Defending History: The Graduates’ Manifesto

I am really excited to share Defending History: The Graduates’ Manifesto with the world. This small book emerged over the course of my graduate historiography seminar. The student authors, Peter Baganz, Yonca Çubuk, Nicholas Graves, Joseph Kalka, Matthew G. Marsh, Janet Wolf Strand, and Susanne Watt wrote, edited and compiled this little book in response to learning that our graduate program had been defunded and the current cohort of graduate students would be the last for at least a little while.

The book contains a series of essays that explore the intersection of the budget cuts at the University of North Dakota, the character of higher education in the 21st century, and the role of humanities and history, in particular, in the past and future of American life. The essays are sharp, critical, and do not shy away from controversy or provocation.

The work benefited from a round of public comments that served as a kind of peer review. You can see the comments here.

The work concludes with a sweeping call to action that embodies the arguments throughout the book:

  • Apply historical thinking to higher education policy decisions.
  • Recognize the relationship between higher education and community building.
  • Understand that the historical success of the American university as a means of promoting prosperity is not necessarily linked to job creation.
It’s free, it’s provocative, and it balances the immediacy of the the UND budget situation with the perspective of history and the past.

 

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Friday Varia and Quick Hits

I have over 100 papers to grade, a couple of springstruck dogs, two books that are not quite done, and 1500 words to cut from a 5000 word essay. Seems like it’s going to be a pretty good weekend because summer (or what passes for summer in these parts) is here.

In celebration of the end of the semester, enjoy a little gaggle of quick hits and varia:

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After a consultation about Milo’s new Big Pawler brand.

Summer Reading List

Today is the last day of classes for the spring semester and I have to begin thinking about my summer reading list. I have something like 25 hours of travel in about week so that alone should be enough to get a good start on summer reading.

You can check out my past reading lists here: 2016201520142013, and 2011. 

My reading will fall into three categories, I think. First, I want to read Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel, New York: 2140 and Cory Doctorow’s new novel, Walkaway.  

I also need to catch up on reading for two future projects.

For my little Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology project. This includes reading William Tabbernee’s edited volume, Early Christianity in Context and Bonna Wescoat’s and Robert Ousterhout’s 2012 volume, Architecture of the Sacred, Michael Peppard’s new monograph on Dura Europos, The World’s Oldest Church, and Ulrich Huttner and David Green’s Early Christianity in the Lycus Valley.

I also want to start to do some more serious reading for The Budget Project with some big picture books like Mary Douglas’s How Institutions Think as well as some classics like Bill Readings’ The University in Ruins and Jaroslav Pelikan’s 1992 reappraisal of Newman’s The Idea of a University. I’ll also check out some new stuff like Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy and William Rouse’s Universities as Complex Enterprises.

I also need to keep reading in some of my long-term and less well defined projects. For example, I should have read Thomas G. Andrews’ Killing for Coal on the Ludlow massacre and I should read Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver’s book on architectural improvisation called Adhocism and Mamoud A. El-Gamal and Amy Myers Jaffe’s Oil, Dollars, Debt, and Crisis.

I’d like to keep my fingers in a few other projects, including my continued work on slow, and read Ivan Illich’s work on conviviality, Tim Ingold’s Making, and Daniel Lord Smail’s On Deep History and the Brain

Finally, I’ve had Thanasis Vionis, A Crusader, Ottoman, and Early Modern Aegean Archaeology on my reading list for three years! This will be the summer that I read and digest it. 

Teaching the UND Budget Cuts

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been posting my occasional thoughts about the budget cuts at the University of North Dakota. Most of my posts have focused less on the budget itself (which has not yet been finalized) and more on the impact of the cuts on the quality and character of life on campus. This continues a longer-term interest in higher education policy which also appears from time to time on this blog.

At some point, last month, I floated an idea of a book that would contribute in some small way to the institutional memory of the budget cuts. I’m still thinking about that and working with some collaborators to move that forward, but I’m also interested in teaching a class on the budget cuts at UND, and this seems like it will probably happen in the Spring semester of 2018.

I have a meeting this morning with two graduate student collaborators on the larger UND Budget Project, and I’m starting to get my ideas together on the goals of the class. At its core, I want the course to serve as a critique of modernity and the institutions that shape our daily life. My hope is that the class can serve to complicate the idea of “transparency” that administrators so frequently bandy about. Transparency and intelligibility are not, of course, the same things, and making a complex institution as transparent as possible rarely ensures that the moves an institution makes are understandable to its various “stakeholders.” To unpack the potential of transparent, modern institutions, we have to learn to read these institutions and to understand the limits and potential under which these institutions function. So that’s the main goal of the class:

1. To become more literate in reading the evidence produced by modern, public institutions and in understanding how various decisions, policies, and individuals shape the direction, goals, and performance of these institutions.

Introducing students to the complexities of modern institutions will, of course, be a challenge. My disciplinary instinct is to approach reading an institution like the University of North Dakota through the lens of history, but I also recognize that other disciplines offer a different, and perhaps more robust, set of tools for unpacking the complexities of modern institutions. From sociology and anthropology, for example, the development of institutional ethnography and the methods used by Bruno Latour to understand, for example, “who killed Aramais?” can also be applied to higher education and understanding, for example, “who killed women’s hockey at UND?” Taking a transdisciplinary approach to higher education includes reading broadly in higher education policy and criticism. So:

2. To locate the current budget situation and the institutional responses in the context of higher education policy, the scholarship on institutional dynamics in higher education, and the history of higher education in both in the U.S. and on a global scale.  

Finally, there is a certain tendency in higher education to look so intently to the future – toward innovation! – and to look back with such nostalgia, they suspend a critical engagement with an institution’s past. The history of the University of North Dakota is pretty poorly known and there seems to be a pretty strong impulse to forget the economic challenges that have long faced both the state and the university. While a certain level of historical awareness could serve to soften the feeling of “unprecedentedness” at UND, it could also help administrators, faculty, and students find new ways to understand how things like budget cuts have functioned to transform the institution in the past.

Unfortunately, the recent history of the University of North Dakota is pretty fragmentary with only sporadic efforts surrounding the 100th and 125th-aversary to produce critical, rigorous, and careful scholarly work. The good thing is that the University Archive is available on campus and well managed. Students will be encouraged to excavate the archives and find the best primary and secondary sources for the history of the university. So:

3. To place the recent budget crisis in the history of higher education in the state of North Dakota and at the University of North Dakota.  

Stay tuned for more on the “Budget Project” as it develops over the next 9 months!

For more of my thoughts on the UND budget crisis, this is the eighth installment in a little series. Here is part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5 part 6, part 7.]

The Bakken Bookshelf

One of my long simmering projects is to pull together a bibliography of works relevant to the study of the Bakken oil patch and the most recent boom. Part of the challenge facing the state of North Dakota is a remarkably fragile historical memory. Events even in the recent past tend to give way to political rhetoric, economic contingency, and social expediency. While some of this “blind eye toward history” is commendable because it allows us to avoid a kind of fatalism that traps the state in its past, it can also be crippling when it prevents us for anticipating challenges.

The Bakken bookshelf has another goal, as well, and this is to encourage the state to engage more fully in recent conversations on petroculture and the impact of oil on politics, economics, the environment, society, and culture more broadly. I’d love for the bookshelf to come to include some teaching material – whether syllabi or just reading lists – to guide teachers, students, and the interested public through this material. 

Here’s how I imagine some basic organization. The works fall into four categories:

1. New Research. 

I’m really excited that my colleagues Kostis Kourelis, Richard Rothaus, Bret Weber, and I published our first journal article on the North Dakota Man Camp Project in Historical Archaeology (hit me up for an offprint, if you want one!) In many ways, it’s the evolution of work that I had published in the volume that I edited last year with Kyle Conway, Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota. what prompted me to write about this today. I’m also anticipating the appearance of my The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (NDSU Press 2017) and Bret Weber’s Voices of the Bakken (The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, 2018) which will be a curated and lightly-edited collection of interviews from our work in the Bakken. 

These works could be joined by some recent research from across the state including Matt Jones recent dissertation in criminal justice at UND titled, “Anomie in the Oil Patch?” and Clarence Herz’s 2013 M.A. Thesis on the history of petroleum exploration in North Dakota prior to 1951, as well as the various white papers published at NDSU (e.g. Nancy Hodur’s and Dean Bangsund’s reports on the oil and gas workforce) and various other organizations. In addition to these academic works, there are significant contributions from non-academic works like Lisa Peters’ Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil (Minnesota State Historical Society Press 2014) or even Richard Edwards’ Natives of a Dry Place (South Dakota Historical Society Press 2015).

2. Historical Research.

There are some fantastic historical documents available on the Bakken  From Robert B. Campbell, ed. The Williston Report: The Impact of Oil on the Williston Area of North Dakota” (1958) to D. Schaff’s 1962 M.A. thesis, “The History of the North Dakota Oil Industry,”  Robert Chase and Larry Leistritz’s “Profile of North Dakota’s Petroleum Work Force, 1981-1982,”  and John P. Blumle’s The 50th anniversary of the discovery of oil in North Dakota (ND Geological Survey 2001).

As we develop the bookshelf project more, I hope that we can excavate a slightly more substantial list of significant historical research on oil in the specific context of North Dakota.

3. Official Documents.

One of the interesting things about researching oil both in North Dakota and on a global scale is that there is a good bit of official discourse about extractive industries ranging from debates in the legislature to technical reports like William M. Laird and Clarence B. Folsom Jr.’s North Dakota’s Nesson Anticline (ND Geological Survey 1956) or cit. While it is clear that official documents and research will blur into each other, with documents like the City of Ray’s Comprehensive Plan (2015) fitting as easily into one category as the next, but to collate these documents in a single place would be come a useful resource. 

4. Petroculture.

Finally, there is an expansive and growing body of academic work on petroculture. The work is situated at the fertile intersection of literature, history, social sciences, and technical and scientific disciplines. At its best, petroculture creates a bridge between individual consumption practices, extractive industries, global economics, and the consequences of modernity. Winnowing down this work into a body of essential texts is a challenging prospect, but, in some ways, the key component of making The Bakken Bookshelf relevant outside our region and state.  

Shipping Containers

As a member of the Kostis Kourelis and Richard Rothaus reading collective, I was told to read Craig Martin’s little book titled Shipping Container in the Ian Bogost’s and Craig Schaberg’s Object Lesson’s series from Bloomsbury Academic. It was really good.

The book considered three things in relation to the container – their ubiquity, their standardization, and their impact on labor – as a way of using the container to unpack the hidden elements of consumer capitalism and globalization.

1. Ubiquity. By far, the most compelling aspect of Martin’s book how he presents shipping containers as a key part of the ubiquitous networks of modern capitalism. Moving constantly from factory to ship to truck to store, shipping containers are like Michel Serres’s angels, coursing the globe delivering goods. They are permanently ready, stacked in ports or atop container ships, to discharge their responsibilities and to support to global flow of capital (and here, he evokes David Harvey’s various works and, of course, Allan Sekula’s Fish Story). 

Of course, they’re also ubiquitous in re-use as offices, storage units, and modular housing. These functions fall outside of their primary use, but, at the same time, hint at their ubiquity. They are so common that a few pulled from circulation whether through formal or informal means has no impact on the functioning of the system in general.

2. Standardization. The standardized size of shipping containers was key to their adoption by shipping companies and ports. Martin does a nice job discussing how the shipping container rose to prominence historically and replaced the improvised methods for stowing gear upon ships that had persistent for centuries. By offering a standardized sizes for loading, the container because the basic unit for moving goods both onboard ship and ultimately onto trucks or rail for distribution. For Martin, the packaging of goods upon a ship – traditionally the expertise of the longshoreman – gave way to the stacking of shipping containers by standardized equipment. The rise of the shipping container marked the the decline in the craft of stowage, but more importantly it marked the standardization of space.

The size and shape of the shipping container influenced the movement of goods, their shape, how they are packaged, their various states, and how they are sold. In other words, this largely invisible, if ubiquitous, form and its standardized measure shapes how we experience our larger material surroundings.

3. Labor. While it is increasingly common to read about objects as agents that exert a symmetrical force upon human actors. Martin was not particularly interested in such formulations and focused instead on the human costs of standardization. He examined the changing role of the longshoreman who went from expert in stowage to operator of a crane with a largely automated coupling device that attached to the shipping container. This is not to suggest that a certain amount of technical knowledge and experience goes into loading and unloading a containership (or, presumably, loading and unloading the containers themselves), but that this labor is substantively different from that of the traditional longshoremen’s role. Labor represents main lens through which Martin considers the size and function of containers ultimately shaping human actions.

4. Afterlife of Containers. One of the things that Martin does less with is the afterlife of shipping containers. On the one hand, he describes how their human scale makes them suitable for a range of terrestrial functions from storage to habitation. In fact, the book starts with Martin writing about containers in a shipping container turned into artist studio at some lakeside retreat. The conclusion returns to the various forms of adaptive reuse and adhocism involving shipping containers. 

At the same time, the book does little to explain how shipping containers actually function as angels in the distributed system capitalism. Once they deliver their message, where do they go? What happens then? How does a shipping container carrying South American mulch to Grand Forks, ND find its way back to a port or even a redistribution point to continue on its way? Who owns shipping containers? Who takes the loss when a container becomes an adhoc storage room at a construction site or falls from a ship in transit?

A few years ago, I wrote a proposal for a book on shipping pallets for the Object Lesson series. My proposal was rejected (maybe declined is a better term) because Martin’s book on shipping containers was already in the works. The difference between our books lies in their area of emphasis. My interest was in the afterlife of shipping pallets. Once they have served their primary function as a platform for goods, what happens to them and where do they go? How do individual pallets find their ways into suburban basements, into rural sheepfolds, and into improvised furniture? 

I think Martin’s emphasis on standardization has much to do with the utility of shipping pallets both in their primary function and in their afterlife. In fact, Martin suggests that shipping containers in some ways have made pallets obsolete, but I would contend that the relationship between the two objects has given pallets ongoing importance. After all, a shipping container of standard size is 8 ft wide and most standard pallet sizes fit within this size container with a minimum of wasted space. Their standardized dimensions then contribute to their utility as building materials forming neat walkways, 4 ft. high fences, and lining up neatly in garages, big box store aisles, and basements. 

If shipping containers provided the size, the forms of movement, and the efficiency to activate the seamless flow of global capital, then the byproduct of this efficiency is a kind of flourishing of adhocism structured around containers and pallets organized around their standard dimensions and sizes. 

Friday Varia

I’m on the road to Bismarck and the State Historic Preservation Board meeting today, so only a few varia (and no quick hits!). Hopefully they’re all fun!

First, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota published the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual yesterday. Check it out here.

Second, I get quoted in an article by Kritika Agarwal in Perspectives on History, a regular publication from the American Historical Association, and managed to name drop North Dakota Quarterly. I talk a bit about slow, slow archaeology, and suggest: “If any discipline is likely to produce the Slow alternative to the corporate university, it’s likely to come out of history, the humanities, or the fine arts.” It’s fun, sometimes, to remember that I’m a historian!

Finally, today is Argie the Bargepole’s Birthday. I have a plan this summer to tell his entire story, but, for those who don’t know…

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He’s the small dog that was left on our graduate students’ doorstep last summer on the Western Argolid Regional Project. After a summer of fun with our students and staff, it was looking a bit grim for him because all of the many offers to adopt him had fallen through. Since the project already had a reputation for saving malingering street mutts, we knew that we had to do something. So I agreed to take him back to the U.S.

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Needless to say, he’s fit into our clan perfectly. We great him each the morning with a hearty “HELLO THE BARGEPOLE” and he goes about his very busy days with a mostly unintelligible sense of purpose.

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Needless to say, he makes our lives better. Happy Bargeday, to Argie the Bargepole.

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Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual

It is my pleasure to announce the publication of the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Written and compiled by Guy Sanders, Sarah James, and Alicia Carter Johnson as well as other longtime contributors to the Corinth Excavations, the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual is the first major field manual published from an American excavation in Greece and among a very small number of manuals published from the Eastern Mediterranean in the last generation.

The book is available under a CC-By 4.0 license as a free download as are all the forms used at Corinth Excavations. Download it here and should be available in glorious paper by the end of the week!

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The appearance of this book is timely as there is a growing interest in field methods and the history of excavation practices throughout the discipline of archaeology. Moreover, Corinth Excavations has long held a special place in American archaeology in Greece as the primary training excavation for graduate students associated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. As a result, the field manual has had a particular influence among American excavators and projects in Greece, among Mediterranean archaeologists, and in archaeology classrooms.

Published as a technical field manual, an archival document, and a key statement of practice from a major excavation, the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual presents a guide for daily procedures at the Corinth Excavations, a complete record of documentation forms used in the field, and a practical glimpse into the functioning of a complex, major, project. The manual is a landmark text appropriate for the university student, the scholar of methodology, and the working field archaeologist.

Drones, the University, and the Making of an Institute

Yesterday I attended a UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) summit meeting on the campus of the University of North Dakota. The meeting was the first step in the establishment of the IUAR, the Institute for Unmanned and Autonomous Research. While the name of the institute sounds a bit like a dystopian fantasy where research happens without researchers and following some kind of formulaic diktat, it actually refers to various kinds of autonomous vehicles (drones, in particular, but broadly construed as well).

The meeting was “World Cafe” style, where people rotated through groups in 25 minute intervals brainstorming around a series of questions. I participated in three groups, one geared toward the future of these kinds of technologies (ancient historian as futurist!), one on data flow, and one on policy. The conversations at these roundtables were brisk, well-moderated, and productive, but they were also short!

So I’ve taken to the ole blog to respond more thoroughly to my experiences at the event. To be clear, I’m not really responding to the idea of IUAR in particular, but instead thinking about how people were talking about this initiative and how its place within my own developing thoughts about higher education.

1. Billboard or Factory?

One of the interesting themes in the conversation yesterday was the impact of the IUAR on the University of North Dakota’s reputation on a regional, national, and global scale. The presentations from administrators advocating for this institute were a curious mix of asking us to produce something (like a factory) and promoting what we already do (like a billboard). Now, I recognize that most good initiatives in higher education are part factory (promoting collaboration to produce new things) and part billboards (advertising what it is that we’re doing), but the current conversation around IUAR on campus seemed curiously skewed toward the billboard side of the equation.

The question that kept popping into my mind is whether this initiative is designed produce reputation or new knowledge? And if it is the latter, what kind of knowledge and technologies and approaches and ideas is it designed to produce? Or, in a more academic way, what problem is the IUAR designed to solve (see point 4 below)?

2. Surplus Energy.

One thing that interested me a good bit about the summit yesterday was how few faculty in the room worked on UAS technology or application as the main focus of their research. Many of us, however, had thought a bit about drones or used them in the field, but few of us considered ourselves experts in the field of UAS (although to be clear there were some folks with that expertise in the room).

For an institute like the one proposed to thrive, it will have to rely on surplus energy found in small pockets across campus. This surplus energy derives from faculty who have some, modest interest in some aspect of UAS technology, policy, or application, but not enough interest to shift our academic focus to UAS exclusively or even devote the majority of our time to the technical and political complexities of these devices. To make an institute like IUAR work, however, campus leaders need to convince us to dedicate some small part of our energies to the greater good of the institute. It is not quite as simple as taking whatever percentage of our energies we dedicate to drones and the like and shifting that to the work of the institute. There is a kind of friction that happens with a collaborative endeavor where energies are spent in organizing, adjusting our research agendas, institutional work, and other small exertions to, ideally, reap the greater benefit of shared labor.

There is always a balance and whatever the institute becomes has to do enough for those people investing in it to make it worth the exertion of energy. This is all the more vital for individuals who dedicate only a small percentage of their time to main focus on the institute. For someone like me, the benefits will have to be comparatively large in comparison to the small investment of time that I make thinking about UAS technology to be worth it.

3. Models for funding.

I’m intrigued about funding models in higher education. Recently a longstanding project on campus was critiqued and de-funded because it lacked a sustainable business model. At the same time, it is clear that not all parts of a university have to be self-sustaining. Some part of the university are so close to the university’s core mission that they needn’t have sustainable funding model to be vital to what a university does. For example, a library does not have to raise its own funds through fines and fundraising (let’s pretend) to fulfill its basic functions because a university without a library is hardly a university at all.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, universities often act like venture capitalists in supporting innovations in basic and applied research because they recognize that new ideas are often fraught with economic risk and uncertainty and are rarely structured with sustainability as a goal. The funding in this case tends to be entrepreneurial funding and focused on small pilot projects the demonstrate proof of concept or emphasize one step toward a larger goal.

The IUAR project is a bit of a hybrid. It is a top down project initiated by the president, so it has some of the characteristics of projects so deeply embedded in the core of the university to not require a sustainable funding model and perhaps amenable to funding through direct allocation of resources. On the other hand, the absence of a large number of on campus stakeholders (for example, I was the only person from the humanities in the room and maybe there were only three or four faculty from the largest college on campus, Arts and Sciences), suggests that this is a kind of a niche project that perhaps would directly benefit a small number of faculty and develop best through a funding model that emphasized the focused nature of the research rather than its broad standing across campus. These kinds of project either derive from entrepreneurial activities and receive funding like venture capital and then shift to a grant funded or “soft money” model later.

What was strange, is that there was clearly no plan for sustainable funding presented at this meeting. In fact, the participants were asked to help imagine ways to fund this initiative. While this was fine as the meeting was an informal brainstorming session, it did make me wonder whether this kind of project might have been better initiated with a small number of researchers doing very focused research. Or, alternately with a bucket of money for a certain length of time to support its broad mission. In the meeting, it felt betwixt and between, not broad enough to be part of the core mission of the university, but also not focused enough to be entrepreneurial.

4. Technology or Problems?

Part of the issue, of course, is that the institute as currently imagined will focus on a technology rather than a problem. Most academic research focuses around solving a problem and collaborations tend to focus around various aspects of a problem rather than technical knowledge. Hence, entrepreneurial funding goes to groups of collaborators who begin to develop a solution to a particular problem. The IUAR initiative appeared, at least from the meeting yesterday, to lack a clear focus on a problem. There were problems, to be sure, that ranged from technological challenges – battery life, lifting power, ands so on – to policy and perception issues, but none of these stood at the center of the conversation.

I wonder whether a new, academic, research institute should start small, use an entrepreneurial model, and focus on specific problems established by industry practices and application or basic research challenges would be both an economically better move on the part of a cash-strapped university as well as resonate more fundamentally with the way researchers approach technology.

5. Outcomes and Trajectories.

I wonder how an institute oriented around a particular technology will fare compared to an institute focused on solving a particular problem. On the one hand, it might be that an institute focused on a kind of technology persists more readily in the modern university climate and has greater opportunities to reward the initial investment in its development. Their mission is ambiguous enough to allow them to be flexible in a dynamic world.

On the other hand, I’m always interested in how we can evaluate the success of such institutions when they are not focused on contributing to the solution of a particular problem. If the IUAR is designed to be a billboard to advertise good work already done at UND, then that allays some of my worries, but if it is a factory, I worry that the lack of a clear product will make its viability pretty contingent.

Finally, as I’ve blogged about at other times, I’m curious how the proposers of this institute see its trajectory, and this involves both its growth and its decline (and termination). Baking the end of an institution into its origins offers a way to keep the the institution focused on its present mission, subverts the exhausting task of “strategic planning” or other forms of “continuous improvement,” and ensures that resources, personnel, and energies don’t become pooled in places by dint of tradition rather than productive outcomes. For an institute focusing on technology, establishing a trajectory might be more fraught, because the ultimate development of a particular technology through time is not always well anticipated, but it might also be particularly useful, because it would manage the intermediate term investment in something that might be short-term trend or represent a short-term need in the development of a particular set of technological challenges.

To be clear none of this is to criticize the IUAR before it even gets started. And, of course, I recognize that building consensus across a diverse campus is tricky and the origins of any new project is almost always a messy process. What remains interesting to me, however, are the moments of ambiguity that I encountered at the summit yesterday, and it will be intriguing to see if these are issues that the institute can resolve moving forward or fatal flaws in its conception.

More Mobilizing the Past

With all the exciting new stuff happening at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, I’ve let some updates on (slightly) older projects slide. So here’s a bit of an update.

Copies of Erin Walcek Averett, Derek B. Counts, and Jody Michael Gordon eds., Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: the potential of digital archaeology (2016), went out to reviewers this winter and the first reviews are coming in. Benjamin Ducke of the DAI in Berlin offered a largely positive review of the book for the German journal Archäologische Informationen here. He concludes by saying that while “Zu den inhaltlichen Mankos einiger Beiträge gehören der kaum hinterfragte Einsatz proprietärer Software und Serverdienste zur Datenprozessierung und -speicherung, welche einer Blackbox gleichkommen, sowie eine zu autodidaktische Herangehensweise bei der Suche nach technischen Lösungen,” Mobilizing the Past “repräsentiert den Stand des Wissens am Übergang zur Phase der vollständigen digitalen Dokumentation archäologischer Feldarbeit. Since this is what the authors really set out to do from the start, we’re pretty happy with that assessment.

The editors of Mobilizing the Past funded the conference and the book through a NEH grant, for which they have written a final report. Read alongside Ducke’s review, this report confirms the fundamentally practical motivations for the conference and accounts from the practical character of many of the papers. When I decided to publish this book, I regarded this as a good thing because it offered a state-of-the-field (Stand des Wissens) perspective which will give it longevity as both a historical document and a critical reflection on a moment of particularly creative and accelerated change in field practices.

Finally, the book has been downloaded over 1500 times and we’ve sold a steady number of volumes in paper as well. Interestingly, the numbers for this book are almost identical to The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota (2016).

Download a copy of Mobilizing the Past here or buy it in paper here.