My Other Project: North Dakota Quarterly

I think a good bit about the “attention economy” and the way that this blog — or any similar self indulgent writing projects — takes a share of one’s attention that could be spent on other things. The more material a blog (or a book) contains and the more regularly it appears, the greater a risk it has for taking more than its share of one’s precious and limited attention. 

Of course, I understand that one makes choice to read a particular website, blog, or big book, but that choice doesn’t somehow absolve the author from the demand that their work places on the reader’s attention. A content producer would be disingenuous to claim otherwise. 

As a consequence of this, I’ve do what I can to use my position to promote the work of other people alongside my own. This blog will largely remain a platform for my own daily ramblings, but I want to make sure that people know that I am not just extracting my pound of attention from their lives. I want to invite them to read other people whose work I admire.

So for today, I direct your attention to my annual wrap up of popular reading from the literary journal that I edit with a very talented, hard working, and patient team of editors at North Dakota Quarterly. NDQ is well over a century old and is on its 89th volume. The Quarterly publishes poetry, short fiction, essays, and reviews from around the world in the long tradition of little magazines. In many cases our authors are our subscribers and, in this regard, we recognize a kind of mutual aid in which individuals collaborate to amplify the voices of their community.  

I inherited the editorship four years ago during a time of financial difficult at UND and general despair about the future of the journal (which I outline loosely here). This moment of crisis brought together a team of editors and partners committed to saving this venerable journal. The University of Nebraska Press stepped up as publisher and my dean allowed me some contract hours to make it happen. Over the last four years, editing NDQ has become the single most meaningful work in my year and I hope that readers of this blog have had at least one occasion to click through to the brilliant and inspiring creative content that we provide regularly on the NDQ blog.

If you haven’t maybe this little year end review offers a nice chance to share some your attention with this amazing group of writers and thinkers. 

The crew here at NDQ is happy to have survived another chaotic year and managed, but just barely, to have produced two robust volumes of fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and art. The entire editorial staff sends along its appreciation for everyone who entrusted us with their work and took the time to submit, subscribe, and read a copy of the journal during 2021.

In a time where our attention is at a premium and there were so many things demanding it, it was very gratifying to see that so many people took the opportunity to stop by the NDQ website to read something. It was especially exciting to see that NDQ 87.1/2, which we made available for free in 2020, has been downloaded nearly 3,500 times since then. (And we know that downloading is just about like reading).

This year, we have posted 62 times to the NDQ blog and it seem inevitable that some folks might have missed something.

If you’re look for a story to read over the long weekend, you might consider Ian Woollen’s “The Story I Tell Myself,” Kareem Tayyar titled “Through the Window”Jayne Wilson’s short story, “Dynamite,” Katie Edkins Milligan’s story “Witness,” or Kathleen Lynch Baum short story, “A Spy in Vienna, Seduced.” It’s be remiss if I didn’t mention our non-fiction editor Shelia Liming’s first published piece of fiction, “Kept Company.”

If you’re more in the mood for poetry, we feel like we have you covered there too. We’re very privileged to feature works by North Dakota’s associate poet laureate, Bonnie Larson Staiger. Do also read Lindy Obach’s “Red Poppies,” Kelvin Kellman’s poem “Black Woman,” Evan Anders’s “I ritual,” and David R. Solheim’s “North Country.” I have a soft spot for Sanjeev Sethi’s poem “Chronicle,” Lane Chasek’s “Surviving Mardi Gras,” and John Walser’s “Chronoscope 181.” 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also not a few more very special works. First, Ana P.’s poetry of erasure was a bit too rough and immediate in form to appear in on the page in NDQ, so we agreed to publish it on our website. Our poetry editor Paul Worley worked especially hard to bring us some of the poetry of Dan Quisenberry with a poignant introduction. And finally, for those yearning for a bit of summer, do check out our late poetry editor, Donald Junkin’s series of poetic reflections on his summer at Swan’s Island in Maine.  

NDQ has also long been known as a destination for high quality essays. Mike Miley’s essay, “It Hardly Hurt a Bit,” and Katrin Arefy’s essay “The Day the Sun Didn’t Rise” carry on a tradition visible in the works such as Eric Sevareid’s “The National Crisis” and this interview with the late poet Amy Clampitt. And keep an eye out for more essays and some reviews appearing on the blog this spring. 

Finally, it is a special pleasure to share the covers of each issue. If you don’t have a physical copy, you can still enjoy the cover of 88.1/2 and 88.3/4.

Each time I post here to the NDQ blog, I include the following statement: As you likely know, these days are particularly challenging for many cultural institutions, publishers, and little magazines. So even if NDQ doesn’t float your boat, If you can, consider buying a book from a small presssubscribing to a literary journal (like our UNP stablemate, Hotel Amerika), or otherwise supporting the arts.  

Today I’ll add an additional inducement. If you’re thinking about submitting something to NDQ or subscribing and want to make sure that the journal is right for your work, drop me an email at billcaraher[at]gmail[dot]com and put “NDQ Issue” in the subject line (so your email doesn’t get lost in the shuffle). I’ll respond (very quietly) with a digital copy of our most recent issue (with no questions asked and no obligation.)

Happy New Year!

Three Things Thursday: Epoiesen, Teaching, and NDQ

It’s Veterans’ Day today and it would appear that we’re going to get a the first snow of the season (so check back later for my traditional “first snow” post!) As per usual this time of year, a day off from teaching isn’t so much a break as a chance to catch up on other work that has been moved to the back burner as the semester reaches a fevered pitch. 

In light of this chaotic time of the year, it feels like a decent time for a short three things Thursday.

Thing the First

I’m genuinely torn about the ever increasing role that crowd funding plays in higher education. In its ongoing effort to develop new revenue streams to cover everything from student scholarships to innovative research, crowd funding has become a common fixture in the higher education landscape. 

On the one hand, I’m interested in the way in which crowd funding can serve to build new relationships between projects and “stakeholders.” At its best, crowd funding platforms like Patreon have allowed “independent creators” to create communities and the work of groups like The Sportula have backfilled the decline in public (and private) support for working class and disadvantaged college students. It is hard to argue that crowd funding isn’t a useful response to the current funding situation in higher education. 

This is all a long prologue to my shout out to the a new crowdfunding project designed to support the journal Epoiesen. For those of you who don’t know, Epoiesen, is what it says on the box: “a journal for creative engagement in history and archaeology” founded by Shawn Graham at Carleton University in Ottawa. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Epoiesen as both a contributor and a the publisher of the paper version of the journal through The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

Their crowdfunding project is here and its goal is to support ongoing efforts to professionalize the journal, improve its web interface, and increase its reach. Even a casual visit to Epoiesen will make clear that the journal is not some pie-in-the-sky dream but is already a substantial publication that is making a contribution to the academic conversation. Adding polish will only increase its impact.

This is as good a cause as any and offers a way to close the gap between revenue generated traditionally through subscriptions and expenses associated with production. And, whether we like it or not, crowdfunding is now a key way to help innovative ideas succeed.  

Thing the Second

As the semester winds down, I’ve been thinking more and more about the model that I use in my introductory level history courses. In these classes, students work together to write a series of 2000-2500 word essays on various topics. They draw on the textbook and various primary source collections for evidence and submit outlines and multiple drafts over the course of a four week module. The results are generally pretty decent and almost always better than the traditional essays or papers that I used to require in such a class.

This got me wondering whether the traditional reliance on single authored papers and tests has only limited utility in the college classroom. After all, lab sciences have long relied on group work and applied sciences and professional program often encourage students to work as teams to solve problems. While writing is usually a solitary task, I’d contend that most academic papers are co-authored even if this remains less common in the humanities than in other fields. In other words, there is a strong tradition of collaborative work not only teaching across the university, but also in our research lives. 

The emphasis on sole authorship, then, feels a bit old fashioned and might, in fact, reflect attitudes toward education that emphasized its role to rank and sort students rather than to ensure that students develop the diverse skills necessary for them to thrive. Creating projects where students to work together on writing and research encourages students to work together and contributes to an environment where students who have better writing, reading, and research skills work with and support students who might not be as advanced. This isn’t a pious fantasy, but something I see every night as groups wrestle with the complex task for thinking though, researching, organizing, and writing their essays. This kind of environment has the added bonus of creating spaces where students who might feel isolated have opportunities to work together with their peers and form practical (and perhaps even social bonds). 

I don’t think the collaborative writing will even supplant the single author essay or paper (and there are always some students who think that they can do better on their own), but I’m starting to think that collaborative writing might actually be a way to develop writing intensive classes at scale without the massive burden of individual grading and comments. In other words, this system might be both better for students and better for faculty work loads.   

Thing the Third  

In about 15 minutes, I’ll have to turn my attention to the final steps in preparing North Dakota Quarterly for publication. At this point of the process most of the heavy lifting has been done by our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press, but my contributors have eagerly completed their proofing the typeset pages and I simply need to pull together their edits. It’s a testimony to the work at the University of Nebraska Press and my diligent authors that we tend to have very few errors at the proof stage. 

One of the most exciting stages of the publication process is the issue cover. This issue’s cover features art by Reinaldo Gil Zambrano, a Venezuelan print maker who now works from Spokane, Washington. In an era where compliance has increasingly taken on an ominous meaning, it seems almost redundant to title a work “malicious compliance,” but Zambrano’s cover nevertheless stands a provocative reminder of how compliance culture can so easily devolve into violence and pain.

NDQ 88 3 4 cover pdf 2021 11 11 06 46 03

Three Things Thursday: Peer Review, Being Busy, and Fiction from the Archive

It feels like it’s about the time of the semester for a Three Things Thursday. So here are some thoughts on peer review, being busy, and a little fiction from the NDQ archive!

Thing the First

This week, I was vaguely annoyed by a well-meaning twitter thread about peer review. The author of this thread argues that journals are being overwhelmed by low quality submissions that are unpublishable and many of these, she argues, come from graduate students. She quite reasonably suggests that graduate programs and advisors take more time to mentor graduate students on the publishing process. This is all commendable, but I take a bit of issue with the premise that the problem with low quality submissions is that graduate students are being told to send manuscripts to journals before these manuscripts are ready.  

To my mind, the problem isn’t the submission of low quality manuscripts, but peer review itself. I’d argued that in the contemporary humanities peer review has become so capricious that it has undermined any common standard for what constitutes a publishable manuscript. I have published consistently over the last decade and worked with a wide range of experienced colleagues, and I know that we still feel a bit unprepared for how reviewers will react to our manuscripts. Some of my weaker articles sail through with minimal calls for revisions while some of my more carefully reasoned and vetted pieces have received rather unfavorable responses for reviewers. When I was a less seasoned scholar, these vagaries frustrated me, but now, I realize that this is just part of the unpredictability of the academic publishing process. As a reviewer I’ve also had the experience of providing careful feedback to articles and then seeing these works published with hardly any changes. And I’ve favorable reviewed articles for one journal only to see the appear in a different journal. I’ve also been struck by the different levels of anonymity in the review process, the different levels of editorial guidance, the different deadlines expected for reviewers, and the sometimes overwhelming number of asks from a small number of publications followed by radio silence. As a reviewer, I constantly find myself second guessing my reviews, the journal’s expectations, and the attitudes of journal editors.   

The rise of the infamous “Reviewer #2” is just a symptom of the randomness associated with the review process. Some of this invariably has to do wide range of epistemologies, methods, and approaches that currently contribute to knowledge making in the humanities. The plurality of understandings of what constitutes meaningful knowledge makes consistent critique of articles challenging and determining which article crosses a bar .

Some of this also has to do with the growing pressure on academics to publish across all stages of their careers. This not only means that scholars have a greater diversity of experiences with the publishing process (and mentoring could help alleviate this diversity of experience, if that is thought desirable), but more importantly a range of access to libraries and resources vital to the task of thinking, reading, and writing. A contingent faculty member teaching at four institutions, a PhD student juggling between teaching and research, a tenure track or tenured faculty member at a lower tier state institution, and a faculty member at a SLAC or R1 will all have different resources at their disposal. More than that, they’ll also have different kinds of academic communities with different expectations and different approaches to critique. To me, this diversity is a good thing in academia. 

Peer review, however, struggles to accommodate epistemological diversity and the kind of institutional and social diversity which has only been exaggerated further by the COVID pandemic and ever more incisive cuts to library funding. In fact, I’d argue that peer review was a fine too for managing a largely homogeneous academia, but has perhaps struggled to adapt to the growing heterogeneity in our ranks.

In this context, it is not so much that manuscripts are “unpublishable,” but that our sense for what constitutes a publishable manuscript has become so helplessly muddled that suggesting graduate programs somehow clarify to students what constitutes publishable seems almost an example of “punching down” and pushing graduate directors and advisors to resolve a situation that is fundamentally outside their control.

Thing the Second

I would like to propose a moratorium on people declaring themselves busy in academic setting. This isn’t meant to diminish the anxiety that people feel about their workloads or the current situation. Nor I am trying to deny that people are actually very busy. And I’m certainly not trying to discourage people from making known that current workloads, in addition to the challenges associated with the seemingly endless pandemic, are not sustainable. People are busier than ever, it creates genuine anxiety, and we need to reinforce that this is not a sustainable situation.

At the same time, faculty have to recognize their audience, pick the opportunities, and channel their anxiety into collective solutions. In at least a few recent occasions, I’ve felt that faculty have directed their sense of busyness onto their colleagues and this feels like a deeply counter productive approach and one that is more likely to produce a kind of defensiveness than a sense of solidarity. I know I have increasingly come to feel that declarations of busyness are often ways for certain individuals to say that they are a busier than other individuals (even if that is not their intention). 

I have a modest proposal: instead of repeating mantra-like statements of how busy we are to all and sundry (including fellow travelers!), perhaps it would be more useful to direct these anxious statements in more collective and unified ways toward those who can actually impact our workloads. At the same time, assume that everyone is busy at the table might create a space where it is easier to find temporary solutions to our collective sense of being overwhelmed.  

Thing the Third

If all this is too structural and academic, do check out this week’s post over at NDQ! It’s a short story from the archives that involves dancing and joy.

As the author of the story, Bábara Mújica, has one of her characters say: “Celebrate when you can. Be happy when you can. Rejoice in the moment, and look for reasons to be glad.”

NDQuesday: Organizing the Issue

This weekend, I got to do one of my favorite parts of my job: setting up the final order of an issue of NDQ. This involves some annoying work of getting author agreements signed, making sure authors have submitted their bios and mailing addresses, and checking once again the final copies of their contributions for anything that will cause our publishing partners to stumble. 

Once that’s done, though, I review everything in the issue one last time and try to figure out how to set out the volume. This may seem like a little thing, but I’ve convinced myself that it’s not. In fact, the more I’ve worked on the Quarterly, the more I’ve become convinced that 70-80 contributions in each issue in a thoughtful and deliberate was is part of the “value add” that a editor brings to a project like this (of course, it may be as an editor, I’m thinking about how to justify my own work in the process). 

There are a few things that I try to keep in mind. First, I want to make sure that we avoid any problematic juxtapositions. For example, I would hate for an irreverent poem to follow a serene reflection on nature or for a heartfelt expression of grief to stand next to a bawdy and riotous short story. While it is not alway able to match the tones of works perfectly, I try to avoid any inappropriate or difficult shifts across the journal’s pages.

Second, I think that part of what encourages a reader to engage with an issue and that means engaged with the authors represented in an issue is for the work to be arranged in way that entices a reader to keep reading. This often means finding way to tempt the reader to read just a bit deeper into an issue by tracing little themes that emerge over the course of the contributions. It also means juxtaposing shorter and longer contributions, balancing the interplay between genres (in our case, poems, stories, essays, and reviews) and inducing the reader to just stay a bit longer in our pages. Along these lines, I try to make sure that I post some of the last material to appear in an issue on our website first, to make sure that readers find it. When issues are as packed as some of the issues of NDQ, it is easy for material to get lost particularly toward the end.

Finally, I’ve started to think a bit more about highlighting certain kinds of work in our pages. For example, this fall’s issue will feature poetry by Dan Quisenberry which I’ll highlight as a special feature with its own short introduction. In the spring issue, we’ll include a special feature on translated works and translation ideally with its own introduction. I have this idea of making the translation section a free digital “pull out” (no not literally) to showcase some of the work in the issue.

For those of you interested in this other side of my professional identity, I would encourage you to check out the NDQ website and especially our weekly blog where I often post highlights from past and present issues. If you enjoy what you’ve read, do consider subscribing!

Three Things Thursday

For some reason this week is taking forever. It might be just that time in the semester. I also wonder whether finally getting a bit of writing momentum back has led me to overdo it a bit and maybe burn a bit too much energy for only modest gains. Whatever the reason, it feels like a good time for some good news. So here are three things for your Thursday.

Thing the First

I really enjoyed Dante Angelo, Kelly M. Britt, Margaret Lou Brown, Stacey L. Camp recent article in the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. Titled “Private Struggles in Public Spaces: Documenting COVID-19 Material Culture and Landscapes,” it offers a window into one of the few, maturing archaeological studies of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many archaeological projects on the very edge of the present, it’s conclusions are modest, but the methods, challenges, and data offer a window into the potential for archaeological projects that emerge at the very onset of a crisis rather than work to understand a crisis long after it unfolded.

I was particularly impressed by the transnational scope of article and the recognition that contemporary archaeology (and the study of contemporary problems and situations) is not much interested in national boundaries. An archaeology of contemporary climate change, of migration, and of production and consumption habits would follow a similar pattern. The article also negotiates the tension between private and public spaces not only in how we do our work as archaeologists, but also in how we live our lives. In this way, archaeology once again follows tensions present in society as the rise of surveillance culture where even conversations in our home are monitored (and monetized) by ubiquitous digital devices and personal medical choices (and short comings) continue to be matters public debate blurs our expectations of privacy. While Angelo et al. maintained a conservative approach toward documenting private lives in public places and continued to respect traditional notions of public and private, the title of the piece made clear that this continues to be an open question rather than a resolved standard of practice or method. 

Finally, the photo essay itself represents both the tip of a larger archival iceberg and I’m excited to understand how ongoing efforts to document the COVID pandemic will open the door to future analyses and interpretations. It reminds me how important archaeology of the contemporary world is for building the archive of the present and even if our research questions (and goals) applying the rigorous methods developed by archaeology as a discipline will contribute to how future researchers see our world.

Thing the Second

This thing is a form of completely gratuitous self-promotion. As editor of NDQ, I have the privilege of publishing a wide range of authors from undergraduates to grizzled veterans of the writing business. We are pleased to announce that we will publish to the winner of the Colie Hoffman Poetry Prize which goes a woman poet from Huntery College-CUNY. 

Here’s our little announcement.

NDQ is excited to announce our partnership wih the Department of English at Hunter College-CUNY, to pubish the winner of the department’s yearly Colie Hoffman Poetry Prize. Named for Colie Hoffman, an alumna of Hunter’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, the award goes to a female poet in Hunter’s MFA Program who has shown an exceptional blend of imagination and craft in her poetry. Given our admiration for Hoffman and the vibrant pulse of her work, we are thrilled to collaborate with Hunter College in honoring her.

Thing the Third

Last week, the good folks at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota got word that FOUR of their titles were nominated for the North Dakota State Library Association’s  Notable State Government Documents Award. This is the first time that any of our books have been nominated and I feel the press is being recognized for its solid work in the state. The books nominated are: Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson’s Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook, Rebecca M. Seifried and Deborah E. Brown Stewart’s Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean,  Calobe Jackson, Jr., Katie Wingert McArdle, and David Pettegrew’s One Hundred Voices, Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920and Kyle Conway’s Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota, 1958-2018

We’re up against some pretty tough competition, particular from our friends at the NDSU Press who celebrated three nomination for the same award!

This is an exciting time for publishing in the Red River Valley!

Two For Tuesday: North Dakota Quarterly and The Digital Press

Some weeks are a bit more hectic than others. And this is one of those more hectic weeks. So, for today, there are just two little things: one from North Dakota Quarterly and one from The Digital Press.

Like many people, as the semester starts, I begin to flail about trying to wrap up odds and ends from the summer. Fortunately, many of these remaining projects are too large to even think about starting, but a few of the small projects are perfect for sliding into otherwise hectic days.

North Dakota Quarterly 

In 2023, NDQ will publish its 90th volume. This milestone is made all more significant to me personally because it’ll be my fifth volume as editor and a bit of a survival story for the journal which was near the brink around volume 84 and volume 85

It also gives us an excuse to look back at the long history of NDQ and its changes over time. As part of that opportunity for retrospection, I’ve added links to almost all the content from a North Dakota Quarterly Reader prepared by Elizabeth Hampsten and Stephen Dilks in the mid-1990s and circulated as a bound photocopy. It would be going too far to say that this is some kind of definitive anthology of NDQ content, but it does highlight some of the better pieces that have appeared in the Quarterly over its 100+ years of existence. You can check it out here.

As part of the festivities surrounding the 90th volume, I think it would be fun to prepare a new version of a NDQ reader that draws more expansively from our back catalogue of volumes. I’ve pitched the idea that each member of our editorial board take a block of ten volumes and nominates, say, five contributions for the new NDQ reader and writes a bit of an explanatory note. So far enthusiasm for this idea has been a bit muted, but it’s also the start of the semester and there is a lot going on in the world. I’ll keep poking the fire and see if this catches…

The Digital Press

I’m working with my crack marketing team to do some updates to The Digital Press webpage. This is both in anticipation of a busy late fall and spring and because The Digital Press continues to evolve in good and positive ways.

The most recent addition is that I’ve now added DOIs to the catalogue and the individual book’s landing pages. These DOIs resolve to UND’s digital archive which serves as a key backdrop for The Digital Press by providing an institutional repository to ensure that the digital versions of all our books remain accessible in the future. 

Stay tuned for some updates from The Digital Press in the coming months and ongoing work to update our website!

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.