Archaeology of Home

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

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


Here’s the list:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Praise of Parking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from a Sabbatiquoll

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

1024px Dasyurus maculatus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weeks of Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archer, Atari, and Tourism

This weekend gave me the last little break before the race to end of my sabbatical. So I took a bit of time to try to understand what I’m doing with my academic life. In particular, I tried to figure out why I’ve been so fascinated with the Atari excavation, tourism, and the T.V. series Archer. What brought these three things together?

Reading parts of Marita Struken’s Tourists of History this weekend helped bring my research into greater focus. She considered the relationship between kitsch and tourism, arguing that both have a way of simplifying the complexities of the world and promoting a kind of innocent detachment. Kitsch often evokes the simple pleasures of childhood and frequently emerges at moments of trauma as a kind of social therapy that restores the world to recognizable order. Sturken’s work, for example, examines the appearance of kitsch in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and contemplates the innocence of a Twin Towers snow globe purchased from vendors serving tourists at Ground Zero in New York. 

The ritual of visiting a site of trauma as a tourist provides the modern visitor with a way to organize, apprehend, and ultimately control the power of the traumatic event. Viewing the Bakken, for example, rationalizes the oil patch in a way that allows for action and allows the visitor to experience the rhythm and reality of extractive industries in a way that photography, video, and media coverage leaves open ended. In fact, tourism has tended to emphasize authenticity of experience as a way to transcend the limitations of a world shaped by media and seemingly outside our reality. The immersive character of tourism makes it real.

As numerous scholars have noted, all tourism is a form of industrial tourism. So tourism of industrial sites – like the Bakken – make the connection between our industrial world and the sites of industrial production explicit. Driving on a busy Bakken highway with trucks, equipment, and workers engaged in the extraction of oil from deep beneath the earth makes clear the link between tourism and industry, but framing this encounter as tourism allows the visitor to the Bakken to realize this as a form of authentic experience comprehensible as part of a larger view of the region and its activity. In short, by understanding the inconvenience, danger, and processes at play as a tourist, the Bakken becomes part of a shared world that allows the tourist to tame and organize reality by subjecting it to modern criteria of experience.

The resurgent fascination with Atari games in the 21st century represents an effort by a middle age population to reclaim their childhood innocence. As I noted in my review of Zak Penn’s Atari: Game Over documentary, the excavation of Atari games from an abandoned landfill is like so many archaeology of the contemporary world projects in that it endeavors to systematize our past experiences. Like the modern encounter of tourism, archaeology of the contemporary world renders the recent past understandable. By recreating and reordering our experiences it allows us to manage the trauma of the past, evokes a lost innocence, and bringing the complexity of a uncertain world into order by appealing to archaeology’s claim to authenticity (and authentic knowledge). In the case of Penn’s documentary, this process is couched in explicitly Freudian terms. Digging into our own past (and the past of Howard Scott Warshaw, the developer of the E.T. Atari game), we discover parts of our primordial childhood and makes our past and our present seem normal, under control, and safe. Our childhood experiences are valid and linger just below the overburdened and neurotic world of the adulthood.

Finally, this brings us to Archer. I’ve started watching the first four or five season of the T.V. show called Archer. I think it probably dances the line between being a legitimate hit and having a cult following. The 30-minute, animated  TV show centers on the antics of Archer, a secret agent for the free-lance intelligence firm called ISIS run by his overbearing mother. Archer is a handsome former college lacrosse player who drinks, parties, and shoots his way out of innumerable jams. While at times crass, cavalier, and irresponsible, Archer is perpetually innocent. He lacks any clear moral compass (unlike his beautiful and perpetually conflicted ex-girlfriend Lana), but also lacks any clear guile. He is honest and literal to a fault. In fact, he represents the American middle and upper-class male as the perpetual innocent. Archer is the same person who remains fascinated with Atari and, as the show’s frequently flashbacks make clear, continues to struggle to overcome and understand his own emotionally empty childhood.

Archer resonates with a generation of American males who are looking for a way to stay innocent in a world that seems impossibly complex. Tourism, nostalgia for our kitsch-inflected childhood, and a TV show staring a child-man who always makes the right decisions because he is capable of any moral reasoning, all reflect strategies to organize our past and our present in a comprehensible, authentic, and un-ironic way.  

For more on this check out my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch and come and see a showing of Atari: Game Over with a panel discussion and vintage Atari games starting at 3:30 on Thursday at the Gorecki Center on the lovely campus of the University of North Dakota.

AtariGameOver share2

The Soon and the Summer

I bought by tickets to Greece for next summer and I need to buy my tickets from Athens to Cyprus this week. After a year away from my work on Cyprus to focus on the Western Argolid Regional Project in Greece, I’m going to return to Polis-Chrysochous for a three-week study season starting May 5. Then heading to Greece for almost two months on May 25th or 26th. This all means that planning for the summer has to start now.

First, the next few weeks will prove to be busy, but exciting.

On April 8th-11th, I’ll host Andrew Reinhard and Richard Rothaus on campus for a public showing of the documentary, Atari: Game Over, and an academic round-table on the archaeology of gaming and the contemporary world.

On April 7th, I take a quick trip to Fargo for a dissertation defense. 

On April 18th, I’ll be in at the Mary Jaharis Center in Brookline, MA to participate in a roundtable on “Byzantium in the Public Sphere” and somehow simultaneously at a Man Camp Dialogue presentation in Ellendale.      

Over the same stretch of time, I need to put the finishing touches on two sabbatical projects. One is the final round of revisions on the North Dakota Man Camp Project paper for Historical Archaeology, and the other is a book proposal for the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, which is become a more and more compelling project every passing week. The book proposal is virtually done and I have a meaningful draft of the manuscript in hand. Now all I need to make is a few final touches and pull the trigger. I’m also doing the final revisions on an article for Internet Archaeology on archeological blogging.

At the same time, I’ve been trying to put together the kit of necessary summer gear that has to be ordered and sorted out before the start of May.

1. New Laptop. My three year old 15-inch Dell XPS has finally become unusable thanks to a combination of Windows 8 and some kind of nagging hardware issues. So I have to order a quad-core Dell Precision 15-inch today with 16-gb of ram. 3D image processing takes a tremendous amount of power.

2. New GPS unit. My trusty, 10 year old Garmin Gecko was stolen from my 12-year-old truck this past fall. We used Garmin Oregon 650s this past summer in Greece because we could upload aerial photographs to them and they had 8-megapixel cameras. In turns out that the cameras were not particularly useful and drained the battery. So this summer, I’ll purchase a Garmin 600 which is the same unit without a camera.

3. Camera. I love my Panasonic GX1, but the camera will be going on its third field season and has enjoyed such exotic opportunities as being used in a landfill in a dust storm, being lugged up every elevation in the Western Argolid without a lens cap, and several trips to the froze tundra of North Dakota. My hope is that it survives this summer, but I bought a fall back camera, a Canon ELPH135, which is discontinued and sells for less than $90 on Amazon. It’s nowhere near as good as the Panasonic, but it’s small, cheap, and good enough for a backup camera.

4. Microphone. With my career as a podcaster slowly gaining momentum, I need a small, decent USB microphone. Suggestions? For our podcasts, I’ve used a Blue Yeti, but this is a heavy microphone and I need to save some weight for, you know, three months of clothing.

5. Music. Living away from home for this long of a time is hard on me for a range of reasons (wife, dog, house, other responsibilities), but part of the thing that makes it hard is that I go from being alone most of the time to being surrounding by people most of the time. My escape is listening to music. To facilitate this, I have seriously upgraded my mobile music kit. First, I got a pair of new Audeze EL-8, closed back headphones and a little bird has hinted that I’ll get a new ALO Rx MK3 B+ amplifier which appears to be getting phased out of the ALO line-up and is now available at steeply discounted prices from their warehouse page. The amp is probably overkill for the EL-8s, but I suspect even in single-ended mode (balanced cables are not yet available for the EL-8s) it’ll provide a bit more oomph for the relatively efficient EL-8s as well as the option to move to a balanced set up in the future. 

6. Books. Usually I make a request for summer reading recommendations, but this summer, it looks like the American Journal of Archaeology has that all sorted out for me. I’m going to be working on a review article featuring several new books on the archaeology of the contemporary world and the growing interest in materiality among archaeologists. That being said, I’ll need to track down a few recreational books to read this summer, preferably with spaceships in them. 

Three Unrelated Things: the Homeshow, Lemonskinheads, and the UND Writers Conference

Sometimes I get a backlog of blog ideas and I realize that it makes more sense to push them out in a disjointed post than to wait for some opportunity to expand each idea into a individual posts. I realize that this violates a rule of writing which states that writers should give their ideas room to stretch out and not cram too many thoughts together in one place. I’ve never been good at that.

So here are three unrelated things combined in a single post: 

1. The University of North Dakota Writers’ Conference starts today! If you spend any time at the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks, or in North Dakota, you know about the Writers Conference. In fact, if you know anything about UND at all, it’s likely to be their long tradition of hosting one of the great writers’ conferences in the U.S. As people might recall, the Writers Conference was almost sacrificed to budgetary priorities advanced by careerist administrators looking to prove that they’re tough enough to stand up to faculty and make “hard choices.” Fortunately, the community and donors rallied to save the conference. 

This year the theme is “The Other Half” and will feature women writers who write about gender and race. But as always, the Writers Conference is more than that, it is an opportunity to hear writers talk about their craft. The lunchtime panels are completely enthralling and well worth sacrificing a lunch hour! So go and check it out this week! 

2. The Home Show. This past weekend, my wife and I went to the Grand Forks Home Show. I’d never been to such a thing! Apparently the purpose of the home show is to show off various ways to improve, change, or repair one’s home. According the local newspaper, over 150 vendors rented booths at the show and thousands attended. As an archaeologist with an interest in the contemporary world, the Home Show fascinated me. Here in one place was an example of many objects that might appear in an archaeological assemblage from a modern home. There were three or four booths showing off cook pots, for example, and we know from our experiences in Bakken that cookware is often left behind when a temporary settlement is abandoned. There were two or three vendors showing off windows, which if our home is any indication, are a common object set aside in provisional discard even when they have been replaces (and can, in the right hands, be the objects of salvage). There were several firms advertising landscaping services by elaborate displays. Because the materials in these displays are relatively low value and designed for a particular space, they tend to persist at a place and accumulate traces of earlier landscaping efforts. Unsurprisingly the vendors at the show were almost all men, suggesting that the materiality of the home and its immediate environs continues to be something constructed (in a physical sense) by men even if the gender balance between the visitors appeared more even.

3. The Empire Theater and Usama Dakdok. Last week, the anti-Muslim speaker Usama Dakdok came to Grand Forks. He was brought to town by one or another conservative evangelical church and sponsored by the local conservative Christian radio station. Dakdok is know as an inflammatory speaker and leverages his Egyptian heritage to purport inside information about Islam to help Christians convert their Muslim neighbors. His talks have a pseudo-academic structure where he presents his “more authentic” translation of the Quran and compares it unfavorably – apparently almost at random – to passages in the Christian Bible. Whatever one things about Christian-Muslim relations, Dakdok provides very little substance and considerable fuel to already enflamed audience who fear the imminent arrival of ISIS type militants, Sharia law, and anti-Christian pogroms in their small town. 

His reputation proceeds him, of course, and in many communities he struggles to find a venue to spout his venom. This has apparently allowed him to play the victim and to demonstrate the urgency of his message. The grand plot against God-fearing Christians is already well underway, because his truth is being suppressed. As a few of my colleagues pointed out, this kind of rabble rousing has a long history in American political life where conspiracies, secret knowledge, identity politics, and playing the victim often combine to fuel the fires of hatred. 

In light of this situation, I expressed disappointment that the Empire Arts Center (our local early 20th century movie house turned to an arts center) agreed to host a speaker like Dakdok and suggested to some colleagues that the Empire Arts Center might no longer be a great venue for, say, a lecture series organized by the International Studies program to explore ideas of global diversity. Two things made our conversation all the more emphatic. First was a confused Op-Ed piece in the Grand Forks Herald which somehow celebrated the Empire Arts Center for allowing hate speech in its venue as an important opportunity for the community to consider Dakdok’s views as a valid contribution to a global conversation on religious difference. Second, with the appearance of some anti-immigrant graffiti directed at Somali immigrants in town, the Herald cautioned us from jumping to conclusions and claiming that our community has a race problem. Ironically, if the views expressed appeared in a venue like the Empire rather than on the wall of a local strip mall, then, according to the Herald we should celebrate the vitality of civic conversation: “Some claim Dakdok’s speech was beyond the pale. But a big reason for the United States’ world leadership and enormous strength is the fact that we trust debate — not repression — to resolve political quarrels.”

The upshot of our conversations is a meeting with the folks at the Empire, mediated and facilitated by a city council member and some fine folks at the University of North Dakota. We do not want to damage the Empire as a civic institution because it’s a great venue, a good partner, and an asset to the community, but we do want to make sure that we expect more them. It’s not that we’re angry, we’re just very disappointed.

One good thing to come out of all this is that I discovered calling Usama Dakdok, Evan Dakdok is pretty fun (for me). It’s a mash-up of Dakdok with the drug-addled lead singer of the Lemonheads, Evan Dando. Evan Dakdok is the frontman of a band called the Lemonskinheads. So that’s fun.


Call for Papers: The Bakken Goes Bust? New Research on Communities, Challenges, and Culture in the Bakken Oil Patch

Over the past month, I’ve been working with Kyle Conway and Carenlee Barkdull to organize a conference on new research, challenges, and culture in the Bakken oil patch. We are particularly interested in research that considers how the patch is adapting to the current decline in oil prices, production, and activity in the Bakken, but we also recognize the the current bust might not be a permanent state so we are equally interested in works that considers changes in the Bakken related to any number of political, social, and economic issues.    

Some of our motivation comes from the time that Kyle and I have spent editing the Bakken Goes Boom volume. The papers in this volume are, in general, fine and sophisticated, but are also a bit preliminary. We recognize that we only captured a sliver of the important research taking place in the Bakken and, in many cases, on the the preliminary results of this work.

So the Digital Press has teamed up with the College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines to hold a one-day conference on Friday October 30th at the University of North Dakota. We hope to be able to run a couple of formal paper sessions and a couple of workshop sessions where people from the arts, humanities, and social sciences discuss their work and the work presented in the formal papers. We plan to have a 

Here’s the call for papers. Abstracts are due July 1. Contact me for more details.

The Bakken Goes Bust?
New Research on Communities, Challenges, and Culture in the Bakken Oil Patch

For most of the past decade, the Bakken oil boom has generated unprecedented economic growth, population increases, and industrialization in western North Dakota. For much of this time, researchers in North Dakota and surrounding states have worked to understand the impact of the Bakken Boom on the state, the participants in the new economic growth, and long-standing communities in the affected regions. The rapid changes in region, the difficulties acquiring reliable data, and the myriad of interrelated challenges and opportunities facing the Bakken region have spurred creative projects and research initiatives prompted by wide range of challenging questions concerning the impact of the boom.

The Bakken Goes Bust? conference invites abstracts for contributions (<250 words) from scholars involved in all area of social science and humanities research, teaching, and creative work that explore the challenges associated with the Bakken oil boom. While this conference encourages submissions on any recent Bakken research, we are particularly interested in research and creative activities that embrace the “spatial turn” in the humanities and social sciences, considers the rhetoric of boom (and bust), examines the impact of social or new media on communities, situates the Bakken boom in a national or global context, or explores issues of crime, discrimination, and social justice in the patch.

The one-day conference will feature formal papers as well as interactive workshop sessions over the course of a single day. A public event in downtown Grand Forks will offer a critical capstone to the day’s events and provide an opportunity for socializing and outreach. The one-day conference will be held at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND on Friday, October 30th. Abstracts are due by July 1.

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota has expressed interest in publishing the proceedings of the conference as a companion volume to their Bakken Goes Boom book slated to appear in the fall of 2015.

Bakken Goes Bust Poster 01

Part of the fun of this conference is that we’re working with almost no budget so we’re approaching it punk rock style. In other words, we’re not going worry about whether every participant has a awesome UND branded folder and note pad. We’re not going to get anxious about whether every “stakeholder” has embossed invitations. We want to have actual conversations about the art, culture, and social world of the Bakken rather than to use this event to showcase how much UND cares about some imaginary place or problem or thing. We just want to do it. To show how punk rock I am, I did ignored the Oxford comma in the poster. And, I made the poster myself. Yeah! 

So we need a poster in black-and-white with a type-o that we can staple to bulletin boards across campus.

Bakken Goes Bust Poster BW

Surviving Sabbatical: Tourism, Landscapes, and The American West

The last two weeks have been a little rough and awkward here at Archaeology of the Mediterranean World Headquarter. I spent much of the first 7 months of sabbatical juggling projects and trying to get enough project’s going so that I can roll them out gradually over the next 4 or 5 years. This was fun and exciting the way that new projects are always fun and exciting (or at least more fun and exciting than old projects).

Unfortunately, over the last couple weeks, I’ve had this feeling that I need to finishing something. Two articles are in the able hands of a co-writer, my PKAP 2 manuscript is probably close to being ready for our last field season, and contributors should be receiving their contracts for an edited volume sometime soon. None of these projects (barring a remarkable outburst of productivity from one particular, delay-prone coauthor… ahem, hint, hint) are likely to be completed before I return to my teaching duties. 

And then there’s the other project. On my first sabbatical, I decided right about this time of year to write a paper called “Dream Archaeology.” This paper is still in process in various forms and has been given as an invited lecture a few times. It was fun to work on, but never really matured into something publishable at a top tier journal. This sabbatical, it’s the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, and I am committed to making this manuscript happen and it not becoming the next “Dream Archaeology” paper.

So this week I wrote a book proposal for the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, and my current plan is to submit it to Left Coast Press by the end of the month (I was trying to decide whether I should mention where I’m sending the proposal, but figured that it couldn’t do any harm, right?). I’m also working on revising a few of the chapters that can easily engoodened so that the press will receive something close to a complete manuscript for a short book (ca. 30,000 words). To do that, I’m targeting three things:

1. Landscapes. This project started as a landscape project. I love driving through the Bakken. In fact, driving through the Bakken is almost as involving for me as walking along a road or path in the Greek countryside (almost!). Like an American suburb, the Bakken is meant to be driven, and by driving along its main arteries or dusty side roads, we become part of the Bakken oil boom itself. My heroic truck blends in among the other working trucks, semis, and equipment rigs. The blurs of pipes, tanks, trailers, drilling and workover rigs (thanks, Chad!), construction projects, shelter belts, and distant farms reinforces the idea that the Bakken is both a modern non-place (in that some of the features in the landscape could be transported anywhere or could appear almost anywhere in the world) and deeply rooted in a specific place, history, and topography (not to mention the geology of shale oil and the Bakken). This intersection between the profoundly modern and the local makes the Bakken landscape compelling both as a general commentary on our contemporary world and as a moment of historical significance for North Dakota and the American West.

2. Tourism. In a fit of hubris, I decided that I could not only write a tourist guide, but also write about tourism. I felt that my time as a tourist in Greece, Cyprus, Australia, and places in the U.S. qualified me as a regular consumer of tourist literature and travel guides to engage in writing one. I think that my guide is a respectable imitation of such tourist staples as the Blue Guide or Baedekers. At the same time, my reading of a few of the classic Federal Writers Project accounts of western North Dakota, eastern Montana, and elsewhere gave me another point of reference for my project. Considering the literary luminaries who wrote for that program (and, significantly, my addiction to adverbs in particular), I can only say that I tried to writing in their spirit.  

Writing about tourism, however, was clearly a bridge too far. First off, the amount of literature on tourism is staggering (scholars of tourism need tenure too, it would appear), and even such marginal practices as “dark tourism,” “toxic tourism,” and “poorism” (the organized touring of poor and disadvantaged communities). Next, the conceptual frameworks for tourism are wide-ranging from the structuralism of Dean Maccannell to the post-modern critiques offered by John Urry and Tim Edensor.  Some of this stuff is pretty straight forward, but I feel like using tourist studies to understand landscapes (and how we in the modern world construct landscapes) in a critical way will be a massive challenge. Not only has modern tourism (whether industrial, toxic, eco, or otherwise) played a role in how we see modern landscapes, but it has also contributed to issues of heritage, archaeology (of the modern world), and conservation practices. It is pretty clear that I’m out of my depth here.

3. The American West. In my first year at UND, a bunch of us met with our dean of arts and sciences at the time. As per usual, there was a low grade panic about lack of current funds, lack of future funding, and the impossibility of compensating for previous lack of funds. When the dean asked us about our research plans for the next half decade, I muttered something about needing a local project that is relatively more insulated from financial vagaries of both local and federal funding agencies. While I’ve been lucky enough to keep funding for my foreign projects going, I’ve also worked to develop some very basic scholarly understanding of the American West and North Dakota history. I’d say that I have an advanced undergraduate knowledge of these fields.

For the Tourist Guide, I’ve had to bolster this a bit more by expanding my reading into the history of extractive industries in the West and their ambivalent relationships with communities dependent on these industries and struggling with costs of this kind of development once the extractive processes stop being fiscally viable. Some communities recognize the extractive industries as part of their history and seek to celebrate this heritage. Others have seen extractive industries as a kind of cautionary tale that requires constant revision to reinforce the critical links between industry, settlement, and the environment. This tensions can produce stories that are neither mutually exclusive nor overly complex, but this requires attention to nuance and narrative grounded in a sweeping understanding of Western and environmental history. Telling one story or the other is a far more simple task (and one that I’m probably more qualified to undertake) than trying to tell both at the same time.

So, I head to Cyprus in about 6 weeks and then I have another month or so when I get home (interrupted by family visits and another field work trip to the Bakken) to get my feet under me on these issues. Seems like this will probably be another one of those shaky sabbatical projects that lingers around my productive world like a bad smell…

The Man Camp Dialogues

Last year the inestimable Bret Weber and the local icon Tom Isern co-wrote a North Dakota Humanities Council grant to support a series of conversations in communities across western North Dakota about workforce housing. 

The first stop will be Killdeer, ND where I’ll be joined by Emily Guerin, Richard Rothaus, and Tom Isern in our first “Man Camp Dialogue.” This is particularly fitting because Killdeer has had some interesting press lately about their efforts to adapt to new housing needs.

Tom Isern and I were on Prairie Public Radio’s Main Street on Monday talking about our project.

If you’re planning to attend the forum of want to read more about it, we’ve published a short study guide which you can download here or purchase in paper here.

The good folks at the Dunn County Historical Society have also provided us with a great press release which I’ve included below:

3 1 15 Man Camp photo P1090565


Be part of the community conversation! Hear what your neighbors have to say!

March 2, 2015 (Killdeer, ND)—The Dunn County Historical Society welcomes scholars from the University of North Dakota’s Man Camp Project to the High Plains Cultural Center in Killdeer on Sunday, March 8, 1 – 3 p.m. Researchers will share findings from a two-year study on the temporary housing systems that have sprung up throughout western North Dakota to shelter Oil Patch workers. As part of the public forum, officially known as “The Man Camp Dialogues,” audience members are invited to ask questions and share observations. Panelists include Project Research Associate Dr. Richard M. Rothaus; Co-Primary Investigator William Caraher and Emily Guerin, Inside Energy’s North Dakota reporter. 

“The North Dakota Man Camp Project has reached the point in development when it is ready to engage in conversations to generate more questions and more insights,” said Public Forum Project Leader Tom Isern. “We encourage the voices of those directly living the history of the Boom. Everyone is welcome to contribute.”

Man camp research shows similarities to towns and state’s historical agricultural and settlement patterns Rothaus and Caraher have been touring man camps and documenting observations about the camps’ environments. Some of their findings have been surprising, considering the often underpopulated and underserved areas where the man camps are built.

“Overall, they are pretty clean,” said Rothaus. “Not as clean as I would keep my yard, and there are a few bad neighbors who are terrible slobs, but the camps are as clean as one can expect from people working long hours with irregular services. The big camps, like Capital Lodge, are spotless.”

Many man camps resemble other, if less temporary, communities in North Dakota. “I think people will be surprised to think about how temporary workforce housing sites are similar to small towns, suburban subdivisions or even small cities that dot the landscape both here in North Dakota and across the United States,” said Caraher. “The immediate impression of workforce housing might be different, but once we peel back some stereotypes and look at what folks are really trying to do in these settlements, we’ll begin to see that things are more similar than different.”

The Bakken Boom may encompass the largest and most dramatic industrial oil and gas activity that many North Dakotans have witnessed and lived through. But, said researchers, crew camps have always played a role in settling and developing the country, especially in the 19th-century American West. 

“The continued development of this practice into the 21st century is hardly surprising as remote locations like the sparsely settled counties of western North Dakota continue to pose logistical and economic challenges for resource extraction,” said documents generated by The Man Camp Project. “Clustered outside or around the fringes of the longstanding towns in the area, the temporary settlements represent the practical needs of an itinerant workforce.”

Boom not easy for anyone; public forum welcomes all Bakken voices Although Caraher and Rothaus are quick to say their research doesn’t provide answers, one thing they found is certain: Along with great prosperity and opportunity, the Bakken Boom has also created human hardship and societal challenges.

“We all are living in a world thrust upon us,” said Rothaus. “Residents have an oil boom to contend with, whether they want it or not. Oil workers, driven by economic necessity, have descended upon a place they didn’t know existed and struggle with the boom as well. Opinions about the boom vary widely, but what we do share is the life experience of crowded stores, high prices, traffic and lots and lots of people coming and going. Few would choose to do it this way, but we are all here anyway.” 

Generating new avenues of research and helping people make informed decisions about the boom in general and man camps specifically is the point of the March 8 public forum in Killdeer.

“Our research was never meant to be the source of singular authority on workforce housing, but part of the conversation,” said Caraher. “We’d like as many people in that conversation as possible!”

Bill Flaget, president of the Dunn County Historical Society, agrees: “This is an important opportunity for Dunn County residents to learn about and comment on the effects that man camps are having on their communities,” he said. “We are proud to work with the North Dakota Humanities Council to bring this event to Dunn County.”

This event is hosted by the Dunn County Historical Society and funded by the North Dakota Humanities Council. It is free and open to the public. Refreshments served. To learn more: and