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.    

 

 

 

Three Things Thursday: A Wesley College Coda, Reviewing Poetry, and Narrating Atari

I have three little things today that are swirling around in my head like the projected snowfall for later this morning. None of them are particularly profound, but they all might be something later. Ya heard it here first, folks.

1. Abiding and Corwin/Larimore Halls. This is coda for my post yesterday on the current status of the Wesley College Documentation Project. Over spring break we cajoled Mike Wittgraf to perform a little concert and recording in Corwin and Larimore Halls. The songs we selected were somber in tone and included the well-known hymn “Abide with Me.” The title of this hymn, of course, come from John 15:4-6 which is the start of the Passion.

Yesterday in a faculty meeting, I was fumbling for a word to describe an individual who stays with the dying, and a colleague suggested the word “abider” (our faculty meetings can go to some dark places). I wasn’t familiar with this term, but a few Googles later, it indeed shows that it has some modest currency in contemporary language. This got me thinking about our roles as archaeologists in documenting Wesley College.

Are we working as abiders allowing the buildings to tell their stories before they’re gone? I know this sounds hopeless sentimental, but I’ve been struck how even my short time around these buildings has allowed me a much greater appreciation for not only their architecture and spaces, but also the stories of the individuals whose lives intersected with these buildings over the century of their existence. 

“Change and Decay in all around I see, O Thou who changest not abide with me.” 

2. Poetry and Slow Reading. As editor of North Dakota Quarterly, I get books for review on a weekly basis. As a publisher of my own small press, I know the important role of circulating books for review. At the same time, not all works that come across our desk at NDQ are equally worthy of review, and it is another challenge entirely to match the book with an appropriate reviewer. As a result, we usually have a little pile of books that have not gone out for review yet and this pile has only grown larger as NDQ has shifted its attention to reorganizing and preparing for our shift from in-house publishing to being published by University of Nebraska Press. 

On Wednesday, I hang out in the NDQ office and during little breaks the back issues of NDQ and the pile of books to review beckon to me. So I’ve taken to picking up books of poetry or short fiction and … gasp… just reading them. Mostly I feel not qualified to judge their quality, but recently I’ve started to think that maybe I can speak about this material from a distinctive perspective. After all, as a non-poet, non-poetry reader, and never-taken-a-college-level-English-class perhaps I could offer an “everyperson” view of various little books.

It’s tempting to start to write a little review series on the books that we receive. They’d be less critical review and more impressionistic and spontaneous. They might be fun to write and at least a little entertaining to read.

3. Contemporaneity and Archaeology. Over the last few days, I’ve returned to long gestating (marinating?) article on the Alamogordo Atari Expedition. The article was clumsy and poorly positioned, I think, but as I’ve let it rest for a bit, I do think that it has one thing to offer and that is a meditation on the issue of contemporaneity in archaeology (and particular in the work of archaeology of the contemporary world). As I have noted before, the assumption of the “broken tradition” between our world today and the world that we’re studying has, for centuries, allowed both history and archaeology to position the past in a place susceptible for study. By assuming the contemporaneity of the archaeologist and the archaeology, however, we disrupt this tidy arrangement and make space to recognize that the archaeologist and the archaeology are both enmeshed (or entangled) in a dense web of common relationships. Rodney Harrison has argued that these relationships produce what he has called surface assemblages. I’d like to add that understanding contemporaneity in surface assemblages and between surface assemblages and the archaeologist, opens and maybe even requires new forms of narration that accommodates the various overlapping webs of meaning making that such contemporaneity recognizes. For example, it will be increasingly difficult to approach archaeological knowledge making as an impersonal enterprise removed – through either a broken tradition or an objective scientific lens – from the person of the archaeologist and the larger culture. How do we embrace this freedom from conventional practices?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The University of North Dakota’s Writers Conference

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

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

Undwc18 11x17 layers new nd

The complete schedule is here.

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

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

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.    

IMG 1948

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

Four Things on a Wednesday Morning

I had four more or less random thoughts on my drive onto campus this morning. 

1. Famae Volent. There has been a good bit of buzz around the Classics job-hunter site Famae Volent this month. Most of it stems from the increasingly toxic, relatively un-moderated, and thoroughly angst-fill comments section. The tone lately has been hostile with attacks, incendiary language, and lots of blaming.

I can’t help but thinking that this is, in part, the result of the general state of the humanities and particularly proximate sense of dread created by the growing momentum for various austerity projects at both private and public colleges. You’ve undoubtedly read enough about austerity on this blog, so I won’t rehash my arguments. What got me wondering this morning is whether (1) Famae Volent has been archived (it was only captured 17 times by the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine) and whether the language of the comments section has been analyzed systematically. I’d be curious whether the language in the comments has, in fact, become increasingly polarized (as some have suggested and I agree with instinctively), by what measure we could understand this, and whether the language in the comments has parallels with, say, our political discourse or various larger intellectual (or anti-intellectual) trends. 

This seems like it would be a cool project for a digitally inclined historian or Classicist. 

2. Re-Reading. I almost never re-read things. I mean, I will go back to a text to look for something or to check my notes or confirm a citation or even to make sure that I understood a complex passage correctly, but I rarely sit down and re-read an academic book. Last week, I agreed to review Shannon Lee Dawdy’s Patina: A Profane Archaeology (2016), for the American Journal of ArchaeologyI even blogged on it briefly a couple of years ago, but to be honest I was a bit overwhelmed by the book and struggled to formulate a coherent critique. 

But now I have to! And what makes this review even more of an adventure is that the book has been pretty thoroughly reviewed across a wide range of literature. More than that, the AJA is aimed at Mediterranean and largely “Classical” archaeologists for whom this book should be relevant, but isn’t instinctively so. Stay tuned.

3. Racing the Bulldozer. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working to document the two Wesley College buildings at UND: Corwin/Larimore and Roberston/Sayre Halls. I learned just this week two bits of news. First, Corwin/Larimore is slated to begin asbestos mitigation later this month and second that the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office is going to require Standard II recording for both buildings. The former will speed our work up and require us to set some new priorities. The latter will involve us having to collaborate with UND to find the ideal partners to complete the necessary documentation.

The good thing about the decision of the ND SHPO is that it will require a basic history for the two buildings and a technical architectural description and we hopefully fold this into our more comprehensive analysis of these buildings, their change over time, and their abandonment. 

4. Rejections. I’m sitting in the morning light that rakes through the garden level windows of the NDQ offices and facing the unpleasant task of writing my first little gaggle of rejection emails. While I know this is part of the business, I still find it depressing. The sunlight is helping a bit though. Maybe it’s even symbolic. Something about the darkest and the dawn or whatever. 

Back to work… 

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: Hybrids

Anyone who has read this blog over the years know that I love hybrids and hybridity. It probably speaks to my fundamental lack of discipline or, perhaps my abiding insecurities, or, at best, my eclecticism but I’ve always been drawn to shambolic, hybrid beasts that shade in and out of clear focus.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve taken the helm at North Dakota Quarterly and struggled a bit to find my footing as the editor of a journal that is equal parts a public humanities magazine and literary journal. As one of our editors pointed out, the world of magazines divides in some ways into two types: (1) newspapers where a strong editor and editorial board (and writers) produce or solicit content for readers according to their tastes and priorities and (2) literary journals where the readers submit material to the editors who, in turn, winnow and shape the content on the basis of their reader’s (and their own) interest and tastes. 

As someone who prefers the hybrid to the dogmatic, I can see the value in both of these approaches. On the one hand, I believe that academics should have a voice in the public sphere (not just speaking to specialists) and that we should cultivate platforms for this voice. On the other hand, there is a tremendous appeal to the idea of an organic, generative, reciprocal space where readers and writers, write and read for each other. At their best, both models offer a space for collaboration and conversation, but at their worst, the former offers a vision of bleary monoculture dominated by a limited group of privileged, droning voices, and the latter, the tragedy of the commons where the symbiosis between audience and contributors falls out of balance. 

Moreover, varying interests and approaches on the editorial board also promote a kind of hybridized space. Some editors want a hands-on approach to soliciting material and others want to winnow a constant stream. Some want to incentivize submissions through the use of technology, contests, and personal appeals whereas others feel like content begets content.

There is also the challenge of presentation. My instinct, as the first-generation of born digital computer dwellers, is to build a robust, eclectic, dynamic, and bustling space on the web where quality content can thrive and writers and readers can build audiences. Other value the quiet churn of paper production where there’s space to think, to winnow, and to shape. (Lest one thinks I’m privileging the former at the expense of the latter, I’ve updated the NDQ website with a stable front page that emphasizes the paper version of the journal and moves the digital content to a “blog” tab. I also plan to promote more content from NDQ so that the web and the paper version coincide better (and this is in keeping with the interest of our authors to disseminate their work widely.) Check it out here.).     

The web produces another form of hybridity. There is a deep love for paper among NDQ editors and contributors (and me)! As a result, I’m committed to preserving the paper version of the journal, but I also want to make sure that we don’t shun the digital both because our authors want it and because it is an inexpensive and expansive way to expand our readership). At the same time, we need to make sure that the NDQ web presence and the larger mission of the journal do not diverge unnecessarily so that it ends up stifling our wildflower garden beneath a carpet of public humanities monoculture. 

The challenge, of course, is whether such a hybrid beast can survive. Can we simultaneously be a viable platform for the public humanities and a literary journal, a digital destination and a paper publication, a productive field of grain and a natural prairie… 

And last but not least, a financially sustainable project and an honest reflection of our shared to commitment to the little magazine.  

NDQuesday: Breaking a Brand or Bringing the Brand Back Together

I’ve been editor of North Dakota Quarterly for less than a month and I’m already worried that I’ve broken the brand. One of the challenges that I’ve faced is that I’m not, as readers of this blog know, particularly concerned with brands and branding. I find much of this rhetoric invested on building value and value, too often, slides from intellectual or cultural worth to areas of economic worth. A project’s value and an institutions brand becomes tied to its ability to convert resources into a product.

Over the last month, however, I was reminded that a brand also relates to the ability of an institution to advance and define its goals. This may be, in our current academic culture, too closely tied to our ability to acquire resources. After all the concept of a mission statement has come frequently to mark the spread of “business speak” in the academy. But for a public humanities journal, having a well-defined brand, also relates to our ability to attract contributors, to attract readers, and to have an impact.

Over the past year or so, I’ve worked hard to bring a wide range of content to the NDQ website, but I also assumed that it would be a portal for subscribers and contributors to the print journal. As the fate of the print journal continues to be negotiated, however, the website has started to stand in for the journal itself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does force me to realize that what is posted on the web will impact how people see NDQ moving forward. If we want a diverse, eclectic, and wide ranging public humanities journal, then I feel like the website embodies some of those characteristics. If we want a journal that embraces literature, poetry, and the art of the essay and the review, I suspect we’ve strayed from that more narrowly defined, but altogether reasonable brand. The question is can we bolster NDQ’s brand identity without stifling the potential to move forward and without becoming mired in the corporate-speak of “mission statements” and “goals”?

On a superficial level, I do recognize that we need to do more to promote the traditional, paper presence of NDQ. To that end, I need to modify how the journal appears on the web. Right now, it literally belches forth content, with little in the way of introduction and even less pretense. My thinking at present is the update the website to promote a bit more clearly the print version of the journal and its deep historical roots. I also need dig back into those roots for content to bridge the gap between paper and digital. There is a tremendous amount of back content from NDQ much of which we link to, in a general, through our archive pages. A more curated approach to this back content, however, will make it more accessible to our audience and reinforce the longstanding traditions associated with Quarterly.

Finally, I keep thinking about the challenge of hybridity. Yesterday, my other publishing project, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, released a print-on-demand and PDF download of the web journal Epoiesen. In other words, we sought to bridge the gap between digital and print by embracing multiple modes of publishing that were nevertheless integrated. We approached the Codex project in a similar way.

The same challenges face us at NDQ except rather than building a hybrid project from the ground up and instead of navigating media as something deeply embedded in the form and content, we need to find a middle ground that respects both the paper and digital form and the paper and digital content as interrelated but not always interchangeable things. We need to both explore the potential keeping the paper and the digital as distinct ways to use the media to share expectations of the content that nevertheless embodies the same brand. In short, we need to bring the brand back together.