The Bakken and the Body

Our panel last week at the Northern Great Plains History Conference was really exciting. The four papers presented in our panel, titled “Boom Goes the Bakken,” each explored a different aspect of ongoing research in the history of the state and western North Dakota. The papers by Nikki Burg Burin, Richard Rothaus, and Bret Weber opened up some new lines of thinking for me and will contribute to a new project that’s been gnawing at the back of my head for several months now. Go here for the panel’s line up and here for a draft of my paper.

Nikki’s and Richard’s paper, in particular, got me thinking about the body in the Bakken. Nikki’s paper continued her important work on human trafficking in North Dakota and how women’s bodies came under different legal definitions over the course of North Dakota legal history. The most significant changes in these laws recognized trafficked individuals as victims even if they engaged in activities such as sex work prohibited by existing statutes. While Berg Burin stressed that there is still significant work to do to protect women who turned to sex work out of economic desperation, immigration status, or as a result of childhood or adult trauma, it was also clear that attitudes toward the female body in North Dakota had undergone significant change over the 100 year history of the state. Moreover, recent changes in the law hint at more subtle understanding in agency when it comes to exploited women that recognized the limits of bodily control even in cases when both the victims and the crime have a profoundly physical and bodily aspect.

Rothaus’s paper likewise focuses on the individual and the body in his discussion of a series of grizzly murders in Williams and McKenzie counties in the early 20th century. The crimes were all committed by “outsiders” who came to the area as itinerate laborers on local farms during the the rapid growth of settlement across the western part of the state. In two of his case studies, the murderers themselves were murdered by mobs of men who pulled them from their jail cells when their convictions seemed less than assured and took justice into their own hands (in the other case the murderer committed suicide). Like in Nikki’s paper, the bodies, quite literally, became the nexus for the definition of community as alienated outsiders both committed and received physical violence that confirmed their outsider status.

Bret Weber’s paper was a bit more sweeping and engaged Guy Standing’s idea of the “precariat” to understand the Bakken in the broader context of neoliberal employment trends around the world. At the same time, his understanding of the the Bakken precariat is grounded in individual stories drawn from his hours of interviews. While he did not articulate the experience of being precarious in strict bodily terms, his commitment to the individual ensured that the risks, opportunities, and experiences of the Bakken were not generalized into a state of anonymity.

Finally, my paper, completely missed the boat in an explicit way (I felt like I had been invited to a costume party but showed up in khakis and an Oxford shirt!), but I think that my emphasis on the experience of modernity through tourism and movement in the Bakken demonstrated more than a passing interest in the impact of this space on bodies. 

My point with this overview of recent work in Bakken research is that we have become increasingly drawn to the individual as the locus for the experience of the Bakken oil boom. In fact, the panel last week got me thinking about the character of Bakken bodies exposed to the pressures, vagaries, dangers, and sensations of global capital in a distinct (but not unique) way.

I have this fantasy project where I explore the history of the Bakken boom using the kind of deep mapping techniques that guys like William Least Heat-Moon used for his book PrairyErth. The project would start with the large-scale historical, economic, and cultural impact of global petroculture and end with the analysis of a singe (or a small group) of individual bodies in the Bakken with intermediate steps considering the intersection of petroculture with national politics, the economy and culture of the state, and the Bakken landscape. The papers on Thursday was the first time that I became attuned to the idea of Bakken bodies in a way that made it appear as the natural conclusion for my proposed project.

Math Labs and Jotted Scribblings

The ground floor of O’Kelly Hall on the lovely campus of the University of North Dakota is getting a well deserved upgrade. For those unfamiliar with this building, it was originally built as the medical sciences building as part of the medical school on campus (and to this day the west entrance to the building is inscribed with the words “Science Building”). It’s one of the Wells and Denbrook buildings on campus (for a nice survey of Wells and Denbrook’s contribution to North Dakota architecture, check this out) and shares the ambivalent (and perhaps even ironic) modernity of contemporary College Gothic design. The western part of the building dates to 1947 and the eastern part to a half-decade later.

The second floor of the building is where the department of history currently lives, and the ground floor  houses, among other things, the university’s relatively new Scale-Up classroom and the brand new “Meth” (actually Math) Lab. The space around these rooms is still being tidied up after some much-needed upgrades the building. Amid the almost-finished student study spaces and standing less than 20 feet from the Math Lab door is an unfinished cement pillar scrawled with measurements and arithmetic performed by workers remodeling the building. When the refit is completed the math on the cement pillar will be covered, but, for now, it provides a little practical motivation for students trudging toward the math lab each day.

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This is probably some kind of metaphor for higher education these days. Or maybe neoliberalism. Or something. It might be ironic.

Final Draft: The Bakken Gaze

Last week, I posted a serialized (actually in process) version of my paper, “The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of an Industrial Landscape,” for the Northern Great Plains History Conference. On Friday, I tightened it up some and cut some words (although it’s probably still too long). 

The paper explains my interest in using tourism as lens to understand the Bakken oil patch and is written to support the release of a book that Bret Weber and I co-authored titled, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape and published by NDSU Press this month (!). You can preorder the book now.

Or, better still, you can read, download, or comment on the paper via the Hypothes.is plug in here. Or you can join us at the Northern Great Plains History conference on Thursday from 2-4 at the Ramada Inn in beautiful Grand Forks, North Dakota!

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The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of the Industrial Landscape (Part 3)

Here’s the final installment of my paper for the Northern Great Plains History Conference next week here in Grand Forks. 

As I wrote about on Monday, I had hoped to make this paper paper more accessible and more breezy and personable, but by about word 1500, it had turned into the typical academic trudge. (I did manage to avoid using the word Foucauldian until 1600 words in!). Here are links to part 1 and part 2

That being said, I think it is probably the best thing I’ve managed to articulate on book, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (2017). You can preorder the book now.  

I’ll post a more complete and ideally more polished version of the paper in a few days!

“The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of the Industrial Landscape” (part 3)

To return to the Bakken. It is simple – and superficial – enough to note that the Bakken and tourism relied on the same fossil fuel revolution that powered westward expansion in the United States, the growth of the middle class (and a persistent cycle of capital deepening) and the rise of tourism as mode to recognize the totalizing discourse of industrial modernity. More importantly, I think, is that tourism embodies this tension between the convenient familiarity of the modern world and the quest for authenticity. The rutted routes of the oil patch are literally inscribed with the movements central to a historic Bakken taskscape that has all but eliminated the possibility of being local. The stunning night vistas offered by flaring natural gas from a hotel parking lot in Watford City are in some ways indistinguishable from the well-known satellite photo that shows the Bakken aglow with light from flares and electrical lights. 

The term “the Bakken” further demonstrates how modernity has coopted the very authenticity that its absence was though to produce. While I have used the Bakken as shorthand for a part of the 200,000 sq. mile oil patch in western North Dakota, eastern Montana and southern Saskatchewan, the name derives from the North Dakota farmer Henry Bakken and, in fact, refers to a relatively thin layer of oil bearing rock some 3 miles below the surface of the ground. As another well-known image demonstrated, Bakken wells if extended above ground would produce a skyline that would put Manhattan to shame. Last year’s controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline further reveals how even the physically occluded Bakken taskscape stands prominent in our modern awareness of that place, perhaps, leaving only the Native American landscapes as a window into an authentic North Dakota past. 

In a sense, then, a tourist guide is not some kind of cypher that reveals hidden meaning to the educated visitor to the Bakken, but an effort to understand the complexities of the modern world. In this way, I think that the tourist guide offers “an archaeology” in a Foucauldian sense of describing the physical discourse of petroculture in the Bakken taskscape. The man camps, convenience stores, small-town mainstreets, rail yards, tank farms, drill and workover rigs, roadside memorials, boot cleaners, pallets fences, frank tanks, bobbing sucker rod pumps, and salt water wells are not foreign to our modern world, but part of its fabric. Oil production and the habits formed by its consumption is the modern world, and ss my editor noted when our book was still in draft, there are no locals in the modern world, only tourists. 

Writing Wednesday: The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of the Industrial Landscape

I’m continuing to work on my paper for next week’s Northern Great Plains History Conference. I started the paper with a little introduction on Monday, and here’s the second part of it.

With any luck, I can get this wrapped up over the weekend… stay tuned:

“The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of the Industrial Landscape” (part 2)

This is bring us to tourists and tourism. The same processes that opened Western North Dakota to white, European settlement, also created the modern tourist. The industrial revolution, propelled by the increased use of fossil fuels, transformed the economic landscape of Britain and the U.S. by producing a growing and prosperous middle class. The middle class increasingly committed their surplus capital to enjoying the industrial improvements in transportation via rail and steamship and This produced a growing sense of cosmopolitanism among the middle-class and introduced a world where – to use David Harvey’s observation – the speed of travel and production increasingly compressed space. For the modern tourist, the world was becoming both smaller and more familiar.

The tourist guide became a vital traveling companion for the modern tourist. It organized the chaotic world outside the train station or port into well-defined sites and experiences. Along with the tourist guide came hotels, resorts, and conveniences designed to offer a safe and controlled vantage point for the tourist to survey the world. The railroad brought late 19th and early 20th century tourists to the American west where they could experience nature from the comfort of well-appointed cabins or chalet style hotels that sprung up around the newly-designed national parks. As our contemporary world continues to shrink, we encounter the experience of industrial travel in the familiarity of the modern airport which represents the quintessential example of Marc Auge’s concept of non-places. These liminal, interstitial spaces designed to facility familiar movement is likewise expressed in the landscape of the modern suburb which is defined by its connectivity and convenience. Connected to the urban core by a tangle of highways, dotted with tidy mass transit stops, and replete with anonymous sounding subdivisions, strip malls, and manicured lawns, the experience of suburban life is eliminates the need for localness in the name of familiar convenience. 

At the same time, even the most modern tourist continues to crave the experience of authenticity even if it remains neatly bounded by familiar conveniences. In fact, this tension between convenience and authenticity defined the modernizing character of the tourists’ gaze and affirmed the cosmopolitan position of the tourist and the superiority of the modern world. In the 20th century world, the experience of authenticity might be as limited as a conveniently choreographed luau on the carefully maintained lawn of a Hawaiian resort or as adventurous as a night in a well-prepared Berber tent in the Moroccan desert. The tourist might also find authenticity in their encounters below the surface of their own modern life. World Fairs, for example, represented the quintessential tourist destination of the modern world, allowed the casual visitor a glimpse into the workings of the industrial age through exhibitions for modern manufacturing and technologies. 

Industrial tourism exposed the tourist to authenticity by revealing the hidden mechanisms through which the modern world functioned. The wonders of technology presented at world fairs became a staple of tours of manufacturing facilities and plants as well as monumental industrial installations like the Hoover Dam. In the late-20th century, the rise in ecotourism or even poorism which leads the environmentally conscious or “ethically woke” tourists to experience authentic nature or human experiences ostensibly foreign from their own. As numerous critics have pointed out, the quest for authenticity in the modern world makes for some bizarre ethical compromises.

To return to our tourist guide to the Bakken… 

Localness and Tourism in the Bakken Oil Patch

This weekend, I started getting some ideas on paper for a conference paper that I’ll be delivering next month at the Northern Great Plains History Conference on a panel on the Bakken. My paper is part of my ongoing efforts to adapt my research on the Bakken to the larger discussion of global petroculture. Despite the fact that my book with Bret Weber is due out in less than a month, I’m still struggling to argue that tourism represents a useful way for understanding the economy of extractive industries (and perhaps late capitalism in general) in the 21st century. 

At the same time, I’m trying to make my writing style – especially for conference papers – a bit more accessible and maybe even personal. A long time ago, when I started this blog, I really wanted to work on writing in a more conversational way, but over the past decade (!!) the pressure to write for academic publication has slowly wrung any life from the turgid prose that regularly appears on this blog.

[That all being said, and after reflecting on Gary Hall’s Uberfication of the University, maybe there is something to be said for the scientistical and relatively anonymous character of academic prose which forms a barrier between the reader and the individual writer and protects a kind of professionalism in an era where personal brands are taking on growing influence.]

In any case, here’s the start of my paper for the October 5th conference:

“The Bakken Gaze: Tourism, Petroculture, and Modern Views of the Industrial Landscape”

My paper today is part advertisement and part confession. The advertisement is for my soon-to-be-published book, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape, by my friends at North Dakota State University Press.

The confession is a bit more involved, but it involves my efforts to locate my research as the co-PI on the North Dakota Man Camp Project with larger trends in petroculture.

I started writing The Bakken during a little break during my sabbatical year on my blog, as a way to think critically but also playfully about my regular trips to the Bakken from 2012 to 2016. I wanted to find a way to describe they dynamism of the Bakken while taking into account my interest in landscapes, settlement, and the role of the modernity in shaping our world. At the same time, I was working on too many other things and lacked sufficient discipline to produce a sustained, book-length argue, so I wanted to have some ready-made structure for my ideas. To that end, I adopted the from of the traditional tourist guide which offered itineraries for the curious traveler. It gave me a structure into which I could compose my observations.

As I worked on this project more, my thought became increasingly influenced by the anthropologist, Tim Ingold’s idea of taskscapes. Taskscapes are landscapes shaped by repetitive actions that range from the long term indications of intensive agricultural work to the ephemeral paths in the snow linking university buildings in the winter or the momentary bustle of cars and students at the end of a school day. As I poured over my notes and photographs and then visited the Bakken with various drafts of the guide in hand, I became increasingly attuned to the movements associated with the oil industry as well as our movements as we visited workforce housing sites throughout the region. I came to recognize the parallels between our movement in the landscape as we stayed in mancamps, stopped at truck stops and convenience stores and crisscrossed the dirt roads that provide access to wells, drill rigs, pipelines, rail sidings and other work sites in the region. While I’m not particularly inclined to compare our work to closely to that of people working in the Bakken, we nevertheless encounter a taskscape with similar features.

The final bit of focus came from a comment that the series editor, Tom Isern, made on an early draft of our work. He recommended that we avoid using the word “local” to describe longterm residents of the Bakken. This was, in some ways, the final piece of the puzzle for me as it pushed me to think about the nature of localness in the Bakken. As a scholar who regularly studies communities and landscapes associated with the pre-modern world (particularly Greek and Roman antiquity), I associated localness with having a sense of place in the landscape. For me, intense familiarity conferred a kind of intimacy that made space into place and connected a community or an individual to a particular landscape. The sense of place is key to being local.

Critics of the modern world have questioned whether this kind of place-making is still possible. The most famous expression of this is Marc Auge’s concept of non-places. Auge argued that non-places were characteristic of super-modernity. They are uniform, generic, independent of the particularities of culture or geography, and limit in substantial ways the development of an “organic social life.” While these may seem deeply negative traits of the modern world (and, indeed, Auge saw them as such), they are also some of the very features that allow diverse communities and groups to integrate. My use of the word “local” to describe long-time residents of the Bakken effectively separated these people from the modern world of oil boom. I located them in place, whereas the rest of the landscape that our book described was anchored in the time of taskscape.

The shift from space – that is localness – as a defining feature of communities in the Bakken to the more universal measure of time reflects a long-standing desire for communities to be modern. (A cynic might even go so far to suggest that the presence of indigenous communities in the region with identities deeply connected to a particular spatial context (as is evident in the meaning of the word indigenous) offered a racial motivation for avoiding the term “local.”) In a world that is increasingly emphasizing the global, being local is a liability.

More to the point, the long-term white, European communities in the Bakken are, to some extent, the product of the same forces that created the most recent oil boom. In the late-19th century, coal powered trains opened the prairie to organized settlements and town popped up (and disappeared) across a neatly organized grid. The names of towns preserve not some archaic sense of place, but the names of railroad magnates and promoters. The difference between the residents of these towns and the new arrival to work in the Bakken boom is primarily temporal. Both groups were depended upon fossil fuels, produced for markets distant from the region, and experienced the contingencies of the global economy, and both groups inscribed the landscape with marks of modernity. By eliminating the term “local” from our guide to the Bakken, we conflated the experience of long-term residents with folks who came to the Bakken in the most recent boom.

This is bring us to tourists and tourism…

Book by its Cover: The Bakken: An Archaeology of An Industrial Landscsape

Book are born from the inside out. First the content, then the design, finally the front matter and index, and finally the cover.

Bret Weber and I are pretty excited to see that the cover for our book The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape is ready. It features a stunning Andy Cullen photograph that wrap around the book and really clever design ensuring that text on the back of the book is neither cramped nor overlaps with the crucial elements in the photo. 

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The distressed, sans serif font, in all caps , reading The Bakken, hints at the gritty content of the book, while also demonstrating that the topic is modern. It complements the sans serif subtitle nicely and the lines that follow the subtitle provide some balance to the cover without being too “design-y.”

I’m not as jazzed about the author photos on the back of the book, in large part because I’m not sure that the appearance of the authors adds much visual interest or any sort of authority too the book. In fact, we both look a bit too much like university professors and this likely to undermine the impact of the book among certain audiences. 

Finally, I’m super excited to see the price of $19.95! There’s hardly any reason not to buy it!

Thank you to the fine folks at NDSU Press who have made this happen. As I’ve learned from my brief time as a publisher. So much work takes place “behind the scenes” in publishing and our current system of production tends to obscure or partition this from the view of the author and reader.  

Page Proofs for The Bakken

Working as both a publisher and an author has given me certain insights into the tricky final stage of the publication process: page proofs. Ideally, as a publisher, page proofs are a chance to catch little niggling problems that crept into the typeset publication during layout. In reality, as both a publisher and an author, page proofs are where any issue that slipped through the editing process leap from the page in high relief. The line between “minor edits” and “totally rewriting the entire damn article” at the page proof stage is much finer than the one might expect.

Bret Weber and I spent this weekend going through the page proofs of The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape which is due to be published in October. There are not a few things that I noticed from the typeset text:

1. Grammar. One of the biggest challenges with this book was trying to write in a somewhat more accessible style. While the excellent copy editing offered by the NDSU Press caught most of the grammatical errors, there are always a few that slip through (and readers of this blog know that my grasp of grammar at a practical level is tenuous at best). My favorite errors at the page proof stage were the use of “seep” and “disembark” as transitive verbs as in “a pipeline seeped oil” and “the train disembarked the passengers.” Fortunately, these were easy problems to fix.

2. Style. The biggest issue that became visible at the page proof stage was the infelicities in my style. I do three things so consistently that I need to make a little note and keep it next to my laptop. First, I use the same word over and over and over in a way that would make a boxing commentator blush. This “appeared” in page proofs and was a relatively easy fix. Second, I need to vary sentence structure more consistently. I have a tendency to being sentences with introductory participial phrases, noun clauses, or phrases using the word “while”: while this, then that. This is more challenging thing to wring out of a text at a late stage of the editing process. Finally, as one of the earlier readers of this text pointed out, I use too many adverbs (and when I’m in the zone, I use the same adverb multiple times in a paragraph and, in at least one instance, used an adverb in both a participial phrase and with the main verb in the sentence. Adverbs are easy to cut.

3. Place, Space, and Time. When we were writing the guide, we tried to do three things. First, introduce readers to the Bakken landscape. Then try to trace the history of various places in the Bakken, from the vanished town of Temple, ND that served as an important entrepôt for oil during the first boom in the 1950s to the largest volume Cinnabon store in the U.S. at the start of this decade. Finally, we try to engage the temporal aspects of contemporary Bakken boom. The idea of contemporaneity, in fact, doesn’t really apply to the Bakken at present because the landscapes is in constant flux especially (and perhaps because of) both the rapid expansion and equally rapid the downturn in oil prices and the slowing of drilling and fracking activity in the region. 

The question that kept running through my head while reading our book is whether we captured this dynamism in a recognizable way? Did our use of verb tenses consistently distinguish between things that are visible and those that are no longer visible? 

As I worked through the final copy of this work, it struck my just how complicated this project could be and how relatively naive we were in our effort to use the tourist guide as a genre to capture modernity in the Bakken. At the same time, re-reading the work energized me to continue to develop this approach to understanding the Bakken landscape and recognizing the problems present in the page proofs – grammatical, stylistic, and otherwise – will hopefully contribute to what I’m doing as a writer and a historian.

Acknowledging the Help with the Bakken Guide

I got page proofs this week for my book with Bret Weber: The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape which will be out this fall from NDSU Press

We have an excellent cover, thanks to the designers at NDSU and Andy Cullen’s photograph:

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We also had the immense pleasure of writing our acknowledgements for the book. It is one of the most fun things to do at the end of a book writing process because it acknowledges all the other folks who contributed to making a book possible.

So here’s our thanks (and look for it in the book which will be out in about a month):

This book received generous support from various grant programs at the University of North Dakota and in the Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Social Work in the College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines. These included a collaborative research grant that funded our first trips to the Bakken, an Arts and Humanities grant that funded subsequent processing of data, and support from the Cyprus Research Fund in the Department of History.

We benefited from innumerable conversations with our collaborators, especially Richard Rothaus and Kostis Kourelis whose thoughts shaped much of this work. Carenlee Barkdull, Aaron Barth, Sebastian Braun, Bob Caulkins, Julia Geigle, and Ann Reed shared their perspectives and time in the Bakken. John Holmgren, Kyle Cassidy, Ryan Stander, and Andrew Cullen, whose photographs enliven this book, sharpened our view of the landscape and people through their keen photographic eye. Jim Mochoruk, Cindy Prescott, Thomasine Heitkamp, Nikki Berg Burin, Kyle Conway, Clarence Herz, and Chad Ziemendorf also brought significant insights to our work. Tom Isern and the anonymous peer reviewers saved us from numerous errors of fact and analysis and contributed to the depth and breadth of this guide. The workers, residents, friends, and strangers who welcomed our exploration and inscribed the Bakken landscape through their lives and work deserve pride of place in this book.

Needless to say, all existing errors in this work are our own.

Bottle and Privies in North Dakota: An Indigenous Archaeology

My Friday afternoon house cleaning was interrupted last week by a knock on my door. A 20-something guy in a sleeveless t-shirt and jeans asked if I was an archaeologist and if I would look at a couple of artifacts that he had purchased. I’m a curious guy, so of course I wanted to see the artifacts (and the last few times people have asked me to identify interesting artifact, they’ve ended up being pretty weird things and that’s even more fun). I’ve found that North Dakotans, in general, have an interest in archaeology and history 

Needless to say, I couldn’t identify objects that he had acquired, but as we talked, he explained to me that he made a living excavating 19th and 20th privies and selling and trading the bottles that he finds in them. He explained that he had excavated over 500 privies in his career, how he found them, and that he did so with permission of property owners. 

My gut reaction was the same as any archaeologist might have: “ugh, please don’t do that.” Instead, I asked him frankly whether me telling him to stop would cause him to stop. He said “no.” At that point, I felt like we could have a more open conversation about his methods, practices, and goals. I’m assuming, for the most part, that he was being honest with me about his approach to finding privies and that his reasons for excavating them. 

1. Passion for Bottles. He explained that his real motivation to dig up privies was not to make himself rich on excavated artifacts, but because he just really liked bottles. This wasn’t some kind of naive passion either. He clearly understood the history and typologies of glass bottle making in the region and could identify, date, and link bottles to particular places of manufacture and circulation.

2. Methods. His approach to finding privies was remarkably sophisticated. I let him prospect in the backyard of my late-19th house. He used a home made spring-steel probe with a hollow handle and started with depressions in the backyard working outward from an axis formed by the backdoor of the house. As he worked the backyard with his probe, he described the various sounds that the probe made as it passed through subsurface levels identifying some the grinding noise as “stove ash” and unsuccessfully searching for a lightly compacted area that would be the house’s outhouse. 

He also described successful efforts at using the old plat books for towns and then going to the now abandoned townsites and mapping in the individual lots on the ground. Then, it would be possible to find the location of the houses and their privies for excavation. This is a genuinely sophisticated and thoughtful approach to mapping a site prior to excavation.

Finally, he has started to take GPS points for each of his privy sites over the past year or so, mapping in over 100 privies that he’s excavated in the Red River valley and he can, in many cases, connect bottles to particular sites.  

3. Excavation. It is clear that his excavation practices are not stratigraphic, but this isn’t to say that he didn’t make careful observations about the formation processes that created privy shafts and their deposits. For example, he understood that privies were sometimes cleaned out leaving layers of earlier material on the bottom. And he recognized the different shapes of privy pits and the levels of backfilling and post-abandonment activities that formed a cap on the privy,

In short, his understanding of stratigraphy and formation processes demonstrated that he wasn’t just digging holes looking for artifacts, but recognized how artifacts made their way into deposits and how artifacts served to date individual depositional events.

4. Publishing. We talked a good bit about his collection of bottles from the Red River valley in eastern North Dakota and his desire to make his collection better known. While one could assign questionable motives here – a desire to improve the value of his collection or to gain renown or whatever, our conversation demonstrated a certain earnestness. He wanted to publish his collection because he understood its value, and he recognized its value because as a collector and a kind of archaeologists, he noticed a gap in the academic tradition that he used to identify and date his finds. Publishing his work is a way to make what he does useful and to preserve his work for future generations.

 

While I don’t condone his methods, I found his approach to his passion fascinating and I was impressed with how developed his methods and practices were. His work demonstrated a deep familiarity with a very limited kind of archaeological context and gave me renewed appreciation for the wide range of indigenous archaeological practices in use. My hope is to encourage him to give his records over to an archive, to publish what he knows, and to think about how to make his collection serve the public good. We’ll see how far I get!