North Dakota Quarterly and Budget Cuts: What Can You Do?

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We’d like to thank everyone who has sent notes of support, word of encouragement, and thoughts our way as we begin to look ahead toward a new future for North Dakota Quarterly

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The image at the top of this post is painting by Elmer Halverson from Wheelock, North Dakota. Wheelock is a small, nearly abandoned town in the heart of the Bakken oil patch and this painting is of the North Dakota badlands. The oil boom has put pressure on the badlands, briefly re-invigorated small towns like Wheelock, and is partly responsible for the current financial challenges across the state. This painting was on the cover of NDQ 24.1 (Winter 1956) which was the first NDQ volume to appear after a 13 year hiatus during the Great Depression and World War II. 

The University of North Dakota Budget and North Dakota Quarterly

For anyone interested in the fate of North Dakota Quarterly during the most recent round of UND budget cuts, go and read our statement here.

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As you can maybe imagine these cuts have been pretty difficult for the entire university community, and while the university tries very hard to be transparent, they really don’t know how to do it. For some this is frustrating, but for many of us, it’s sad. I reminds me a bit of my dog when he really tries to understand human language, but can’t. Except then it’s cute. 

I think these cuts provide an opportunity for all levels of the administration to learn about how the university works. It will be a time of growth for our administrators as they discover where cuts matter and where they don’t. Invariably some cuts involved eating seed corn that administrators will want for in the future. Other cuts pared away the small pockets of fat on campus that while profligate, provided flavor. While faculty and students can thrive in almost any environment, I worry that mistakes made by deans, provosts, and presidents will make it more difficult for these individuals to move on to more lucrative and prestigious jobs elsewhere and make it more difficult to recruit quality administrators in the future. 

The Writers Conference

There is a lot of crazy, stressful, and, frankly, bad stuff going on across campus at the University of North Dakota right now. Budget crisis, identity crisis, leadership crisis, mission crisis. In fact, anyone anywhere who is not personalizing and politicizing the sense of crisis, simply isn’t do higher education right. 

But, from all of this, we get a break for a few days. The UND Writers Conference offers a kind of Halcyon Days. Go check out the schedule and go to the events (if you’re from North Dakota). If you’re not from here, take a few days and wish you were (it happens very, very rarely). 

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My Bakken Research in 14 Mediocre Images

If you’ve been following my blog over the last couple of weeks, you’ve perhaps noticed that Kyle Cassidy has been working overtime to get us media coverage for the Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota.

His photo essay on the Bakken has appeared in Slate, Fast Co. Design, and the Daily Mail. It’s really good.

Since I just finished putting together a group of photographs and illustration with rather detailed captions, I thought I’d try my hand at a little photo essay. I’m not Kyle Cassidy, but here goes:

Figure 1FINALFigure 1: The thick line delineates the Bakken formation, and the vast majority of oil related activities take place in Mountrail, Williams, McKenzie, and Dunn counties in Western North Dakota. 

Figure 2Figure 2: Map showing workforce housing in the Bakken. Dots represent camps recorded in an inventory of “temporary workforce housing establishments” in the western part of North Dakota. The stars are our study sites in the region.

Figure 3Figure 3: A kite photograph of a Type 1 Camp outside Tioga, ND. Note the regular arrangement of units, the elevated walkways between units, and the small common building with a flat roof in the center right of the image.

Figure 4Figure 4: The alley between two rows of units in a Type 2 Camp outside of Williston, ND. The alley provides space for the electrical masts, water and sewage hookups, and for storage. It also provides access to buried pipes that sometimes require maintenance.

Figure 5Figure 5: The haphazard arrangement of RVs in a Type 3 Camps near Tioga, ND. Without the constraints of electrical masts or water and sewage hook ups, in this instance, a Type 3 camp used this flexibility to create common spaces. 

Figure 6Figure 6: Man camps tend to cluster around the edges of existing settlements to leverage concentrations of existing infrastructure, and to avoid jurisdictional complications associated with being within city limits. 

Figure 7Figure 7: The use of extruded polystyrene foam around the base of an RV provides insulation. Note the use of wood braces for the foam, the insulated sewage pipe, and the wood box over the water and hookup.

Figure 8Figure 8: Well-constructed wood framing to support extruded polystyrene insulation around the base of the RV. Note the panel removed for access to the underside of the RV.

Figure 9Figure 9: A rather typical mudroom set atop an elevated platform with a small deck. Note the tar-paper roof, the modest efforts at decoration, and the plants set into Wal-mart pails.

Figure 10aFigure 10a: External platforms are among the most common architectural interventions in the Bakken. They provide a defined space elevated from mud, dirt, and snow. Note the use of a standard shipping pallet as a step.

Figure 10bFigure 10b: This is a common assemblage associated with the demarcated and elevated space of a platform is unsecured, and includes (a) grill (b) cooler (c) camp chairs (d) propane cylinder (e) camp table (f) shipping pallet (g) deck.

Figure 11Figure 11: This is an elaborate example of demarcated property. The placement of the RV on the border of the lot forms one border for private space that is here defined by a flimsy fence, some impermanent landscaping, an elevated platform, and the personal touches including a “Brad and Brenda” sign.

Figure 12Figure 12: Free weights along with elaborate grills contribute to the hyper-masculine identity present in the Bakken. Weights are often left unsecured and then abandoned when residents move on. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Figure 13Figure 13: The two grills visible outside the mudroom of a pair of RVs in the Bakken complement a typical, if elaborate assemblage of objects associated with short-term occupation: tomato plants in planters, platforms made of shipping pallets, children’s bikes and toys, cinderblocks, and a rubber trash can.

DSC 2050 copyBonus Photo! (From Left): Richard Rothaus, Bill Caraher, and Bret Weber at the site of an abandoned man camp. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

The Uncanny Bakken

Another of my little spring break projects was a book review for a literary journal on Lisa Peters’ Fractured Land and Richard Edwards’ Natives of a Dry Place. I’ve blogged on the former here and the latter here. I think this is my best effort to understand how recent work on the Bakken contributes to a larger conversation about oil and social change.


Even as the oil boom in western North Dakota has entered a protracted lull, the publishing of oil related books has continued to boom. Lisa Peters’ Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil and Richard Edwards’ Natives of a Dry Place: Stories of Dakota Before the Boom represent two fine, recent contributions to the literature on North Dakota before and during the Bakken boom. Both books come from authors who have spent most of their lives outside North Dakota, but have reconnected with their roots in the Northern Plains during the expansion of oil related activity in the region.

Peters’ father grew up near Williston, and her grandfather, whose homestead failed north of Williston, found ways later in life to invest shrewdly (and presciently) in property and mineral rights on the Nesson anticline. Her father, who became an engineer at 3M, earned some modest income over his life from these rights and used them to build a cabin on the scenic St. Croix River in Wisconsin. Ironically, the author’s time on this river as a child and adult inspired her own environmentalism, and it is this environmentalism that motivated her personal journey through the Bakken, through the complexities of oil production, and the process of fracking. The book starts with her trip to visit her dying father who retired to Florida and concludes with her spreading of his ashes near an oil well on her family’s land. In between, she visits a fracking sand mine in a sensitive ecology in Wisconsin, has a frank conversation with a fracking engineer, visits a working drill rig, and shares coffee with a local farmer who has no sympathy for the oil industry. Her journey is personal, and she does little to hide her deeply conflict attitudes between the practical reality of our chemical-infused world, and the environmental risks of oil, the ethical questions associated with fracking, and the difficult history of the semi-arid northern plains.

Richard Edwards left Stanley, North Dakota when he was 12. Today, Stanley sits on the eastern side of the Bakken oil patch and is home to pipeline terminals, units yards, and oil field workers. The Stanley of Edwards’ youth, was more sleepy and less prosperous, but populated with a cast of characters who would be comfortable in a Mark Twain novel. Edwards’ book begins with a description of the conflicts between those who benefited and those who have suffered during the boom in contemporary Stanley. He then explores the Stanley of his youth borrowing freely from his family’s memories, photographs, and documents to tell eight stories arranged around a series of themes: resoluteness, steadfastness, devotion to community, pluck, commitment, dauntless optimism, spirit of adventure, and modesty. At first, these stories read like home-spun wisdom, but this belies their complexity. Edwards stories show that societies “usually get what they celebrate.” His tale of commitment, for example, tells how his aunt’s husband left his wife of 20-years to reunite with his teenage love. He demonstrates resoluteness in a story about the recovery of Tom Scrivner’s body from a dry well that becomes a murder mystery. However resolute town folks were in finding Scrivener’s body did not extend to finding his murderer. The subtle contradictions in these stories reveal the tensions within even the most conspicuous small-town values. By the end of the book, boom-time Stanley is somehow less different from Stanley before the boom, and more a natural extension of a society’s values.

The landscape and experience of the Bakken Oil Boom is distinctly uncanny. It is at once familiar. After all, the characters if Peters and Edwards book are people who we know in any town or city. They are environmentalists, concerned fathers, dutiful siblings, and eccentric neighbors. In many ways, the tensions between Peters’ environmentalism and her family’s oil patch profits are the same that many of us feel when indulge in the convenience of bottled water, leave our car idling on a cold winter day, or read a paper book because “we like how a book feels.” Both books speak to a very modern experience of being in the world.

At the same time, all booms are, by definition, sudden, unexpected, and extraordinary. As Edwards notes, societies get what they celebrate, but few can celebrate or anticipate such a sudden boom. In fact, many of the tensions present in the Bakken, from housing shortages to infrastructure strain, demonstrate the limits to our ability to anticipate these kinds of events. Fracking takes place far beneath the earth, using secret (or at least complicated) processes and chemicals, and the novel and unknowable risks of fracking contribute to the public’s concern.

The authors’ perspective as both insiders and outsiders contributes to their uncanny view of North Dakota and the Bakken Oil Boom. North Dakota is a strange and wonderful place, and both Peters and Edwards make clear that we can learn from it.

The Tourist Guide to the Bakken: New Title and Introduction

It looks good for me and Bret Weber to submit the almost complete manuscript of our Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch. We’ve had a few cool developments over the last week.

First, we have a new title. Since the book formerly known as The Tourist Guide will appear in the Heritage Guide Series, it seemed a bit redundant to use the word guide twice on the cover of the book. So we changed its name the simpler: The Bakken. To reinforce the book’s academic credentials, the publisher will let us have the requisite subtitle: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape.

Below is the almost-final draft of the introductory material. There are just a few things left to sort out over the next 24 hours and the completed manuscript should be on its way by Tuesday evening.


BOO! We had to take down the introduction at the request of our publisher!

Bakken Goes Boom Press Release and First Weekend Data

The newest publication from The Digital Press, The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies in Western North Dakota was released quietly on Friday and propagated through social media outlets. We had about 800 page views over the last few days at The Digital Press website from about 450 unique visitors. These resulted in just under 200 downloads of the book.  We updated the book slightly on Sunday morning when we received our LCCN number and caught another round of little niggling proofreading errors. 

This week, we’ll slowly ramp up publicity beginning with a press release:

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota announces the publication of the first, peer-reviewed, book-length collection of studies on the Bakken oil boom in Western North Dakota: The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota edited by William Caraher (History, UND) and Kyle Conway (Communications, University of Ottawa)

The book brings together a substantial range of scholarly and creative contributions to consider the impact of the Bakken Boom on history and healthcare, the natural and man-made environment, the media and art. Poetry, photography, and essays rub shoulders with scholarly articles to communicate and document the challenges of the 21st century Bakken boom.

Kyle Conway, the co-editor of the volume, reinforces the point: “The neat thing about this book is that it’s not just academics talking to each other. It’s journalists, poets, and artists, too. Art and poetry hold can open up a different world for us, which is why everyone whose life is affect by oil — and that means everyone, not just North Dakotans — should read this book.”

The book features contributions from national and local authors who each offer distinct visions of the challenges and opportunities of the Bakken oil boom in the context of both Western North Dakota and the world. Some of the articles present cutting-edge research from a graduate seminar in rural communication in the Communications Program at the University of North Dakota. Others offer insights into recent completed or ongoing research projects including exploratory “adventure science” in the North Dakota Badlands, work by the North Dakota Man Camp Project to document workforce housing conditions, ethnographic work on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation, and the definitive catalogue of the Plains Art Museum’s Bakken Boom! exhibit from 2015.

William Caraher (Department of History, UND) adds: “We hope this book does more than just provide a first reaction to the Bakken Boom, but also serves as a kind of historical document that will help future generations in both North Dakotans and elsewhere see how folks understood the experiences and challenges of the 21st-century Bakken Boom.”

The book is available as free, color, digital download from and will be released on paper at the end of the month.

Book Blurb

The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota

Edited by William Caraher and Kyle Conway

With contributions from Carenlee Barkdull, Karin L. Becker, Sebastian Braun, Nikki Berg Burin, Angela Cary, Kyle Cassidy, Heidi Czerwiec, Simon Donato, Rebecca A. Dunham, Julia C. Geigle, John Holmgren, Heather Jackson, Ann Reed, Andrew Reinhard, Richard Rothaus, Melissa Rae Stewart, Jessica Sobolik, Laura Tally, Ryan M. Taylor, Bret A. Weber, Joshua E. Young

In 2008, the Bakken went boom. Thanks to advances in hydraulic fracturing, oil production in western North Dakota exploded. As the price of oil went up, so did the oil rigs. People came from all over the country (and the world) in search of work, and cities and towns struggled to keep up. This book is about the challenges they faced. It is about the human dimensions of the boom, as told by artists, poets, journalists, and scholars. It captures the boom at its peak, before the price of oil fell and the boom went bust.

This is the only book on the Bakken to bring together such a wide range of voices. It captures a fascinating moment in the history not only of North Dakota, but of global oil production. It sheds light on the impact of oil on local communities that, until now, had not attracted much interest from the outside world. And it shows how North Dakotans, both old and new, have found ways to address the challenges they face in a turbulent, changing environment.

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota publishes high quality peer-reviewed and popular books. It uses digital and print-on-demand technologies to publish timely works in the digital humanities, broadly conceived. Whenever possible, we produce open access, digital publications, that can attract local and global audiences.

The Digital Press uses a cooperative model for publishing in which authors, editors, and designers work closely together to bring a book to publication. The publication process is as transparent as possible to build awareness of the publication, and social and new media platforms engages audiences with the publication process, and serves to market the final product.

The Bakken Goes Boom

It is really exciting to announce that the Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota went live this morning. As readers of this blog know, The Bakken Goes Boom is the first conventional edited volume that The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota has released. It was peer-reviewed and drew upon a wide range of scholars, artists, and thoughtful writers to offer a distinct and significant contribution on how we understand the Bakken.

Needless to say, this project would not have happened without the support of my co-editor, Kyle Conway, and all the contributors to the volume. 

The book is available for free download under a CC-By open access license. Go here to get it

Download it, share the link, read it, criticize it, review it, fear it, and revile it:

Bakken Goes Boom Front Cover

Maps, Maps, Maps

I’ve been working on maps for my Tourist Guide to the Bakken. This is a tedious task made lighter only by the remarkably robust GIS data available from the great states of North Dakota and Montana.

BOO! I had to remove this content at the request of our publisher!