Three Things Teaching Thursday

This semester is barely a week old and feels a bit more chaotic than the last two semesters which were well and truly taught under the specter of COVID. I’ve now become used to the gaggle of administrative emails cryptically informing me that some unnamed student tested positive in one (or more!) of my classes, we’ve lost a day of class to a ground blizzard (which is very “on brand” for North Dakota), and it is so cold that I’m considering wearing a quartz watch today.

Despite these challenges, I remain pretty energized by my classes and genuinely excited to teach my rather more hectic teaching load. It also has me thinking about a few issues moving forward.  

Brought to you by the letter “C”.

Thing the First

Collaboration, Cooperation, and COVID. One thing that I want to impress upon my students is the need to find collaborative ways to adapt to the COVID situation. As the rhetoric encouraging vaccinations and mask-wearing emphasizes that these are not simply good for the individual, but good for the community as well, so I’ve been encouraging my classes to think about practices that will benefit not only their own situation if and when they are stricken with COVID and have to miss class, but also will benefit others. 

There is something about our current educational system that encourages a kind of dogged individualism. While students have slowly come around to the idea that group work and collaborative learning are viable and expected approaches in college, my classes haven’t quite come to the point where they see collaboration as a way to ensure individual success.

Thing the Second

Coping with the Cold. At first, the brutal cold of the North Dakota winter is invigorating. Then, it becomes demoralizing. Last semester, I saw students struggle in ways that I had never before experienced despite declining COVID numbers and a tentative (and fleeting) return to what we imagined to be a “new normal.” This semester feels only more fraught and I worry about my students ability to keep body and soul together during the long slog of the North Dakota winter.

I also fear that I have no solutions to helping students navigate a disrupted semester. I’ll certainly be as flexible as possible, try to pace the semester in as humane a way as possible, and communicate, but I know that their time in my classes is short and only part of their complicated lives. There’s only so much I can do beyond being understanding and patient and hope that we can find a way forward. 

Thing the Third

Coopting the Classrooms. One of the best parts about the relatively new classrooms where I teach is that they’re set up for active learning. This is also one of the greatest challenges because despite the well-known benefits of active learning, I continue to be a bit behind the curve in how I teach. I still do a good bit of lecture and discussion.

One of the things that makes this hard is that instead of a central projector that shows the powerpointers on a screen behind me, the students sit at tables that each have their own monitors. So when I’m talking about a point of architecture or putting a text up on the screen, the students are turned away from me and toward their TVs. This has the same effect as the TVs at a sports bar. It makes discussion difficult and keeps students looking back and forth from their fellow students and to me and then to their TV. This is less than ideal.

More challenging still is that I have at least one or two students on “The Zoom” and the camera for The Zoom is mounted to the monitor on the teaching station. This assumes that the class is a lecture and the best place for the camera (and the microphone) is facing the professor at the front of the room. Of course, this situation is less than ideal for any kind of active learning activities.

There’s not much one can do about this, other than continuously try to work around the limits of classroom space, but it does speak to the kinds of deep contradictions that COVID has created in our classroom.   

Three Things Thursday: Books, Teaching, and the Red River of the North

I’m just over 60% done with my first week of classes, and I’m settling into my new weekly scramble. As per usual, buy the half way point of the week, we life has started to fragment as I desperately flailed to capture the bits and pieces of the time, ideas, and work that had been so neatly arranged earlier in the week. 

In other words, it’s a good time for a Three Things Thursday:  

Thing the First

Because we all decided that we weren’t busy enough, Richard Rothaus, who might just be the MOST busy, decided to restart our moderately unsuccessful podcast: Caraheard. As we awkwardly come to realize, this would be our fourth season and as our tradition in the past, we kicked off the year with a discussion of our favorite books of the year with our very special guest Kostis Kourelis. 

My favorite books read during the past year were Renee Gladman’s Ravicka series published by The Dorothy Project. These books are amazing and I blogged about them last February. I also talked a bit about Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future, which I blogged about here. Finally, any survey of my annual, pandemic inflected reading had to include something about Sun Ra. I talked about the wonderfully reproduced copies of some of Sun Ra’s poetry by the Chicago gallery Corbett vs Dempsey. I’ve blogged about them here.  I’m going to need to spend some time tracking down the past seasons of  Caraheard and maybe getting them up in the Internet Archive or something. So, stay tuned.

Thing the Second 

I’m teaching a lot (for me) this semester. In fact, I’m almost teaching “for the cycle”; that is teaching a 100, 200, 300, and 500 class. I’m teaching this semester as a bit of a “teaching sabbatical” in which I prioritize these four classes over my other contractual responsibilities. In fact, I’ve reduced the percentage of my contract designated for research to almost nothing and have controlled my service responsibilities by rotation off a pair of particular onerous committee. While I know that many faculty teach four or more classes year-in and year-out, and so I want to be clear that I’m not trying to valorize by teaching load or anything of the sort. For me, however, teaching more classes and more preps creates a chance for me to shift my attention to teaching in a way that sometimes gets lost when I find myself juggling my classes as just another facet of my professional responsibilities. 

There’s something about the constant pressure that four preps places on me that keeps thinking about teaching in the forefront of mind. This has made me wonder why teaching sabbaticals aren’t a thing? Why do we tend to assume that faculty want to spend a year immersed in the research grind and freed from responsibilities to teach and to do service, but we don’t offer the same for faculty who have a significant commitment to teaching? I would love to institutionalize the opportunity to take a year away from service and research and really focus on the craft of teaching. More to the point, I also think it would emphasize the importance of teaching not only to faculty, but to the institution itself. I could imagine a teaching intensive schedule paired with opportunities to be mentored by teachers in other departments and disciplines, there could be a retreat prior to the start of the semester where faculty could focus on installing new methods, approaches, or curriculum. There could be opportunities to refresh tired classes or to emphasize major changes in medium – from in-person to on-line, for example, or from small section to big? 

More importantly, departments and colleges would not only not be penalized for faculty taking a teaching sabbatical, but be rewarded. For example, colleges and departments would still receive the full percentage of research funds allocated on the basis of that faculty member’s typical research contract. Service responsibilities will be entirely eliminated for the year as would occur during a typical research sabbatical, but departments would be given support to incentivize other faculty stepping into service roles for the duration of the sabbatical.

Thing the Third

I serve on our community’s historic preservation commission as the commission’s archaeologist, and at the past meeting, in a not entirely spontaneous gesture, I raised my had to take on a small project that was sent out to bid and did not receive any interest. I’m going to investigate whether any parts of the 1950s era flood wall still exist along the course of the Red River in Grand Forks. Fortunately, we have already done a bit of research and received the Army Corps of Engineers maps showing the 1950s era wall. I also have a copy of Douglas Ramsey and Larry Skroch’s book, The Raging Red: The 1950 Red River Valley Flood (1996).

This work will be a little more salient this year as the community looks back 25 years to the 1997 Red River flood which overran the earlier flood walls and led to the massive installations that we have installed today. While many people won’t be interested in looking back at the 1997 flood (if for no other reason than it represents a time when community cohesion, resilience, and state support provided a foundation for recovery), I feel like we have an ongoing obligation to think about how our decision to make our home on the river has shaped the landscape. 

Teaching Thursday: Teaching Things

Next semester, I’m teaching a graduate course in the English Department on “things.” I haven’t taught a full-blown graduate class for close to a decade. It’ll also be an adventure because I actually don’t know any of the students in the class and I’m even less familiar with what they might know or what to talk about! 

I also have to admit that the class is a bit half-baked. It was based originally on a couple of chapters from the book that I’m currently revising on the archaeology of the contemporary world, but as I started to put my syllabus together things pretty quickly got out of control. 

The final syllabus will include some supplemental reading for each week and, of course, some information on assignments and the like. I’ll blog more about this next week, perhaps, but I’m going to try to make this class as open ended as possible in terms of class time, writing, and outcomes. 

For now, here is the “core” reading list. I’ll share the full syllabus when it’s done sometime next week.

Week 1: Thinking with Things
https://www.everythingisalive.com/

Week 2: Introduction to Things
Chapters from my book.
Hicks, Dan and Mary C. Beaudry, “Introduction: the place of historical archaeology.” In The Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology, eds. Dan Hicks and Mary C. Beaudry, 1-11. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Week 3: Things and Literature
Tim Jelfs, The Argument about Things in the 1980s: Goods and Garbage in the Age of Neoliberalism. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2018.

Week 4: Things in Thought
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke 2010.

Week 5: Things and Agency
Bruno Latour, Aramis or The Love of Technology. Translated by Catherine Porter. Harvard 1996.
Severin Fowles, “The perfect subject (postcolonial object studies)” Journal of Material Culture 21.1 (2016), 9-27.

Week 6: Consuming Things
Daniel Miller, Stuff. Wiley 2010.

Week 7: Things and Archaeology

Bjørnar Olsen, In Defense of Things: Archaeology and the Ontology of Objects. Lanham: Altamira, 2010.

Week 8: Nature

Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think: Anthropology Beyond the Human. California 2013

Week 9: Things and History

Timothy LeCain, The Matter of History: How Things Create the Past. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2017

Week 10: Religion and Things
Maia Kotrosits, The Lives of Objects: Material Culture, Experience, and the Real in the History of Early Christianity. Chicago 2020.
Michelle M. Sauer and Jenny C. Bledsoe, “Introduction” in Sauer and Bledsoe (eds.), The Materiality of Middle English Anchoritic Devotion. Leeds: Arc Humanities Press 2021.

Week 11: Media Things
Jussi Parikka, The Geology of Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.
William Basinski, Disintegration Loops: https://youtu.be/Ha6LtRkqMpk

Week 12: Broken Things and Ruins
Shannon Lee Dawdy, Patina: A Profane Archaeology. Chicago 2013

Week 13: Warren Ellis, Nina Simone’s Gum. Faber & Faber 2021.

Week 14: Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials. Re.Press 2008.

A Mildly Anarchist Teaching Encounter

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been working on a short paper that examines a class that I taught a few years ago to document the two buildings associated with Wesley College on the University of North Dakota campus. This class ran as a 1-credit companion to a 3-credit course on the university budget.

I finally have a more or less final draft prepared. The paper argues my one credit course embraced what I call a “mildly anarchist” pedagogy that rejected the outcome oriented approaches favored by the institution. 

Figure 1

You can read the paper here and do let me know what you think.

Teaching Tuesday: Three Things from the Fall Semester

It has been a long fall semester, and I feel like I’ve learned about as much this fall as was possible. I’m hoping some of what I learned will make me a better teacher especially as I go into a spring semester where I’ll be teaching four classes for the first time in many years. 

This week, as I write syllabi with one hand and grade papers with the other, I’m thinking about three key things.

1. Communication. I was fascinated by a little conversation on Twitter this past week about students and email. In general, we as faculty think of communication as the key to building effective relationships with students. In fact, I go to great lengths to set the tone both in the classroom and through the various other media that we now use to communicate: Zoom, our campus LMS (Blackboard), email, and so on. Despite my efforts, it is clear that students struggle with feeling comfortable using these media.

Some of this almost certain arises from a general lack of familiarity with the expectations of a college classroom. Something as simple as what do you call your professor (and the range of expectations on any campus about what is deemed appropriate) can be baffling to students especially first generation students who lack the relationships that can provide intergenerational guidance on college etiquette.

More than that, students clearly operate by a set of standards and practices concerning email that are often quite different than those of faculty. While many of my faculty colleagues complain about the daily deluge of emails, I’ve at least experienced a steady decline in student emails over the past few years (administrative emails, of course, continue unabated!). My classes involve a good bit of collaborative learning that sometimes requires work outside of class, and my students who are left to their own devices to self-organize rarely opt to use email even when they’re using Google docs to write. In other words, students are using email less and less as a mode of communication. 

It is fair enough that we should expect our students to check their emails, and my professional life demonstrates that emails continue to be a vital mode for communication. At the same time, I’m a bit hesitant to criticize students for ignoring their campus email accounts for days at a time. Students may well know the horrors that will come when they adopt proper attention to email and this awareness has already shaped student communication strategies. Student resistance to emails may well represent an intergeneration and political line in the sand.     

2. Attendance. I’ve never been the kind of teacher who has outstanding attendance in my classes. First, I’m not especially charismatic or personally engaging. Second, I make the mistake of telling students that attendance is important which I suspect comes off more as a challenge than a statement of fact. Third, last year’s COVID conditioned semesters changed student expectations on what constitutes attendance. Various hyflex and hybrid models of teaching allowed students options of attention courses in person or via digital “modalities.” The various digital ways of attending courses ironically served to de-emphasize the importance of being present in the classroom because they allowed students to coast passively through a class session while still adhering to the letter of class attendance policies.  

The result was that students drifted away especially at key junctures in the semester such as the midterm or end of the semester wrap up. Student work suffers as a result. I’m reluctant to implement punitive measures designed to enforce attendance, but also regret that students miss class and do poorly.

As a result, I’m going to emphasize more the responsibility of students to keep up with work even if they don’t attend and do more to make various assignments accessible and understandable to students who struggle with attendance. I can’t make attendance mandatory nor can I make it unnecessary, but I feel like I probably need to do more to teach those students who are not present. 

3. Work Load. Over the past semester, I’ve become increasingly worried about student workloads. Some of this stemmed from doing the simple maths and discovering that the average college student with an average course load is expected to work at least 35 hours per week on school work alone. This leaves precious little time of jobs, other campus responsibilities, and home lives. In fact, studies in Scandawegian countries have shown that employees often work optimally at 30-35 hours per week. It is clear that our students are working many more hours than this when we combine course work, outside employment, and other campus opportunities. 

It seems to me that the economics of higher education where more of the burden is falling on students is largely to blame for this. Every semester I have students who take pride is working full time and going to school in order to graduate debt free. Many of these students, however, pay for this choice by engaging less fully in their course work. Moreover, in many cases students struggle to discern which elements of course work produce the most valuable returns on their investment of time. 

Some of this is a result of course design which distributes the benefits of the course across a wide range of assignments in the hope of engaging with a wide range of learners. The downside of this is that every student likely experiences some work that doesn’t particularly suit their learning style or does not feel particularly valuable. These encounters invariably create a sense that the class is filled with flotsam that they can comfortably ignore without much consequence. Unfortunately, the downside of this entirely reasonable response is that the students have to discern what assignments and approaches are best for them to learn something and negotiate the workload of the semester. This, unfortunately, requires both a fairly high degree of self awareness and a level of strategic thinking that many students are only still developing in college. 

I don’t have a solution to managing student workloads better other than to continue to aspire to a kind of transparency and managing what I do in class with an eye toward doing more with fewer assignments.  

American History or Medieval History

Earlier this week, there was a fun discussion on The Twitters about a job ad that read: New job: “tenure track position: American history OR Medieval history.” At first, like a bunch of other people on Twitters, I was baffled by this (although I could understand easily enough how a department might need one or the other and for now was happy with either). 

After a bit of good natured discussion about it, I got thinking about whether a position of American OR Medieval history could almost as easily be a position in American AND Medieval history. My brain made this leap, in part, because such a position would not feel particular foreign to my experiences as someone with an interest in Medieval history (broadly) and a growing interest in US history. It would also coincide with recent developments in the field. After mulling it over a bit more, I got to wonder whether we might see more of these kinds of positions in the future.

And here’s why:

1. Global Middle Ages. One of my favorite books of the last year is Eleni Kefala’s, The Conquered: Byzantium and America on the Cusp of Modernity (Dumbarton Oaks 2020). I blogged about it earlier in the year. The book compares a literary lament for the fall of Constantinople with a similar pair of laments for the fall of Mexica empire “Huexotzinca Piece,” and the “Tlaxcala Piece.” 

Such innovative comparisons remind us that it is entirely plausible for an individual to have lived through the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the first wave of conquest in the Caribbean and Central America in the early 16th century. In other words, American history, inasmuch as it imagines its beginning with the first journeys of conquest by Europeans to North, Central, and South America is not particularly far removed from an event often associated with the end of the Medieval East. 

Works like Laila Lalami’s 2014 novel, The Moor’s Account, which tells the story of at the Narvaez expedition from the perspective of in 1510 offers a fictional view of the disastrous expedition from the perspective of Mustafa Azemmouri or Estebanico, an enslaved Moor. Lalami’s account plausibly assumes that Estebanico continued to practice many elements consistent with his upbringing in the larger Islamic world. Whether we see this world as “Medieval” or “Early Modern” does not matter much especially once we divorce such terms from narratives grounded in European history and the narrative of European expansion.

Embracing the concept of a global Middle Ages means that it is no longer a contradiction to study Medieval history and American history. Just an an “Ancient historian” might be expected the teach the entire history of the Roman Republic from the founding of the city to the rise of Augustus, so a historian might be expected to study periods defined by, say, the Fourth Crusade and the American Revolution or the Battle of Kosovo (1389) and the American Civil War.      

2. World-Systems. My experience with the intersection of Medieval history and American history did not come from such expansive and, frankly, 21st century readings of Medieval history, but world systems theory (in its plurality of guises). I wish I could claim that my reading of F. Braudel’s The Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II spurred me to think expansively about history and material culture (especially as Braudel’s ideas have been adapted and critiques but works such as P. Horden and N. Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea (2000)), but instead, I started to realize that the study of American history and Medieval history were not so far removed by hanging out with P. Nick Kardulias.

Kardulias is an archaeologist who wrote his dissertation on the archaeology of the Late Roman and Byzantine fortress at Isthmia (which he published as a book in 2005). A quick scan of Kardulias’s publications show his expansive area of research interests that include historic buildings in Northern Ohio, American rock shelters, and prehistoric and historic sites in Greece and Cyprus. Throughout his career, he demonstrated how studying a range of material culture and history contributed to understanding systems that functioned on transregional and even global scales.

His support of my interest in the modern sites in Greece, for example, was absolutely formative and encouraged me to think about broader patterns of human history especially in rural landscapes. Kardulias’s insights, in a general way, informed my work at sites of short term occupation in the contemporary Bakken oil patch in North Dakota and in Greece and Cyprus.      

Of course, one could protest that Kardulias is an anthropologist or an archaeologist, but we shared advisors and while my PhD says History and Nick’s says Anthropology, we still have a good bit in common.

3. Skills and Methods. Common skills and methods often anchor the ability to move between a Medieval and American context and should extent to our ability to teach those fields. As I became more and more interested in certain questions, it became pretty obvious that the skills that I had honed in the Medieval Mediterranean could serve to answer questions in a American context as well.

To be clear, I’m not the first to sort this out. For example, my colleague David Pettegrew has used his data crunching and GIS abilities developed through the study of the Late Roman and Early Medieval Corinthia in Greece and Cyprus to study race, economy, and social change in Harrisburg. Kostis Kourelis, who’s speciality is Byzantine and Frankish Greece, has made meaningful contributions to the history of Greeks in Pennsylvania, my work in the North Dakota oil patch, and in understanding the global scope of the Avant-garde. Richard Rothaus is (literally!) another dean of this kind of thinking as he published a well-respected book on Late Roman Corinth as well as running, for a time, his own CRM company in the Northern Plains and continuing to publish and present on the Bakken, Japanese internment, the Dakota Wars, and so on. 

I know plenty of archaeologists and historians who have meaningful sidelights doing local archaeology, archival research, and heritage. It doesn’t take much time for this kind of work to lead scholars to have feet in multiple specializations. Of course, this isn’t limited to Medievalists and I know plenty of prehistorians and even Classical archaeologists who have done significant archaeological and historical work outside their fields.

4. Reception. Perhaps among the fruitful area of contemporary studies of the ancient and Medieval world is reception studies. This is honestly, not an area where I have much experience other than the regular stream of panels at various meetings. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that I don’t recognize the importance of reception especially as post-colonial state building continues in places like the Near East where the Medieval legacy of these places intersects with political interests anchored in Orientalism. To understand the way in which Orientalist legacies (as one example) have shaped our view of the past involves understanding the histories that produced such views of the Near East. 

Of course issues such as race, gender, and ethnicity (and ethnogenesis) likewise require a foot in both the Medieval and the Modern worlds and cultural, economic, and geopolitical history as well. One can hardly imagine speaking with authority on complex interplay between past views and present policies without being an expert on both.  

5. Teaching. Finally, there is a real sense of urgency in the study of the Ancient and Medieval worlds these days. The chorus of scholars suggesting that our field requires not just significant changes, but perhaps existential ones. This coincides with the changing needs of departments and challenges associated with enrollments in liberal arts and history in particular. 

Being flexible and having a foot in US and the Medieval gives one the ability to both navigate the changing political, disciplinary, and frankly economic landscape of the academy. While this might seem crudely opportunistic or even cynical, I think that it is still acceptable to approach ones livelihood with a bit of realistic strategizing especially at institutions which offer a bit less in he way of insulation for the vagaries of political fortune. I suspect that someday I’ll contribute to our department’s offerings in American history not because I have a deep or profound knowledge of the topic, but to help our department respond to opportunities and pressures from various stakeholders. 

That this might intersect with the growing feeling that the study of the Ancient and Medieval worlds is overrepresented in the academy, is mostly just a coincidence. Times, priorities, and ethical imperatives change with time and maintaining a certain amount of flexibility ensures that one’s knowledge remains appropriate and relevant.  

Teaching Tuesday: The Wesley College Documentation Project as Radical Pedagogy 2

It’s the end of the semester and I’m running on fumes. Unfortunately, my enervated state does not dictate my deadlines and the end of the semester is always a cruel juxtaposition deadlines and exhaustion.

Nevertheless, I continue to plug away at various projects with the vague hope of gaining momentum once grading is done and grades are submitted. Below is a revised version of the concluding discussion to my paper. It’s … not great, but the ideas are finally all there. I’ve been slogging on this for so long that I really need to put it aside for a bit and come back to it with a fresh editing pen and clearer eyes.

You can read the first part of the paper here. Just stop reading at the Reflections and Discussion section and come to this page.

Feedback is always welcome! 

Reflections and Discussion

From the start, I did not design this class to produce a particular outcome. As a result, there is no measure against which I could assess its success or failure. Indeed, the absence of any anticipated outcome as an objective undercut the need for a particularly explicit pedagogy. While we talked casually about the technology that we had at our disposal (notebooks, cameras, and our phones) and matters of access to the building, mostly I encouraged the students to engage the space creatively and to allow their curiosity to dictate their approaches to knowledge making. This informality encouraged the students to follow the lead of the objects and buildings themselves to the archives and various observations and discoveries reflected a pedagogical experience anchored in a form of free inquiry structured by the buildings themselves. Most of the reflections in the following section derive from hindsight, but this retroactive approach to understand the character of the course may well offer some salient points for future efforts in constructing distinctive possibile pedagogies for the archaeology of the contemporary world.

The idea of an approach to teaching that eschews narrowly defined or content oriented outcomes is hardly revolutionary. Paolo Fiere’s oft-cited critique of the “banking model of education,” for example, offered a collaborative model for adult learning where learners and teachers create new knowledge together through dialogue. Fiere’s skepticism toward contemporary education resonated in part with Paul Goodman’s call to abolish most educational institutions and Ivan Illich’s nearly contemporary notion of “deschooling.” Fiere, Goodman, and Illich regarded most contemporary schooling as a mechanism for social and economic control and championed more open-ended, collaborative, and hand-on approaches as a means of unlocking the emancipatory potential of education. In more recent years, a steady stream of scholars have sought to reconcile the institutional constraints of higher education and the desire of more emancipatory or even transgressive learning (e.g. hooks 1994; Gannon 2020). In fact, as higher education has become increasingly associated with work force development and shaped by private capital (e.g. Newfield 2016) the need to imagine alternatives that work to critique or even subvert existing systems of learning has become more urgent. Recent calls for ungrading, for example, stress the role that grading plays in sorting and ranking students. This not only reinforces the role of education as a tool for determining the value of students in the market, but also exerts an outsized role on student expectations and the classroom experience where grades become the goal rather than learning. Dispensing with grades, as I did in this course, is often associated with efforts to critique marketplace models of education that require or least imply winners and losers. While efforts to imagine alternatives to current approaches to higher education (e.g. Staley 2019) often seek to challenge or subvert the marketplace model (e.g. Menand), sustained external pressures from a wide range of stakeholders continue to push institutions to adopt the practices of the private sector with their concern for efficiency, competition, and economy.

The students and I discussed many of the trends shaping higher education in the course on the university budget. We noted in particular the rise of incentive based budget models and the arguments that these models reward efficient production of outcomes and results. This emphasis on efficiency invariable informed some of the ideas that I was developing at this time associated with the concept of “slow archaeology” (Caraher 2016; Caraher 2019). Slow archaeology in its various forms emphasizes the value of a sustained engagement with spaces and objects and the use of less structured recording methods alongside and often in constrast to more formal and digital field techniques. In this way, it sought to critique the role that efficiency has come to play both in archaeological methodology and across contemporary society (e.g. Alexander 2008). The modern origins of archaeological practice favored specialized skills, neatly delineated procedures, and hierarchy which produced knowledge making practices susceptible to digital tools and their claims to increased efficiency. In the late-20th and early 21st century, a modern economy shaped by the “great acceleration” (McNeil 2014) has stressed the need for speed and efficiency in archaeology not only to keep pace with with development (Zorin 2015) but also to document the transformations wrought by rising sea levels and climate change. In North Dakota, specifically, the early-21st-century Bakken oil boom created a similar boom in archaeological work amid the reshaping of the Western North Dakota landscape in service of extractive industries. The role that archaeology played in the controversies surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline made clear that super modernity (sensu González-Ruibal 2008; 2018) recognized archaeology and heritage as simply another input into the complex financial equations designed to produce resources in the most efficient way possible. As many of the students enrolled in the Wesley College class were also enrolled in my concurrent course on the university budget where we discussed issues such as “deferred maintenance” that allocated the costs of maintaining campus buildings to the disadvantage of older structures which not only preserved significant memories but also required more upkeep by dint of their age alone.

The status of the Wesley College buildings as schedule for demolition and largely abandoned created a sense of urgency in our work, but, at the same time, we understood that the university had made arrangement for a more formal documentation processes. This process, however, tended to emphasize the architectural and design elements of these buildings rather than the evidence for their everyday use. As a result, some in the preservationist community fear that formal and procedural aspects of documentation have failed to engage the emotional, social, and dynamic aspects of historic architecture (for a recent summary see: Kaufman 2019). Thus, the class’s work in these buildings offered a counterweight to archaeological and resource management approaches driven by methods or formal requirements. By starting our study of the buildings with the things left behind rather than methodology or procedures, we foregrounded the role of curiosity and interest in archaeological practices. As James Flexner has argued in his recent calls for “degrowth“ in archaeology developing practices that foreground a shared interest in the past between practitioners and the public as a way of subverting product and outcome oriented approaches to field work (Flexner 2020).

This approach resonated with the students in my class who likewise occupied a middle ground between being insiders to the college campus and as outsiders to the inner workings of the university made them particularly motivated collaborators. In fact, the entire course relied on the students’ eagerness to transgress the traditional limits of student movement on campus and enter into spaces typically reserved for faculty offices and laboratories. Students were also allowed to explore the buildings in far more physical ways than they would other buildings on campus where the administration would discourage tearing up carpets and punching holes in walls. While we often assume that college campuses are the domain of students, in reality however, university administrators and faculty often design campuses to restrict student movement. In some cases, this involves small scale barriers which delineate faculty office where students might occasionally venture, but rarely stay for long, from classroom and public spaces where campus authors expect and encourage students to gather. Campuses also contain numerous spaces accessed only by administrators, maintenance and facilities personnel, housing and dining staffs, and other specialized employees whose collective work to keep campus warm, safe, clean, and functional was kept out of public view. Students efforts to document spaces associated with service areas, faculty, staff, and departmental offices, and laboratories provided a kind of material analogue to more bureaucratic and procedural discussions that we were having in the course of the university budget.

By allowing student interests to start with the objects and spaces that they encountered in these buildings, the class anticipated some of the approaches modeled by Christopher Witmore in his “chorography” of the landscape of the northeastern Peloponnesus. Witmore’s chorography foregrounded the role of objects, places, and space as opposed to practices, methods, and institutions in producing the freedom for new kinds of knowledge (Witmore 2020). In much the same way that Witmore modeled in his book, the students and I walked through, talked about, and worked together to understand the spaces and objects present in these buildings. We followed leads, debated theories, and relied on our range of experiences and interests to create and share our distinct experiences. The resulting photo essay (Atchley 201x), musical composition, publications (Caraher et al. 2019), and events represented only a narrow window into our time in the building. The irreducibility of the experiences that spending time in these buildings provided evoked the Witmore’s concern for the transformation of the countryside by super modernity. Spending time in the Wesley College buildings led the students to develop a greater sensitivity toward the changing economic realities facing campus, the history that the Wesley College buildings embodied, and the ease with which they could be erased from both the campus plan and memory. Of course, it would be easy to overstate the connections between Witmore’s magisterial book and a group of students in a one-credit university course (especially since his book appeared two years after the course was over). That said, Witmore’s openness to the instigations and provocations provided by the objects in the Greeks landscape challenges conventional approaches to archaeological work that looks toward rigorous methods to mediate between the material world and our curiosity.

In a general way, offering students access to buildings that were caught between abandonment and demolition and spaces that were both part of campus and often hidden from their view supported my unstructured pedagogy of the course and our collective decisions to eschew formal standards of archaeological documentation. The class deliberately operated at the edges of archaeological methods, expected pedagogical practices, and the history of campus itself. These conditions allowed us to understand how archaeology of the contemporary world could engage actives sites, political fraught spaces, and approaches that push the discipline of archaeology itself to reflect more deliberately on its own methods and goals. Of particular significance was how our class provided an opportunity to produce a plan that not only adapted to the character of the buildings but also the interests of the students. This allowed for priorities to develop on the fly and for the students to shift their interest seamlessly from the materiality of the buildings and the assemblage left behind in various spaces to the archives and performance.

Archaeology of the contemporary world’s attention to dynamic, active, and changing sites has invariably led to a wider range of field practices as well as a deeper engagement with stakeholders who exist outside of the traditional purview archaeology as a discipline. The sites of homeless squats, music festivals, protests encampments, and the movements of undocumented migrants often leave either intentionally ephemeral material traces. Assemblages associated with the ongoing pandemic, for example, appear to change daily or even hourly in response to community attitudes and official policies. The contingencies associated with “fast urbanism” have likewise complicated the applicability of conventional archaeological methodology and procedures to documenting complex assemblages. The various communities associated with this material also have distinct views of their own identities and their materiality that reward approaches anchored in collaboration rather than abstracted ideas of methodology and practice. My one-credit course represented an effort to explore the pedagogical potential for a collaborative archaeology of the contemporary world.

Three Things Thursday: Atari, Teaching, and Cyprus

Thanksgiving break is always an opportunity to slow down and be thankful for all the little things that make my life better. Historically, I dedicate Thanksgiving day to catching up on grading and taking a swing at the pile of books and articles that I’ve set aside to read “sometime.” Both of these tasks are pleasurable enough and remind me of the amazing privilege that I have both to teach and to read for a living. 

To start this celebration a bit early, I’m going to indulge in another favorite pastime and offer a little Three Things Thursday (albeit one day in advance):

Thing the First

As I continue to work to revise my book, one thing that I find both challenging and rewarding is re-writing the early chapters of the book so that they read more like the later chapters. One of the areas where I’m investing a good bit of effort are the little preludes that I include in each chapter. These preludes come before the … ludes… er… introduction and serve to connect each chapter to the two case studies that anchor the book: Atari and the Bakken. They also allow me to interject a more personal component to the book that connects the concept of the contemporary to the work of the archaeologist as an individual. 

Today I’m going to retool the short prelude to my chapter on things (that incidentally, will be the basis of a graduate reading class that I’ll teach on the topic next semester). As it stands now, I reflect a very common question that I get when someone learns that I’m an archaeologist: what’s the coolest thing that you’ve ever found? In my revision, I’m going to shift the focus to the moment that the massive excavator revealed the Atari games in the Alamogordo landfill in 2014. In this moment, the games shifted from being low value trash to being high value commodities. In some ways, this moment restored the games to the position that they held in my childhood when as far as I can recall, the latest Atari game was among the first things that I ever wanted. In other words, I was able to witness the moment when Atari games acquired new value and a new context. This also pushed me to consider how things work in our society. 

Thing the Second

I’m finding it more and more challenging to manage the end of the semester rush. It’s not that I feel particular flustered or stressed, but I have come to really worry about my students who are clearly struggling at the confluence of the holidays, the end of the semester workloads, family, and first sustained stretch of winter with its cold, shorter days, and weather. This distressing situation has once again pushed me to think about student workloads and the current structure of our semester. 

As I begin to design my classes for the spring semester, I’ve started to think about two alternative models. The first one would be a model that splits courses over two semester. Each semester would have a 7 week class focuses on one major assignment. The grade would be recorded in the second semester. A course of this design would keep the course clear of the end of the semester exhaustion, stress, and busyness. Of course, if a student took multiple classes with this schedule, it would do little to alleviate the anxiety caused by competing responsibilities. 

Another model would be one that makes a 16 week course into a 12 week course by giving the students a week off every 5 weeks (i.e. 4 weeks of class and one week off). This course design would help students manage their workload better for my course during the semester and perhaps provide them with an alternative structure for better pacing their energy over the course of the semester.

Thing the Third

I’m really enjoying some of the recent scholarship on Cyprus. This week, I’ve read Catherine T. Keane’s “Ecclesiastical Economies: The Integration of Sacred and Maritime Topographies of Late Antique Cyprus,” in Religions 12 (2022?). Keane situations Early Christian architecture within its economic and social landscape with particular attention to the coastal location of Christian churches. This, of course, not only contributes my (very slowly) ongoing work at Pyla-Koutsopetria where a church stood on the coast and my work at Polis which has worked to be more attentive to the larger context for the two Early Christian churches in the local landscape. 

I was similarly pleased to discover Simon James, Lucy Blue, Adam Rogers, and Vicki Score’s article “From phantom town to maritime cultural landscape and beyond: Dreamer’s Bay Roman-Byzantine ‘port’, the Akrotiri Peninsula, Cyprus, and eastern Mediterranean maritime communications,” in Levant 52.3 (2020), 337-360. I’ve just started to digest it, but it unpacks another coastal site that we’ve long known about, but have never seen published in a comprehensive or sophisticated way. The article by Simon James et al. looks to be a key step in that direction and the concept of a maritime landscape that is something other than a nucleated settlement is particularly appealing for a site like Koutsopetria which appears to have never developed any of the institutions that one might associated with a formal town or village.

It’ll take me a while to digest both of these rather recent articles, but I’m excited to try to apply some of these authors’ observations to my work on Cyprus.      
 

Teaching Tuesday: The Wesley College Documentation Project as Radical Pedagogy

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been chipping on a paper that reflect on the Wesley College Documentation project as an approach to teaching the archaeology of the contemporary world. I’m about two thirds of the way through the paper and thought I should probably share a draft of it.

I’m moderately happy with what I have on the page so far. The paper will be a bit backward in that I am writing from the perspective of practice that I then analyze through reflections later. This approach is both honest, in that I didn’t really have a pedagogy or a plan when I put this class together, and I suspect reflects an authentic account of how my experience in the Wesley College buildings and with this group of students shaped my understanding of teaching.

Documenting Wesley College: A Mildly Anarchist Teaching Encounter

Introduction

In an American context, teaching and the study of the archaeology of the contemporary world have always existed together. Schiffer and Gould’s seminal, Modern Material Culture features an article by Schiffer and Wilke titled: “The Modern Material-Culture Field School: Teaching Archaeology on the University Campus” which, as the title suggests, used the material culture of the University of Arizona campus as a context for teaching archaeological methods and interpretation. Similarly, Bill Rathje’s “Garbage Project” which took place at the same institution at the same time, grew out of his efforts to introduce undergraduates both to sampling and behavioral archaeology through the systematic study of domestic trash collected from Tuscon neighborhoods. The last 40 years have continued to see a steady stream of studies that demonstrate how the contemporary university campus can provide a compelling site for teaching archaeology.

Most of these campus projects focused on using modern material and contexts to instruct students in the systematic practices associated with traditional archaeology: sampling, surface collection, mapping, recording, and stratigraphic excavation. It is notable that despite the attention to modern material and research questions significant to contemporary campus life such as the disposal of trash or locations of cigarette smokers (citations), most published efforts to use material culture to document life on American college campuses appear to have avoided methods that engage more fully with conversations in field of archaeology of the contemporary world. For example, most of these approaches did not seem to emphasize the growing role that time-based media, particularly video and audio recordings, have come to play in the archaeology of the contemporary world. I also wonder whether they have emphasized the potential of unstructured textual recording to capture the experience of both familiar and unfamiliar spaces and places. In fact, the emphasis on systematic methods, practices, and procedures as part of most archaeology of the contemporary campus reinforced the kind of modern structures that archaeology of the contemporary world has sometimes sought to critique or even subvert. The course that I taught in the spring of 2018 developed in such a way that it blended open ended documentation practices and experiential learning with archival research, public outreach, and performance to create a distinctive learning experience for students.

The following chapter will reflect on a course taught on the campus of the University of North Dakota in 2018. The course focused on two pairs of buildings on campus, Corwin/Larimore and Robertson/Sayre Halls, which were demolished in the early summer of that year. The buildings were built between 1909 and 1929 in the Beaux Arts style as the main buildings for an institution called Wesley College founded in 19xx. Wesley College was a Methodist institution that taught music, religion, and elocution and offered housing to students in two dormitories, Sayre Hall for men and Larimore Hall for women. Students taking classes at Wesley College would also be enrolled at the University of North Dakota, a public four-year, state funded institution, and receive their degrees from UND. In 1965, a financially failing Wesley College was purchased and absorbed into UND and the four buildings served as dorms, offices, classrooms, laboratories, and the home of UND’s honors program of the next 50 or so years. By the second decade of the twenty-first century, the buildings had acquired considerable deferred maintenance debt and their demolition was ordered as part of a general effort to reduce the campus footprint and refresh it public face along the main thoroughfare through campus.

The course that I taught involved exploring and documenting these buildings in the window between their abandonment as active campus structures and their final demolition. As the buildings themselves represented some of the oldest structure on our campus. the university administration treated their destruction with a certain amount of seriousness and employed a local contractor to prepare a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) Type 2 report on the buildings and had the demolition contractor prepare a high resolution laser scan of the buildings. This routine, but robust level of documentation ensured that the buildings received formal architectural recording worthy of their designs and distinctive place in the history of the campus. There was less formal interest, however, in documenting their interior state which involved both numerous intervention over their lifetimes and the detritus of both their recent abandonment and their changing roles on campus. The class that I taught on these buildings focused initially on the buildings’ situations between use and demolition.

The course ran as a one-credit add on to a class on that focused on the university budget. After several decades of regular budget and enrollment increases, the University of North Dakota was enduring a painful period of contraction with several high profile program cuts including our star-studded women’s ice hockey team and the nationally recognized music therapy program. At the same time, the university was implementing a new internal budgeting model that regularly bore the brunt of campus-wide frustrations regarding the distribution of resources. Instability in administrative leadership, the increasingly populist and often anti-intellectual political culture of the state, and challenges associated with communicating effectively across a wide range of campus stakeholders contributed to confusion and at times anger toward the university administration. A course on the university budget was meant to create an opportunity to engage with the changes on our campus in a way informed by a more detailed and accurate understanding to the actual mechanisms of funding, the national conversation about higher education in the US, and the particular historical developments at our campus. The course on the university budget prompted student interest in changes on campus and this, in turn, prompted me to offer a course on the buildings scheduled for demolition later that year. This was done without much planning or thought about what this course would look like.

The spontaneous creation of the course focused on the Wesley College buildings discouraged any particularly formal structure. The course was offered for one academic credit, which is the lowest academic value possible for a course on our campus. In fact, its spontaneity and low academic stakes allowed the course to operate at the very fringes of the panoptic perspectives of campus administrators. It both eluded the gaze of the technocrats whose authority rests on structures associated with assessment and fell outside the purview of the faculty committees who also seek to establish authority in the contested space of the American college classroom. In this way the course existed outside administrative oversight which allowed us a significant amount of freedom in class design. As significantly, the buildings themselves occupied a strangely liminal status between abandonment and their final destruction. The university had turned off all but emergency utilities, had locked the outside doors of the buildings, and faculty and staff has removed all the objects from the building that could be reused or repurposed on campus. Thus, my students had free rein within the buildings, and the university facilities staff was only too eager to help students explore what was under the carpeting, behind walls, and above false ceilings. Because the buildings were slated for demolition, there was no concern for their material condition and all the interior rooms were unlocked and accessible to student curiosity. A liminal class that existed in a liminal space seem ideally suited to approaches that are typical of archaeology of the contemporary world.

The Class

The class itself began with a brief introduction to the building, their history, and the archaeology of the contemporary world. We then set about to explore the structures armed with notebooks, a few cameras scavenged from departmental and personal supplies, measuring tapes, and their mobile phones. Since this class was quite spontaneous, we did not have any idea exactly what we would find in the buildings. The students were immediately taken by the level of access that we had to the building. Students could enter faculty offices, laboratory spaces, classrooms, and maintenance spaces that in most active buildings on campus had access restrictions. The ability to move through a building without any barriers is something that most faculty take more or less for granted, although we would like pause before barreling into a colleague’s or program’s laboratory space uninvited or into an active classroom. It was clear, however, that for students, these spaces was far less familiar and part of what drew them through the building was a sense that they were transgressing traditional campus boundaries. Because we had not arranged for any storage space or study area where we could scrutinize objects more closely, we came to realize that we could not systematically collect artifacts from the building. Instead, we decided as a group to focus on describing the objects left behind in situ in our notebooks according to each office. At the same time, we devised a method of taking photos and using phones to take videos of the rooms in the buildings as we went. We also concluded that we should start with Corwin/Larimore Hall, which had been entirely abandoned, and then proceeding to Robertson/Sayre Hall, where staff were still moving out of their offices.

Almost immediately, we encountered rooms with massive numbers of artifacts left behind. These ranged from office and classroom furniture to laboratories with masses of cables, computers, and equipment used in psychological testing that appeared utterly foreign to the students. In some cases, offices appear to be frozen in time. A single late-20th century Apple iMac computer stood on a desk as if frozen in the year 2000. In other cases, office and laboratories look like they had been rooted through during a burglary. Other rooms initially appeared carefully abandoned only to reveal during documentation some kind of intimate trace that connected the empty office to its earlier occupant. The situations in these offices, labs, and classroom, drew student efforts to delve deeply into the contents of rooms. They looked inside desk drawers, documented the patterns of adhesive tape left on the back of doors, and explored the spaces above acoustic ceiling tiles. One student, Wyatt Atchley, an avid photographer, prepared a photo essay that drew out the traces of the building’s recent past and connected it with recent discussions of austerity that we were having in the sister course on the university budget. The intimacy of his photographs reflected the growing commitment that the students felt not only toward this course, but also toward these building.

As they did this work, the students invariably started to notice various construction scars throughout the building and started to piece together the history of these buildings adaptations over time. One of the challenges that we faced in studying these buildings is that the original blue prints were not preserved. In fact, as we started to recognize that complex histories of these buildings we decamped to the University Archives where we poured through various collections in an effort to trace the changes made to the buildings over time. This was not guided by a kind of architectural fundamentalism, but by questions that originated in the space of the Corwin/Larimore and Robertson/Sayre halls. Questions that emerged through the students’ relentless exploration of the space triggered their interest in piecing together how they changed over time through photographs, technical plans, and any other sources of information that might reveal their histories. For example, the students and I quickly recognized the large classroom in Corwin Hall with its distinctive low arched ceiling as the former recital hall of Wesley College’s music program. When the building was modified to accommodate offices and classrooms, the builders truncated room’s north side, where the proscenium would have stood, and replaced it with a wall and chalk boards. Despite this modified condition, the students and some colleagues across campus understood the potential of recording the acoustics of this space as both a gesture to the room’s history as performance space and as a chance to document the building’s acoustic signature. We have published the results of this work in collaboration with some of Atchley’s photographs in Epoiesen.

In Sayre Hall, the students and I were confused by a strange pattern of wood slats affixed the the ceiling of a room in Sayre Hall but hidden by the drop ceiling. These wood slats once supported a coffered ceiling and revealed the room to the formal sitting room of the Sayre Hall dormitory. The photographs that the students found in the University Archives revealed turn-of-the-century space worthy of the “jazz age” tastes of pre-depression America complete with potted ferns, an elaborate fireplace, and terrazzo floor with mosaic inlays. A return visit to the room led us to tear up the institutional wall-to-wall carpeting to reveal the more elegant flooring beneath. Efforts to find the fireplace, immured over the course of innumerable renovations to the space, were less fruitful, but nevertheless engaged the students’ curiosity.

Time in the archives led the students to perhaps the most spectacular find associated with the Wesley College buildings. Amid the various record associated with the soliciting of funds from donors and the construction of the buildings was a folder associated with the relationship between the Sayre family and the long-serving president of Wesley College, Edward P. Robertson. In these papers was the story of A.J. Sayre’s son, Harold Holt Sayre, who had died in World War I. In 1918, Roberston honored the request of A.J. Sayre and changed the name of Sayre Hall to Harold H. Sayre Hall as a memorial to his son’s sacrifice. Included in the folder associated with this correspondence was a four-page poem, ”At the Grave of a Dead Gunner” written by Horace Shidler. Sayre was the gunner in the plane that Shidler had piloted. This touching tribute affected the class deeply and transformed the process of documenting these buildings from one driven by curiosity to one driven by a sense of deep respect for not only Sayre’s memory, but the students, faculty, administrators, and staff who had passed through these buildings. Later that week students discovered names carved into a pane of window glass in 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914. These students lived in room in Sayre Hall before going on to careers in law, higher education, and business. One of the students, however, died in France in World War I and once again connected this building to centennial reflections taking place in both the US and Europe to mark the conclusion of the “Great War.”

Students produced all these discoveries, and they became increasingly motivated that our work do more than simply document these buildings in their abandoned state. Through ongoing conversations both in the buildings and in the University Archives, we came to recognize that the ongoing use of these buildings served to keep the memories of Sayre and Wesley College students evergreen and the demolition of the buildings would break the connections between the lived space of campus and the Great War. To mark this transformation the students helped coordinate a final event for the buildings and invited the university president, representatives of the city of Grand Forks, the campus Reserve Officers Training Corp, and, perhaps most importantly, the commanding officer of the Grand Forks Air Force Base to speak at a ceremony recognizing the loss that these buildings will mean to campus memory. A colleague in the department of history provided a brief historical survey of the Great War and a colleague from the department of English played bagpipes to amplify the solemnity of the occasion. The weather cooperated and on a brilliant spring day, we recognized the buildings and those who they honored.

Reflections and Discussion

From the start, I did not design this class to produce a particular outcome. As a result, there is no measure against which I could assess its success or failure. Indeed, the absence of any anticipated outcome as an objective undercut the need for a particularly explicit pedagogy. While we talked casually about the technology that we had at our disposal (notebooks, cameras, and our phones) and matters of access to the building, mostly I encouraged the students to engage the space creatively and to allow their curiosity to dictate their approaches to knowledge making. This informality encouraged the students to follow the lead of the objects and buildings themselves to the archives and various observations and discoveries reflected a pedagogical experience anchored in a form of free inquiry structured by the buildings themselves. Most of the reflections in the following section derive from hindsight, but this retroactive approach to understand the character of the course may well offer some salient points for future efforts in constructing distinctive possibile pedagogies for the archaeology of the contemporary world.

The idea of an approach to teaching that eschews narrowly defined outcomes is hardly revolutionary. Paolo Fiere’s oft-cited critique of the “banking model of education,” for example, offered a collaborative model for adult learning where learners and teachers create new knowledge together through dialogue. Fiere’s skepticism toward contemporary education resonated in part with Paul Goodman’s call to abolish most educational institutions and Ivan Illich’s nearly contemporary notion of “deschooling.” Fiere, Goodman, and Illich regarded most contemporary schooling as a mechanism for social and economic control and championed more open-ended, collaborative, and hand-on approaches as a means of unlocking the emancipatory potential of education. In more recent years, a steady stream of scholars have sought to reconcile the institutional constraints of higher education and the desire of more emancipatory or even transgressive learning (e.g. hooks 1994; Gannon 2020). In fact, as higher education has become increasingly associated with work force development and shaped by private capital (e.g. Newfield 2016) the need to imagine alternatives that work to critique or even subvert existing systems of learning has become more urgent. Recent calls for ungrading, for example, stress the role that grading plays in sorting and ranking students. This not only reinforces the role of education as a tool for determining the value of students in the market, but also exerts an outsized role on student expectations and the classroom experience where grades become the goal rather than learning. Dispensing with grades, as I did in this course, is often associated with efforts to critique marketplace models of education that require or least imply winners and losers. While efforts to imagine alternatives to current approaches to higher education (e.g. Staley 2019) often seek to challenge or subvert the marketplace model (e.g. Menand), sustained external pressures from a wide range of stakeholders continue to push institutions to adopt the practices of the private sector with their concern for efficiency, competition, and economy.

The students and I discussed many of the trends shaping higher education in the course on the university budget and they invariable informed some of the ideas that I was developing associated with “slow archaeology” (Caraher 2016; Caraher 2019). Slow archaeology in its various forms emphasizes the value of a sustained engagement with spaces and objects and the use of less structured recording methods alongside and often in constrast to more formal and digital field techniques. Slow archaeology critiqued the outsized role of efficiency in contemporary society. The modern origins of archaeological practice favored specialized skills, neatly delineated procedures, and hierarchy which produced knowledge making practices susceptible to digital tools and their claims to increased efficiency. This coincided with the role of archaeology and cultural resource management in a modern economy shaped by the “great acceleration.” In North Dakota, specifically, the early-21st-century Bakken oil boom created a similar boom in archaeological work amid the reshaping of the Western North Dakota landscape in service of extractive industries. The role that archaeology played in the controversies surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline made clear that supermodernity (sensu González-Ruibal 2008; 2018) recognized archaeology and heritage as simply another input into the complex financial equations designed to produce resources in the most efficient way possible. As many of the students enrolled in the Wesley College class were also enrolled in my concurrent course on the university budget where we discussed issues such as “deferred maintenance” that allocated the costs of maintaining campus buildings to the disadvantage of older structures which not only preserved significant memories but also required more maintenance by dint of their age alone.

The methods taken by my students and I anticipated some of the approaches modeled by Christopher Witmore in his “chorography” of the landscape of the northeastern Peloponnesus with its emphasis on the role of objects, places, and space as opposed to practices, methods, and institutions in producing the freedom for new kinds of knowledge (Witmore 2020). In much the same way that Whitmore modeled in his book, the students and I walked through, talked about, and worked together to understand the spaces and objects present in these buildings. We followed leads, debated theories, and relied on our range of experiences and interests to create and share our distinct experiences. The resulting photo essay (Atchley 201x), musical composition, publications (Caraher et al. 2019), and events represented only a narrow window into our time in the building. The irreducibility of the experiences that spending time in these buildings provided evoked the Whitmore’s concern for the transformation of the countryside by supermodernity. Spending time in the Wesley College buildings led the students to develop a greater sensitivity toward the changing economic realities facing campus, the history that the Wesley College buildings embodied, and the ease with which they could be erased from both the campus plan and memory. It goes without saying that it would be easy to overstate the connections between Witmore’s magisterial book and a group of students in a one-credit university course especially since the book appeared two years after the course was over. That said, Witmore’s openness to the instigations and provocations provided by the objects in the Greeks landscape challenges conventional approaches to archaeological work that looks toward rigorous methods to mediate between the material world and our curiosity.

Three Things Thursday: Epoiesen, Teaching, and NDQ

It’s Veterans’ Day today and it would appear that we’re going to get a the first snow of the season (so check back later for my traditional “first snow” post!) As per usual this time of year, a day off from teaching isn’t so much a break as a chance to catch up on other work that has been moved to the back burner as the semester reaches a fevered pitch. 

In light of this chaotic time of the year, it feels like a decent time for a short three things Thursday.

Thing the First

I’m genuinely torn about the ever increasing role that crowd funding plays in higher education. In its ongoing effort to develop new revenue streams to cover everything from student scholarships to innovative research, crowd funding has become a common fixture in the higher education landscape. 

On the one hand, I’m interested in the way in which crowd funding can serve to build new relationships between projects and “stakeholders.” At its best, crowd funding platforms like Patreon have allowed “independent creators” to create communities and the work of groups like The Sportula have backfilled the decline in public (and private) support for working class and disadvantaged college students. It is hard to argue that crowd funding isn’t a useful response to the current funding situation in higher education. 

This is all a long prologue to my shout out to the a new crowdfunding project designed to support the journal Epoiesen. For those of you who don’t know, Epoiesen, is what it says on the box: “a journal for creative engagement in history and archaeology” founded by Shawn Graham at Carleton University in Ottawa. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Epoiesen as both a contributor and a the publisher of the paper version of the journal through The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

Their crowdfunding project is here and its goal is to support ongoing efforts to professionalize the journal, improve its web interface, and increase its reach. Even a casual visit to Epoiesen will make clear that the journal is not some pie-in-the-sky dream but is already a substantial publication that is making a contribution to the academic conversation. Adding polish will only increase its impact.

This is as good a cause as any and offers a way to close the gap between revenue generated traditionally through subscriptions and expenses associated with production. And, whether we like it or not, crowdfunding is now a key way to help innovative ideas succeed.  

Thing the Second

As the semester winds down, I’ve been thinking more and more about the model that I use in my introductory level history courses. In these classes, students work together to write a series of 2000-2500 word essays on various topics. They draw on the textbook and various primary source collections for evidence and submit outlines and multiple drafts over the course of a four week module. The results are generally pretty decent and almost always better than the traditional essays or papers that I used to require in such a class.

This got me wondering whether the traditional reliance on single authored papers and tests has only limited utility in the college classroom. After all, lab sciences have long relied on group work and applied sciences and professional program often encourage students to work as teams to solve problems. While writing is usually a solitary task, I’d contend that most academic papers are co-authored even if this remains less common in the humanities than in other fields. In other words, there is a strong tradition of collaborative work not only teaching across the university, but also in our research lives. 

The emphasis on sole authorship, then, feels a bit old fashioned and might, in fact, reflect attitudes toward education that emphasized its role to rank and sort students rather than to ensure that students develop the diverse skills necessary for them to thrive. Creating projects where students to work together on writing and research encourages students to work together and contributes to an environment where students who have better writing, reading, and research skills work with and support students who might not be as advanced. This isn’t a pious fantasy, but something I see every night as groups wrestle with the complex task for thinking though, researching, organizing, and writing their essays. This kind of environment has the added bonus of creating spaces where students who might feel isolated have opportunities to work together with their peers and form practical (and perhaps even social bonds). 

I don’t think the collaborative writing will even supplant the single author essay or paper (and there are always some students who think that they can do better on their own), but I’m starting to think that collaborative writing might actually be a way to develop writing intensive classes at scale without the massive burden of individual grading and comments. In other words, this system might be both better for students and better for faculty work loads.   

Thing the Third  

In about 15 minutes, I’ll have to turn my attention to the final steps in preparing North Dakota Quarterly for publication. At this point of the process most of the heavy lifting has been done by our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press, but my contributors have eagerly completed their proofing the typeset pages and I simply need to pull together their edits. It’s a testimony to the work at the University of Nebraska Press and my diligent authors that we tend to have very few errors at the proof stage. 

One of the most exciting stages of the publication process is the issue cover. This issue’s cover features art by Reinaldo Gil Zambrano, a Venezuelan print maker who now works from Spokane, Washington. In an era where compliance has increasingly taken on an ominous meaning, it seems almost redundant to title a work “malicious compliance,” but Zambrano’s cover nevertheless stands a provocative reminder of how compliance culture can so easily devolve into violence and pain.

NDQ 88 3 4 cover pdf 2021 11 11 06 46 03