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    

Sabbaticals, Study Guides, and the Man Camp Dialogues

I’m entering the last leg of my sabbatical and feeling pretty good about wrapping up the projects that I had set out to accomplish. I will not have a completed manuscript documenting our excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria prepared by the end of the spring, but it will be far enough along to guide our study season. I won’t have submitted an article on the site of South Basilica at Polis-Chrysochous, but that manuscript will be submitted this fall and will serve as a useful guide for this summer’s study season on that project. With any luck (and a bit more collaboration from my colleagues) we will have submitted the first major article from the North Dakota Man Camp Project to a top tier journal. 

This winter and spring, however, I have spent a good bit of my time working on my little press, and a little time working on writing for a wider, public audience with my Tourist Guide to the Bakken and my essay on Slow Archaeology for North Dakota Quarterly.

So last week, I wrote a humanities study guide for a series of public talks called the Man Camp Dialogues. These are funded by the North Dakota Humanities Council. The first one is on March 8th in Killdeer, North Dakota at the High Plains Cultural Center. Some time today, our study guide will be ready to circulate, and I’ll put up a link as soon as it’s live. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll share a little design study that I did for a cover. Another thing that I’ve worked on during my sabbatical is becoming more comfortable with Illustrator and more comfortable with the mechanics and aestheticsof cover designs. 

Man Camp Study Guide Alt Cover 01 01

Here’s the guide:

Harvest Value: Reprinting North Dakota Quarterly

I spent a little time between cricket overs working on a little side project. Since last year, I’ve been on the editorial board of North Dakota Quarterly, a small literary magazine started in 1910/11 at the University of North Dakota. It was part of the so-called “little magazine” movement that exploded at the turn of the century and were almost certainly the predecessors of today’s blog driven literary publications.  

I’ve taken it on myself to work with the digital aspects of NDQ and, as part of that, I’ve been scouring back issues for content that is current and interesting. I posted a teaser last week with a mock up of a cover. It was a bit of a design exercise, but I think was pretty satisfactory.

Gilette Book Cover

As I played with this a bit more, I’ve come up with three things that I want to do:

1. Find Interesting Content. The great thing about the little magazine tradition is that it provided folks with a platform for sustained comment on events of their time. The sometimes motley group of faculty who had come to UND and the Red River Valley were not timid in expressing their views of the world and their institution. As a result, the comments offered in the early issues of NDQ have a tendency to be both sweeping in perspective and historically relevant 

2. Design. I am not a graphic designer. In fact, I’m not even very good at using Illustrator, InDesign, or Photoshop, but I recognize the value in today’s hyper-visual culture to making an attractive product. The original layout and design of the NDQ is staid and simple, so I tried to maintain the spirit of that practice. I reset the text in Doves Type to add some craft like flair to it. I also tried to make the cover more graphically inviting (and used official colors of the University of North Dakota on the NDQ logo to emphasize the immediate relevance of this issue to the University).    

3. Add Context. For the two offprints that I have prepared recently, I’ve added a short introduction exploring the context for a particular offprint. This not only allows the reader to understand some of the language and ideas that might seem out of date and impolitic, but also reinforce the relevance of a particular piece for our contemporary world.

So, here is my second reprint. It is an article from NDQ 7.4 (1917) by John Morris Gillette titled: “The University in the Service of Society.” 


I’ve also started working on a larger reprint project that will bring together ten articles on The Great War from the 1916,  1919, and 1920 volumes of NDQ. My romantic goal is to drop this content next November 11th (Veterans’ Day), but I get impatient! 

Here’s my tentative table of contents:

I. Introduction

1. One Hundred Years of Peace (NDQ 6)
O. G. Libby,
Professor of History
University of North Dakota

2. The Background of the Great War (NDQ 8)
O. G. Libby
Professor of History
University of North Dakota

3. The Universities and the War (NDQ 8)
George R. Davis
Assistant Professor of Sociology,
University of North Dakota

II. The University of North Dakota and the War

4. Medical Students and the Draft (NDQ 8)
H.E. French
Professor of Anatomy and Dean of the School of Medicine
University of North Dakota

5. War Experiences of a University Student as a Doughboy (NDQ 10)
Wesley R. Johnson

6. An Alumnus of the University Who Did Not Get Across (NDQ 10)
William H. Greenleaf
Secretary Alumni Association
University of North Dakota

7. Experiences of a University Woman “Over There” (NDQ 10)
Hazel B. Nielson

8. The Work of Institutions of Higher Education (NDQ 10)
Orin G. Libby
Professor of History
University of North Dakota

III. Afterward

9. The University and National Progress (NDQ 9)
Bartholomew John Spence
Professor of Physics
University of North Dakota

10. After the War – What? (NDQ 8)
Hugh E. Willis
Professor of Law
University of North Dakota

If you want to encounter the horror of The Great War first hand (actually, the horror of any war), read over the in memoriam for students and alumni of UND.  

Lives, Land, and Labor in Bakken at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo

If you’re down in Fargo this evening and want to step out, check out the IdeaExchange program on Lives, Land, and Labor in the Bakken at the Plains Art Museum. To register, go here

This program is in conjunction with their ongoing Bakken Boom! exhibit which I’ve blogged about here.

IEBBoom2 12 2015poster

Some thoughts on the Bakken Boom Exhibit at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo

This weekend, I was able to hang out in the Bakken Boom exhibit down at the Plains Museum of Art in Fargo. It took up the top two galleries in the Plains and featured over 20 artists from around the U.S. I was fortunate enough to know a few of the artists whose work was on display making the show a bit more intimate than an ordinary visit to a gallery. In particular, I was excited to see one of Joel Jonientz‘s last works “Chérie, tu vois quelque chose de nouveau ici?” We also had a chance to check out contributions by Kyle Cassidy and John Holmgren who are both collaborators in the North Dakota Man Camp Project. My buddy Ryan Stander, who is now a professor of photography at Minot State, also had some fascinating contributions to the exhibition including a visually arresting print of the fire ball that emanated from the tanker train derailment outside of Casselton, ND.

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Rather than review the show, I’d rather just encourage you to go and check it out, and offer a few observations.

1. The Real and Documentary. One of my favorite things about the show is that is messed with our collective view of what was “real” and what was “documentary” in the Bakken. Several documentary photographers were represented including a series of Alec Soth’s photographs made famous by his New York Times Magazine spread in 2013. The juxtaposition of these well-framed photographs with the numerous mixed media pieces in the exhibit made them seem somehow detached, abstract in their own way, and perhaps even a bit inauthentic. While most of approach critically the tradition of literalism and even objectivity that frame the unwavering gaze of the camera, it was still quite shocking to feel so jaundiced and skeptical about the photographic images in he show. I couldn’t quite figure out whether it was the complexity of the mixed media pieces that made them feel more authentic and real, or whether I was lured into overlooking the complexity of the photographs by the stares of the subjects.

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2. Anxiety. The anxiety of the exhibit was palpable. I thought the frenetic character of many of the mixed-media pieces created a kind of vibrating filter through which made the Bakken appear constantly shaking, out of focus, and contingent. A video installation from the artist collective “Road to Williston” provides a great example of this feeling some of which comes through just by watching the video at their Vimeo site. Ryan Stander’s massive, fragmented print of the Casselton, ND explosion, titled “Missing Information” likewise provided a feeling of angst as the flames billow skyward over a series of panels leaving the viewer to search for its origins in the obscured tank cars at the lower left. The archaeologically arranged discarded objects in Jess Christy’s “Through the Window” designed to document her life as a single woman, living in Minot on the edge of the patch. Her installation left me feeling particularly anxious as it communicated some of the impact of the oil boom at a personal level.

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3. Alternate Perspectives. One thing that was missing from the exhibit were perspectives that considered the possible benefits of the oil boom in the Bakken. The images used frequently seem to overlook (or maybe occlude?) the pre-Boom residents of the Bakken and to locate the Bakken boom against the backdrop of a depersonalized pastoral landscape. (There were two pronounced exceptions to this, Joel Jonientz piece and Sarah Christiansen’s haunting “Skogens’ Bedroom Window, Cartwright, ND, May 2013”). The photographs from Wayne Gunderson’s “Road Conditions: Faces from the Patch” blurs the line between “locals” and “New North Dakotans,” without much explicit social comment. Lucinda Cobley’s “Last Tree” and Molly McLain’s “Gold Boom/Critical Habitat” strike ecological notes, that while obviously relevant, side step the trickier question what and whose environment we should preserve. 

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I hope this critique doesn’t make me sound like an advocate of big oil or an apologist for the environmental, human, and social cost of extractive industries in the Bakken, but the potential for positive outcomes does exist. The challenge, of course, is that these positive outcomes need to be imagined. The contributors to this show demonstrate that the Bakken Boom has stimulated our collective imagination is dramatic and exciting ways, I only wish that the show had reflected more broadly on the stakeholders, possibilities, and future of the boom. 

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Agency, Formality, and Keeping Warm in Bakken Workforce Housing

After three lovely days in the Bakken, my mind is awash in ideas for research and I feel like I can start revising our submission to Historical Archaeology right away. We were once again overwhelmed by the generosity of both new and old North Dakotans. People’s patience with our sometimes intrusive requests to take photos and have conversation, their willingness to sign IRB paperwork, and their general good will makes doing research in workforce housing in the Bakken truly remarkable.  


Our goals for this trip were to focus on architectural innovation in the Bakken as a way to get at issues of agency in the context of workforce housing. The reviewers of our article suggested that our famous typology (Type 1, Type 2, Type 3) was more confusing than elucidating and, to be honest, we had spent more time talking about whether a camp was Type 1 or Type 2 (or whatever) was necessary over the past few visits. So, from the start of this trip we accepted that our typology was a heuristic that was useful when we started describing workforce housing, but has become less helpful as we have come to understand it better.

In the place of our typology, we discussed how camps seem to function on a continuum from the less formal to the more formal. Less formal camps tend to have less institutional control over behavior of residents, less regular appearances, and the greater fluidity of rules and policies and their enforcement than more formal camps. The most formal camps, for example, would by those set-up and run by large companies that cater to large companies in the oil patch by strictly enforcing rules of behavior and the appearance of the camp. The least formal camps are occupied by squatters with no institutional oversight and the only limits on the structure of the camp relate to their existence outside legally sanctioned settlement.

This continuum then, from formal to informal, allowed us to describe both greater variation within the workforce housing sites in the Bakken and to understand the mechanisms that have led to this variation.

In the specific context of revising our article, shifting our focus to the “formality” of camps links our descriptions of workforce housing sites much more tightly to issues of individual agency in the physical structure of the units in the camps. Less formal camps, have greater scope for individual agency and greater variation, but nevertheless still have certain limits that dictate their organization and practices. For example, the arrangement of water, sewage, and electrical hook-ups limits the arrangement of units in the camp. Moreover, the location of the camp and its visibility to local authorities also influenced how much freedom camp residents have to innovate architecturally.

For example, we focused some of our conversations with camp residents on the practice of insulating their RVs for winter. We learned that residents of RV parks tend to learn how to insulate their RVs from their neighbors with folks who had more experience weathering the long, cold North Dakota winters, providing informal advice to those from more mild southern climes. The photograph below shows stacks of extruded polystyrene insulation prepared to be mounted around the base of a new Sandpiper RV. The unit to the right has both polystyrene and plywood insulation affixed to the base of the unit and its mudroom.


In some cases, camp managers would inspect the insulation particularly around sewage and water attachments. Some camp managers explained that if one or two units let their water or sewage freeze, they pipes throughout the camp might be compromised. As a result, they inspect sewage and water pipes regularly.




The construction of mudrooms or other forms of enclosure attached to the RV is another indication of the formality of a workforce housing site. Our favorite camp in the Bakken is Williston Foxrun which has worked hard to manage the range of architectural innovation present at the site. In its earliest days, the camp showed a remarkable variation in mudroom styles including some that exceed the size of the RV or enclosed it completely. Recently, they have worked to limit the size of mudrooms to 8 x 10, but grandfather older mudrooms built in more permissive days provided that they’re not a fire hazard or encroach on their neighbors lot. The first two photos below show relatively large mudrooms probably grandfathered through at Williston Foxrun. Both rooms have air conditioning units suggesting that they’re used for more than just taking off dirty clothes and storage. The room in the top photo also has a propane tank with lines running into the unit for either a heater or a cooktop. The last of the following three photos shows a recently built mudroom which is a good bit smaller than the 8 x 10 size limit and lacks any amenities. 




Finally, we had a chance to look more carefully at discard practices at workforce housing in the Bakken. As the activity in the Bakken has shifted south and has slowed down because of the dip in oil prices, there are more and more signs of RV parks being abandoned or filled with empty lots. While some of the lots were tidy after the departure of a resident – as one of our informants noted: if he left stuff behind someone else would use it, so he might as well take it with him – other lots show signs of hasty departure or no particular concern about recycling insulation or scrap wood. 




In conversation with site managers, we learned the folks left cars, personal items, mudrooms, and other scraps behind when they pulled out. Abandonment sometimes followed a period of neglect when the RV would break down, its sewage system would fail, or the occupant had come into hard times and no longer maintained his or her living space. In some cases, the resident would leave abruptly or be evicted leaving behind a mess for the camp manager but a rich assemblage for archaeological investigation. The unit pictured below showed evidence for an infant living there at least for a short period of time (a single diaper, infant sunscreen, baby lotion), but the camp manager thought the lot was just occupied by a “couple of North Dakota boys.”


So, it was a productive trip out west thanks, especially to my colleagues Bret Weber and Richard Rathaus who helped me see differently. 


The Bakken Calls Once Again

With the price of cratering and the North Dakota cold settling on the Northern Plains (we can ignore the forecast for 55 degree temperatures in the Williston area tomorrow), the industrial beauty of the Bakken once again beckons.

This trip will enlivened by the magnificent Richard Rothaus once again joining the North Dakota Man Camp Project Field Team as well as an embedded radio journalist and a photographer.


The goal of the trip is to once again to check some material in two ongoing publication projects. The first, you should know well: A Tourist Guide to the Bakken. This is to say: go make comments on it over at The Medium.

The other is an article under revision for re-submission to Historical Archaeology. Over the last few days, I’ve deconstructed this article extracted the pieces that our generous peer reviewers thought most valuable, and now need to fill gaps, to smooth transitions, and to reassemble the core content (probably best next week). But for now, I need to check on a few things and fill some gaps. 

The article was this strange beast that included almost everything that we wanted to say about the Bakken in one ramshackle construction. It was not pretty, but it might be useful to someone thinking about their own research in the Bakken and since it will not be published in anything like its current form, I include it here:

We’ll also visit some of our long term study sites with some additional manpower making it easier to document them more thoroughly. Hopefully on Saturday, we’ll look at some of the mobile home camps that have appeared around Watford City and consider these from an archaeological perspective.

Updates will appear next week!