Proposals for New Grant Programs

I spent part of yesterday morning contributing to an email discussion of digital humanities and virtual reality with the good folks at the North Dakota Humanities Council. This was both fun and productive. One result of these conversations is that I was encouraged to propose some new grant initiatives to the NDHC. These are just proposals, but I wanted to think out loud here on the bloggie-blog to gets some feedback from as wide an audience as possible. As with any grants, the outcomes are only as good as the program will allow. Poorly articulated grant programs produce poor projects.

The first of two new programs that I’d propose would be called Digital North Dakota Grants. These grants have three goals:

1. Extending the Reach: The state of North Dakota has long suffered a diaspora of sorts as people with strong North Dakota ties have moved elsewhere for a better climate, more opportunities, and a different life. These individuals often retain a strong sense of connection to the state and its communities. The energy and remittances from this diaspora community has had an impact on life here in the state. The Digital North Dakota Grants would be a way to engage the North Dakota diaspora in the vibrant, local humanities scene.

More importantly, perhaps for the NDHC is that these folks have resources, and as the NDHC has turned its attention toward development to ensure that our programs can weather upheavals in federal funding, we need to expand the impact and reach of the NDHC to the diaspora who have typically remained active in state initiatives.

The population of the state has historically trended older, but recent trends have shown that the state is, in fact, getting younger and the media age of ND residents is now below the national average. Our younger constituency typically lacks the financial resources of the North Dakota diaspora, but should nevertheless be a target audience for humanities programing. Digital North Dakota grants would help bring a generation of citizens more familiar with digitally mediated discussions into the conversation.

2. Celebrating the Local. The National Endowment for the Humanities initiated its Office of Digital Humanities in 2011. This office has funded a wide range of grants that they recognized as having national and international impacts. They have been somewhat less interested in digital projects that have local impacts or reflect the more focused priorities of local communities. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Red River flood or the 50th anniversary of the publication of Elwyn Robinson’s influential History of North Dakota, we encounter local events that speak directly to history of the region, the state, and our communities. Funding to support digitally mediated projects that engage these events (as examples) is unlikely to come from a federal sources (and even if it does, the NDHC brand should be associated with work to preserve, celebrate, and reflect on these memorable events).

3. Preserving the Conversation. The NDHC is remarkable in its ability to stimulate conversations. All too often, however, these conversations, discussion, and engagement are ephemeral. Digitally mediated conversations offer a way not only to expand the conversation but also to preserve it allowing future generations of North Dakotans to reflect on how certain events or encounters transformed their ways of thinking or even their communities. For example, the recent tumult over the new University of North Dakota nickname provides a fascinating perspective into the relationship between UND stakeholders and Native communities, ideas of North Dakota identity, and the politics of race in the state. Creating a digital application where members of the community can contribute their reactions to this process, while it remains energized by emotions, polemic, and conversation, presents an exciting way to document and capture the local history of the state at a particular moment in time.

With these goals in mind, my proposed grant would encourage applications that (1) extend the reach of traditional humanities programming, (2) focus on local concerns, issues, collections, and conversations, and (3) feature robust data management plans to ensure that both the program and conversations are preserved. Successful proposals must stimulate discussion, focus on local groups or communities, and encourage and preserve dynamic and thought provoking engagement with the humanities. Purely archival or access based initiatives will not be funded unless they foreground dynamic opportunities for reflective and reflexive engagement with collections. Whenever possible proposals should involve open source software and encourage free, open access materials.

In my formal proposal, I’ll include case studies funded by other state humanities councils like Washington’s, DC Digital Museum or Vermont’s wonderfully simple, Civil War Book of Days serial email.

The second proposed new grant program would focus on the North Dakota Humanities Council’s already successful GameChanger Series. One of the most exciting things about this series is how effectively it stimulates discussion and brings together a diverse and dynamic group of speakers and from the community to engage with the most pressing issues of the day. The first GameChanger focused on conflict and culture in the Middle East, the second focused on the challenges and opportunities of the digital world, and next year’s series will celebrate 100 years of the Pulitzer Prize.

The disappointing thing about these events is that the energy of the conversation tends to dissipate rather quickly as the attention of the small NDHC staff ramps up for the next year’s event. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether the game has, in fact, changed (or just the playahs). The KeepChanging Grant Program would support programs and projects that continue the momentum and themes of the GameChanger series in the three years following the event. Each year at least three grants would be available with at least one grant set designated to support a project related to each of the previous three years of the GameChanger. (Wow, that’s hard to articulate in a clear way!).

The goal of the KeepChanging program is to extend the impact of the GameChanger series without taxing the small NDHC staff. It will also provide us with an informal measure of the impact of the GameChanger in on the humanities in the state. Presumably more engaging events will spur ongoing interest.

As per usual on the blog, I’m interested in any and all feedback on these ideas. They are, as I said, just proposals; just my thoughts, man – right or wrong.

Books by their Cover

You can’t open Facebook these days without seeing a profile picture superimposed with a French flag. A year ago, profile pictures had multicolored hues in support of equal marriage rights or gay marriage. At various times of year, social media profiles sport pink for breast cancer, mustaches for prostate cancer, or various other regular designs to demonstrate solidarity or sympathy with this or that cause. Invariably, there are columns that comment or complain about a particular practice, the uncritical and uncomplicated adoption of potentially fraught symbols, and the deleterious effects of “slacktivism.” Most worry that a changed profile picture will substitute for political or social action and superficial expressions of sympathy, solidarity, or awareness will replace genuine engagement with issues. These concerns are so pervasive that they constitute part of the discourse of representation on social media and are in no ways less hackneyed or superficial than the practice that they critique. 

Personal branding on social media is no less complicated than personal branding in any medium and criticizing its simplicity is, in itself, a failure to understand the complications associated with branding and interpretation of branding across various media in our image rich society. My November mustache might be ironic, it might show I’m participating in “Movember,” or it might be that I genuinely like how I look with a mustached lip. Or it might be all these things. Most of us recognize the ambiguities present in these simple personal branding exercises (and even relish the potential for an un-ironic mustache!) and even appreciate the earnestness of people’s efforts to celebrate a cause, negotiate the political landscape, or just to show preference for one brand over another.

When it comes to branding a larger enterprise, we are less tolerant of this kind of ambiguity. I’m waist deep in type-setting a new book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota right and beginning to think a bit about cover designs. I’ve been fortunate that my collaborators on this project have offered images and designs for the cover and these designs are all visually arresting. The book is titled The Bakken Goes Boom and it should appear early next year, but the cover design project represents another chapter in the larger Branding the Bakken project. From Alec Soth’s black-and-white images of the oil smeared worker to Sarah Christianson’s The Skogens’ bedroom window, images have dominated our apprehension of the Bakken boom. It is hardly surprising that my own work documenting workforce housing in the Bakken has generated over ten thousand of photographs and videos. 

The image-driven nature of our engagement with the Bakken means that selecting the cover of the first book-length academic study of the Bakken boom takes on particular significance. Each cover represents a different aspect of the Boom and a different point of emphasis in the book (as well as a different style). 

My co-editor Kyle Conway created an arresting cover image that shows a drill rig situated near his families property in Williston.

Bakken cover off center

Photographer Kyle Cassidy who has worked with our team in the Bakken and has a contribution in the volume offered several fantastic cover designs:

Bakken goes boom cover 1

Bakken goes boom cover 2

Bakken goes boom cover 3

Bakken goes boom cover 4

Bakken goes boom cover 5

Comments and feedback are appreciated!

The University of North Dakota and the Great War: The First North Dakota Quarterly Reprint

Today drops the inaugural volume in North Dakota Quarterly Reprint Series. It is a collaboration between NDQ and the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The goal of this series is to bring some of the back catalogue of North Dakota Quarterly to public attention again and we started with a series of articles that deal with the Great War in North Dakota and on UND’s campus.

This reprint series had the added benefit of serving as a little design study as I continue to work on my layout and editing skills. To that end, I used a recently reconstructed, digital version of The Doves Type to add a bit period-appropriate gravitas to reprints. I also had to negotiate the absence of a bold or italics for The Doves Type, through the use of a small-caps for titles (recognizing that this is not a true small caps, but just the same upper-case letters in a smaller font).

(For those who don’t know The Doves Type story, it was an Arts and Crafts typeface initially designed for The Doves Press that was dumped unceremoniously in the Thames River after a dispute between partners at the type’s foundry in 1916/1917. Here’s a little video about the fonts recovery. Note that the diver is wearing some kind of sweet diving bell helmet, and the recovery of this font has an unmistakably archaeological vibe to it. We also thought it paralleled the recovery of parts of NDQ from obscurity as well as the modernist vibe of the “little magazine” movement of which NDQ was a part.)

I tried to keep the pages quite vertical with rather large margins to allow Doves Type some room to stretch out and enough space to breath. Despite this attention to the font and the page, I still see plenty of little infelicities that I need to create systems to eliminate in future efforts.

It’s not entirely about design, of course. The articles in the volume are good especially Wesley Johnson’s 10,000+ word recollections of his time in the fields and trenches of France and Hazel Nielson’s experiences in France with a cadre of North Dakota nurses. The volume also documents historian Orin G. Libby’s flip-flop from being an opponent of the war to the chair of UND’s War Committee. It is not difficult to see in his work the brewing controversy with UND President Thomas Kane who Libby accuses of mismanaging the influenza outbreak on campus which resulted in the death of several cadets. In any event, the entire volume makes for interesting reading and brings to life the style, perspective, and spirit of UND in the era of the Great War.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that this is part of my larger (and growing) role as North Dakota Quarterly’s Digital Editor. My job – at least as I see it – is to expand NDQ’s presence on the web and to enliven how people interact with this venerable landmark in North Dakota’s cultural landscape. So, in a very limited way, publishing this volume is designed to draw people to the NDQ website and, perhaps more importantly, to get them to sign up for periodic emails from NDQ which highlights new content, delivers some interesting and timely links, and allows us to spread the word about the Quarterly to a new, online centered, audience. We have no plan to get away from print any time soon (and I think we’ll likely produce a print version of the University of North Dakota and the Great War at some point.)

If you want to download a copy of the University of North Dakota and the Great War, go here for the Digital Press or here for North Dakota Quarterly. And to get more stuff like this delivered right to your email inbox, subscribe to NDQ’s email newsletter (tentatively called NDQ5… get it? A 5th volume of a quarterly?) here.

UND and The Great War

First Snow

The last seven years, I’ve posted a photo of the first snow (or what I considered the first snow…). Here they are: 2014 (November 8),  2013 (Oct. 20), 2012 (Oct. 4), 2011 (Nov. 10), 2010 (Nov. 21), 2008 (Oct. 28), and in 2007 (Sept. 11).

Unfortunately, I’m out of town, but a member of our household stood in for me and recorded the first snow with scientific patience:

Milo  first snow

North Dakota Man Camp Project White Paper Prospectus

My colleagues Bret Weber, Richard Rothaus, and I started to craft a white paper concerning the recent changes in housing policy and practice in the Bakken this month. We’ve been prompted to put together our research in a more formal after conversations with industry folks and municipal administrators in the Bakken region. 

This is the very first draft of a prospectus for our work. More to come!

Diverse Settlements in a Dynamic Economy
Précis for North Dakota Man Camp Project White Paper

Charlie Hailey in his 2009 study of camps argued that camps were a quintessentially “21st century space.” Indeed, images of refugee camps, work force camps, protest camps, and even recreational camp grounds fill the contemporary media with a kind of consistency that belies their temporary status. Against the backdrop of camps as 21st-century space, this paper presents a summary of over 4 years of research in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota focused on the material and social conditions of workforce housing.

Our work in the Bakken documented over 50 workforce housing sites with interviews, photography, and text through multiple visits over our ongoing four year project. As a result, we can discuss and analyze the relationship between the material conditions in workforce housing and the residents’ attitudes toward their life in Bakken, their relationship with various institutions, businesses, and communities that existed before the boom, and their own efforts to forge communities in temporary settlements like crew camps and RV parks.

Short-term workforce housing represents a response to both long-term and recent trends in development of the American West and the global economy. Camps provided temporary shelter for miners, construction crews, and soldiers in the sparsely populated landscape of the 19th century American West. By the late-20th and early 21st century, workforce housing had become a multi-billion dollar a year industry with global logistics companies provided housing to a similar group of people on a global scale. Fueled by the frantic pace of the global economy and the nearly-boundless flow of capital, just-in-time manufacturing, extractive industries, and construction projects have come to rely upon a substantial mobile workforce who lives and works at a significant distance from their homes. In the Bakken, the workforce needs of the oil industry vary with drilling and fracking requiring more labor than production. Likewise, preparing pipelines for waste water and oil both involves significant labor at the time and reduces the need for truck drivers throughout the life of the well.

The existence of a workforce as mobile as the flow of capital and the needs of various industries has put new pressures on the more stable settlements which have come to host the rapid increase (and sometimes rapid decrease) of these fast moving investments in local resources. Traditionally, communities expanded housing stock, infrastructure, and investment to accommodate a growing workforce with some expectation that the economic benefits and new populations were likely to persist for long enough to produce a return on local investments. In the 21st century, a highly mobile workforce, supported by global infrastructure companies, changing notions of home, and the highly integrated character of modern markets, has changed the landscape in which community investment takes place. Conversations with hundreds of workers in the Bakken across a wide range of housing demonstrate that these changes in the economy shape the attitudes of workers who have come to the region. Many of these workers regard their time in North Dakota as temporary, have homes, family, and strong social ties outside the region, and as the economy slowed, began to formulate alternate strategies that took advantage of their mobility.

The voluntary mobility of the Bakken workforce requires new approaches for ensuring that short-term economic development associated with an oil boom becomes sustained economic growth. It is important to distinguish between the various kinds of work force housing in the Bakken and the populations that these workforce housing options serve. Large crew camps provided by global logistics companies or major employers in the oil industry cater to a workforce with high expectations of mobility and highly-specialized skills tied directly to extractive industries. RV parks, which also represent another form of short-term housing catering to another highly mobile population, but often with weaker ties to the oil industry and more generic skill sets ranging from pipeline work, commercial drivers licenses, to service industry commitments. This group is less directly dependent on oil industry work, more likely to include family members, including children, and perhaps more likely to remain in the community after the boom related industry departs. They, however, are also most likely to require new training or to compete with already existing workforce for jobs in the post-doom community.

The fundamental challenge facing North Dakota communities during the most recent Bakken oil boom is how to provide suitable housing for rapidly changing workforce needs. The initial period of the boom witnessed workers camped in public parks, back yards, and the infamous Walmart parking lot. In response, the municipalities William and McKenzie Counties issued temporary conditional use permits (or special use permits) for crew camps and RV parks. This served to ease the initial shock of the boom by providing housing designed specifically to accommodate the short-term needs of the extractive work and the mobile character of the workforce associated with this industry. Housing in these camps ranged from the functional and comfortable in well-appointed crew camps to the ad hoc and informal in the many RV parks across the region. As oil prices declined, the short-term population housed in crew camps also declined as there was less need for specialized oil patch workers during the labor-intensive process of drilling and fracking new wells. At the same time, residents in the patch who had formerly lived in RV parks found it easier to move into more permanent housing made available and more affordable by the increasing in housing and apartment inventories. The key to understanding the trends in housing in the Bakken is to understand that different populations have different housing needs and resources in the dynamic economic and social world of the Bakken

An Open Access Archive for North Dakota Quarterly

I’m very happy to announce that we’ve worked with the HathiTrust to release the first 74 volumes of North Dakota Quarterly to the Open Access University under a CC-BY-ND license. The ND for all you open access crusaders who saw that and immediately started to sharpen blades is an unfortunate necessity because for much of NDQ’s history we published without contracts or with very restricted contracts that only allowed works to appear in a particular volume of NDQ. We know that it’s not idea, but it is better than nothing or a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

You can get access to The Archive, here.

I also made this little graphic to celebrate the dropping of The Archive.

NDQ GraphicFixedABSM

Here’s the press release that’ll go out today:

On Homecoming weekend, alumni, students, faculty, and administrators take time to celebrate the past and future of the University of North Dakota. North Dakota Quarterly is joining this celebration by releasing over 100 years of back issues to the public for free. The Quarterly is among the oldest academic traditions at the University, and the release of digitalized back issues is part of a renaissance at the journal centered on an active editorial board, a vibrant new design, and a dynamic web presence. By releasing these back issues, the Quarterly makes a world of content that could only be read at libraries available to anyone with an internet connection.

Kate Sweney, the managing editor of NDQ, remarks: “It gives me a great deal of pleasure to finally see the many wonderful volumes of North Dakota Quarterly made available digitally and more easily accessible by a wider audience. I have so many favorite articles, poems, and stories in these issues and its tremendously exciting to open up the Quarterly‘s past to a wider audience.”

Sharon Carson, editor of the Quarterly, responded: “We are proud to be part of public humanities at UND, in North Dakota, and in spaces beyond. We are delighted to make an archive of such remarkable writing from NDQ’s past available to new audiences, and at no cost.”

The Quarterly has long stood as a proving ground for writers across the country and world as well as across campus. The diversity of the Quarterly has long set it apart from the crowded field of literary journals. Sepia toned prairie reveries shared pages with scientific writing, political commentary, history, literature, and poetry.

Bill Caraher, who managed the release of NDQ‘s digital archive, noted: “It is important to stress that NDQ is not a stodgy old academic journal. The back issues reveal the tremendous vitality of the publication as a place for thoughtful comment on the history of the state, the university, and the world. This represents an important resource for teachers, for faculty across the country, and for mindful readers everywhere.”

The Quarterly explores topics as wide as the prairie horizon with thousands of contributions touching on issue as diverse as how best to care for state’s natural resources, the political and social culture of the region, American Indian history and literature, the history of the university, its faculty, and administrators, and the various ways that the world intersects with life in North Dakota.

The back volumes of the Quarterly were digitized as part of the larger Google Book project and are made available through an agreement between the University and the HathiTrust which maintains parts of the Google Books archive. The back issues can be accessed on the website and can be downloaded and shared under open access license.

The Williston City Plan and Refugees in Europe

Thanks to the University of North Dakota Geography Department, I was able to hear a nice talk yesterday by the Donald Kress, Principal Planner of the City of Williston. He walked us through the policies established beginning in 2008 to provide for crew camps in and around Williston. His talk focused on crew camps, which were either closed camps established by a company to house their workers (e.g. Halliburton) or open camps which were operated by a company specializing in workforce housing (e.g. Target Logistics). The talk did not deal with less formal kinds of workforce housing like R.V. parks. He took us through the complicated procedures associated with acquiring a Special Use Permit which allows for a conditional change of zoning for a property and explained that this kind of permit accommodates most crew camps within the City of Williston. The policy calculations involved in deciding on how many and where crew camps are accessible ranged from the pressures a particular camp might put on city services, the camps location, the need for housing, and even the aesthetic appearance of the facility.

The conclusions of his talk was particularly timely. On Monday night the city made a move designed to eliminate (or at least reduce) the number of crew camps within city limits by July. The thinking behind this decision was complex, but seemed, in part, to come from the realization that Williston’s housing inventory is starting to catch up with the boom and there remains a good many alternate forms of short-term housing available in both Williston (hotels) and in the surrounding Williams County which has slightly different rules and policies. At a number of times in the talk, Kress contrasted temporary housing with permanent housing, and it appeared that at least part of the housing policy in Williston was to encourage permanent housing to support the new workforce to become permanent residents of the community. There was less emphasis on the need for short-term housing was a temporary expedient for the lack of permanent housing inventory and not a reflection of the short-term character of many of the jobs being created in the Bakken.

As I listened to his talk, I couldn’t help but reflect on the difference in attitudes between workforce housing in Williston and the housing of refugees from Middle Eastern conflicts in Europe and the US. The temporary housing popping up around the Middle Sea to accommodate displaced people is temporary as part of a larger strategy to move the refugees onto somewhere else. In Williston, temporary housing was seen as an expediency to accommodate a new population, but flawed because it could not offer the opportunity to be part of a community in the way that permanent housing could. 

The most depressing reality of this is that many of the folks who live in temporary “crew camp” housing in Williston do so voluntarily and look forward to returning home at the end of their stay. Williston is trying to convince them to stay and become part of the Williston community instead. In contrast, much of the world is trying to find a way to limit their engagement with the refugee who are looking to make these places their permanent or at least long-term homes. Clearly, communities in the Bakken realize that many of the current temporary residents are specialists who would have to adapt to different economic conditions if they intend to stay in the community for a long period of time. In other words, Bakken communities assume the same kind of economic flexibility that many struggle to see in refugee communities. 

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.

WwSCover2FINALCover08272015 Front

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.

WwSCover2FINALCover08272015 Front

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.