Degrowth and Archaeology Redux

This weekend, I read Nicholas Zorzin’s article “Is archaeology conceivable within the degrowth movement?” in Archaeological Dialogues 28 (2021). The article is a follow up, in many ways, to James Flexner’s article in Archaeological Dialogues 27 (2020) “Degrowth and a sustainable future for archaeology” which I blogged about it here. Both articles are full of food for thought and well worth reading. The responses to the Zorzin article from Flexner, Gabe Moshenska, Sadie Watson, and LuAnn Wurst are also valuable and thought provoking.

Advocates of degrowth argue that capitalism’s emphasis on economic growth has caused a global crisis of sustainability. This crisis is manifest in growing inequality, violent displacements of individuals and groups and, of course, the looming climate catastrophe. Zorzin observes, correctly, in my eyes, that the post-war shift toward neoliberal ideologies, broadly construed, has both accelerated and normalized a view of the world where unlimited growth (fueled, as it were, by petrocapitalism) ensures that the winners and losers in the global competition for wealth have no one to blame but themselves. Or, if the system is out of balance and not perfectly fair in the present, the continued growth of the economic pie makes it only a matter of time before various forces level the playing field to ensure that growth continues unabated. Some of those who reject this optimistic view of post-war capitalism have noted that there is no indication that the system is self-correcting and pushed for deliberate degrowth as a way to create a more equitable society. Obviously there continues to be significant debate over how degrowth would work in practice, or what priorities should emerge to create a society based on principles that do not require continued economic growth.

Zorzin argues for a discipline of archaeology anchored in the ideas of degrowth. He sees the value of degrowth as a form of critique that emancipates the individual from the mindsets that allow neoliberal capitalism to function. The embrace of degrowth within archaeology, Zorzin argues a bit less effectively, might also allow the discipline to move the global needle toward more just and sustainable forms of economic life.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of Zorzin’s article (and the thoughtful responses), I do wonder what he sees in archaeology that would allow it to be the forerunner to a global embrace of degrowth. In other words, why would he (or Flexner) advocate for degrowth in an archaeological journal and in an academic discipline that emerged in parallel with rise of modern capitalism in the late-19th and early 20th century.

It seems to me, then, that for archaeology to have a meaningful impact on degrowth as a movement more needs to be done demonstrating how either archaeological work on the ground — in the trenches, in the landscape, in the storeroom, at the laptop — produces the kind of convivial practices that form the basis for a discipline insulated from the economic logic of capital. As Zorzin notes, academia and development, the two primary drivers of neoliberal thought in contemporary society push archaeology toward practices that privilege efficiency, for example, and celebrate competition often at the expense of collaboration and reflection. Perhaps slow or convivial practices could play a role in establishing new standards for archaeological work?

I also can’t help but wonder how degrowth could transform the social aspects of archaeological practice which tend to privilege a kind of risk-taking, hyper masculinity, supported performative informality, and have allowed for the dehumanizing harassment of fieldworkers. Whatever one thinks of degrowth as a model for the a more just future, certainly the weakening of the link between archaeology and capitalist models of knowledge making should contribute to the production of a more just discipline.   

I also came to wonder whether there is something about the kind of conclusions and questions that archaeology explores and the notion of degrowth. Zorzin and his respondents do not really consider HOW archaeology as a discipline could produce arguments that support degrowth. This seems like a missed opportunity as it is virtually canonical to argue that historical archaeology, for example, critiques capitalism, colonialism, nationalism, and other 19th and 20th century ideologies in ways that denature these phenomenon and demonstrate that they emerged through the deliberate acts of recognizable agents. In other words, major strands in archaeological research involve the interrogation of the very forms of economic organization that degrowth seeks to reverse. The absence of any real engagement with this kind of disciplinary knowledge strikes me as odd especially as the archaeologists who have studied the development of race or pandemics (for example) have stepped up to show how their work complicates how we understand the contemporary world. In short, if there is a place for degrowth within archaeology, one might imagine it anchored in particular forms both of the organization of archaeological labor and the results of archaeological thinking.

Finally, it’s hard not wonder how the forms of logic that support archaeological thinking are entangled with the logic of capitalism. While I am far from an expert on these things, it seems reasonable to see neoliberalism (in its many complex forms) and capitalism as both the product of the (late?) modern world that produced archaeology. Our commitment to arguments anchored in empirical data, for example, reveal traditions of practice anchored in 19th (and 20th) century science with its emphasis on transparency, rationality, and methodological (almost industrial) rigor. These practices, of course, support competitive critique that many see as defining the best and strongest arguments that will shape the discipline.

This, of course, is a pretty gross simplification, but this and similar simplifications tend to manifest themselves consistently in public view. Appeals to peer review, for example, to establish the authority of an argument and the notion that recent scholarly work supersedes earlier work contributes to a view of the discipline that is driven by competitive practices where the good and the best overwrite the bad and worse. 

(As an aside, those who have rushed to “thank science” for the COVID vaccine could as easily thanked capitalism especially as the benefits of the vaccine seem to follow more closely the winners in the race for capital than the universal claims of science. That a vaccine exists might be thanks to science, but that you’ve received it is thanks to capitalism. It seems to me that disentangling the two requires a kind of mental gymnastics that takes much of the blush away from scientific triumphalism.) 

Not a week goes by when I’m not mildly horrified at some archaeologist professing disciplinary expertise (usually on the basis of various competitive standards) and “dunking on” some person on social media whose standing in the field is either not secure or whose strict adherence to the rules of archaeological knowledge making falls short. While social media is meant for such performative pick-up games (and “dunking” carries with it plenty of performative masculinity from the social logic of the basketball court to the height of a competitive basketball hoop set on he basis of male heights and jumping abilities!), I do often worry that many of the social media hoopers who hang around hoping to dunk on individuals who deviate from the rigorous orthodoxy of archaeological methods do more harm to the future of the archaeological imagination than good.

If Zorzin’s and Flexner’s work in part relies on thinking about the world of archaeology and world through archaeology in new and different ways, one wonders how the continued performance of masculine modernity, capitalistic competition, and (frankly) archaeological arrogance reduces the possibility for escaping the death drive of neoliberal society. Even if one thinks that degrowth is perhaps not the best way forward for contemporary society, it is hard to think that we’re currently on the right track and that the problems facing the contemporary world are fixable by adjusting the current system. The calls to burn it all down, however, are often followed by calls to rebuild on the foundations that remain. In this (admittedly pained) metaphor, it’s hardly surprising that the new ways forward resemble so closely the old ways forward. Degrowth, whatever its flaws, represents a goal that has the potential to shake up how we think about our discipline and society even if our approaches to this end (or any end that privileges justice and sustainability) vary widely.   

Summer Reading List 2021

Each spring, I prepare a little summer reading list that usually guides my reading while I’m in Greece and Cyprus. Because our work schedule there frequently includes a short siesta, I usually have time for some reading every day. 

I usually record my summer reading lists here. They’re largely aspirational: 2020,  20192018, 20172016201520142013, and 2011.

I won’t be going to Cyprus or Greece this summer (and didn’t go last summer) and will probably not take many afternoon naps, so I expect that I won’t have as much time to read fiction, but I want to read at least one or two novels this summer and churn through some poetry and short stories and perhaps some other fun reading. 

In any event, here’s my ideas for this summer. 

Right now, I have three books cued up on my iPad: Kara Keeling, Queer Times, Black Futures (2019), Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness (1993), and Alexander G. Weheliye, Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (2005).

Related to these titles and in GLORIOUS paper are Graham Lock’s classic Blutopia: Visions fo the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton (1999), Algernon Austin’s Achieving Blackness: Race, Black Nationalism, and Afrocentrism in the Twentieth Century (2006), Jacob S. Dorman’s Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (2013), and Stephen Howe’s Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes (1998).

I have some big books with BIG IDEAS that I want to navigate his summer, but we’ll see how it goes. First, I want to read George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (2009). It’s long. As I noted last Thursday, I want to read Walter Scheidel, Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity (2019), which is also long. In a perfect world, I’d also read Richard Iton’s In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era (2008), which is 400+ pages and dense with ideas.

It won’t be all work and no fun reading, of course. I want make my way through Amiri Baraka’s and Larry Neal’s Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing (1968) and Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation: the Collected Poetry and Prose (2005).

I’m also excited to read Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace (2021), Cynthia Ozick’s Antiquities (2021), and more Renee Gladman.

Of course, there is on the horizon, like an archaeological Death Star, Elena Korka and Joseph L. Rife’s On the Edge of a Roman Port: Excavations at Koutsongila, Kenchreai, 2007-2014. It’ll be Hesperia Supplement 52 and according to the book’s landing page clock in at 1368 pages, 733 figures, 49 tables!! It will be $150. 

Obviously, this reading list is hopelessly optimistic, but just reading it brings me profound happiness. I can’t wait to start digging in!
 

Friday Quick Hits and Varia

It’s a strange time of year in North Dakotaland. It feels like it really wants to be summer, but spring seems a bit incomplete. The temperatures have soared into the balmy 70s while trees continue to try their hardest to sprout leaves and the various flower wrestle forth from their winter slumber. Perhaps this is the appropriate weather for a bit of a uncertain end to the academic year. 

The awkward spring has not put a damper on celebrating the latest book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. If you haven’t already, check out Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook edited by Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thomson for a culinary and intellectual journey through rural kitchens across North America. 

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This weekend is a bit of a lull in spring sports schedule. While the Cup guys are in my home state of Delaware this weekend, Dover hasn’t been a particularly entertaining a race recently. The Phils start a series against the Blue Jays in which I assume they’ll win game one, take game two into extra innings, and then lose game three. The Sixers should clinch the Eastern Conference championship with a win over Orlando as they’ve continued to coast toward the playoffs. 

I have a stack of books and articles to read this weekend too as the grind of the semester gives way to summertime projects and an effort to move my way through my reading and writing backlog. Stay tuned for my annual summer reading list.

In the meantime, check out this little gaggle of quick hits and varia:

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Three Things Thursday: Riding, Reading, and Teaching

The semester is winding down and I’m contemplating my summer blogging schedule. I’d like to keep it going at least four days a week, but perhaps ramping down my quick hits and varia posts on Friday? Or making them a “photography Phriday” post?

Just a thought.

For the final Thursday of the semester, here are three little things that are simmering around in my head. 

Thing the First

Over the last decade, I’ve rediscovered the joy of walking. Hardly a week goes by when I don’t walk at least 20-30 miles usually in 6 or 7 mile chunks and usually accompanied by the dogs. Because I’m a creature of habit, I tend to walk the same paths day after day and this has given me a chance to observe the subtle changes that take place both with the changing of seasons and  year after year.

This spring, I’ve started to ride my bike a bit more. I bought a gravel bike that’s a hybrid between a road bike and a mountain bike suited for light trail riding and, more importantly, sojourns on the gravel section-line roads that surround Grand Forks. This has allowed me to explore a bit more widely. At the same time, I’m finding that gravel riding takes a significant amount of concentration. The distribution of gravel on the section-line roads is uneven meaning gravel appears in pools and eddies, ridges and troughs which make it like riding in deep snow or sand. The road surfaces have washboard patches that give way to smooth, almost polished, hard-packed stretches which ride like pavement. 

What’s interesting about riding the gravel roads around my town is that they give me a greater appreciation for the local landscape much the same way as walking does, but the texture of the gravel roads always is vying for my attention with the landscape for my attention. I can’t really tell whether riding my bike, then, has expanded my view of my world or narrowed it to the smoothest paths between the ridges of gravel on the roads.

Thing the Second

Somewhere on the web, I was reminded that the Greek poet Nikos Gatsos died on May 12, 1992. It’s not a special anniversary of his death or anything (I guess next year we can recognize that it’s been 30 years). His most famous poem is Amorogos. I remember buying my copy of the Sally Purcell translation in Athens when I was working at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. You can read a bit of an earlier translation by Kimon Friar here and there on the web.

The poem was written during the Nazi occupation of Greece and combines traditional Greek poetic forms with surrealist images. For Gatsos, Amorgos (an island, according to the story, Gatsos never even visited) becomes the object for his brilliant tracing of the pain and beauty of the complicated world in which he lived.

Thing the Third

It’s the start of the summer and I’m teaching an undergraduate Roman History class to two students. Traditionally, these summer courses are taught as independent reading and usually focus on three to five books and involve a series of reviews or reflection essays.

This summer, however, I was considering focusing on maybe one or two books. I’m curious about Ed Watts’ recent book on the fall of the Roman Republic, Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny (Basic Books 2018) and Walter Scheidel, Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity (Princeton 2019). I’d like to add a third book to the list, but considering that Scheidel clocks in at over 700 pages and Mortal Republic at 350. That’s 1000 pages for students to read and digest, and probably enough for one semester.

That said, I’m open to a third book, if you have something in mind. These students have no background in ancient history or Roman History.

New Book Day: Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook

It’s new book day at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. And most people agree that New Book Day is the BEST DAY.

The book is Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook and it’s edited by my colleague Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson. 

If you want to check the book out, you can download a copy here or purchase it in glorious paperback!

Yesterday, I enjoyed the wide ranging book release panel at the Rural Women’s Studies Association where an number of the authors discussed their contribution to the book and celebrated the hard work of the editors to make this impressive work possible. 

From my perspective as a publisher, this is the most mature book that I have produced so far in terms of design, workflow, and final product. The book is innovative in content and the design embraces that, without taking too many risks.

Below the fold is a blurb for the book and the press release. 

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Sharing recipes is a form of intimate conversation that nourishes body and soul, family and community. Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook integrates formal scholarship with informal reflections, analyses of recipe books with heirloom recipes, and text with images to emphasize the ways that economics, politics, and personal meaning come together to shape our changing relationships with food. By embracing elements of history, rural studies, and women’s studies, this volume offers a unique perspective by relating food history with social dynamics. It is sure to inspire eclectic dining and conversations.

Cynthia C. Prescott is Professor of History at the University of North Dakota and an occasional baker. Her research focuses on portrayals of rural women in cultural memory.

Maureen Sherrard Thompson is a Ph.D. candidate at Florida International University. Her dissertation focuses on business, environmental, and gender perspectives associated with the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century seed industry.

~

Here’s the press release:

For Immediate Release
May 10, 2021
The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, ND

From COVID to Comfort: New Book Explores the Role of Women and the Kitchen in Rural Life

As the COVID pandemic transformed our lives, one thing remained a constant. The kitchen continued to be the center of home life. In fact, social distancing, lockdowns, and other challenges associated with the pandemic made the kitchen even more important as cooking, eating, studying, and above all work, intersect around the kitchen table.

Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook edited by Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson, concludes with perspectives on the pandemic and situates them amid the long history of cooking, food, and women’s work in the home. The book combines scholarly essays with reflections, recipes, and recollections that bring out the complex history and work around the kitchen table. With over 20 contributors and 60 selections, Backstories takes the reader from the East Coast’s Delmarva Peninsula to the American and Canadian Midwest, the Mexican-American border, to Hawaii and beyond and situate the kitchen across a range of cultural and historical contexts.

Cynthia C. Prescott, Professor of History at the University of North Dakota explained “Our goal was to bring together recipes, interdisciplinary scholarship, oral traditions, and personal memories to explore three centuries of rural foodways and women’s lives. Whether you are a foodie or a gender or food studies researcher, you will find much to savor in this unique volume.”

Maureen S. Thompson, a PhD candidate at Florida International University noted: “Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook is a captivating amalgamation of scholarly articles juxtaposed with heartwarming family memories associated with particular foods, and yes, plenty of recipes. Rural Women’s Studies Association members generously contributed scholarly articles paired with foodways, memories, and reminiscences to create, perhaps, the first academic cookbook.”

The volume was produced in conjunction with the Rural Women’s Studies Association triennial meeting which this year has the theme “Kitchen Table Talk to Global Forum.” Catharine Wilson, Co-Chair of the RWSA and Host of the 2021 Conference, remarks: “Backstories serve up a delicious “taste” of what the RWSA is about: they are international and capture farm and rural women’s/gender studies in historical perspective. Members savored reflecting on their foodways and collecting the recipes, a process that whetted their appetites for our 14th Triennial Conference … Bon appétit!”.

Like all books from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, it is available as a free download and as a low-cost paperback via Amazon.com. William Caraher, director of The Digital Press, noted: “It was a pleasure to collaborate with the editors and contributors to produce something genuinely unique. That we can make this book available for free as a download and as an affordable paperback should ensure that it appears in as many kitchens and libraries as possible.”

Cooking in the Scholarly Kitchen

This morning I have the pleasure to attend the Rural Women’s Studies Association Triennial Meeting (via zoom, of course) to offer a few comments on a book that The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota will release tomorrow. The book is Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook and it’s edited by my colleague Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson. 

If you want to check the book out, you can download a copy here or purchase it in glorious paperback!

I want to keep my remarks focused on the book this morning, but I’m super tempted to talk a bit about academic publishing as well. Backstories emphasizes the role that women play in rural foodways and in the family kitchen. Woman not only provided sustenance for their families and communities, but also communicated cultural and social values, shaped the domestic economy, and offered stability during a time of crisis. The kitchen and cooking took on an even more prominent role during the COVID pandemic when family meals, cooking experiments, and the use of the kitchen table itself as a multipurpose nerve center where family life, work, school, and, of course, eating come together. The book then reveals how contemporary situations shine light on the traditional roles of the kitchen in family life.

A more adventurous talk would fold the story of The Digital Press into the history of the kitchen and point out how publishing is often regarded as the kitchen of the academic process. In fact, one the best known academic publishing blogs is called The Scholarly Kitchen

In this context, it makes sense that publishing industry as a whole is largely operated by women (one recent figure that I saw was >70% of the publishing industry is women). Of course, this doesn’t mean that women are making decisions about who and what to publish. In fact, studies consistently show that men dominate editorial boards and there remains gender disparity in research. Moreover, women are paid less than their male colleagues in the publishing industry. Thus, the kitchen metaphor is more than just a way to describe the back of the house where research (which remains encoded as masculine activity in many contexts) is quietly turned into something consumable. The barrier, then, between research and publishing is not as simple as a kind of technical black box where two different skills abut one another. It is also a barrier that is mapped onto gender divides in academia as a broader industry.

Books like Backstories serve as nice reminders that the kitchen as both a real and metaphorical place remains a gendered space, but also reflects the centrality of women’s role in the process of producing the family, society and culture as well as academic knowledge making. Just as in recent home architecture, the kitchen has move to the center of the home and become public social space situated for both display, gathering, and the preparation of food, the publishing process, pried open by interest in open access and scholar-led publishing, has started what I imagine to be slow pivot toward the center of academic life. 

Music Monday: Chicago After Sun Ra

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading a good bit about Sun Ra. Much recent scholarship has emphasized his time in Chicago from the early 1950s to 1961 when he decamped to New York. This is partly because the University of Chicago houses the “Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra” which is a significant collection of material relating to Sun Ra’s time in Chicago. Recent work on the Chicago jazz scene during Sun Ra’s tenure have argued that by the early-1960s opportunities for Sun Ra and his Arkestra had become quite limited and this eventually drove him from Chicago. The concentration of clubs and venues in Bronzeville that made Chicago an important center for jazz (and other forms of Black music) in the post-war decades collapsed under the weight of urban renewal, suburbanization, and growing racial anxieties in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, reading William Sites or Paul Youngquist, one might imagine that the jazz scene collapsed in Chicago after Sun Ra’s departure.

Of course, this is not the case (and I don’t think either author would really argue this), and over the past week, I’ve been listening to some Chicago based outfits in the decade after Sun Ra departed from the city. I don’t want to suggest that these groups are somehow carried on Sun Ra’s legacy or anything of the sort, but they do speak to continued vitality of the Chicago jazz scene in the 1960s.

The first album that I’ve been listening to is the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Tutankhamun released in 1974, but recorded 5 years earlier. It’s really a masterpiece of free jazz that embodies the last 1960s AEC’s approach to music. As every reviewer has noted, it emphasizes tonality and sometimes skittish rhythms over conventional melody and harmony. Malachi Favors nonsense vocals in the first track establish the album as a sound experiment that gradually stretches and pushes at the potential of music to explore both new pasts and presents. 

The album cover itself combines the famous Head of Nefertem (aka Tutankhamun as Sun God) with an amazing futuristic font (which I think is Stop by Aldo Novarese). It’s hard to not to imagine this cover evoking Sun Ra or at least sharing in the same spirit of the past and future that shaped so much of his brand of Afrofuturism.

Here’s the first track via YouTubes.

Tutankhamun album

The second album that I’ve really enjoyed is more conventional and in some ways, more directly connected to Sun Ra’s time in Chicago. Philip Cohran’s first album with the Artistic Heritage Ensemble (1968 which is sometimes called On the Beach). Cohran played with the Arkestra from the late 1950s to their departure from Chicago and shared Sun Ra’s interest in large ensembles. He was a founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1965. The music likewise traces some of the paths set out by Sun Ra in Chicago and combines aspects of hard bop with free jazz and rhythm and blues to create a distinctive form of Chicago soul jazz. 

The album is fantastic with complex, steady rhythms punctuated by soaring (if not particularly adventurous) solo explorations. The album feels like something that should be played loudly with the windows open so it can dance across the summer breeze.

The album cover is fairly conventional, although the boldly printed symbol of the Artistic Heritage Ensemble connects it to an Afrocentric imagining of Black music.

Here’s the album via YouTubes.

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Finally, no review of the Chicago scene is complete without reference to Anthony Braxton’s 3 Compositions Of New Jazz (1968). It’s here that I completely lose the plot of what’s going on in the music. Radical improvisation, unconventional song titles, and a deep commitment to texture and tone in the music creates an album that is as much jazz as a distinctive sonic experience. At this point, the musical situation that produced Sun Ra appears indistinct to me, but the probing and experimental spirit of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

Here’s the album via YouTubes.

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To be clear, I’m not trying to suggest that Sun Ra somehow initiated the experimental music scene in Chicago (pace Lewis 2008), but that the same spirit of sound experimentation anchored in both the rich musical history of Chicago (jazz, blues, soul, et c.) and the challenges associated with Chicago’s Black community informed, in different ways, Sun Ra’s music and the jazz that exploded from Chicago in the mid to late 1960s.

The relationship of this music to developing forms of Black identity demonstrates the continued vitality of Chicago music scene and its ability to adapt to the pressures that undermined the conditions that made post-war Bronzeville a crucible for musicians like Sun Ra.      

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

Part of the fun of the “Northern Plains Lifestyle” is trying to get comfortable with the weather. A week or so ago, I would say that we’re headed toward summer, but now I feel like it’s still springtime in the Red River Valley. I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’ll take temperatures in the 50s and sunny days over wintertime. 

Yesterday was my last day of classes for this academic year and the calm before the final wave of grading. This means that I’ll start on my summer reading list in earnest, take care of a bit of backlog in emails, and do some Digital Press work. I should also have time for a spin on the ole push-bike and to enjoy the Fighting’ Phils at Atlanta, the Sixers continue to coast toward the end of their season, the F1 party is in Spain, and the NASCARlers are at the Lady in Black. The big show, of course, is Saturday night when Canelo Alvarez fights Billy Joe Saunders for the WBO Super Middle Weight Championship of the World. The rest of the card looks pretty boring, but any time Canelo fights, it’s a kind of must-see TV.

Hope your weekend will be as relaxed as mine and that you find something that intrigues you in my little list of quick hits and varia:

 

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Three Things That I’ve Learned This Year

As the academic year has come to a close, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this has been a particularly odd and most challenging twelve months. The COVID pandemic has thrown my well-worn routines into chaos, forced me to redesign classes on the fly, made it impossible to continue my field work in Greece and Cyprus, and disrupted whatever thin boundary existed between work-life and home-life.

I’ve been thinking a bit about what I learned over the last year and figured that I’d offer three ill-formed thoughts here.

1) Field work, travel, and archaeology. For over 20 years, I had travelled to the Mediterranean to do field work. It was also a chance to build professional relationships, socialize, and, perhaps most importantly, think on site. The last two years, I haven’t been able to do this. 

It feels strange being disconnected from the Mediterranean. I certainly feel a sense of loss and a distance from our field areas especially as they appear more and more as datasets, GIS maps, and descriptions. At the same time, I find myself looking much more closely at the landscape closer to home. I’ve taken a few bike rides into the country and visited some rural churches. I’ve also looked more critically at the parks around me and as my legs get a bit stronger, I look forward to going for longer runs and walks (and rides) through the region and our community.

It got me thinking about how much a sense of place shapes my research and thinking. I’ve obviously read enough about a sense of place, placemaking, and the significance of being situated in a particular environment, but it was not until I found myself unable to go to Greece and Cyprus that I realized how much being THERE mattered in how I think. Conversely, being forced to engage my local space has made me much more interested in understanding my local landscape. I guess place matters. 

2. #FuckProductivity. I’ve really loved the #fuckproductivity hashtag that’s been appearing in my various social media feeds. I have no idea where it came from and who started it, but it definitely speaks to my own sense of aimlessness and exhaustion.

One thing that the COVID pandemic showed me is how much I relied upon things like travel for little breaks from my routine or rituals like leaving my laptop at work as a way to discourage me from getting RIGHT to work first thing in the morning. I have an amazing home office now that seems always to beckon.This has gotten me a bit worried about whether I work out of some misguided desire to maintain to achieve optimal productivity and this is some kind of internalization of capitalist work rhythms.

What I’ve discovered about myself is that I’m not particularly productive. In fact, I really don’t get much satisfaction from producing anything. What I enjoy is the process of reading, thinking, and writing. I know that I work too much, but I wonder whether what keeps me sane and happy is not so much the pressure to produce something, but the endless joy that the process brings? 

The COVID pandemic has made me realize how much breaks, like travel, changes of scenery, like going to Greece and Cyprus, and even the uneven rhythm of non-pandemic life makes the process of writing, reading, and thinking much more enjoyable and less exhausting. 

3. Teaching. I’ve been trying to be a more compassionate teacher of the last few years. This involves more than just trying to be more understanding toward my students and being more flexible in my teaching (and their learning) outcomes.

In particular, this year has encouraged me to listen more carefully to my students. I suppose that I never really realized how much many of them have struggled as they had to endure the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic, the isolation that came with “social” distancing (which is a term that actually describes the result of physical distancing), and the interpersonal (and intergenerational) challenges associated with increasing polarized political landscape. My students just feel down and distracted. 

To attempt to compensate for the challenging times our students are facing, I’ve had to rethinking assignments, move deadlines, relax my expectations, and work closer students to ensure that they were not sacrificing their own well-being to satisfy arbitrary (or even well-considered) “outcomes” for the course. If part of our goal as teachers is to impart life long habits of mind and love of learning, it seems to me a good idea to make sure that students don’t associate learning with arbitrary goals, deadlines, and anxieties especially during already anxious times.

~

I’m sure that I’ve learned other things this year and maybe as the dust settles a bit on the last 12 months, they’ll come to mind and I’ll share them here.

Book by its Cover: Backstories: A Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook

Just a short post today! 

Yesterday, I received galley proofs of Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson’s Backstories: A Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook. It’s scheduled to appear early next week in conjunction with the Rural Women’s Studies Association meeting and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota racing down to the wire to ensure that it’ll be ready to go!

I was exceptionally pleased with the cover design by Paul Forest and wanted to share it with everyone “in the paper”: 

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The back looks great too:

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I’m happy with how the text block looked as well. It’s the first time that I’ve designed a book at 7 x 10 and liked the ability to incorporate generous margins on the page.

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This book should be available for download in the next few days (for those of you who can’t wait to get a copy!), and for now, you can check out a preview of the book here