Three Things Thursday: Blogging, Archaeology and Climate, and Poetry

I’ve reached the point of the summer when all my projects seem to melt together into chaotic ball of deadlines, half-met expectations, and long bikes rides. Needless to say, it has not been very productive.

At the same time, I am having fun thinking about things to blog about and then stretching my morning blogging time well into my second cup of coffee. So this morning, I have three things that might, someday, mature into full blog posts.

Thing the First

Years ago (let’s say 2008), I wrote a piece on the archaeology of blogging (and blogging archaeology) for Archaeology magazine’s website. I returned to some of the ideas in that article with a piece co-written by Andrew Reinhard for Internet Archaeology which considered the place of blogs in the academic ecosystem.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how blogging has changed over the past five years. When I started blogging, I imagined an audience who would be interested in understanding how the [academic] sausage was made. Along those lines, my blog would serve as part idea box, part academic scratch pad, and part preview channel for my various research interests. At my most optimistic, I considered it to be living supplement to my academic CV (with occasional dog photo!) and as a way to move back the veil on how academics produce new knowledge. In any event, it may be that this was an optimistic program from the start, but I continue to think that it has relevance. I suspect that this is even more true for today as the general public has become increasingly invested in understanding how scientific knowledge forms the basis for public policy, authority, and expertise.

That said, I can completely understand how my blog is not to everyone’s taste. Indeed, it seems like public scholarship has two main areas of emphasis. One is works that approach historical problems with a journalistic flair for narrative, description, and analysis. Ed Watt’s recent book on the fall of the Roman Republic fits this category as do works by the likes of Eric Cline or my colleague Eric Burin. These works have the potential to attract the elusive crossover audience that includes both academics and the general public and have emerged as a revenue stream for publishers and scholars alike. This is important at a time when library purchasing power is in decline and faculty salaries have tended to stagnate.

The other major strain in public scholarship, and one that has particular prominence in the blogging community, is politically engaged outreach. This involves writing — often for blogs, but also in more established publications — on both academic issues that have an impact on contemporary society and in efforts to demonstrate how the contemporary political discourse has had an impact on what we do as researchers. I find the work of folks like Sarah Bond, Rebecca Futo-Kennedy, and the folks who blog at places like Everyday Orientalism (and previously Eidolon) compelling and important voices. At the same time, I recognize that this kind of public outreach often puts you in the crosshairs of the political outrage machine on social media. On the other hand, their work also attracts significant positive attention from readers within and outside the academy and if the goal of public outreach is actually reaching the public, then these authors have succeeded in spades. 

That said, it is a very different kind of blogging than what I envisioned when I started my blog and one wonders whether the changing political and cultural economy of academia has fundamentally transformed the character of outreach and public oriented scholarship? 

Thing the Second

I really enjoyed this article in the Journal of Field Archaeology by Karim Alizadeh, M. Rouhollah Mohammadi, Sepideh Maziar, and Mohmmad Feizkhah titled: “The Islamic Conquest or Flooding? Sasanian Settlements and Irrigation Systems Collapse in Mughan, Iranian Azerbaijan.” It is another in the recent gaggle of articles interested in considering the role of climate change in the transformation of settlement and activity in the ancient Mediterranean (broadly construed) landscape. Alizadeh and colleagues look at evidence for fortifications and irrigation systems in the Mughan Steppe region of the Azerbaijan-Iranian borderland.

They argue that the Sassanians constructed a complex network of irrigation canals throughout the region that only faltered as a result of two major flooding events in the 7th century. These floods cut down the Aras River bed making disrupting its relationship to the steppe’s irrigation network. These flooding events may well be connected to changes in climate and hydrology precipitated by the Late Antique Little Ice Age. The subsequent abandonment of settlement in the Mughan Steppe in the late 7th century, then, may not be related to the Muslim Conquests and the arrival of Muslim military forces in the world. Or, alternately, the faltering irrigation may have made the regional less resilient in the face of political and military challenges. 

This kind of work has had me thinking more carefully about the settlement change in Greece in the 7th century and the relationship between climate change, changes in economic structures, and the evident reorganization of Greek rural settlement. While the data that we have for the environmental conditions at the local level remains fragmentary and inconclusive, comparisons with other regions of the Mediterranean give us another reason to resist assuming that political and military events precipitated changes in the settlement and economy.   

Thing the Third

Do go and check out the North Dakota Quarterly blog today. I’ve posted a poem by John Walser titled “Chronoscope 181: And that spot.” It’s a great example of how poetry (and music!) can do things with time that we struggle to accomplish in the more linear world of academic prose. Plus, it’s a perfect poem to read heading into midsummer and thinking about how long days can slow down time and make even the chaotic disorganization of summer feel like something significant… 

Archaeology, Nationalism, Destruction

Earlier this summer, I was wandering around an “abandoned” 20th century seasonal settlement in the Western Argolid with a few colleagues, and while we spent time documenting the site and looking carefully at the buildings there, we were also using the site as a way to think (until I was attacked by some kind of bug that had gotten into the sleeve of my long-sleeve and started, understandably, to attack me. Then, there was no thought, just sheer panic. I still have scars, but no one on WARP seemed to really care.).


One thing that we discussed was how sites like these fit awkwardly into the dominant archaeological narrative of the Greek nation. The site was not monumental, for example, nor do its buildings and artifact celebrate the something singular, transcendent, and distinctive about either this corner of the Argolid or the Greek world. Moreover, the site did not fit into a clear stage in the settlement in the Greek countryside. It revealed neither progress nor persistence, but irregular adaptation and modification through time. In many ways, the episodes of abandonment and use defied the more linear narrative of archaeological history which celebrated the development of the Greek state, the Greek world, and – broadly speaking – the West over time. We wondered how publishing sites like these might complicate narratives of the past by showing how the present (or at least the recent past) defies the kind of tidy interpretative trajectory presented by the dominant archaeological and national narrative. Maybe attention to sites like these can disrupt some of the more colonial elements of Classical archaeology by recognizing a Greek past that doesn’t necessarily contribute neatly to a sense of shared or common heritage with the West or even the Greek nation as a coherent cultural unit.

Two recent articles have further engaged my thinking about archaeology and the nation (which has begun to feel a bit like an evergreen topic of study for a generation of archaeologists who came of age in the late 20th and early 21st century). A colleague (h/t Grace Erny!) sent a copy of Vasileios Varouchakis’s recent piece in Public Archaeology (2018), titled “Indigenous Archaeologies of Crete, 1878-1913.” Varouchakis considers the rise of a national archaeology during the period when Crete was an independent protectorate of the great powers (which he argued paralleled and anticipated the national archaeology when Crete became part of the Greek state). Instead of just tracing the emergence of archaeological institutions and projects at the state or international level, however, Varouchakis examined role of local communities in creating an indigenous archaeology on the island. In some cases, this involved working closely with archaeologists on projects that represented shared interest like a switch-back path to the cave above Psychro village which provided access for archaeological work as well as the nutrient rich deposits valued as fertilizer. Restaurants and hotels for visitors followed archaeological projects as did the opportunities for paid work for Cretan peasants. The interaction with both foreign and local archaeologists in these “contact zones” remains familiar to anyone working on a foreign project today, but also served as a space for Cretans to learn the value of archaeology and archaeological artifacts to the state and its partners. This knowledge, then, also provided a foundation for acts of resistance among communities on Crete who recognized the value of archaeology in securing attention for their grievances and advancing their cause. Acts of resistance involved damaging archaeological sites intentionally or by simply ignoring them, deliberate acts of looting, and constructing narratives of their landscape that reject the official narrative promoted by the state and foreign archaeologists. This indigenous archaeology, however, was not some autochthonous view of the past, but a dialogue with the official narrative and a constituent force in creating the contemporary archaeological landscape of the island. Varouchakis’s article gleans from the official record the barest glimpses of the interaction between archaeologists and peasants on the island, but it is enough to recognize the dynamic circumstances in which the formal archaeological narrative emerged.

Christopher Jones’s recent article in the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology & Heritage Studies 6 (2018), “Understanding ISIS’s Destruction of Antiquities as a Rejection of Nationalism,” likewise considers archaeology’s key role in constructing the modern nation, by arguing that ISIS’s destruction of archaeological sites was less directed at various communities living in the Middle East (e.g. Christians, Jews, or various Muslim groups) or even some chimerical pagan past ready to reassert itself, but against efforts by secular states across the region to use archaeology to construct national identities independent of religious affiliation and grounded in a Western, colonial past. To make his argument Jones explored the use of the pre-Islamic past in the state propaganda of the Baathist regimes in Iraq and Syria and demonstrated how ISIS efforts to attack these sites had meaning as part of an explicit counter propaganda campaign.

What’s intriguing in both of these articles is not so much that they argue that archaeology has become part of national narrative, but that resistance to the power of the modern nation state has manifest itself in anti-archaeological ways. On the one hand, this isn’t surprising; but, on the other hand, it reminds me that archaeology is part of a larger modern discourse that exposes it to negotiations and challenges both from within modern view of the world and from without. 

NDUS Outrage Summit: Live-ish Blog

Updated  3:45 pm

The North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit convened this morning with remarks from myself, UND President Mark Kennedy.

FullSizeRender 2

Vice Chancellor, Richard Rothaus (with “Nobody Speak” running on loop in the background (muted, unfortunately)) welcomed us as well.

UNDBillC 2016 Sep 29

Kennedy’s comments were predictable conciliatory suggesting that outrage alone is not enough for change. There has to be outrage “and” (a willingness to collaborate, compromise, and accommodate). Vice Chancellor’s comments emphasized that the somewhat confrontational and unorthodox topic represents the freedom that faculty have to take on controversial topics.

I’m now listening to a series of papers on historical outrage starting with the influence of public outrage on pioneer monuments from Cindy Prescott. 


Next door, 100+ people have gathered to discuss the cancelling of the music therapy program this past spring at UND. 

FullSizeRender 3

Dan Cooley is now talking about race and the Black Campus movement at Concordia College in Minnesota in the 1970s and the intersection of Black Power and Civil Rights. Cool stuff and saturated with outrage. The history of racism on the regions campuses including the dousing of a black students car with gasoline and lighting it on fire at UND in the 1970s. Powerful stuff with contemporary implications.

BillCaraher 2016 Sep 29

 At 9 am Patrick Luber discusses his installation, “Light and Darkness: Tragedy and the Use of Light in Public Art” at the Hopper-Daly Spiritual Center in the Art of Outrage Panel.  

FullSizeRender 4

Now Eric Burin offers longterm historical perspectives on outrage starting in the 18th century and into the economic and racially charged outrage of the 1820s and 1830s with shocking parallels to our own time. This led to intense partisanship in this period as well fueled by the steam powered printing press (as well as more movement through steam engine, steamships, and the like). Abolitionism emerged from this period and gained significant political and popular prestige through grass-roots activism. He notes that the old historiography argued that outrage among abolitionists was counterproductive and divisive; recent scholarship sees the outrage of abolitionists as being vital for “blazing the path” for more traditional statesmen to take up abolitionist causes. 

Cindy Prescott crossed the streams between historical outrage and music therapy panel in arguing that the concrete incident of cutting music therapy serves as a rallying point for a range of grievances. Outrage often needs an event to serve as a lightening rod for anger.

Brian Schill talks about numbness, detachment, and punk rock as a form of outrage in the Literary Outrage panel. Fragmentation, Delilo, Bear versus Shark. Is rage today as dead as punk? Has the distinction between real and staged outraged totally obscured? Fatigue, desensitization, indifference!

FullSizeRender 5

At the same time, we have the music of outrage thanks to two ensembles from Minot State University to a packed house:

FullSizeRender 6

… While Shawn Boyd from UND talks about narratives of outrage with Freud, Baumann, and others joining the outrage party. 3.5 million references to OUTRAGE on the interwebs and Homeric rage in our internet age. How do we control outrage and who imposes its limits historically? And zorn. 

John Cox from NDSU talked about rage in Tito’s Yugoslavia and as a foundation for thematic experimentation works of Billjana Jovanovic and reads from his unpublished translation of her novel Dogs and Others which is laced with outrage.

IMG 5458

Andrew Harnish a graduate student from UND English Department talks about the outrage of the disabled body, disability theory, and disability theory in non-western countries. He starts with an autobiographic account of his disability in larger social and political context.

Professor Jendrysik (and longtime friend) offers the keynote with a bumper sticker, “If you not outraged, you’re not paying attention!” 

IMG 5459

We’re mad as hell, we’re not going take it any more! Communities of outrage grounded in feeling that they’re right and their anger is righteous! And anger is liberating with venues of outrage being political churches.

An experiment: can outrage lead to enduring political movements?

Outrage is exciting, but change is hard work. The end of civility is not the same as outrage (and there is not golden age where political civility was common). Outrage is deeper and we need to interrogate it.

Outrage is performance and constant interpretation and reinterpretation and blaming people for not being what they were. Outrage is signaling and showing that we hate the same thing and same people, and we have shared virtues. Outrage is ritual. For example, the War on Christmas is a signaling discourse that shows people that they’re on the same side. As such, it’s a demand for recognition. 

Outrage is TRUTH in a post-factual world. Anger is real whereas dispassionate conversation and contemplation is boring and lacks commitment. 

IMG 5461

Outrage is industry! There are ritual patterns in the production of outrage. It is commodified and its predictability has become comforting, hence it’s value in today’s society. There is a hierarchical outrage market where local outrage markets get their cues from national outrage mongers who position themselves as heroic truth-speakers. Check out Rod Dreher’s blog which provides daily outrage which leverages the short lifespan of outrage (or the Drudge Report or Breitbart). And we need ever larger doses of outrage to get our fix.

Anger by marginalized groups is denigrated in many way. Political effects of outrage then is growing polarization. The ever increasing amounts of outrage that we need to get our fix ensures that political divisions are more fierce (especially in our post-factual universe). Outrage can produce apathy (a kind of fashionable despair). 

Trump’s campaign is a natural experiment on whether outrage is enough to propel a candidate to victory. And Prof. Jendrysik concludes his talk with a cliffhanger: “We shall see?” 

We’re starting the afternoon session with videos of support for the Standing Rock Reservation and the DAPL.

IMG 5465

The panel is chaired by Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, UND and featuring Cody Hall, James Grijalva, Jaynie Parrish, Mark Trahant. Rather than a critical engagement with outrage, they are expressing outrage as a motivating force behind their need to protect water from the risks associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline. Cody Hall speaks of the native role as protectors of water, and water is a form of prayer which exists everywhere. He is willing to die to protect the water

FullSizeRender 7

Now, Jim Grijalva is an environmental lawyer on the panel and considers the policy goals of the conversation on domestic energy production. He is interested in the concept of environmental justice and “disproportional impacts” on more vulnerable communities. The differing impact and environmental consequences on indigenous peoples is a recognized problem both in federal law and by the United Nations. It is necessary to maintain the environment in such a way that allows for indigenous people to live how they want.  

IMG 5468

Jaynie Parrish introduces social media and community organizing, and the larger change of narrative toward growing respect for the balance between extractive industries and environmental and Native American rights. Telling the story – and using various media – is a vital part of community organizing and balancing the imbalance of power.

Mark Trahant, among many other things, is a blogger. Starts with the Paris Climate Accords to frame the DAPL protest. We can’t produce more oil and bring more oil to market and meet the targets of the Paris Accords and this pipeline is about producing more oil. Also the impact on villages of Alaska that have to move because of rising sea levels. It can’t be either/or, but it we have to “turn the dial” back in the consumption of fossil fuels. The DAPL protest is a social media story (that went to the global media and then the domestic media). Arguments for the science of the pipeline will go all the way up to climate science and then stop. So, science can says that that pipeline is “safe,” but not climate change?

There is a need to talk about what’s going on around the DAPL at UND.

IMG 5469

Final panel of the day: what about a third space? We start with Shelia Liming on dissolution and flux. Third spaces are not home and not work; they’re the other places where people can gather (following Ray Oldenburg’s definition). Informal public life and public spaces mitigates against privatized spaces. Adorno, Benjamin, Oldenburg, and Zombies, oh my!

New Sherry O’Donnell starts with the last bakery closing in Aleppo and then leads into Pierre’s Bakery in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, run by her partner Virgil Benoit from 1996-2003. PR matters and controlling the narrative matters to small businesses, but they can not hold off the big box stores. Their bakery stood for was an alternative to the church, school, and the bars. It was a third space.

David Haeselin wants to make Grand Forks weird OR Grand Forks is already weird, but weirdness can only happen in public. Starts with Fargo: A Town for Misfits. Rhombus Guys Brewing (is a weird square). So North Dakota is weird and downtown businesses are weird. Take Grand Forks seriously as a place; and ties it to his project to publish a reader on the 20th anniversary of the Grand Forks Flood.

Me in the Media: Outrage and the Bakken

It’s been a hectic week here in North Dakotaland. So hectic, in fact, that I don’t have time to write about myself. The self-promotion machine has run up against the oppressive reality of … life and books and outrage!

Fortunately, when I’m too busy to promote myself, other people do pick up the slack.

I was really excited to see this article by Megan Gannon in the MIT-based UnDark Magazine. She discusses the North Dakota Man Camp Project in the context of other – frankly more established and well-known – archaeological projects that focused on the contemporary world. It’s a real honor to be discussed next to the seminal work of Bill Rathje, Larry Zimmerman, and Jason DeLeón. 

The Grand Forks Herald has a short piece on the NDUS Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit that begins tomorrow. Check it out here.

Finally, on Tuesday, North Dakota Quarterly re-published my little article on the historical context for Elwyn Robinson’s History of North Dakota. It’s a nice little piece that ties together Robinson’s career as a teacher and a leader in the Department of History with his crowning achievement. 

Lots going on this week!

NDUS Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit

We have the final program ready for the NDUS Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit. It includes a sweet cover designed by Donovan Witmer. Here’s a draft of my very brief opening remarks

The hashtag is #NDUSOutrage (which oddly enough hasn’t been used lately)!

Outrage Program Cover

Here’s the program. 

8:00 – 8:30
Lecture Bowl

Bill Caraher
Associate Professor, Department of History, UND

Mark Kennedy
President, UND 

9:00-10:00 AM          
The Art of Outrage
Badlands Room 

Light and Darkness: Tragedy and the Use of Light in Public Art
Patrick Luber, UND

Quick Response to Outrage
Jenni Lou Russi, VCSU           

8:30-10:00 AM          
Historical Outrage
Lecture Bowl 

Public Outrage (Re)shaping Settler Commemoration
Cynthia C. Prescott, UND

From Outrage to Change: A Historical Overview of the Black Campus Movement: 1960-1980
Daniel Cooley, UND

Outrage in Historical Perpsective
Eric Burin, UND           

8:30-10:00 AM
Music Therapy Suspension: Shock, Denial, Outrage, Bargaining, Depression, but not Acceptance
River Valley Room           

Music Therapy: An essential allied health profession
Anita Gadberry, UND

Music Therapy in the Evolution of the UND Music Department
Gary Towne, UND

The Impact of the Suspension of Music Therapy on UND
James Popejoy, UND

The Suspension of the UND Music Therapy Program: A Case Study of Flawed Process
Katherine Norman Dearden           

Musical Performance
Ball Room

Fiery Red
Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962)

Piano Trio (MSU)

Jon Rumney, violin, MSU
Erik Anderson, cello, MSU
Dianna Anderson, piano, MSU 

String Quartet No. 8
II. Allegro molto
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) 

MSU String Quartet
Jon Rumney, violin (filling in for Will Schilling)
Nikisa Gentry, violin
Nina Coster, viola
Rebecca Randash, cello 

Literary Outrage
River Valley Room 

The Monkey Smokes a Cigarette, or, Yelling at Your Television
Brian Schill UND

Medieval Zorn, Modern Outrage: The Narrative Aspects of Discontent.
Shawn R. Boyd, UND

Dog-Woman on a Slow Burn: Translating “Jeans Prose” by Billjana Jovanovic
John K. Cox, NDSU

The Outrage of the Disabled Body
Andrew J. Harnish, UND           

Lunch and Keynote:

Opening Remarks
Debbie Storrs, Dean, UND College of Arts and Sciences 

If You Are Not Mad, You’re Not Paying Attention” Outrage as Performance, Industry and Politics in Contemporary America
Mark Jendrysik, UND  

Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline: A Dialogue at the University of North Dakota
Lecture Bowl 

Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, UND
Cody Hall, Alumni UND
Chase Iron Eyes, Alumni UND
James Grijalva, UND
Jaynie Parrish, UND
Mark Trahant, UND 

The Outrage of History: The Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism in Modern Discourse
River Valley Room 

The Black Peter Discussion: the limits of tolerance in the Netherlands
Ernst Pijning, MSU

North V. South: The Legacy of the ‘African Holocaust’ in Ghana
Ty M. Reese, UND

Undermining Outrage: Native Participants in the Conquest of Mexico
Bradley T. Benton, NDSU           

How about a Third Place? A Panel Discussion about Downtown Real Estate and Building Community
Lecture Bowl

David R. Haeselin, UND
Sheila M. Liming, UND
Sheryl O. O’Donnell, UND
Bret Weber, UND           

River Valley Room

Entransed: The Making of a Transnational Woman
Monika Browne, VCSU

2016 North Dakota Arts & Humanities Faculty & Student Exhibition Reception
Colonel Eugene E. Myers Art Gallery (Hughes Fine Art Center)

Outrage: First Draft of Opening Comments

I spent this morning working on a draft of some very brief opening comments for the 2016 North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Summit. The topic is OUTRAGE. My comments will be very brief and introduce UND’s new president Mark Kennedy.

Screenshot 2 10 16 7 52 am 2

The first word in Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, is μῆνιν, wrath, and with it begins the Western literary tradition and, in some ways, our current disciplines of humanistic inquiry. The anger of Achilles drives the Iliad through the violence of the Trojan war. Wrath is the subject of the poet’s work. 

My specialty is the late antiquity during which many of the the Western world’s social, political, and cultural institutions emerged. This was also a time of barbarian invasions, civil wars, the sack of cities – even Rome – and, perhaps most significantly, violent and vigorous religious disputes. These disputes spurred outrage both among prelates, provincials, and, of course, the Emperor, his court, and his army. As the great bishop Gregory of Nyssa observed “If you ask for your change, someone philosophizes to you on the Begotten and the Unbegotten. If you ask the price of bread, you are told, “The Father is greater and the Son inferior.” If you ask, “Is the bath ready?” someone answers, “The Son was created from nothing.”

These most outrageous of times had a lasting impact on Christian theology, political boundaries, and the cultural landscape of Europe and the West and continues to shape conflicts “at the edge of Europe” today.

Closer to home, outrage has a significant role to play in contemporary political and social conversations across the US, in North Dakota, and across the NDUS. In fact, I corresponded a bit with Robert Kibler from Minot State, and he argues that the first Liberal Arts Summit in 2001 originated in a series of tense conversations between various state board members, university presidents, the chancellor, and Kibler who pushed publicly for a liberal arts summit to complement more technology and business oriented research summit convened by the NDUS. Perhaps these tense conversations did not achieve the standard of outrage…

Nevertheless, anger, frustration, and passion are potent creative and generative forces from the dawn of Western literature, the formation of Europe, and the recent foment at the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest Camp at Cannoball, among the faculty and students in Music Therapy here at UND, and in the myriad smaller – and certainly less significant events – that cause spasms of outrage to punctuate our daily lives. I can’t help but thinking that without outrage our world would be a far less vibrant place.

More on The Outrage Summit

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been working on setting up the North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Summit here on campus for next fall. The theme will be outrage and I hope it leads to a productive and thought provoking mini-riot. 

Screenshot 2 10 16 7 52 am

To inspire critical conversation about the  I wrote this short blog post for public consumption and to inspire folks to think about outrage in different ways. It’s intentionally provocative (although not really outrageous). Check it out below:

People are mad. We have to look no further than television or the social media to find our daily dose of outrage. Outrage saturates casual conversations, seeps from the pores of the community, and galvanizes events into evidence for totalizing ideological conspiracies. At its more productive, outrage can stoke mass movements like we witnessed in the Arab Spring or in Ferguson, Missouri. Propelled by passion mediated through digital communication technology, outrage courses through the veins of our hyper-connected modern world.

North Dakota is not immune to paroxysms of outrage, of course. Budget cuts across the state and in higher education and social services have prompted outraged cries. Environmental concerns associated with fracking, political posturing by politicians, an simple incompetence and corruption throughout the state has led to frustration, anger, and ultimately outrage. The intersection of local and national politics has proved particularly fraught as it has brought national attention to local affairs. Even campus events, like the canceling of a program or a 911 call can attract national anger, and the local community can struggle to negotiate tension between loyalty, local knowledge, and national attitudes.

The global media is at least partly to blame for cross pollination of local and national outrage. The ability of a group like ISIS to attract recruits from around the world demonstrates that outrage against something as ubiquitous as Western capitalism and democracy manifests itself at local levels with global impacts. At the same time, social media has allowed local outrage against a tyrannical regime or an act of social injustice to transform into mass action.

The NDUS Arts and Humanities Summit at the University of North Dakota will bring together scholars from across the university system both to express and critique outrage. Expressions of outrage are more than mere emotional catharsis which allows for the dispersion of pent up energy, but have a performative value as well. For scholars like Manual Castells, outrage motivated actions in the social media that eventually catalyzed into mass protests. It may be a more productive to see outrage itself as a medium or performative style which accelerates and intensifies the impact of various messages. Anguished, staccato, character of contemporary outrage, like a modern vox clamatis in deserto, parallels the punctuated bursts of text messages, Tweets, and Facebook posts as well as the sound-bite sensationalism of traditional media. The emotional density of outrage delivers an impact that transcends the need for an argument, for lengthy exposition, and elaborate structure. By inviting scholars to be outraged, we want to explore the potential for outrage as a form of scholarly communication. Can scholars harness the power of outrage effectively to motivate mass movements?

At the same time the Arts and Humanities Summit invites presentations and papers that consider and critique our growing dependence on outrage to motivate social change. After all, not all outrage is created equal and understanding how outrage functions in our connected world ensures that we can critically engage its impact and significance. While we should never confuse recognizing the way in which outrage functions for being about to control it, we should recognize the potential and limits of these media in a world increasingly committed to an accelerated pace of social engagement.

Outrage has already played a key role in the course of the 21st century. It has punctuated debates over race, privileged, and self-determination on an international scale and found a happy ally in the staccato signals of the digital media and our own attenuated attention. While the STEM field are on often seen as the front line for the global pandemics, war, and economic growth, the Arts and Humanities represent a bulwark against the unfettered ravages of outrage in our networked society. Our ability to communicate, to motivate, to compel, to perform, and to empathize reside both at the core of the arts and humanities and outrage. We hope that this event is the first step in a an important initiative that understands the destructive and productive potential of outrage and need to fortify the arts and humanities in North Dakota to manage its awesome power.

The North Dakota Outrage Summit

A couple of months ago I floated the idea of an “Outrage Summit” as a possible theme for the North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Summit in late September. We floated the idea around and there were no objections to it, so this weekend, we put together a call for papers and it should appear on the summit’s website this week or next.

One thing that many of the folks who saw early drafts of my outrage idea suggested is that I “keep it academic.” I thought about this a good bit and decided to ignore that suggestion. I decided that was one of the surest ways to rob the arts and humanities of their emotional power. In fact, I got a bit worried that calls for us to “keep it academic” were largely driven by people who were less invested in the distinctive power of the humanities to push human emotions, agitate the irrational, and propel people to act in ways that defy convention, overturn civility, and bring about radical change. 

So my call for papers explicitly makes room for both academic, intellectual treatments of outrage as well as genuine expressions of outrage. The humanities (and arts!) do more than just obfuscate raw human emotions or insert a layer of opaque jargon between experience and understanding. The humanities and arts can and should form a direct conduit for anger, hatred, joy, love, passion, and even OUTRAGE. This summit should, then, embrace both thoughtful, rational, academic, technical treatments of outrage, and genuine or performed outpourings of emotional anger.   

Screenshot 2 10 16 7 52 am

Finally, I think we have an almost perfect keynote speaker. Hopefully we can make that announcement soon. 

Here’s a preview. 

Outrage has become a dominant feature of the 21st century. It has energized social media, shaped the global political discourse, fueled massive popular movements, and propelled candidates to public office. Outrage has accompanied and amplified mourning, it has been used to resist and affect change, and served both to reinforce authority and to subvert institutions of control. From Occupy Wall Street to the streets of Ferguson, Paris, and Cairo, outrage has become a defining feature of the public sphere.

Historically, college campuses have served as an incubator and a stage for outrage, and recent events at the University of Missouri, for example, have demonstrated that this tradition is alive and well. At the same time, appeals to civility, safety, apathy, and even inclusiveness have challenged the role of college campuses as places for the violent, uncritical, visceral clashes of ideas. The increasingly marginalized place of outrage on college campuses has stifled the often-productive impact of mass movement, spontaneous actions, emotional calls for justice, and cascading, recursive spasms of irrational anger. In many cases, these aspects of outrage are exactly those that the arts and humanities seek to validate, authorize, and instill in our society.

As a result, the Arts and Humanities Summit has decided to embrace outrage both as a form of expression and as an object of study. We encourage the submissions of papers, presentations, and projects that thoughtfully, critically or performatively engage outrage. We encourage contributors to be outraged, to flaunt civility, and to reflect seriously on why outrage matters for the arts and humanities today.