofs this week, and if you’re a subscriber, we hope to have the issues out to you as soon as we can!

In the meantime, check out these possible covers all of which feature Todd Hebert’s work Bubble, 2019. Which is your favorite?

NDQ 87 1 2 cover 1

NDQ 87 1 2 cover 2

NDQ 87 1 2 cover 3

Three Things Thursday: The Perfect, Photography, and Big Data in Archaeology

It feels like I have a ton going on right now (although I’m sure it’s not nearly as much as other people do on a daily basis!). I’m finishing a paper that I’m scheduled to give in a couple of weeks in the UK (coronavirus permitting), I’m working on a chapter for my book, and I’m getting a couple of books and a journal issue off the ground. As a result, I’m more scattered than usual. So here’s a little sampling of the things occupying my brain.

Thing the First

I’ve been meaning to write a long blog post on the recent Journal of Field Archaeology supplement on big data in archaeology. To cut to the chase: I really like it. It balances the potential of big data with some very incisive and thoughtful critiques. Jeremy Huggett’s piece continues his long standing project of a critical digital archaeology, for example, and urges archaeologists to pay more attention to the underlying structures that shape digital data. In particular, he suggests that archaeologists be more explicit in how they clean, integrate, and organize datasets from various sources. Mark McCoy’s critique of the site as an organizing concept in the effort to integrate and analyze big data at the regional or transregional scale connects how archaeologists interpret big data to one of the most basic debates in field archaeology: the definition of the site. Neha Gupta ,Sue Blair, and Ramona Nicholas discuss the rules governing big data in Canada and how these rules create challenges for indigenous communities when they seek to use, create, and control the flow of sensitive or culturally relevant data. They emphasize the role of crown copyrights in limiting access and use of data in ways that do not always work to the advantage of indigenous groups. Morag Kersel and Chad Hill demonstrate how drone imagery and the careful curation of data can link archaeologists with cultural institutions to mitigate and document illegal digging in Jordan. There are other articles, most of which I really liked, but one more deserves a little additional attention. Allison Mickel’s piece explores the relationship between big data and communities using case studies from Turkey and Jordan. The disconnect between the two and local knowledge and big data knowledge is striking in her case studies and her work – here and elsewhere – is a great reminder of the limits to our data driven world.

Thing the Second

I’ve started to read a bit about photography and archaeology. I think I had been keeping this topic at arms length because it seemed both theoretically daunting and massively complex. Yesterday, I got drawn into Lesley McFadyen and Dan Hicks’ edited volume, Archaeology and Photography: Time, Objectivity, and Archive (Bloomsbury 2020) which sucked me in through Dan Hicks’ thoughtful and compelling discussion of time and photography in archaeology. First, he critiques Representational Archaeology which understands archaeologists as assembling persistent fragments of the past into compelling archaeological arguments and proposes a visual archaeology which emphasizes archaeology as a “complex of transformation.” Instead of archaeology assembling or revealing or producing the past, a visual archaeology recognizes the role of the archaeologist and technology in making the past visible. He’s quick to stress that this doesn’t mean making the occluded or hidden visible, but rather creating a distinct vision of the past produced through our discipline’s methods and techniques. 

This not only foregrounds the contemporaneity of the archaeologist with what they see and document (which is very much in keeping with how I’m trying to think of archaeology of the contemporary world), but also reinforces the view that photography is not a kind of documentation or a method used by archaeology, but in some ways IS archaeology as much as archaeology is documentation of the past.

Thing the Third

One of the things that I’ve worked on refining recently is the ability to apologize. As the fourth issue of North Dakota Quarterly goes into production this week, I am once again left with things that have slipped through the cracks or just aren’t quite right. I’m bummed that the issue and the process of production won’t be perfect. Many people won’t even notice the imperfections or little problems that linger. I’m not a perfectionist as any reader of this blog undoubtedly knows, but I find that my desire for the really good is much higher when I’m dealing with other people’s work.

Three Thing Thursday: Multitasking, Jazz, and NDQ

Whether Three Thing Thursday is becoming a tradition or a routine depends, I guess, on your point of view. But once again, my week has become hectic and strangely the end of the week is more busy than the start. As a result, my world is pretty fragmentary and all that I have left are snippets of ideas, thoughts, and projects that swirl about my feet as I race from meeting to meeting.

Thing the First

One of the things that I love most about academia is the opportunity to multitask. By this I don’t mean having to flip back and forth between a bunch of open tabs in a browser and a stack of grading while preparing a class and writing an article (although that can also be fun!). What I mean is the inevitable overlap between projects that is so productive for new ideas. For example, I have learned a good bit about how archaeology works in practice through my work as a publisher. Thinking about the technical aspects of making a book has helped me to think more clearly about archaeology as a process of knowledge making that extends not just from the “survey unit” through the database to analysis and interpretation, but continues through the presentation, distribution, and reception of our arguments and data. Without working simultaneously on data collection in the field, computer aided analysis, writing, and publishing, I wouldn’t have entirely grasped this. Working both in the Bakken oil patch and in Greece and Cyprus has likewise informed my thinking on both projects, pushed me to read more widely, and muddied many ideas that I would have confidently said that I understood had I not tried to transfer them from one context to another.   

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to have to deal with just this kind of overlap as I continue to plod ahead with my book on the archaeology of the contemporary world and write a paper for a conference on “Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity: History and Archaeology between the 6th and the 8th centuries.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it harder to switch gears between project without a good bit grinding and clunking, but maybe that makes the need to switch gears all the more important.

Thing the Second

Recently, I’ve been very quietly working on new project for The Digital Press. What I write here doesn’t really constitute an announcement as much as an acknowledgement that this is something that might very well happen.

Over the past two years, I’ve discovered that I really like jazz. As with so many things in my life, this has slowly grown beyond a kind of casual interest or the vague appreciation of the odd John Coltrane or Charles Mingus album. My interest in jazz is on the very of becoming a full fledged obsession. To be clear, when I get obsessed with with something, it rarely follows a orderly trajectory. I’m not someone who tends toward the exhaustive. Anyone who knows me will admit that I’m a flâneur even when I should adopt a more rigorous approach. Fortunately my flânerie often leads me down some pretty interesting corridors and my interest in jazz led me to try to understand Sun Ra. 

Sun Ra’s discography is particularly baffling. It’s not only immense, but also complicated as his career spanned a range of labels including his own “El Saturn Records” label, Impulse!, and about 40 others. When I first started listening to San Ra’s music, I quickly became baffled especially when I encountered the myriad of re-releases and dodgy bootlegs of his live shows. One of my regular stops as a Sun Ra fan, however, became a series of blog posts called “Sun Ra Sundays”.  

This week, I’ve started a project to publish formally the Sun Ra Sunday blog in collaboration with its author Rodger Coleman (and thanks to some help from Irwin Chusid and Sam Byrd!) I’m pretty excited about being able to bring this to a wider audience, to give it a bit of a formatting, to get it circulating in paper, and to give it a good copy and content edit. Stay tuned.  

Thing the Third

It’s almost time to submit NDQ issue 87.1/2 to the University of Nebraska Press for typesetting and layout. That means this weekend, I get to spend time reviewing and re-reading the amazing contributions to the next issue. It’s one of the absolute best parts of my job at the University of North Dakota, and while I love to work on my own stuff, it’s never as rewarding as promoting the work of others. We posted the first peek at some of the 87.1/2 contents today over at the NDQ blog. Go check it out and stay tuned for more!

Three Things Thursday: Survey Archaeology, Western Literature, and Poetry from a Former Student

My body is gallantly fighting off a cold the week, so I don’t quite have the energy for a long involved post. So, instead, I’ll offer a little “Three Thing Thursday” as I try to keep the balls in the area down the stretch run of the week.

First Thing.

A colleague shared this article with me over the weekend: Kimberly Bowes et al. “Peasant agricultural strategies in southern Tuscany: Convertible agriculture and the importance of pasture” from The Economic Integration of Rural Italy. Rural Communities in a Globalizing World, ed. G. Tol and T. de Haas. (Brill 2017): 165-194. The article uses examples from her Roman Peasant Project to explore the interplay rural land use and the interplay between pastoralism and more settled agriculture. This team of scholars excavates five sites known from intensive survey archaeology from small ceramic scatters. Two were small seasonal or short-duration “work huts” and combining the modest architecture with botanical, palynological, and faunal material collected from the excavations, they were able to suggest that these structures served land that was likely used as pasture. Pasture plays a key role in strategies associated with ley agriculture which allowed fields to go fallow for years in order to restore the soil and stabilize yields. These small structures (and the small ceramic scatters), then, which a survey might have suggested represented the intensification of conventional agriculture, may, in fact, represent a less intensive strategy associated with ley farming.

Among the more interesting observations from this article are a two sites identified by low-density artifact scatters which produced no structures, but did reveal field drains dating to antiquity and probably the Roman period. These field drains consisted of cobble filled trenches. This is exciting to me both because I was unaware that field drains were used in the Roman period, but more importantly, there is relatively few publications that discuss drain building practices in the Roman period. The use of cobbles to slow the flow of water and to prevent the drains from carving deep channels in the fields offers some evidence for why the builders of the “South Basilica” at Polis may have created a “French drain” on the uphill, south side of the church to keep the rush of water down a natural drainage from undercutting the south wall of the basilica. It’s not a perfect analogy but suggests that my argument may not be entirely wrong.

Second Thing.

I’ve been reading John Beck’s Dirty Wars: Landscape, Power, and Waste in Western American Literature (Nebraska 2009). I really like the book. Whatever it’s academic merits (and I’m not really qualified to judge that), it has intrigued me. Beck uses literature to explore the character of the post-war, Cold War Western landscape through an emphasis on Japanese internment, the militarization of the landscape (and the Mexican border), the use of the west as a dumping ground for toxic, nuclear, and otherwise unpleasant waste, and the almost simultaneous emergence of the suburban ideal (cf. J.B. Jackson’s “The Westward Moving House”). Beck makes clear that works like Cormack McCarthy’s Blood Meridian while situated in the past (in this case, the mid-19th century) nevertheless speak to the present situation in a Western landscape shaped by Cold War militarism and its consequences. Elsewhere he weaves together the critiques of Rebecca Solnit, Ellen Meloy, and Terry Tempest Williams which emphasize the role of industry in the refashioning of the Western landscape. While I am embarrassed not to know these works well, I can’t help but wondering whether they influenced somehow my own effort at a similar critique in my The Bakken: An Archaeology of An Industrial Landscape. Don’t be surprised to see these works appear in the ole bloggeroo over the next few weeks. Solnit and Meloy remain priorities for my weekend reading list.

One of the reasons that Beck has excited me so much is that he has pushed me from thinking about archaeology of the contemporary world as a historical and social scientific window onto the contemporary American experience, toward thinking about the archaeology of the contemporary world as a distinctly cultural engagement with late-20th and early-21st century American life. This isn’t meant to deprecate the important work done by people like Jason DeLeon or Shannon Lee Dowdy or Bill Rathje, but to reframe their interventions as much as part of a much larger current of cultural critique. Instead of archaeology treating the contemporary experience as the object of study, archaeology of the contemporary world is (or at, very least, represents) the American experience. If we prioritize the notion of contemporaneity and suggest that it subverts the most common forms of disciplinary and historical detachment, then it makes sense that we can’t study or locate archaeology outside of American culture in the present. This, of course, remains a work in progress.

Third Thing.

I’m very excited to redirect your attention to the North Dakota Quarterly blog this morning. The blog features a poem from Amalia Dillin. Our hardworking poetry editor, Paul Worley, selected this poem for publication without knowing that Amalia was one of my former students at UND where she majored, I think, in Classics but also took history classes. She’s put those classes (and a bunch of her own hard work) to good use as a writer. You can check out her stuff here (although it’s very different from her poem)!

Go read the poem, it’s pretty great and I think summarizes neatly the anxiety that many of use feel in our media saturated lives.