Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s the first Friday of fall, if not officially, at least in terms of the sporting and academic calendar. The excitement for the first week or so of classes has dissipated only to be replaces by the first sustained taste of cooler weather, the start of the NFL season, and opening wave of fall book and album releases.

At the same time, I’m warily watching the weather radar as Irma plows toward Florida and my parents. My hope is that they’ll avoid the worst of it, but the storm has already been a nightmare for Caribbean communities and looks poised to do much more damage before its done. Good luck, Florida and please stay safe!

IMG 1151Apparently, our dogs have it good.

Teaching Thursday: New Classes, New Methods, New Goals

Yesterday our department had a 3-hour meeting to discuss how we might adjust our curriculum now that our graduate program has been de-funded. The positive side of this is that we will have the ability to offer more classes at the undergraduate level, and this opens the door to developing a more innovative approach to how we teach. At the same time, we also have declining enrollments in our history major, which is more or less a national trend, and this combines with more stringent expectations on enrollments in individual courses, a changing landscape of “essential studies” requirements, a growing emphasis in “high impact practices” in our classroom, a recognition that a number of my colleagues will be retiring in the next 5 years, and a new school in our college (The School of Everything Everywhere Studies). 

It many ways it is an exciting time at the University of North Dakota, but it’s also a bit stressful and confusing time for the Department of History. There are some great opportunities to innovate, but also very real consequences if our innovation is less than successful. If our classes don’t enroll and they get cancelled, this could be read as a lack of demand and the consequences of this could be administrative and impact our resources and opportunities moving forward.  

While I recognize that these pressures are fairly common in academia, they impact me personally right now because I need to revitalize a few long dormant upper level classes. I’ve made it no secret that my preference is to teach big sweeping classes like Western Civilization or The Historians Craft. I like to innovate at scale and iterate in classes taught every semester rather than once every two or three years. It seems unlikely that I’ll have this luxury moving forward.

In fact, I’m going to have to dust off some classes that I last taught in the early 2000s like History of Greece and Roman History. When I taught these courses they were basically lecture and discussion and had a couple papers. They were scaled to work at 40-60 students. With our declining enrollments and the changing educational expectations, I will have to try to adapt these classes to a new educational environment with new methods and new learning goals. I literally have no idea how to do this. Part of my hopes that the department will develop their courses leaving mine to stand as “old school” experiences that evoke an earlier era.

I like to imagine that this earlier era emphasized that doing history was learning history. In other words, the humanities weren’t sensationalized, gamified, TedTalk-ed, revolutionary, or remixed to be made more palatable. The idea that history is craft (and the title of our historical methods course) emphasizes that history teaching is, at its very core, practical, vocational, and experiential. We don’t have to create some kind of student engagement experience to communicate what it is like to be a historian or to do history because students write history from the first paper in their first history class. Students don’t learn in a simulated environment (even the rhythm of the semester is more or less consistent with deadlines) like in more professional programs. Students don’t have internships or residencies because every class is an internship designed to produce historical scholarship that is substantively no different from what professional historians do.

That we struggle to see the work in the humanities classroom in the 21st century as experiential, active, and high impact, is the consequence of our growing immersion in hyperreality and our addiction to the spectacular. 

Social Theory and Context of Digital Archaeology

I really enjoyed Lorna-Jane Richardson’s and Simon Lindgren’s recent article “Online Tribes and Digital Authority: What Can Social Theory Bring to Digital Archaeology?” In Open Archaeology. She argue that archaeologists would be wise to apply social theory to digital archaeological practices, and, in doing so, continues a trend toward reflexive archaeology that is as invested in practices as methods and results.

I found particularly useful their interest in using social theory to unlock the power structures that shape digital practices in the field and across the discipline. They bring to their critique the work of Mathieu O’Neil’s Cyberchiefs: Autonomy and Authority in Online Tribes (2009) that argues – among other things – that the despite the illusion of freedom and democracy, the internet (and digital practices more broadly) remains a deeply hierarchical place dominated by well-established (if often unspoken) rules. These rules, often established by loosely organized groups with distinct expectations of practice that O’Neil terms “tribes” that form the relational spaces of authority which often conforms to bureaucratic practices and amplifies the social power of so-called “cyber-chiefs.”

Without unpacking the way in which these tribes function or manifest, Richardson and Lindgren are right in appreciating the role of authority in the development of digital practices in archaeology and the dissemination of digital archaeological data and the production of digital standards. Anyone who has spent any time around the edges of the digital archaeology world recognizes the role of tribes and tribal markers as structuring certain key aspects of authority in the space of digital practice. To be clear, some of the things that serve as tribal markers are necessary and, in fact, represent important elements of good digital practices, promote cohesive dialogue between practitioners, and reflect the balance the highly technical (and commercialized) discourse of digital tools with the more familiar (albeit no less tribal) world of archaeology. Simple things like the bewildering cacophony of acronyms serve as significant barriers to entry and markers of certain levels of proficiency in the digital archaeology world (while at the same time representing a useful shorthand for the densely obscure codes and standards). The need to demonstrate technical prowess through innovation even as this innovation frequently duplicates similar functionality already existing tools mediates a kind of competition between tribal entities that can be as inefficient as it is professionally disruptive, but it nevertheless forms the basis for a kind of authority.

Of course, nowhere is the tribal nature of digital archaeology more evident than the dense network of informal and formal associations that make up advisory boards, conference proceedings and panels, and grant collaborations. These relationships provide both tribal structure, but also define major currents of authority in our field. They’re traceable (and here I’m thinking about Shawn Graham’s work in network analysis (or this intriguing article by Tom Brughmans); in fact, they’re particularly traceable owing to the digital nature of this work as well as the increasingly digitally mediated nature of professional communication in our field. While it would be naive to assume that these links reproduce the power relationships present in various “digital tribes,” it would provide a useful point of departure for a more specific and potentially incisive critique in how digital archaeology functions at the level of practice.

[And do check out Dimitri Nakassis’s recent post on professional genealogy which would also be interesting to hold up against a map of collaborations and communication for the same figures. How neatly does genealogy align with the professional networks that scholars cultivate and maintain?]  

College, Commercialism, and the Common Good

This weekend I finished Charles Dorn’s For the Common Good: A New History of Higher Education in America (2017) which I had assigned for my graduate seminar on the history of higher education. I was hoping that the book somehow updated the fine narrative histories of higher education offered by L. Veysey’s The Emergence of the American University (1965),or J. Thelin’s A History of American Higher Education (2004), but I was a bit disappointed. At the same time, Dorn seemed to avoid the temptation to write another higher education jeremiad.

Using a series of case studies starting in antebellum period, Dorn observes how higher education has embraced the notion of the “common good” or a sense of explicit civic mindedness.  By the first decades of the 20th century, however, a rising spirit of commercialism complicated calls for universities to promote the common good. This reflected demands of students who saw the university degree as a ticket to the good life as well as administrators loosely following in the footsteps of higher education leader like Andrew White and institutions like Stanford that embraced White’s blending of practical with theoretical learning. The tension between commercial goals of higher education and goals that Dorn associates with the “common good” become most apparent in the land grant universities which constantly negotiated the balance between practical learning designed to promote agriculture and industry in their states and earlier, humanistic ideals of education largely grounded in the liberal arts and including the study of Classics, literature, math, and the sciences. The same tension persisted in the development of normal schools in the U.S. which were established to accomplish the professional goals of training teachers, but, over time, embraced a larger mission that included both education in the liberal arts and more commercially oriented professions.

The strength of Dorn’s book is the detailed case studies which included private and state sponsored colleges in the Early National period (Bowdoin, South Carolina College, and Georgetown), the birth of agricultural and normal schools in the mid-19th century (Michigan State and San Jose State, respectively), and development of a distinctly western vision of higher education (Stanford), of colleges for women (Smith), and to serve African Americans (Howard) in the first half of the 20th century. And, finally, the emergence of the post-WWII university (University of South Florida) and community colleges (in New Mexico and Rhode Island). Dorn proposes that each of these examples manifests particular approaches to the common good from the idealized goals of creating leaders of strong character and morality in the Early National period to practical goals of land-grant schools, and the the economic goals of the 20th century university. At the same time, he returns regularly to trace the growing tension between commercialism and the common good over the course of the 20th century with the goals of individual achievement and affluence superseding the expectation to produce a civic minded graduates who aspire to do the most public good. The transformation of University of South Florida from a school designed to serve the local community, commuters, and the rapidly growing state’s regional needs to a school determined to stand as a top-tier national research institution with a major, residential campus, and a expansive curriculum and research agenda. The transformation of campus culture and goals at USF provides a nice model for how mission creep led to universities changing over time and how public oriented goals that prompted the development of USF gave way to goals more in keeping with commercial, individual, and institutional aspirations for growth, prominence, and wealth.

Unfortunately the narrow focus of most of the case studies in this book obscures the mechanics of these changes at individual institutions. Georgetown and the University of South Carolina (originally South Carolina College) clearly have undergone radical reimagining over their nearly 200 years of existence, but Dorn’s focus on their origins make it impossible to know how these schools developed into their current states. Moreover, Dorn doesn’t return to these types of schools later in his book leaving the reader to wonder how large, state, “flagship” universities and national comprehensive private universities encountered the challenges to their original public-oriented missions. The history of Smith College or even Howard University, while interesting and unique, does little to help us understand University of South Carolina, Michigan State, or Bowdoin. 

I also wish that Dorn had unpacked more critically the tension between individual aspirations for affluence and the growing commercialism of the university and the changing notion of the public good and civic mindedness. Over the past four decades a view of the market as promoting civic good and the common good has become so prevalent in the thinking about the public sphere and higher education that they two cannot be neatly separated. For many universities, the goals of “workforce development” and the public, common good are fundamentally the same owing to changes in the public discourse concerning the role of public institutions, the state, and individual engagement with the market. The absence of any discussion of neoliberalism and its impact on the character of higher education left the distinction between the public and private to stand like a 19th century strawman as irrelevant to higher education in the 21st as the liberal and Classical educational goals of 19th century universities.


Book by its Cover: The Bakken: An Archaeology of An Industrial Landscsape

Book are born from the inside out. First the content, then the design, finally the front matter and index, and finally the cover.

Bret Weber and I are pretty excited to see that the cover for our book The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape is ready. It features a stunning Andy Cullen photograph that wrap around the book and really clever design ensuring that text on the back of the book is neither cramped nor overlaps with the crucial elements in the photo. 

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The distressed, sans serif font, in all caps , reading The Bakken, hints at the gritty content of the book, while also demonstrating that the topic is modern. It complements the sans serif subtitle nicely and the lines that follow the subtitle provide some balance to the cover without being too “design-y.”

I’m not as jazzed about the author photos on the back of the book, in large part because I’m not sure that the appearance of the authors adds much visual interest or any sort of authority too the book. In fact, we both look a bit too much like university professors and this likely to undermine the impact of the book among certain audiences. 

Finally, I’m super excited to see the price of $19.95! There’s hardly any reason not to buy it!

Thank you to the fine folks at NDSU Press who have made this happen. As I’ve learned from my brief time as a publisher. So much work takes place “behind the scenes” in publishing and our current system of production tends to obscure or partition this from the view of the author and reader.  

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

My Friday varia and quick hits too a bit of a break this summer with some travel and a few late week meetings stretching the break into the fall. But, it’s back now provided I can still sneak a little time for web surfing between the Formula 1 weekend in Monza, the college football kickoff, NASCAR in Darlington and the various other Labor Day events that largely involve laboring.

Milo KissesMilo and Argie at the club.

Teaching Thursday: Readings and the University of North Dakota Budget

Just a quick post today on teaching this and next semester. As readers of this blog probably know, I’m teaching a course in the spring for the honors program here at University of North Dakota.

[As an aside, I’m not a big fan of honors programs, in general, but because of the shake up in our department and the de-funding of our graduate program, some of us have been left to scramble for teaching gigs on campus. I was fortunate enough to be picked up by the honors program here.]

The course will be on the University of North Dakota budget cuts over the past two years. As any good course, the ostensible subject of the class will be a bit of a MacGuffin. The budget cuts will serve as a way to explore the dynamics of decision making in complex institutions, to consider the function of public universities American society, and to reflect on purpose of higher education more generally. My goal is to situate the UND budget cuts both within larger conversations about the role of the university and history of higher education in North Dakota and the U.S. 

To get things started, I’ve been re-reading some classics on the history of higher education with a couple graduate students: L. Veysey’s The Emergence of the American University (1965), Clive Barrow’s Universities and the Capitalist State (1990), and J. Thelin’s A History of American Higher Education (2004) as well as C. Dorn’s For the Common Good: A New History of Higher Education in America (2017). I’ll likely add some more polemical works like Bill Readings’ The University in Ruins (1996) or Stefan Collini’s What are Universities For? (2012), David Kirp’s Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education (2003) or James Engell’s Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money (2005) and some general readings on how complex institutions function in the modern world like M. Herzfeld’s The Social Production of Indifference (1992) and William Rouse’s Universities as Complex Enterprises (2016). 

The most interesting aspect of this project will be a reader that introduces a bunch of documents that allow students to wrestle with the complexities of higher education as well as – with any luck – some guest speakers who introduce the people behind the challenging decisions that shape higher education. 

As the course comes into focus this fall, I hope to get a blog or webpage up that features the work of the graduate students in my fall semester course as well as give greater shape to the course next semester and solicits input from across campus and my blog readers.

Cypriot Landscapes

I finally grabbed a few minutes to read Giorgios Papantoniou’s that Thanasis Vionis’s recent article in Land, “Landscape Archaeology and Sacred Space in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Glimpse from Cyprus.” It is a among the first articles to emerge from their “Settled and Sacred Landscapes of Cyprus” project which has focused on the area to the west of Larnaka. This article focuses for the most part on the sites around Kofinou in the Xeros River valley in Larnaka District.

This space is interesting to me because it is situated in a very similar location to our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria. Kofinou is approximately 20 km to the west of Larnaka and slightly more inland where as Koutsopetria is 10 km to the east of the Larnaka and a coastal site. They both, however, stand near what many scholars have thought to be the boundaries of the ancient city of Kition and situated along major land routes through the ancient (and modern) countryside (so even if we conceive of ancient borders between states as less lines on the map and more markers along routes of contact, we can understand both Kofinou and Koutsopetria as marking likely edges to the political authority of Kition into the countryside).

The article got me thinking about three major things (and I’m sure a reading of the article by someone less easily distracted by their own archaeological commitments on the island!):

1. Landscapes. The first four pages of the article unpacks the wide range of theoretical perspectives that hang precariously on the concept of landscape in Mediterranean archaeology. For anyone interested in Mediterranean landscapes, this is an almost ideal primer and it broadly frames the work of the Settled and Sacred Landscapes of Cyprus project. The complexity of landscapes as spaces defined by economic, political, social, and religious activities recognizable through archaeological methods informs the following analysis of the Kofinou region. The awareness that landscapes are diachronic and diverse incorporating different spaces and places at various times and both informing and being the product of myriad experiences. I only wish that the authors made more apparent how the complexities of recent archaeological approaches to landscape inform their reading of the sacred spaces of Kofinou.

2. Site Size and Population. Among the more intriguing aspects of this project is the authors’ willingness to draw upon methods grounded in processual archaeology. In other words, despite the complexities of recent theoretical reflections on landscape and their dependence of post-processual understanding of lives and experiences spaces and places, Vionis and Papantoniou look toward intensive pedestrian survey to understand the extent of settlement at a site. Their site of Kofinou is approximately 13 ha and could support a population of 250-300 families on the basis of available arable land in the vicinity. This was compared to our estimate of 40 ha at Pyla-Koutsopetria from which they estimated a population of perhaps as many as 1000 families. 

Whatever one thinks of their estimates population and site size, I’m not entirely convinced that the same formula could be scaled to Koutsopetria. Without getting pedantic, I wish they authors had been more explicit in how they arrived at site size estimates (and this probably applies to our estimated site size as well) and how these can be compared across the island. More than that, though, it would be interesting to consider the functional differences between a site like Kofinou and our site at Koutsopetria. If, as the authors suggest, the Kofinou site is a settlement, then the estimates based on arable land and artifact scatters may well speak to population. In contrast, we’ve argued that Koutsopetria is a small emporion and perhaps a transshipment site for agricultural produce (particularly olive oil and perhaps wine) from the region. In other words, much of the build up space of the site would not have been settlement at all, but warehouses, production facilities, and, of course, the ecclesiastical compound associated with the excavated basilica. This isn’t to suggest that people didn’t live at Koutsopetria, but it’s functional purpose would serve to define its extent. The absence of massive quantities of cooking pots at Koutsopetria, for example, tends to suggest that much of the space was not concerned with habitation or settlement, but storage and processing of good for export.

3. Diachronic Landscapes. I was particularly intrigued by their effort to think about the diachronic landscapes of Cyprus and to balance the various aspects of places from geology and topography, to history, memory, and long-term structural organization of Cypriot sacred and settled space.

Border zones like Kofinou and Koutsopetria have seen both historical investment starting as early as the Iron Age with sanctuaries which inscribed the landscapes with persistent places even after the political and economic contingencies of border zones abate. The appearance of a Early Christian basilica at Koutsopetria, for example, might have less to do with successive Iron Age and Hellenistic sanctuaries and more to do with diachronic landscape of the place and accretion of successive rounds of material investment that built upon both the practical realities of a natural embayment, proximity to inland passages, and the presence of easily defensible coastal heights, and the social and cultural realities of marking the landscape with fortifications, sanctuaries, and settlements.

The relationships that form these diachronic landscapes are likewise variable and depend upon the place of the site and island within larger networks. Indeed, their very visibility and definition often relies on the presence of recognizable artifacts imported to the site or monument types familiar based on their presence elsewhere on the island or in the region. In other words, the diachronicity of landscapes is something that includes the archaeologist in the longterm history of sites as well as its location in Cypriot landscape and its place within the relational structures of disciplinary knowledge.

Clothes and Professionalism

There was a neat little article in the Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday on academic fashion, clothes, and professionalism. I’ve posted from time to time on clothes: what to wear when’s cold outside, what I wear on survey archaeology projects, the confluence of tools that makes archaeology work, and even wrote an earlier meditation on the role of clothes in archaeology, academia, and professionalization.

In my post from 2010, I reflect on the way that the ragged edges of our professional identities often manifest themselves in what we wear. It is clear that some areas of higher education have professionalized more fully than others. It is not uncommon to see folks in sharp suits or at least vaguely coordinated blazers and “slacks” in administrative buildings, whereas style ranging from business casual to just casual tends to dominate academic buildings. It is also gendered, of course, but in this area I’m a bit less clear on how the subtle nuances in fashion. It seems to me that most women on our campus wear professional dress, but the gradient between business, business casual, and casual is less familiar to me. 

Of course, the justification for various styles of dress reflects attitudes toward appearance and presentation. Among many academics and certainly in the humanities, a kind of detachment from fashion might reflect a (a real or aspirational) commitment to an interiorized life of the mind. Steve Jobs famous jeans and black mock turtleneck was said to represent his attitude toward picking out clothing as a waste of energy. Moreover, it certainly spoke to academics and the creative class by presenting himself out as a thoughtful, reflective creative leader rather than a greedy capitalist, and this is consistent with larger efforts to market Apple computers as the tool for the creative classes and the liberal arts. Whatever truth there is to any of this is less relevant than the way clothing contributed to Jobs’ reputation as a “genius” and larger efforts to promote his company and his products. A disinterest in fashion and clothing complement into long-standing caricature of the absent-minded professor, but as some of my colleagues have pointed out, this is distinctly gendered stereotype that almost tacitly implies the presence of a dotting wife (or her present absence when the professor invariable dies, alone, buried under a stack of books and unpublished manuscripts). 

Academic dress traces the edges of professionalism even at the level of the individual. For example, in the classroom, I tend to wear a button-down shirt and nice pants or jeans, but when writing in my office all day or writing from home, I might dress in something a bit more casual or slovenly. The most complicated moments come when I have a late afternoon meeting and have spent the day writing at home. I have to decide whether I should change into something more professional (even marginally so) or just go to the meeting in my shorts and t-shirt. 

Clothes among archaeologists In the field are even more interesting. When I first started doing field work in the Mediterranean, I wore shorts and t-shirts, but as I got older and spent more time in the sun (and saw more and more friends suffer the longterm effects of sun damage), I started to wear long-sleeve workshirt, rugged pants, thick socks, and hiking boots. I always wear a hat. Among CRM archaeologists in the U.S. OSHA and worksite rules generally require a stricter wardrobe with steel toe and solid shanked boots and hardhats. Year-round (or at least longterm) archaeological work and the constant rigor of being outdoors, on your feet, and covered with dirt requires clothing that is proportionate more rugged than many Mediterranean archaeologists who work for 6- or 8-week seasons. This kind of professional indicator is a bit more subtle, but several of my colleagues in the CRM have noted (with a bit of professional pride) how they do more to dress the professional part than their academic colleagues.

It seems to me that dress is far more than simply a superficial manifestation or affectation, but cuts deeply into the complicated arena of professionalism in academia. It intersects with gender, identity, and even safety while being thoroughly contingent and dependent on daily schedules, personal attitudes, and, of course, as the Chronicle article suggests, income and economic priorities. Academic dress (and academic culture) seems all the more complicated by the rise of the casual entrepreneur and the persistence of the smartly dressed corporate warrior both of which offer models for complex institutions seeking to instill faith in their students, stakeholders, and employees.  

Page Proofs for The Bakken

Working as both a publisher and an author has given me certain insights into the tricky final stage of the publication process: page proofs. Ideally, as a publisher, page proofs are a chance to catch little niggling problems that crept into the typeset publication during layout. In reality, as both a publisher and an author, page proofs are where any issue that slipped through the editing process leap from the page in high relief. The line between “minor edits” and “totally rewriting the entire damn article” at the page proof stage is much finer than the one might expect.

Bret Weber and I spent this weekend going through the page proofs of The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape which is due to be published in October. There are not a few things that I noticed from the typeset text:

1. Grammar. One of the biggest challenges with this book was trying to write in a somewhat more accessible style. While the excellent copy editing offered by the NDSU Press caught most of the grammatical errors, there are always a few that slip through (and readers of this blog know that my grasp of grammar at a practical level is tenuous at best). My favorite errors at the page proof stage were the use of “seep” and “disembark” as transitive verbs as in “a pipeline seeped oil” and “the train disembarked the passengers.” Fortunately, these were easy problems to fix.

2. Style. The biggest issue that became visible at the page proof stage was the infelicities in my style. I do three things so consistently that I need to make a little note and keep it next to my laptop. First, I use the same word over and over and over in a way that would make a boxing commentator blush. This “appeared” in page proofs and was a relatively easy fix. Second, I need to vary sentence structure more consistently. I have a tendency to being sentences with introductory participial phrases, noun clauses, or phrases using the word “while”: while this, then that. This is more challenging thing to wring out of a text at a late stage of the editing process. Finally, as one of the earlier readers of this text pointed out, I use too many adverbs (and when I’m in the zone, I use the same adverb multiple times in a paragraph and, in at least one instance, used an adverb in both a participial phrase and with the main verb in the sentence. Adverbs are easy to cut.

3. Place, Space, and Time. When we were writing the guide, we tried to do three things. First, introduce readers to the Bakken landscape. Then try to trace the history of various places in the Bakken, from the vanished town of Temple, ND that served as an important entrepôt for oil during the first boom in the 1950s to the largest volume Cinnabon store in the U.S. at the start of this decade. Finally, we try to engage the temporal aspects of contemporary Bakken boom. The idea of contemporaneity, in fact, doesn’t really apply to the Bakken at present because the landscapes is in constant flux especially (and perhaps because of) both the rapid expansion and equally rapid the downturn in oil prices and the slowing of drilling and fracking activity in the region. 

The question that kept running through my head while reading our book is whether we captured this dynamism in a recognizable way? Did our use of verb tenses consistently distinguish between things that are visible and those that are no longer visible? 

As I worked through the final copy of this work, it struck my just how complicated this project could be and how relatively naive we were in our effort to use the tourist guide as a genre to capture modernity in the Bakken. At the same time, re-reading the work energized me to continue to develop this approach to understanding the Bakken landscape and recognizing the problems present in the page proofs – grammatical, stylistic, and otherwise – will hopefully contribute to what I’m doing as a writer and a historian.