NDQuesday: Breaking a Brand or Bringing the Brand Back Together

I’ve been editor of North Dakota Quarterly for less than a month and I’m already worried that I’ve broken the brand. One of the challenges that I’ve faced is that I’m not, as readers of this blog know, particularly concerned with brands and branding. I find much of this rhetoric invested on building value and value, too often, slides from intellectual or cultural worth to areas of economic worth. A project’s value and an institutions brand becomes tied to its ability to convert resources into a product.

Over the last month, however, I was reminded that a brand also relates to the ability of an institution to advance and define its goals. This may be, in our current academic culture, too closely tied to our ability to acquire resources. After all the concept of a mission statement has come frequently to mark the spread of “business speak” in the academy. But for a public humanities journal, having a well-defined brand, also relates to our ability to attract contributors, to attract readers, and to have an impact.

Over the past year or so, I’ve worked hard to bring a wide range of content to the NDQ website, but I also assumed that it would be a portal for subscribers and contributors to the print journal. As the fate of the print journal continues to be negotiated, however, the website has started to stand in for the journal itself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does force me to realize that what is posted on the web will impact how people see NDQ moving forward. If we want a diverse, eclectic, and wide ranging public humanities journal, then I feel like the website embodies some of those characteristics. If we want a journal that embraces literature, poetry, and the art of the essay and the review, I suspect we’ve strayed from that more narrowly defined, but altogether reasonable brand. The question is can we bolster NDQ’s brand identity without stifling the potential to move forward and without becoming mired in the corporate-speak of “mission statements” and “goals”?

On a superficial level, I do recognize that we need to do more to promote the traditional, paper presence of NDQ. To that end, I need to modify how the journal appears on the web. Right now, it literally belches forth content, with little in the way of introduction and even less pretense. My thinking at present is the update the website to promote a bit more clearly the print version of the journal and its deep historical roots. I also need dig back into those roots for content to bridge the gap between paper and digital. There is a tremendous amount of back content from NDQ much of which we link to, in a general, through our archive pages. A more curated approach to this back content, however, will make it more accessible to our audience and reinforce the longstanding traditions associated with Quarterly.

Finally, I keep thinking about the challenge of hybridity. Yesterday, my other publishing project, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, released a print-on-demand and PDF download of the web journal Epoiesen. In other words, we sought to bridge the gap between digital and print by embracing multiple modes of publishing that were nevertheless integrated. We approached the Codex project in a similar way.

The same challenges face us at NDQ except rather than building a hybrid project from the ground up and instead of navigating media as something deeply embedded in the form and content, we need to find a middle ground that respects both the paper and digital form and the paper and digital content as interrelated but not always interchangeable things. We need to both explore the potential keeping the paper and the digital as distinct ways to use the media to share expectations of the content that nevertheless embodies the same brand. In short, we need to bring the brand back together.

Announcing the Publication of Volume 1 of the Epoiesen Annual!

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is very excited to announce the publication of the first volume of the Epoiesen Annual. This is an annual volume based on the extraordinary new journal, Epoiesen: A Journal for Creative Engagement in History and Archaeology, edited by Shawn Graham and colleagues and hosted by the library at Carleton University in Ottawa. Check it out here.

Epoiesen (ἐποίησεν) – made – is a journal for exploring creative engagement with the past, especially through digital means. It publishes primarily what might be thought of as “paradata” or artist’s statements that accompany playful and unfamiliar forms of singing the past into existence.

What have you made? What will you make? This journal, in its online home, makes space to valorize and recognize the scholarly ways of knowing that are expressed well beyond the text. Bill White reminds us why society allows archaeologists to exist in the first place:

“it is to amplify the whispers of the past in our own unique way so they can still be heard today.”

The journal seeks “to document and valorize the scholarly creativity that underpins our representations of the past. Epoiesen is therefore a kind of witness to the implied knowledge of archaeologists, historians, and other professionals, academics and artists as it intersects with the sources about the past. It encourages engagement with the past that reaches beyond our traditional audience (ourselves).”

Download, explore, or buy it today!

~

For a bit of the backstory, Epoiesen is really the work of a group of dedicated and innovative collaborators, editors, and partners, as Shawn Graham himself makes clear in the introduction. The native format for the journal is on the web, but Shawn reached out to The Digital Press in the middle of last year to explore producing a hybrid, print/digital (pdf) format. The hope is that this form will appeal to readers who more comfortable with print for reading, citing, and cataloging.

The work of the Digital Press, then, was largely translation from they dynamic digital form to the more conventional print-ready format which at times was a bit tricky, as even a quick review of the PDF will show. We adopted a format that intentionally played with the tidiness of the textbook and the grid, pushing images over the boundaries and outside of lines.

The cover is itself is a vibrant piece of scholarship thanks to Gabe Moshenska’s generous decision to make his book, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, free and open access. For the cover design, we listened intently to the authors, members of the editorial board, and various sundry social media commentators. It seemed fitting that the cover emerged from the very creative, digitally mediate milieu that journal itself celebrates.

Finally, this project embodies the kind of laboratory publishing that The Digital Press has pursued since Punk Archaeology appeared four years ago. So it’s particularly fitting that on the fifth anniversary of the Punk Archaeology conference, some of the same collaborators (Andrew Reinhard, for example, designed the cover for Epoiesen) returned to the scene of the crime to produce this volume.

Book (re)Launch: The Old Church on Walnut Street: A Story of Immigrants and Evangelicals

Book launch days are always the best days, and today’s book (re)launch is particularly sweet.

OldChuchCoverFINAL2PUBDIGITALCOVER 01

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is happy to announce its tenth book, Chris Price’s The Old Church on Walnut Street: A Story of Immigrants and Evangelicals. The book is a microhistory of a single building in Grand Forks, North Dakota that opens onto a century-long story of immigrants and evangelicals in this community. The turn-of-the-century wood-frame church is sadly long gone, but the story that Chris Price tells of the pastors, the congregation, and life in Grand Forks is a timely reminder that the state of North Dakota and its communities grew from religious diversity and immigrant roots.

Download the book here or buy it for $10 on Amazon. (While you’re at it, download (or buyDavid Haeselin’s Haunted by Waters: The Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997 and The Old Church on Walnut Street for a Grand Forks themed bundle! Or grab William Sherman’s Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota. 2nd Edition (NDSU Press 2017) for a statewide story of immigrants!)  

~

Long time followers of my antics will remember that this book is not exactly new, although this edition has a new preface that Chris Price Kindly penned and I’ve added an ISBN and an LCCN as well as a snazzy new cover. The original edition of this book dropped when The Digital Press was only a glimmer in my eye as an effort to generate interest in a Grand Forks Neighborhood History Series. My longtime co-conspirator Bret Weber and I had this vision of a series of books that would tell the story of various neighborhoods in Grand Forks. We were even willing to put some money behind it. Unfortunately, I make prospective authors an offer that they couldn’t refuse and the project foundered. Despite my lack of success of the series, I remain incredibly proud of the first (and only) book in the series. 

Trinitylutheran2

Chris’s book reminds me of one of my favorite buildings in Grand Forks. A simple wood-framed church, the last of its kind, tucked into a quiet wood-framed neighborhood. Casual passers-by would have no idea of the rich history that this building preserved in its walls and its community. The church is gone now, reduced to a pile of bricks shortly after this book was released.

Churchattheend

A house built by the Grand Forks Community Land Trust now stands on the lot. That’s a pretty good consolation prize for the loss of the church, but I still can’t quite bring myself to going down Walnut Street. 

That being said, I do hope that the book will stand as a monument even through the building is lost. I’m proud that this book was both the prequel and now is tenth book published by the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. 

Voices of the Bakken (and some other cool stuff)

Last weekend, the night before the Eagles punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, a group of us got together to talk punk rock in the Trump era at Ojata Records in Grand Forks.

IMG 1735

As part of that event, I put together a little grab bag of music, books, and documents donated by punk rockers, interested fellow travelers, and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Thanks to Andrew Reinhard, Chris Matthews and Quiz Show, June Panic, Brian Schill, Bret Weber, and everyone else who made this possible and contributed something fun to the little handout.

Here’s a link to that packet.

IMG 1733

The part of this little packet that excites me the most is the first little glimpse of a huge project brewing at The Digital Press: Bret Weber’s Voices of the Bakken. Over the half-decade life of the North Dakota Man Camp Project, Bret Weber and his colleagues have interviewed dozens of people in the Bakken. The plan has been to publish all of these interviews with commentary. At present, we’re offer a sample of six of them to give a taste of the range and character of the interviews. 

Here’s a link to that book.

Weber Voices of the Bakken Cover

Some Digital Press Updates: Punks, The Old Church, Epoiesen, NDQ, Kaepernick, and Robinson

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is looking ahead to its most exciting year ever. Various projects are rushing to maturity in the next few months, and my schedule for 2019 is already shaping up. So this seems as good a time as any to do a quick update.

First, come and hang out with some Digital Press authors and editors on Saturday night at Ojata Records here in Grand Forks, North Dakota from 7 pm on. For conversation, books, music, and, of course awesome free gifts thanks to The Digital Press, North Dakota Quarterly, June Panic, Andrew Reinhard, Chris Matthews, and Bret Weber (and the North Dakota Man Camp Project). Special thanks to Brian Schill of NDQ who is pulling this all together.

PunksOnTrump

Next, by this time next week, I hope that the first Digital Press Edition of Chris Price’s The Old Church on Walnut Street is available for download and purchase. Here’s the cover:

OldChuchCover

Epoiesen layout is now almost complete, and I expect it to be available by the end of the month. After going around and around on cover designs, I think Shawn Graham and Andrew Reinhard have convinced me to go with some variation on this design. More on that thought process here.

Adreinhard 2017 dec 26

The final issues of North Dakota Quarterly for 2017 (volume 84.3/4) is almost ready to be mailed out to subscribers. I can take almost no credit for this volume, other than helping stuff envelopes, but as NDQ is moving into The Digital Press portfolio this winter, I’m spreading the news and excitement. Shawn Boyd’s most excellent cover design celebrates the immeasurable contributions from our retiring managing editor, Kate Sweney.

Ndq cover 2017  1

IMG 1712

The NDQ and Digital Press folks are well on our way to publishing Snichimal Vayuchil, an anthology of translated Tsotsil Mayan poetry as a print-on-demand volume. You can download it here for free.

We’re also excited to announce Eric Burin’s project on Colin Kaepernick. Eric spilled the beans on Martin Luther King day:

MLK Day seems like an appropriate time to tell folks about my latest project: assembling and editing an anthology on the Kaepernick-inspired protests. Protesting on Bended Knee will include brief essays from scholars in different disciplines (e.g., history, political science, philosophy, communications, psychology, gender studies, law, etc.) as well as pieces written by veterans, athletes, coaches, sportswriters, national anthem singers, and others. The volume, which soon will be published by the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, aims to elevate and expand our conversations about patriotism, free speech, and race in 21st America.

Anyone familiar with Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College (2016), should know that Protesting on Bended Knee will be insightful, thought-provoking, and compelling.

Finally, I’m starting to pull together various Elwyn Robinson related content including a recent forum in North Dakota Quarterly and some parts of his memoirs to create a Digital Press/NDQ version of Robinson’s History of North Dakota, which was recently released under a somewhat-open license from the University of North Dakota.There will be a to-do announcing the open publication of this book and UND’s Scholarly Commons repository sometime in late February. My hope is that we can announce our special edition of the book as just the kind of remixing that open publication can provide!

As always, stay tuned!

Punks on Trump

Next week, I’m going to hang out with some pretty fun guys and talk about punk rock in the  Trump era at Ojata Record in Grand Forks. The event is partly to celebrate the publication of Brian Schill’s new book, This Year’s Work in the Punk Bookshelf, Or, Lusty Scripts (Indiana University Press, 2017), which we chatted about over on the North Dakota Quarterly page in November and the book that Bret Weber and I wrote, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (NDSU Press 2017). 

There will be bands: June Panic and the Semaphores and Mistaken Thieves.

There’s a free book: Punk Archaeology (The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota 2014).

Here’s a link to the Facebook event page. The press release is below the flyer.

PunksOnTrump

Local authors and bands to talk “Punk in the Trump Era”

GRAND FORKS—On Saturday, January 20, 2018, a handful of current and former UND faculty will occupy the stage to discuss “Punk in the Trump Era” at Ojata Records in Grand Forks. 

Representing the fields of history, music, archaeology, social work, and cultural studies, Bill Caraher, Chris Gable, and Brian Schill will hold an open conversation about what, if anything, punk subculture contributes to contemporary political discourse in the United States today, especially with an eye toward the current American President.

“For all its dissonance and noise, punk rock music has always offered some salient commentary on contemporary politics,” Caraher says. “With the world seemingly more and more chaotic and dissonant all the time, today seems like a readymade opportunity for those who think about punk seriously to stoke this conversation.”

According to Schill, the panel very much expects audience participation in the free, public event, which will be moderated by UND Social Work professor and Grand Forks City councilperson Bret Weber.

“While the politics of punk are often stereotyped as left-leaning, they’re often much more ambiguous,” adds Schill, who performed in punk clubs across the country with a variety of bands in the late-1990s and early-2000s. “Some punk bands have joined the so-called resistance movement, but there are a lot of Trump supporters among those who also identify as ‘punk,’ including former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten and the punkier members of the alt-right.”

The event doubles as a book release party of sorts as each of the faculty are promoting recent scholarship they’ve produced on (post)punk, politics, and North Dakota:

·       Caraher is co-author of The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (NDSU Press, 2017) and published the title Punk Archaeology (The DigitalPress@UND) in 2014

·       Weber is Caraher’s The Bakken co-author and has studied the social impact of North Dakota’s oil boom

·       Gable is the author of The Words and Music of Sting (Praeger, 2008) and The Words and Music of Sheryl Crow (Praeger, 2016)

·       Schill is the author of the literary history of punk and postpunk music, This Year’s Work in the Punk Bookshelf, Or, Lusty Scripts (Indiana University Press, 2017)

The panel will serve as the opening act for performances by two local punk/indie bands: June Panic and the Semaphores and Mistaken Thieves.

The event, sponsored by Ojata Records (aka Dogmahal) and agricouture.org, begins around 7 p.m.

###

Brian James Schill
Founder, agricouture.org
agricoutures@gmail.com

Publishing Projects at The Digital Press

I’ve spent a good bit of time this week working on projects for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and just this morning another project appeared in my inbox. These are interesting times both for The Digital Press and digital and academic publishing.

This post today is more of an update on what’s going on at The Digital Press and some broader – and perhaps speculative – thoughts on digital publishing. For more like this, and other voices, do come to our panel at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting on Friday, January 

Project One

First, just yesterday I sent off the galley proofs of volume one of Epoiesen to its editor Shawn Graham. Epoiesen is “a journal for creative engagement in history and archaeology” and having spent time with the content of its first volume, I was struck by how there really isn’t anything like it in the contemporary landscape. The articles and their response range in tone from the playful to the polished and professional and captured a wide range of ways of thinking about and engaging the past from public outreach to Twine games. Do check it out here and consider submitting in 2018!

One of the challenges with publishing such a unique journal is getting the tone right in the design and layout. For the pages of the book – as I blogged about last week – I decided to stick with a fairly conservative, if modern, font, but also layout images in such a way that they encroached on the margins and spilled over toward the edge of the page. While this worked well for conventional articles that combine text and images, I’m not sure that I’ve managed to capture the spirit of more complex, hybrid articles that involve Twine games or integrate marginal comments in Hypothes.is into a cohesive critique. Rendering this kind of hybridity on a page and then in paper remains a challenge!

Another challenge is the cover. As my old friend Andrew Reinhard opined on Twitter yesterday, “If I see one more sober journal cover, I will vomit.” To some extent, he was responding to my proposed cover:

Epoiesen 1Cover2 01

In my defense, I designed a relatively conservative cover to communicate the seriousness of the project and to offer a bit of contrast to the sometimes playful (but not unthoughtful) content. Andrew’s take was a bit different and suggested wearing the playfulness of the journal on its sleeve. He offered a few versions, but this one was the most appealing to me, in part, because of Gabe Moshenska’s clever graphic, and in part because it is conventional enough to be recognizable as a journal cover, but also unorthodox enough to be interesting.

Adreinhard 2017 Dec 26

(As an aside, if you haven’t already, you really should download Gabe Moshenska’s free, open access, book, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, published earlier this year by University College London.)

I’m not entirely sold on the more casual cover, but I’m open to advisement (and the editorial board of Epoiesen has been asked as well!).

Project Two

I’m working with a pair of outstanding editors to publish the papers from a pair of panels from last year’s Archaeological Institute of America meeting on abandoned villages (you can check out the paper here). As part of that panel, my long-time friend and collaborator, David Pettegrew and I gave a paper on the site of Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia. Richard Rothaus, Bret Weber, and I collaborated on paper focusing on Wheelock, North Dakota in the Bakken. Both papers drew upon a rich photographic archive as the basis for our analysis and as the primary method of documentation. 

Due to changes in hosting policies here at UND, I’ve lost my server space (or, more properly, it became prohibitively expensive), and as a result, our online presentation of Lakka Skoutara images is no longer available. This is a bummer for many reasons, but the extent of it being a bummer was made clear when I investigated my options for producing a comprehensive archive of the Lakka Skoutara material and discovered how expensive it would be. One of the suggestions that Frank McManamon from tDAR made was that I compile the photographs and other documentation in a .pdf (or even a print-on-demand book) and then put that in an archival repository (like tDAR, an institutional repository, or even just the Internet Archive).

While I recognize that this is not an optimal solution for many reasons. PDFs are not machine readable in a proper sense and the images would likely not have all the metadata that individual files in an archive would have. That being said, there’s something important about making a smallish archive (and Lakka Skoutara is fewer than 650 images) accessible to the human eye and compiling that visual data (and any attendant text) together in a single document. At the same time, a PDF can be accessioned by a library, is inherently portable, and is easy enough to produce and archive. So it is a usable solution.

My idea is to include a couple expanded archives as digital downloads with the abandoned villages volume. They’d be set up on a template so fairly easy to design, lay out, and produce.

Project Three

I’m also working with Kyle Conway on a republication of the 1958 Williston Report with expanded content and up-to-date analysis. This is part of the “Bakken Bookshelf” project. 

This project has a few challenges and the largest of these is whether to preserve the original pagination for the Williston Report. And, if I do repaginate it, how do I mark out the original Williston Report text from our updated chapters? Do we use complementary fonts with a serif-ed font marking the Williston Report and a sans serif font marking the newer contributions?

Stay tuned for more on this project over the next few months.

Mdp 39015018443815 9 1514476109

Laying Out Epoiesen

The semester is winding down and I’m working a bit now to catch up on some pressing tasks for The Digital Press. So, this week, I’m working on the layout for one of my more complex projects, Shawn Graham’s journal Epoiesen, for which The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota will publish an annual pdf and print-on-demand volume.

The articles in Epoiesen have a number of intriguing challenges. First, Shawn provided them to me in markdown (and my impression is that they are submitted in markdown). I’ve been a John Gruber fan for a long time and regularly read DaringFireball and was a devoted user of the new defunct Vesper app. In other words, I’m excited to work in Markdown. Unfortunately, markdown doesn’t play all that nicely with InDesign where I do my layout. As a result, I have to convert the files from Markdown to another format (and I’m converting them to .docx) to import them to InDesign using Pandoc. Pandoc is pretty amazing, but it is not super user-friendly and I haven’t figured out how to do batch conversions. 

 Each article in the journal has a little gaggle of information with it (paradata?) that includes the usual – author’s name and article title – but also other stuff like the article DOI, the various creative common licenses, and any other information about the article adds complications to the page. After a few failed efforts to incorporate that information and the text of the article on the 6×9 inch page, I decided to do a distinct title page for each article. What I decided, for better or for worse, is to celebrate the digital aspect of the journal by attempting to capture something of its formal digital character. So I divided the page into a series of distinct boxes, but rendered the lines as 50% to add a bit of depth to the page. 

001 Destory History2 01

Each article in the journal also has a masthead image that I included and extended it beyond the edge of the boxes the edge of the page. This was meant to be a bit playful and to show how the articles and the ideas extend beyond their digital confines. I’m imagining that images associated with the articles might be offset to the margins of the page as well. 

For font, I’ve stuck with Tisa, which I used in Mobilizing the Past. I like Tisa because it’s such a modern serif-ed font and it is quirky and relatively unusual so it gives the page a distinctive look. I’m not sure that I love it for the article title, but maybe I do!

As per usual feedback – particularly of the constructive kind – is always welcome. None of what I’m doing here is cast in stone. 

#CyberMonday Extravaganza: Buy Less and Read More!

As an archaeologist, I love things, stuff, and objects. I like buying things, I like having things, and I even like giving things away and sharing things. But I have to admit that Black Friday and Cyber Monday (and the entire orgy of consumerism that saturates Christmastime) gets on my nerves. 

As a respite to this, my two little publishing ventures – North Dakota Quarterly and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota – are giving things away. 

From North Dakota Quarterly, you can grab a collection of Tsotsil Maya poetry translated by my old friend Paul Worley, who is a leading member of the UND diaspora. The poetry is evocative and performative and lovely. The digital book evokes the independent publishing tradition of libro cartonero with their vivid, but low cost cardboard cover. 

Worley Maya Cover

Paul talks about the work here and you can download the work here. I’ve called it an NDQ Supplement, and it’s available under a CC-By 4.0 license.

Over at The Digital Press, we’re announcing the release of Elwyn Robinson’s History of North Dakota as a free download. This is a collaboration with the Northern Plains Heritage Foundation and the Chester Fritz Library at the University of North Dakota

History of north dakota cover

My hope is that this is part of a few Robinson related projects. Last year, North Dakota Quarterly solicited a little gaggle of Robinson related essays and the appearance of his History of North Dakota as a free download has inspired me to return once again to his memoirs. Rather than trying to publish the entire 150,000 word manuscript, which has run into endless road blocks and false starts, I think I might just publish the chapters associated with the production of The History

I’ve also produced a post at The Digital Press that reminds anyone who is interested of our recent catalogue of books. Lots of good, free downloads for #CyberMonday. Buy less, read more.

And, if you do need to buy something, go and pre-order The Beast!

Thebeast cover  1

More on Codex: Books, Performance, and Archaeology

I was initially drawn to Micah Bloom’s Codex project because it combined two elements that have become more or less central to my life: books and archaeology. At our book launch event last Friday, I realized that Bloom’s project had even more in common with my interests than I had initially recognized. In a short presentation Bloom unpacked the process of developing both the Codex book and short films that came from his efforts to document the books scattered about the Minot landscape.

If you don’t know Micah Bloom’s Codex, do go and check it out now.

In a brief back-and-forth in Minot, I asked Micah if he was inspired by recent work in “archaeology of the contemporary world.” I was inspired to ask after he discussed the particular care that he and his team took to document the scattered books both in situ and to number, label, preserve, and photograph the collected books systematically. Moreover, his team donned hazmat type as you can see in this clip from his film, and approached each artifact with extraordinary care

He admitted that he wasn’t particular familiar with this frequently theoretical (or at least conceptually ambitious) branch of archaeological work. He was inspired, however, by various manuals and technical literature that he found on for dealing with toxic objects, biological waste (including bodies), and other potentially contaminated (and contaminating) detritus. In other words, he used technical literature as a guide to performing real archaeological fieldwork, not in order to produce a thoroughly and systematically documented record of the 2011 Minot flood, but capture the particular sanctity of the books left behind in its receding waters. Performing archaeological work demonstrated care.

Archaeologists like Michael Shanks have long recognized the confluence of archaeological work and performance, and, indeed, theater. Without delving too deeply into this inspiring, if complex set of ideas, I have always struggled a bit to understand the relationship between the superficiality of theater – that is the concession in theater that the actors and the audience both have to suspend disbelief and recognize the actors as acting their parts – and archaeological methods, which ideally guide actions even when no one is looking. This isn’t meant to denigrate the work of actors and the depth of the characters that they portray or the promote the idea of the archaeologist as a singularly and consistently principled practitioner (but I’m sure most of us say that we try to be). The desire to keep our scarps straight is not just a cosmetic act that reinforces the scientific (scientistical?) precision of our work, but a practical way to make the stratigraphic relationships between various depositional events more visible. An actor may embrace certain aspects of a character off the stage (perhaps as part of an approach inspired by method acting), but this is fundamentally secondary to role played on the stage. There is always a risk, then, in emphasizing the performative in archaeology that we succumb to the artificiality of the aesthetic and as Michael Shanks has realized “abstracted from what is being represented, removed in an escape from social and historical reality, from anonymous popular masses, from the messy vernacular human and natural detail…”

Micah’s work offers an intriguing complication to this risk. Not only did he document his work to bring order to the messy chaos of flood recovery speak to a particular moment in time (and an effort to resolve what must have been a pervasive feeling of disrupted existence), but he also documented the books themselves in ways that are not immediately visible in his published work. For example, he disclosed that he has photographs of hundreds of books in situ and once he and his team collected and documented them. He also has a database (technically a spreadsheet) of close to 800 books recovered, identified, photographed, and documented from his work. Unlike the public facing work of the film and book and installation, these aspects of the Codex project, like the method actors behind the scenes routine, remains out of sight (at least, for now). 

Since Micah’s presentation, I’ve been turning around in my head how to make at least some of this archive available. Whether this archive will produce new archaeological, historical, or cultural knowledge is difficult to say, but it does reveal the depth of Codex as a form of authentic archaeological engagement with the world.