Nothing to See Here

It’s mid-October, I have deadlines for internal grants, for external grants, and for a stack of reviews. I have papers to grade, books to read, and students to advise. I have a lot going on right now.

Since I can’t offer you any brilliant blog content, I’m going to point you in the direction of folks who can!

First, check out Kostis Kourelis’s blog. He’s on sabbatical right now, and his blog has come alive with some amazing content lately.

Then check out Shawn Graham’s stuff over at Electric Archaeologists, particularly his most recent distant reading of the soon-to-be-released Mobilizing the Past volume from The Digital Press.

Look at what we’ve been doing over at the North Dakota Quarterly webpage. We’re running a little series on the 50th anniversary of Elwyn B. Robinson’s monumental History of North Dakota with contributions from me, Jim Mochoruk, Michael Lansing, and Kim Porter

This week, the University of North Dakota inaugurated its 12th president, Mark Kennedy. This is what I wrote 8 years ago having watched the inauguration of Robert O. Kelley. I think much of what I said still stands.

Thanks for understanding that I needed a day off from the old blog! And thanks to my colleagues for keeping the interwebs interesting. More tomorrow! I promise! 

Failed Conclusions

I’ve been slogging my way through a very short article on the possible role of the North Dakota Man Camp Project in contributing to recent interest the archaeology of forced and undocumented migration.

I set up the problem as one of impermanence and abundance. Undocumented and forced migrants often move from one impermanent camp to the next at the margins of more settled communities which are committed to preventing these contingent populations from leaving a lasting trace in the landscape. Workforce housing in western North Dakota follows this practice exactly as the established tows in the region worked to curtail the establishment of crew camps and other forms of housing for temporary workers. They did this for reasons ranging from xenophobia to a desire to expand the local tax base, encourage the settlement of families, and limit the long-term impact of the boomtown growth. From an archaeological perspective, these short-term character of these settlements and the attitude surrounding their creation will obscure their archaeological impact on the landscape. The undocumented migrants that these sites housed will likely remain rather invisible in an archaeological record that privileges long-term, iterative, settlement practices which slowly create archaeological deposits.


At the same time, our modern world enjoys an unprecedented abundance of stuff. The mass production and distribution of objects has created a modern landscape that is densely arrayed with discarded objects. The residents of workforce housing sites demonstrate both a remarkable ingenuity in modifying their spaces, often RVs, to adapt to the North Dakota climate, the needs of year-round occupation, and the desire to project some individuality in the relative uniformity of the RV park. Objects abound from wood shipping pallets to outdoor furniture, appliances, equipment, vehicles, and grills, fire pits and weight sets.

In other words, workforce housing sites in the Bakken manifest this tension between abundance and impermanence. Somehow I need to conclude a paper that establishes this tension and make reference to ideas like “an archaeology of care,” the potential of tourism to serve as a lens for critiquing the modern landscape, and our responsibility for creating an persistent archive to both document and memorialize these events even after the archaeological record slips from view.

Wish me luck.

Friday Quick Hits and Varia

It feels like Spring finally here in North Dakotaland with highs in the lower 60s and that particular light when we recognize that the sun is just a little higher in the sky.

Lots of cool stuff this week: we’re soliciting submissions for a special volume of North Dakota Quarterly on the work of Thomas McGrath; we’re moving ahead with the North Dakota Outrage Summit; a cool Kickstarter project, Intersection Journal, and some thoughts on crowdfunding the public humanities; and two pieces that reflect on slow.

It will be a nice weekend and perfect for some quick hits and varia.

IMG 4553So bored.

Crowdfunding the Public Humanities: Intersection Journal

Over the past few years, I’ve seen quite a few interesting public humanities projects float across Kickstarter, the popular crowd funding platform. As people likely know, the catch in using Kickstarter is that you set a target for the amount of money that you want to raise, but you don’t get a penny (and your backers don’t pay a penny) unless you meet that target. It’s all or nothing. 

With the slow decline in funding for the humanities and the public humanities more broadly, these kinds of crowdsourcing platforms have emerged as an alternative way to generate revenue for projects that seek to engage the public in meaningful conversations. As a small publisher and an editor of a recently-defunded public humanities journal, I’ve been drawn to Kickstarter as a way to generate funds for specific projects as well as to promote the work of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota Quarterly. Whatever the strategy involved in using Kickstarter (picking achievable target, promoting the campaign over social media, and identifying desirable “rewards” for various funding levels, et c.), there are risks. The risk, it seems to me, isn’t that you don’t get funded or don’t deliver (these are real, but completely manageable risks), but that you end up contributing to an expectation that public humanities projects should be funded as commodities appealing as investments and designed to produce “rewards.” 

At the same time, it’s hard to argue with the idea that people working the public humanities deserve to get paid for their work and outside the university setting there is very little space for folks doing public humanities work to make a living.

This seems like a good chance to promote, Chad Ziemendorf’s Kickstarter campaign for his Intersection Journal. Intersection Journal is a visionary forum for long-form photo journalism, and he is looking for funding to support a new campaign of photography with stories from accomplished and award-wining professional photographers. Each photographer will focus on the resilience of rural communities in North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming. 

He’s set an ambitious goal of $29,000 to fund the project and, for what it’s worth, the rewards are good. More importantly, the product of the funding will be publicly accessible. In other words, supporting this project does not give you exclusive access to content, but supports a product that is accessible to a wide audience. 

I supported it. You should too. 

Three Upcoming Events

This week is pretty exciting here at UND. 

First, on Thursday afternoon, is the Seventh Annual Cyprus Research Fund Lecture by Erin Walcek Averett from Creighton University. Her talk is titled “Frightening the Frightful: Grotesque Visages from Ancient Cyprus.” and it should be super cool!

It’s at 3 pm in the beautiful East Asia Room in the Mighty Chester Fritz Library. For those of you who can’t make it to the University of North Dakota, please check out the live stream

Cyprus Research Fund 2016 Poster 01

She’s also going to do a “brown bag” style afternoon seminar on Friday in O’Kelly 228. It’ll focus on her work with using new digital tools in the field and is titled: “Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Digital Tools: Perspectives from the Field.” Should be fun!

Finally, everyone should come out to an “Evening About Fracking” on Saturday night at the North Dakota Museum of Art. The evening will feature readings from the new book Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America edited by Taylor Brorby, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Debra Marquart, and Kathryn Miles. Hors D’Oeuvres start at 5 and frack-talking begins at 6 pm. The talk is part of the AHA! Talks series from the College of Arts and Sciences at UND. It’s also supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council. Here’s the flyer:

UNDWritersConf 2016 Mar 01

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

As the semester winds down and the holidays loom lustrously around the corner, The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World begins to put its house in order and try to regain some of its focus (or maybe that just the author of the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World). Now is the time when academic’s catch up on those shelved writing projects, read those dusty books and articles, and concoct their syllabi for next semester.

We also sit back and watch some cricket, look frantically for unique gifts, and trudge from one holiday party to the next.


In the meantime, here are some quick hits and varia:


Late Roman Archaeology, Corinth, and Plagues

One of my favorite days of the year is when my copy of the Journal of Roman Archaeology arrives. It’s the only academic journal to whichI have subscribed for nearly my entire professional career.

There is something unmistakably punk rock about it.It comes out once a year in two thick volumes: one is dedicated to articles and reports; the second volume contains substantial reviews of all the books. The layout of the journal is remarkable. It is single column with narrow margins, and a slightly awkward space between each, indented paragraph. Article titles are in bold, 16-point font, and full footnotes in a slightly smaller font throughout. The font looks to be Garamond or some other generic humanist font. If someone told me that the journal was laid out in Microsoft Word, I’d believe them.  The journal has an irregular and, frankly, confusing online presence. I think now, it’s officially distributed by Cambridge University Press, but as far as I can tell they don’t have the table of contents for the most recent volume available on their web site. For that, you need to go to the official Journal of Roman Archaeology website which offers a pdf of the books reviewed and table of contents. Whether the experience of the JRA is an exercise in punk archaeology or just a kind of studied minimalism designed to draw attention to matter of “substance over style,” it remains a one of a kind document.

This year’s volume is full of valuable contributions. So far, I’ve three stand out.

1. M. McCormick, “Tracking mass death during the fall of Rome’s Empire (Part 1).” This is the first part of a two part article that draws upon the first comprehensive catalogue of mass burials in the Late Roman world. The catalogue will appear in the 2016 volume of the JRA (and, promisingly on the Cambridge Journals Online website). McCormick offers a typology of mass graves that distinguished between graves that received multiple burials over time and those and received multiple burials at once. More importantly, he has taken the first steps toward demonstrating that the plagues that swept the Roman Empire in the 6th to 8th century produced more mass burials that in the preceding centuries and likely had a significant impact on the structure of the population throughout the Roman world. Some of the remains in these mass burials tested positive for Yersinia pestis which is a strain of the bacteria associated with the bubonic plague. McCormick is careful not to overstate the significance of these findings, but they do offer a valuable first steps toward understanding the change in public health during a period punctuated by invasions, natural catastrophes and wide-spread social and political disruption. Far from seeing the transformation of the Roman world as a result of disease alone, this work could soon contribute to our understanding of social change during this dynamic period in antiquity.

2. E. Öğüş, “A Late Antique Fountain at Aphrodisias and its implications for spoliation practices.” This article sits at the intersection of two of important trends in the study of the Late Roman world: the use of spolia and the use of water. Öğüş examines in detail the use of spolia in the “South Agora Gate” fountain and argues that some, selective defacing of images occurred to make spoliated parts of the fountain more acceptable to a Christian audience. It appears that defaced deities were those either that had recently received blood sacrifice, were closely related to the central cults of the community (e.g. statues of Aphrodite) or those depicted in formally religious contexts (as opposed to mythological narratives). At the same time, the fountain itself was not just an ad hoc structure, but showed the deliberate elaboration including teh reconstruction of an elaborate pediment. Finally, the widespread practice of constructing elaborate fountains in Late Antiquity might reflect the growing importance of local water sources in cities where seismic events had disrupted regional systems of aqueducts that had historically provided water to these communities. As local fountains became more important in providing water for the city, they attracted the attention of the civic elite eager to present themselves as patrons of the community.

3. M.E. Hoskins Walbank, “Inequality in Roman Corinth.” Any time you see the name of one of the long-time Corinth excavation members reviewing a work on Corinth you expect a show! Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) there was very little show in Mary Walbank’s review of S.J. Friesen, S.A. James, and D. N, Schowalter edited volume, Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality (Brill 2014). The book was the third produced from a series of conferences that brought scholars of the New Testament together with scholars of the Corinthian archaeology, and Walbank’s review was largely positive, praising both this work and the previous two volumes for contributing to our understanding of the Roman period at this important site.

The only paper that she was rather critical of was by William Caraher (who is he?), but her critiques were largely fair. As long-time readers of this blog know, my paper looked for evidence for resistance in Late Roman Corinth and pushed the existing archaeological evidence beyond what it probably could sustain. Walbank suggested that my efforts to draw on theory to fill in for absent “firm evidence” was unsuccessful. She might be right, but the paper was fun to write and present nonetheless. 

So, go check out the most recent volumes of the Journal of Roman Archaeology, celebrate it’s punk rock style, and enjoy the annual review of all things remarkable in Roman archaeology.

North Dakota is Everywhere

Make a date for next Friday at 7 pm at the North Dakota Museum of Art. Heidi Czerwiec will coordinate readings from a group of poets recently published in a collection she edited, North Dakota is Everywhere

The event is sponsored by North Dakota Quarterly, the North Dakota Humanities Council, The Institute for Regional Studies Press at NDSU, and The Digital Press at UND.

NDQ Flyer draft 4 2

The Church at Merbaka

Guy Sanders’ recent article in the most recent issue of Hesperia reconsiders “William of Moerbeke’s Church at Merbaka,” and completes my week of commentary on articles associated with my colleagues in the Corinthia. To say this article is new or recent is perhaps a bit misleading. Guy Sanders, the director of the Corinth Excavations, has talked about the ideas contained in this article for quite some time, and a preprint was available on his page for a couple of years. In fact, I’ve been using this preprint in preparation for taking students to see this building on the Western Argolid Regional Project.

Sanders’ arguments are some of the best examples for how traditional archaeological and architectural analysis can continue to produce provocative, meaningful, and far-reaching contributions to how we understand the ancient and Medieval worlds. Over the last few months, I’ve immersed myself in a series of books that explore conceptually and theoretically edges of the discipline of archaeology, and I have found them invigorating and exciting. In this context Guy’s work, which focuses more on careful chronological and iconographic arguments than appeals to overarching theory, was a welcome break.

I’ll make just a few observations here. To get the full impact of the article, go and read the preprint (for free) or the article

1. Chronology. Perhaps the most important contribution of this article is Sanders’ re-dating of the church from the final third of the 12th century to the end of the 13th century based in large part on the date of the bowls immured in its wall. This Sanders then supports with an intriguing interpretation of the buildings’ use of spolia and the name of the village where it stands (Merbaka) to suggest that William of Moerbeke was it patron. William of Moerbeke was a well educated Frankish cleric who became Archbishop of Corinth in 1277 shortly after the brief and uneven reunification of the Eastern and Orthodox church at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274.  

2. Architecture as Assemblage. Sanders’ bases his argument on the complex and expansive range of spolia built into the church at Merbaka. Without spoiling (see what I did there?) some of the fun of the article, Sanders’ saw in this spolia references to William of Moerbeke’s learning (including a clever, if a bit strained play on the word spolia), his friendship with the Argives, and the Second Council of Lyons.

Sanders’ reading of the church demands that we recognize the use of spolia as both a unified narrative holding the disparate fragments of reused material (both literally and figuratively) together in the church, as well as reading each piece of spolia as relating to a wider context. The spolia both draws the viewer both to the building and asks them to understand the meaning of these stones through a series of plausible links to events outside of the style and architecture of the monument. In this way, the church at Merbaka may be best understood as an assemblage, and Guy Sanders’ is good at understand assemblages.

3. A Global Greece. Finally, Sanders’ revised dating and interpretation of this church reframes an important monument in the Medieval architecture of Greece not as an example of local genius, or a regional understanding of larger Mediterranean styles, or an indigenous (or worse provincial) style, but as the product of a global Greece permeated with Eastern and Western influences that stretch from the capital to the Scholasticism of France and the Low Countries. William of Moerbeke experience as Archbishop and recognition of the local community offered the key opportunity of this expression of a global Greece to emerge.

When set against recent events, Sanders’ positive reading of this church and its patron takes on a slight shadow. While there is no doubt that the Corinthia and Argolid have long been engaged in global networks, at the same time, the role of powerful extra-regional forces like those that brought William of Moerbeke to the Peloponnesus have typically resulted in the loss of some local political, economic, and social autonomy. This needn’t always be the case. After all, Guy Sanders is the director of a foreign excavation in Greece, but maintains a close relationship with the community in Corinth, lives in the village, and has advocated for, celebrated, and recognized many of the positive things about Greek society. At the same time, any reading of the assemblage from William of Moerbeke’s church today must remind the viewer of the more negative impacts of direct foreign involvement in the region.

When recognized as part of the modern landscapes, the church continues to ask provocative and compelling questions of the viewer. 

Pierre MacKay

I was saddened to hear this morning that Pierre MacKay passed away over the weekend. I didn’t know Pierre well, but was fortunate enough to spend a year with him in 2001/2002 at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

During that time, I was putting the final touches on an article documenting a series of fortifications on Mt. Oneion in the Corinthia. The latest were Venetian. Pierre had been working on the fortification of the Venetian town of Negroponte (now Chalkis) on Euboea. He was only too happy to discuss Venetian fortification strategies with me as well as any other topic of post-ancient Greece.

The highlight of that year was a trip to the city of Chalkis by train and then touring the course of Venetian fortifications of that city. The catch is that the fortifications were destroyed in the 19th century, but Pierre managed to make the course of the fortifications as vivid as if the walls were still standing. We had a long discussion of the church of Ayia Paraskevi which was a Frankish period church built on Early Christian foundations. His willingness to discuss Frankish, Venetian, and earlier material with us during the trip to Chalkis, and throughout my year at the American School, was a model of scholarly generosity.

From my perspective (and many others) his knowledge of Venetian and Ottoman Greece was virtually limitless, and he combined it with a deep and sophisticated understanding of the Classical world. His sensitivity to the long history of Greece is something that I admired and, in my own way, aspire too (although without his staggering knowledge of languages from Medieval Venetian to Ottoman Turkish).