The War with the Sioux: The Book

It’s a good day! The English translation of Karl Jakob Skarstein’s The War with the Sioux is finally published. Go here for the links to download the book.

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The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is excited to announce the publication of the first English translation of Karl Jakob Skarstein’s The War with the Sioux: Norwegians against Indians 1862-1863. Associate Professor of Norwegian Melissa Gjellstad and UND alumna Danielle Mead Skjelver translated the text and Dr. Richard Rothaus and Dakota Goodhouse provided new introductory material.

Skjelver noted that “”I first encountered Skarstein’s riveting narrative on the US-Dakota War in 2007. I had never read anything like it. Translating this work was fascinating and rewarding because of the book’s unique focus on a specific immigrant population, and because Skarstein admirably attempts to get at the action and emotion of the many sides of this conflict.”

Skarstein’s narrative focuses on the Dakota War of 1862-1864 which stands as one of the most overlooked conflicts in American History. Contemporary with the American Civil War, the Dakota War featured significant fighting, tactical brilliance, and strategic savvy set in the open landscape of the Northern Plains in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Karl Jakob Starstein’s The War with the Sioux tells the story of the Norwegian immigrants, American soldiers, and Lakota and Dakota Indians as they sought to protect their ways of life. Skarstein drew upon largely untapped Norwegian-language sources for life on the Northern Plains during these tumultuous years.

Prof. Gjellstad remarked “The American experience of Norwegian immigrants has been a red thread that has woven through my scholarship and teaching in Scandinavian studies. It began early in my childhood, growing up in rural North Dakota, and has spun into rich, new connections thanks to the collaborations of fellow scholars from the Northern Plains as we worked to bring Skarstein’s volume to an American audience.”

The translation of the book was funded by the Norwegian government’s NORLA: Norwegian Literature Abroad program and is available as a free download or as a paper book on Amazon.

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is a creative reimagining of the traditional university press. It publishes innovative and timely works in archaeology and on topics intersecting with life in North Dakota and the Northern Plains.

To get the book go here.

An Open Letter to the Empire Theater

Over the last week I’ve been active in initiating a conversation with the Empire Theater regarding their decision to host the anti-Muslim firebrand Usama Dakdok for the second time this calendar year. To be clear, the Empire did not invite Dakdok to speak, but they agreed to rent the theater to the group who invited him to town.

When Dakdok spoke in the spring, there were some protests and some behind-the-scenes expressions of disappointment at the Empire’s decision to host a speaker who advocated intolerance in our small town. It was all the more disappointing since Grand Forks has a small, new Muslim population and people are working hard to make help manage their transition into our community. Many of us felt that hosting a speaker like Dakdok did little to encourage the kind of acceptance and tolerance that our town needed at this moment in its history, but were heartened when many of those opposed to Dakdok message worked to create alternative events which brought Christians and Muslims together. In fact, Dakdok’s return engagement is “in response” to the events held after his last visit. Considering the success of these events and ongoing efforts to promote tolerance and diversity, we can certainly understand why someone of his predilections could justify a return engagement.

Dakdok’s approach is particularly painful to those of us who study the Late Antique world and religion. He insists on a selective reading of Muslim scripture that portrays Islam in an unfavorable way, and asserts personal authority grounded in his knowledge of Arabic and upbringing in Egypt. Any religious can be made to look bad when subjected to a selective reading of scripture backed by personal authority. Certainly there have been instances of Christianity being subjected to similar attacks. The goal of Dakdok’s lecture is not to understand the history of Islam and their scripture, but, as his website says: “to warn all Americans about the deceptive methods being used by Muslims that lead so many into the cult of Islam.”

Dakdok’s intentionally misleading approach to Islam is hardly the basis for a compassionate and tolerant engagement with another faith.

This letter, however, is not about Usama Dakdok. This letter is directed to the Empire Theater and their decision to provide a venue for Dakdok’s visit twice over the course of the year. In the lead up to his first visit, the Empire and other institutions in our community deflected criticism leveled against them for allowing Dakdok into our town with appeals to freedom of speech.

I’m not a legal scholar or a philosopher, but I am not convinced that hosting a speaker whose goal is to sow intolerance and suspicion is an effective time to appeal to freedom of speech. To my mind, freedom of speech is one of those pesky freedoms that ask us both as individuals and institutions to make compromises for the good of others. As individuals we regularly refrain from confrontation, recognize decorum, and, sometimes, remain silent when exercising our right to speak would do greater harm than good. Moreover, we recognize how positions of authority can lend speaking greater weight and positions of weakness can prevent even the most earnest speaker from being heard. Balancing the authority we grant to those in power against the need for dialogue is vital to preserving practical freedom of speech in any community. This is why we have rules and laws preventing consumer fraud, limiting the public use of profanity, restricting access to adult themed movies and events, and enforcing decorum. Finally, both private and public venues have standards and expectations ranging from noise restrictions to discretionary judgements regarding what is appropriate at a given site. Freedom of speech is always situational.

The Empire Theater is in a uniquely privileged position in downtown Grand Forks. They have a productive and meaningful partnership with the University of North Dakota as host of its art collection and that relationship is proudly advertised on its walls. Associating the venue with the University, even if this is just relationship of convenience, gives the Empire prestige and authority and this extends to speakers in its venue. It may not be Carnegie Hall, but events hosted at the Empire gain legitimacy and prestige from the venue. Moreover, the Empire represents a meaningful anchor of the downtown hosting entertainment, civic events, and celebrations throughout the year. It is very much part of our local civic fabric and has contributed to recent downtown renaissance. The Empire occupies a position of authority through its associations with both the University and the downtown community.

With this position of authority come certain responsibilities. I can perhaps forgive the decision to host Dakdok one time. While Dakdok does not obscure his mission, it may be too much expect an institution like the Empire which hosts hundreds of events a year, to vet every speaker carefully.

To host Dakdok a second time, however, is simply inexcusable. Granting Dakdok the legitimacy of a prestigious venue contributes to his authority and the legitimacy of his message. This is clearly not the intent of the Empire’s board or management, because by authorizing his message, they are authorizing a message that hinders communication between Christians and Muslims in Grand Forks. The Empire must hold itself to a higher standard and recognize that hosting a speaker like Dakdok undermines the efforts of many in Grand Forks to make lives better for the Muslim minority.

In fact, by allowing a speaker into our town bent on depicting a group within our community in a misleading way, the Empire is hindering opportunities for open dialogue between Muslims and Christians. They are not promoting freedom of speech in this situation, but making it more difficult for members of our community to speak freely and honestly. The Empire is helping to silence members of our community by contributing the prestige of their venue to a speaker who misrepresents the message of both Christianity and Islam.

The Empire must recognize its position in the community and use the prestige associated with their venue in a more responsible way. If it cannot do this alone, then those institutions that have partnered with the Empire must encourage and support the Empire as they try to do better or divest themselves of this partnership. It is not acceptable for the name of the University of North Dakota to be associated with a venue in which Dakdok is speaking. It is not acceptable for a venue that serves as a cultural anchor of our downtown and our community to lend its reputation to a speaker like Dakdok. 

The War with the Sioux: Open Access Teaser

I’m very happy to announce that the first English translation of Karl Jakob Skarstein’s War with the Sioux: Norwegians against Indians 1862-1863 is pushed to publication. It should be available on Amazon and via a free download by the end of tomorrow! (I’m feeling super impatient right now, to be honest!)

Since we’ve been developing The Digital Press’s website as the official presence of The Press on the web, I feel free to be a bit more colloquial here about the book.

This is a watershed for me because it’s the first book that The Digital Press has published in which I don’t have a academic interest. I’m not uninterested. In fact, having read through a bunch of versions of this book, produced the maps, and laid out the manuscript, I’ve developed a bit of Oslo Syndrome with the text. I eventually ended up visiting the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield where Richard Rothaus gave me a couple of great mini-lectures on the war and now feel more at ease with names like Inkpaduta and Alfred Sully.  

I also got to work with a fine group of collaborators from our translators and authors, Danielle Mead Skjelver, Melissa Gjellstad, Richard Rothaus, and Dakota Goodhouse, to our copy-editor, Amanda Osgood Jonientz, Eirin Hagen of the Hagen Agency in Norway, and various other voices who contributed throughout the process. Jason Jenkins from the university’s legal office deserve particular commendation as he patiently worked with me through the various contracts necessary to purchase rights for the book from its Norwegian publishers and Aaron Bergstrom who created the digital back end that will allow us to count downloads the book. Unlike the other books from the press, we do not have unlimited rights to this book so we had to be more careful when it came to circulating it.

We do, however, share rights to the new introductory material with the authors, so I can make available the new front matter as a teaser for the book. Click here to download the introductions.

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When the book is ready, I’ll update its page on The Digital Press’s website, push out a press release, and, of course, blog something here.

The Tourist Guide to the Bakken: A Preface

One of my favorite things to do when a book manuscript is almost done is to prepare the preface and acknowledgements. 

Since I put the final touches on the first completed (and ready to send to the publisher) draft of the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch this week, I indulged myself in writing a short preface. I’m not sure how much of this preface will actually appear in the published version (except for the acknowledgements with will almost certainly be expanded), but it was fun to site down and try to write out a <1000 word summary of the project.

With any luck, the Guide will head off on its maiden voyage to a publisher by the end of this week, scrapping in just a week before classes start! I’ll do all I can to make a complete copy of the guide available in an open access form, but this will be subject to some negotiation with the publisher.

In the meantime, enjoy!


This book is meant to be several things at once. First, it is a genuine guide to the sights and sites of the Bakken oil patch. It took its inspiration from European travel guides like the Blue Guide and Baedecker’s as well as myriad locally-authored guides designed to give visitors an opportunity to explore a city’s or regions’ cultural life. Following in the tradition of these guides, this volume privileges an archaeological reading of the Bakken landscape and foregrounds the material culture and the industrial picturesque. The book also reflects close to four years of visits to the Bakken and presents a landscape informed by conversations with scholars, journalists, long-time residents, temporary workers, and new North Dakotans. So while the book is primarily archaeological, it cannot avoid the people who make the Bakken oil boom such an intriguing and dynamic time in both the history of North Dakota and the the United States.

Even a superficial reading of this guide should demonstrate our deep commitment to recognizing the historical significance of the Bakken Boom, its monuments, and its people. We intentionally selected the genre of the tourist guide as a way to emphasize the dynamism of a the Bakken oil boom against the backdrop of tourism, which since the start of the 20th century represents a rather middle-class form of engagement. Tourism and recreational travel offered a controlled respite from the stability of suburban life and repackaged the adventure of travel and tourism as a way to validate the privilege of the middle class condition. Today, however, the mobility and instability that is visible in the Bakken has emerged not as a respite from the routine life of the settled middle class suburb, but a the daily condition of a significant segment of the middle class. This segment consists of people who work “just-in-time,” contribute to extractive industries, or are otherwise buffeted by the eddying flow of global capital. This locates the genre of the tourist guide in a challenging place. On the one hand, the tourist guide locates both the worker in the Bakken oil patch and the traveler in the same space within a dynamic landscape. In this way, it is consistent with the classic view of tourism as a method for creating a cohesive modern world understandable to the tourist, if not entirely familiar.

On the other hand, the use of the tourist guide as a way to present the the dynamic world of the Bakken has obvious, if superficial, limits. The tourist guide freezes the Bakken in time. A book cannot represent thoroughly the dynamic character of the changing Bakken landscape. Because of this shortcoming, we have taken the liberty of recording as contemporary various sites observed over multiple trips to the Bakken. This is consistent with our interest in using the tourist guide as a way to document the landscape and history of the 21st century Bakken oil boom. The composite landscape presented in this guide includes ephemera that are unlikely to persist longer than the decade or will almost certainly be hidden as part of a efforts to return the region to a romanticized vision of a pre-boom state or as different economic priorities reshape the landscape. Our tourist guide draws attention to workforce housing sites, fragile roadside memorials, oil wells destined to be drained and capped, and bustling businesses poised to follow the crowds of workers to the next boom site.

There are several themes that run through this tourist guide. We sought to describe movement of people and resources throughout the oil patch by highlighting infrastructure ranging from truck stops to pipeline hubs. We set movement in the Bakken against sites of both very recent and more distant historical significance to the industrial past of region with particular attention to the history of extractive industries. Through The Guide, we have directed visitors to the Bakken to the sites of recent environmental catastrophes and point out a few of the prominent accident sites that communities and loved ones have commemorated through the patch. Finally, we have attempted to leaven the guide with some of the individuals we have met throughout our research in the oil patch. We have, as much as possible, avoided direct criticism of the oil industry, communities, or, in most cases, the mass media, but at times a thorough consideration of the Bakken as a living landscape makes this unavoidable.

This preface and the final chapter of the guide provide a framework for reading the guide as a piece of scholarship. We hope that the guide stands alone as a piece of engaging and useful writing without the academic apparatus.

The guide would not be possible without the assistance of a vast number of individuals. Richard Rothaus accompanied us on most of our trips to the Bakken, encouraged our work, read drafts of the guide, and provided a running and mostly welcomed commentary on the Bakken. Aaron Barth, Kostis Kourelis, Bob Caulkins, Carenlee Barkdull, John Holmgren, Kyle Cassidy, and Ryan Stander are members of the North Dakota Man Camp Project and knowingly or not supported the development of this guide. Journalists covering the Bakken offered helpful insights throughout our work with special thanks going to Amy Dalrymple and Emily Guerin, and photographers Andy Cullen and Chad Ziemendorf. Finally, this guide would not have been possible without the willingness of the residents of the Bakken, various municipal officials, employees of Bakken business, and other busy people who decided to take a few minutes (and sometimes more) to talk with us about their experiences, their landscapes, and their history. Without their help this guide would not be possible. Any shortcomings of the guide are our responsibilities alone.

An Update on The Tourist Guide to the Bakken

This has been a busy week. On Monday, I finished laying out a book for The Digital Press (and I’m giving it a few days to marinate before I push the publish button). For the rest of the week, I’m focusing on one more major revision of the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch. The goal is to get this manuscript submitted before classes start and go into the new semester with only a few, moderate-sized projects on the docket.

Those of you who have followed the Tourist Guide project know that it began mostly as a hobby project. My initial goal was more “proof of concept” than final product. As I worked on it in my spare time, it started to take on a life of its own and by the end of last spring, it was a full-fledged, book-length project with a proposal and a substantially complete draft manuscript. So far only one press has taken serious interest in the project, but you only need one press to publish, so I’ll move forward with some confidence that the stars will align and I’ll have at least one thing to show for my sabbatical year.

For the final revision, I am making 7 changes to the manuscript:

1. Consistency and Symmetry. The main body of the tourist guide is organized into routes and each of these routes was meant to be largely self-contained. Each route included at least one vignette which introduced some aspect of the route in greater detail and typically with a short section of narrative. For example, the route from Tioga to Crosby, makes a stop in Noonan to tell the story of the radioactive filter socks. As the manuscript underwent various revisions, however, the number of these vignettes increased and the symmetry of the composition took a bit of a hit as some sections had more sections of narrative than others.

As I make my final revisions, I am being far more deliberate in noting the number and kind of vignettes present in each section. At present I have four types of short digressions: (1) historical, (2) environmental, (3) commemorative (see below), and (4) personal (see below). I want to arrange these in an orderly way throughout. 

2. Populating the Bakken. One of the critiques that the series editor offered is that the landscape I described was strangely devoid of people. As I’ve reread parts of the manuscript, I agree with him entirely. The genre of the tourist guide to historical sites has tended to emphasize landscapes (and especially the picturesque), historical sites, and a kind of distance between the reader (as individual) and the scene produced by the careful arrangement of objects. In fact, the presence of “locals” (see below) outside particular circumstances might detract from the integrity and authenticity of the historic landscape (and they were only included when they reinforced the picturesque historicity of the touristic experience). At the same time, industrial tourism tended to include more people, particularly workers; in fact, middle-class, industrial tourism relied upon the sympathetic viewing of workers by tourists to created an integrated world and to break down the distance between the “other” and tourist.

So, over the next few days, I plan to populate the tourist guide with anecdotes and individuals from our three years or research in the region.

3. Commemorative Landscapes. On Monday, I blogged about the commemorative landscape of the Bakken, and how the presence of various memorials served to produce a subtle landscape of resistance to the changes taking place across the region. My research on these landscapes has just begun so, right now, I don’t have enough, different examples to include one with every route, so I will pepper them through the book as a starting point on a larger project. 

4. Route 7. One of the goals of our most recent trip to the Bakken was to research the final route for the guide. This route runs from Watford City to Killdeer, departing the route from Watford City to New Town at Johnsons Corner where the guide’s route will head east and, then, south toward Killdeer and Dickinson through the Ft. Berthold reservation. This route has a bunch of historical sites which intellect in curious ways with the modern industrial history of the region. The culmination of this route will be the forest of stored drill rigs just north of Dickinson.

Here’s another photo, because it’s just that cool:

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5. Locals. Another critique of the manuscript from the series editor is my use of the term “local.” He suggested that the term could be read as part of a false dichotomy between local/newcomer with the implication being that the local was somehow in a superior position of authority, knowledge, understanding, or even entitlement. By using this term, I am reinforcing this division between longterm and short-term residents. Of course, identifying someone as a “local” could also locate their knowledge in a subordinate position to the knowledge of the tourist (or author!), and reinforce the idea that local knowledge is somehow inferior to “universal” knowledge. Finding an alternative to the term “local” throughout will be a good opportunity to think critically about how the guide treats the people of the Bakken. 

6. Locating and Theorizing. Right now the final section of the guide is basically a short academic article on the use of tourism and tourist guides as a way to view historic and archaeological landscapes. It interweaves recent developments in industrial archaeology, tourism studies, and critiques of landscapes into a justification for using this approach to understand, critique, and document the Bakken. It is written for an academic audience, but my series editor thinks that I should make this section more accessible to non-academic readers. I agree, more or less, considering the tone of the book, but I’m a bit terrified by the prospects of revising this section. I’ll take a stab at it and see how accessible I can make my work and leave it to discretion of the series editor and my peer reviewers to determine whether I’ve gone far enough to making this section more engaging and understandable. 

7. Prefacing. Finally, the book needs a preface that sets the readers expectation for the volume and helps the reader recognize how the volume is organized and argued. This should be a fun opportunity to articulate the myriad of small editorial decisions that I’ve made throughout and lead a tourist, historian, and reader through the book’s different registers. 

I only wish I had more time to spend with this project… but if I want it to appear before the memory of the heady days of the Bakken Boom have faded, I need to get it to the publisher now!

Abandonment and Commemoration in the North Dakota Bakken

I returned home late last night after a productive three days in the Bakken. Our trip had four goals. First and foremost, we wanted to continue to monitor the changes in our study sites. Next, I needed to collect just a bit more information on the area between Killdeer and Watford City for the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch. We presented some of our research at Capital Lodge in Tioga, North Dakota, and, finally, I wanted to begin to do some research on the memorial landscape of the oil patch. We managed to accomplish all these goals.

1. Study Sites. I reported in March that our study sites appeared to be holding steady despite the dire pronouncements of bust in the oil patch. This August, however, the signs of the downturn were visible in every RV park and man camp that we visited. It would appear that many of the mid-sized RV parks are down to around 60% occupancy despite summer being typically the busiest time of year. Rents at RV parks have come down slightly, and guarded optimism of both residents and managers has give way to talk of alternate plans and exit strategies.


The larger crew camps likewise seem empty. We stayed at a camp where we once had to book a room weeks in advance and navigate a packed dining room for a table. On this visit, our team was probably the only group staying in the camp. 


The most dramatic example of camp abandonment was the 500+ bed American Lodge outside of Watford City. The camp was closed and abandoned after the city cut its power and water. Subsequently, it appears that the camp had bilked investors out of over $60 million dollars in a kind of ponzi scheme. The size and obvious reality of the camp made it clear that project did not begin as a ponzi scheme, but succumbed, in part, to the declining need for workforce housing in general.

2. Man Camp Dialogues. Our man camp dialogues have come at a pivotal time in workforce housing in the Bakken, and our effort to hold one in a workforce housing site was pretty unsuccessful. The declining number of people living in temporary workforce housing sites has made our dialogues as much a historical reflection as a way to address ongoing concerns. 

For the first time in our experiences in the Bakken, a camp refused to allow us to document life at their facility. This camp had also turned down our request to host a man camp dialogue. The camp stands near Williston in Williams County, and recent ordinances appear designed to curtail the future of work force housing. So it seems likely that the owners or management of the camp felt any research on their facility was unlikely to benefit the camp in the short or medium term. 

3. Watford City to Killdeer. The Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch is very nearly complete and the manuscript is almost ready to go to the publisher for review. I took notes on the route from Watford City to Killdeer and Dickinson and this will allow me to include this meaningful diversion to the main course of the Tourist Guide. The forest of drill rigs sitting in storage at Dickinson forms a useful concluding scene to my guide’s itinerary.



In addition to the addition coverage of the guide, the editor in the series that has requested my manuscript suggested that I include a few more people in the guide, so I am going through the routes and making an effort to add some flesh-and-blood to the routes. 

4. Memorial Landscapes. I also plan to add something to the Tourist Guide on the memorial landscape of the Bakken. Through out the region, small, typically road-side memorials have appeared to mark the location of fatal accidents. While these are common throughout the US, they take on a particular poignancy in the Bakken where they often feature in critiques of the oil patch and the changes that they have brought to the local communities.


There are a few of these memorials that are well-maintained and prominent on the Bakken byways and I plan to include them in the Tourist Guide as well as a few of the lesser known memorials that dot the back roads of the region.


Archaeology of Home

As I’ve just arrived on Cyprus, I’m thinking about home. 

This last week, I had the pleasure of giving a short tour of our 19th century home to a group of graduate students in my colleague’s, Cindy Prescott, material culture seminar. I took a little time to prepare a list of things that I’d talk about when taking students through an actual house. 


Here’s the list:

1. Local History. One of the lovely things about our house is that it dates to the mid to late 1880s. The rail road comes to Grand Forks in 1887 connecting the community with the more settled and commercial east. As a result, our house has little of the prefabricated character of many homes in Grand Forks from the 1890s and early 20th century. As homeowners, of course, we pay the price since every window is a different size and the house lacks the charming, if ubiquitous catalogue woodwork of many more modest homes of a decade or two, but as historians we enjoy that our home likely dates to right around the arrival of the railroad to our community and the changes in local domesticated architecture associated with easy access to catalogues and prefabricated forms.

We also recognize that our house is on the southern edge of town when it was built. While we’re now comfortably surrounded by neighbors who built along the grid of streets established in the 1890s, the steeply pitched roof of our house and its unusual form sets it apart from the more common four-squares that surround us. 

2. Architectural Stratigraphy. There is only a little evidence for the architectural stratigraphy of our house because it underwent relatively few additions and modifications in its 120+ year history. This is a great challenge for students used to expecting dramatic changes in the form of houses and pushed them to notice subtle things gaps in the hardwood floors or how continuous siding  obscured the discontinuous construction of a small garage in the back of the house. In fact, we can argue that the garage has three clear phases: original garage, a small extension, which was then (maybe in the 1950s) covered with asbestos siding. 

3. Type Fossils. In archaeology we’re always looking for type fossils that can give us absolute-ish dates to the relative phases preserved in stratigraphy. In my house, we noticed an iron, in-grain, face-pinched, cut nail that provided a date for the only major edition to the house’s basic shape. These nails usually date to the late 19th century and probably date the edition to the first decade and a half of the home’s life and is probably contemporary with the arrival of indoor plumbing.

4. Social History. In America, houses are getting bigger and rooms are getting bigger. These facts obviously relate to the history of the home as a place for family relations. Our late 19th century home continues to show evidence of small rooms, for example, despite the decision in the 1950s to remove the wall between the front parlor and the formal dining room. These small rooms reflected the divisions between the space for formal display and places for domestic work. As that division broke down and social roles changes, spaces in the house changed and are clearly visible in the architecture. While our house will never have a “great room,” there was clearly an interest in creating a more open living space and less an interest in formal, functional divisions.

We also got excited to discover that the garage was extended, probably in the 1950s when cars got bigger, but not enough to accommodate the larger cars of the 1960s and 1970s. At some point in the 1970s an additional two car garage was built, and amusingly enough it has proven too small for my 10 year old pick ‘em up truck. So as houses have gotten bigger so have cars.

5. Excavations. All this has made me more and more interested in conducting a small scale excavation in my backyard. The house sits at the cusp of a number of developments historically in the southern part of downtown Grand Forks ranging from plumbing to construction practices. As I’ve said, the excavation will be remove the remains of a sand box from the backyard, but if I’m going to dig that out, I might as well go a bit deeper just to see if we can find any cultural deposits that shed light on the history of the house. 

Before we do that though, I want to go through the excavation reports from after the 1997 flood in Grand Forks. Apparently, there is a wealth of grey paper reports on excavations in Grand Forks. Without having seen them, I have this naive optimism that they could be the basis for a little article on the archaeology of a modern small town.

In Praise of Parking

Over the last few years, parking problems have plagued my home town of Grand Forks. The most recent uproar has focused on demolishing a blighted building and a few homes to provide additional parking for the local high school, but the problem with parking is larger than this one case. Any discussion of the new library is dominated by conversations about parking. So, over the weekend I sought to put parking in a historical and practical perspective in a letter to the editor. As per usual, my letter to the editor soon was too long to publish in the local paper, so I thought I might include it all here.

Having traveled extensively in the region and nationally, I can say with confidence that downtown Grand Forks is on the verge of what many call the “Yogi Bera Paradox” (or the Yogi Beradox for short): downtown is so crowded that nobody goes there any more. Just this last week, my wife and had to walk almost three blocks in the blustering spring wind to get to dinner at a local restaurant. By the time we arrived at our destination we looked like figures in Arthur Rothstein‘s famous dust bowl photographs. For a town looking to the future, we can do better.

Farmer walking in dust storm Cimarron County Oklahoma2A common sight in downtown Grand Forks.

I think its important to remember the important place of parking in our nation’s history. Parking lots represent part of the proud legacy of the Greatest Generation, won on the beaches of Normandy, the jungles of the South Pacific, and the crowded, dirty streets of Wartime Europe. When the proud veterans of WWII arrived back in the US, they refused to huddle in the crowded, depression era cities, but pushed out into vast underutilized farmland surrounding the decaying urban cores and boldly carved out new suburbs, strip malls, and office complexes with ample parking for all Americans who could afford it. For many, the tragedy of WWII and the absence of convenient parking in European cities were closely related phenomena, and these shaped the post-war American landscape.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Cold War was won in parking lots. While Soviet Russians literally shuffled through the bleak winter of communist rule with only rare opportunities to putter about in pathetic Lada crapwagons looking for parking outside shops with empty shelves, Americans owned the roads in state-of-the-art vehicles the proudly carried us from our attached garages to the parking lots of abundant suburban shops, sports stadia, and big box stores. Parking lots stood proudly at the center of our national consciousness. The Pentagon, for example, stood as much as monument for American freedom and national power as a monument for convenient parking and access. The Pentagon’s parking lots connected the center of the military-industrial complex to the sprawling suburbs of Northern Virginia that Andrew Friedman has termed America’s “covert capital.” It is hardly a surprise that the famous Vietnam Era protests at the Pentagon took place in the well-known “mall entrance” parking lot. During the Cold War, parking lots were quite literally the theater of both power and protest.

For those of us who came of age during the Cold War in suburban comfort, parking lots were places of wonder. Empty on weekends, parking lots easily became athletic fields for football and basketball and playground for our bikes and skateboarding exhibitions. The tension between the marginal locations of parking lots and their central utility made them places for teenagers and young adults to socialize in unstructured ways after school or on weekends. This traditional of tailgating in parking lots before the big game or before a major concert embraced the liminal status of the parking lot as a place where society could tolerate slight transgressions. Teenagers indulged in underage drinking, experimented with the ole wacky weed, and canoodled under the dim lights of parking lots across the US. Younger kids could only be fascinated by the archaeological remains left strewn about in the parking lots which became provenience for our collections of bottle caps, beer cans, crack vials, hypodermic needles, and loose change. As we became adults, parking lots offered a chance to display our victories in the contests of capitalism. The bigger, newer, fancier car, the best parking spot, and the overflowing trunk of gifts at the holiday season are hallmarks of the American experience.

Returning to Grand Forks, it is clear that the city must invest in downtown parking not just for convenience, but as a bulwark protecting the American way of life. I can easily identify several lots downtown which could serve this purpose. The blighted, empty lot at Demers and 4th street seems ripe for conversion to street level parking. Further east, the strange bandstand and stylized paddle wheel in the park at the corner of Demers and 3rd st. could also serve as street level parking when not in use for other events. The bizarre and tragic little “Cream of Wheat” park with its dilapidated clock and neglected landscaping could also become urban parking and combined with the blighted lot to its southeast. Without much effort a collection of parking lots developed from blighted, neglected, or underutilized areas of downtown could quickly be arranged to serve as a core of an interconnected parking network serving the entire community and setting the central business district apart from outlying residential areas.

Parking in Grand ForksA quick glance at a Google Earth map reveals a half-dozen under-utilized and blighted spaces for parking in Grand Forks.

A more ambitious city administration could recognize that the words “park” and “parking” share a similar root and have a special place within the history of urban development. I can imagine an interconnected network of parking lots would forming a “parking belt” around the city that represents an updating of the venerable, but outmoded “green belts” of early modern cities. Prior to the widespread adoption of motor cars, European cities frequently had “green belts” surrounding their urban core. Some have observed that these “green belts” have roots in Biblical town plans: “the Lord said to Moses, ‘Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns. … The pasturelands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend out fifteen hundred feet from the town wall.’” (Numbers 25:1-2, 4). In more modern times, such belts served both practical and ideological purposes. They functioned to protect housing values in the city by limiting sprawl, to provide places for recreation, and to control the flow of traffic into and out of the urban core. In the 21st century city, this parking belt would provide practical access to parking for visitors to downtown, it would allow for more ambitious and higher density development of the urban core, and it would provide places for American capitalist expression and unstructured recreation. Moreover, in an era where American cities are under constant threat of terrorist attacks, the parking belt could also serve as a place for first responders to gather in the event of attack as well as a defensive cordon around the city. 

Grand Forks would do well to consider God’s command to Moses in their contemporary planning, the practical necessity for parking in a 21st century context, as well as the historical role that parking has played in making this country great. The construction of a continuous “parking belt” around Grand Forks would almost certainly become a source of pride for the community and an opportunity to embrace the important role that parking has played in making us Americans.

Lessons from a Sabbatiquoll

Despite my effort to keep a balanced perspective on sabbatiquoll, I slowly but surely lost my mind as the end of the my year of freedom, rest, and recovery approaches.

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So, I’ve learned five lessons and these largely echo the lessons that I learned (and tried to avoid) last time I took a year of leave. I guess I’m incapable of learning.

1. Time, time, time. Over the last 80 days, I diligently used Nick Feltron‘s Reporter app on my mobile phone to document what I did with my days. Reporter asked me approximately 4 times a day (a mode of 5) what I was doing. I would then answer a simple survey that would provide data for analysis.

The most simple question it asks is whether I’m working or not. I answered yes 64% of the time. Since I generally was awake at least 14 hours a day (conservatively), I reckon I was working about 8 hours a day, maybe a bit more. That means that I worked around 60 hours per week. 

2. Write, write, write. Of that 60 hours per week, I wrote about 65% of the time. I spent the rest of the time editing, reading, and in meetings which all account for over 5% of my work time. In hindsight, I probably spent too much time writing and not enough time reading (6.6% of my working time) especially as I look at a stack of unread books for the summer field season, but it was a conscious decision to get as much writing done as possible and load up my folders full of written text for the long, dark time between the end of this sabbatical and the next. 

3. Alone, so alone. I was alone 60% of the time this year, and 32% of the time I was with my wife. That leaves 8% of my time with other people. While I’m not particularly bothered by being alone, I did come to find it a bit oppressive. I suspect the main reason that I was alone so often is that I rarely left the house. I spent 80% of my time in my house and 37% of that time in my home office (29% downstairs in our family room and 12% in the kitchen or workout room). This coincides well with my leisure time activities. 34% of my leisure time was spent eating or drinking primarily in the evening in the kitchen and another 30% of my leisure was spent watching television. 16% of my time was spent on walks either in the workout room on the treadmill or with the mighty Milo-dog. I counted time with Milo as being alone.

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4. Preloading my next two years. I promised myself that I would get things done over sabbatical, but I did not promise that I’d finish things. I was really hard to move a number of projects along without wrapping any of them up (well, except this one). I think I succeeded in keeping my eyes on my next couple of years when I’ll return to teaching full time (or at least university life full time!), and setting up a slate of projects that I can finish while occupied by other responsibilities. 

a. Learning Layout. I spent a good bit time over sabbatical learning how to layout books using Adobe InDesign. I was able to work on some manuscripts without interruption and learn techniques to streamline the production of books. This will allow me to keep my little press moving forward next year. 

b. Digital and Analogue for PKAP. I made steady progress working on preparing a digital copy of PKAP I and am working on getting support from ASOR. We also made a good start on finishing the work with PKAP II. We will need to do some data normalizing over the next 6 months and some editing and revising on the manuscript, but much of it is complete. 

c. Man Camp Projects. Several significant parts of the North Dakota Man Camp Project have moved forward including an edited volume with Kyle Conway, a book proposal for the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, a roughed out edited version of our interviews (Voices of the Bakken), some outreach, and an almost completed manuscript for submission to Historical Archaeology (or someplace similar). All of these projects will require attention in the fall, but most of them have significant momentum.

d. Polis-Chrysochous. Unfortunately, my work at Polis-Chrysochous became the awkward step-child of my scholarly attention. I did not move it forward as much as I would have liked this year, but I did get some preliminary commitments to publishing both the notebook data and the finds data in digital forms. Plus, we have a manuscript for an article that is in pretty decent shape (I think) and will help us guide our 3-week summer study season and will set up some work for next year.

5. Service. As an academic, I tend to be pretty self-involved. My projects trump almost everything else in terms of setting priorities and absorbing energy. Over sabbatical, however, I allowed myself a bit more mission creep. I committed myself to several new, and hopefully productive, service projects that range from stepping up my commitment to institutions that mean something to my various communities – like the American Schools of Oriental Research and the North Dakota Humanities Council – and taking on some new responsibilities with North Dakota Quarterly and (pending a vote) the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute. A colleague of mine here at the University of North Dakota and I discussed how rewarding it has been to work within our scholarly communities in ways that advanced the work of others as well as our own. I took that conversation to heart and want to continue to seek out opportunities to build communities with shared academic interests and goals.

Weeks of Wonder

If you’re a big Bill Caraher fan (and if you read this blog then I’m assuming that you find me vaguely amusing or, at very least, share some of my interests), then there is plenty to keep you entertained this week.

Tomorrow, as you probably know, is the 7th annual Cyprus Research Fund lecture. It’ll feature Andrew Reinhard, Raiford Guins, Richard Rothaus, and Bret Weber and we’ll talk about the excavation of Atari games in Alamogordo, New Mexico last year, have a viewing of the documentary Atari: Game Over, and discuss the archaeology of the contemporary western United States more broadly. Festivities start at 3:30 with some vintage Atari games set up to be played. To get an idea of the kind of thing that’ll likely come up check out Andrew’s blog, Raiford’s blog (especially note his time spent as a research fellow at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester!), and Richard’s blog.

If you can’t make it to the event, do not fear! You can watch the documentary for free here (or get it on The Netflix) and then watch our round table event starting around 5 pm for free on our live stream here.

For a preview of our discussions check out the most recent Caraheard podcasts here.

If you can’t make the Cyprus Research Fund lecture, maybe you can hang out with some of the North Dakota Man Camp Project in Ellendale next weekend?

The great folks with the Man Camp Dialogues, The Institute for Heritage Renewal, and The Ellendale Historic Opera House, and the North Dakota Humanities Council sponsored our event on Friday. If the last opportunity to present our work in a free-flowing dialogue is any indication, this will be a rewarding evening for everyone involved.

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If you’re not that into the archaeology of the contemporary world and aren’t based in North Dakota (which I suppose is possible), you can check out a different version of my dog-and-pony show at the Mary Jaharis Center at the Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, Massachusetts on April 18th where I will attend their annual Graduate Student Conference on Byzantine Studies and participate on a panel with some real luminaries in our field to discuss Byzantium in the Public Sphere. I’ve already blogged a bit about this last week.

So, if I’m a bit scarce on the ole blog here for the next couple days, I hope you’ll understand!