Friday Quick Hits and Varia

It’s been a busy, if unproductive, week here at Archaeology of the Mediterranean World headquarters, but I am convinced that spring is just around the corner, my field work will start in just over a month, and next week is the annual Cyprus Research Fund lecture featuring Andrew Reinhard and Raiford Guins, plus an interactive display of vintage game consoles. What could be more cool?

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Well, one thing could be more (if not more cool) is this little interview that Richard Rothaus and I produced for the American Schools of Oriental Research blog and podcast series:

So, the flurry of activity probably accounts for the dearth of quick hits and varia, but hopefully it will be enough to satisfy my loyal readers until Monday morning.

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Defining an Early Christian Archaeology

As my sabbatical winds down, I’m starting to get excited about next year. One of my main tasks will be to edit the new Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. The biggest task will be determining whether Early Christian archaeology actually exists. Most scholars, for example, will accept the existence of a Late Roman archaeology or an archaeology of Late Antiquity. When pressed, some will even accept the existence of Byzantine archaeology. But what about an Early Christian archaeology? As I’ve blogged about before, the use of the term Early Christian archaeology in English is historically rare and has become common only in recent times.

This past week, I finally got around to catching up with the Journal of Early Christian Studies and enjoyed Robin Jensen’s fine consideration of Early Christian art. She argued for the existence of a distinct group of practices and sensibilities identifiably as Early Christian art. She went beyond century-old assertions that that Early Christian art was merely a debased form of later Roman art or the product of a marginal community with limited access to top quality producers. Instead, she argued that Early Christian art employed a distinct “pictorial rhetoric” that supported theological interpretations of the sacred history preserved in their scriptures. Practically speaking, this form of expression was most clearly manifest in the regularized, if highly abbreviated, images of important historical moments  in the Christian (and earlier Jewish) narrative that featured important figures like Noah, Daniel, Jesus, Mary, or Lazarus. On Christian sarcophagi, various figures representing relevant stories could be “mash-up” and combined in a single object without any concern for an overarching narrative. In this way, Early Christian art was distinct from the more coherent mythological narrative present in contemporary relief sculptures. The key to unlocking the meaning of Early Christian art was not embedded in the meaning of a single mythological narrative, but in the theological overlap of various, highly abbreviated references in a single space. Christians recognized this theological overlap, Jensen argues, because of their familiarity with exegetical writings, sermons, and other efforts to explore the intersection of Christian theology and history. Jensen’s focus was largely on the 3rd and 4th century, but I suspect similar practices continued later. In fact, I wonder whether an increasingly iconic depiction of non-Christian scenes in Late Antiquity reflected the steady adoption of Christian ways of seeing.        

If we accept, then, that Early Christian art has a certain set of practices that make it distinct from Roman art, can the same thing be said about their broader material culture? And is this sufficient basis for a Early Christian archaeology:

To my mind, this issue has to involve three lines of inquiry, all of which deal with the tricky work of considering the existence of a Christian world that is distinct from the “secular” or “non-Christian”:

1. Christian Material Culture. What kinds of practices and objects constitute a Christian material culture? For example, we can identify Christian attitudes toward relics as a particular attitude toward a relatively clearly identified class of object (manifest in the archaeology as reliquaries and pilgrim ampullae, for example). We can certainly recognize liturgical furnishing as a distinctly Christian class of object especially when identified in the context of Christian liturgical space. Grave markers, jewelry, textiles, certainly represent examples of material culture linked to Christian bodies, but do lamps or table ware decorated with Christian symbols identify Christian households? Moreover, can we identify Christian uses of everyday objects that are distinct? 

2. Early Christian Landscapes. As with most archaeology of antiquity, evidence for individual practice tends to be difficult to disentangle from the incremental process of site formation. While landscapes are no less susceptible to site formation processes, it becomes easier to recognize patterns of activity across a larger sample and at a larger scale. In this context, the location of Early Christian churches might indicate patterns associated with creating a Christian landscape. The location of Christian cemeteries is another potential influence on production of a distinctly Christian landscape. Archaeological practices designed to consider specific questions related to the creation of Christian space on a regional scale could bring attention to the intersection of specifically Christian landmarks and spaces otherwise regarded as “secular.”

3. Objects of Faith. Finally, what does it mean to recognize an object or landscape as Christian? As any number of scholars have noted, Early Christianity was not a monolithic institution, community, or mode of expression. There were multiple – often competing – Christianities. Moreover, being Christian did not exclude one from also being involved in traditional practices of the community, including sometimes those with competing religious claims. In this context, it would appear quite difficult to associate an object with a community outside of the narrowly defined role of religious practice, ritual, and associated spaces. On the other hand, if Christianity is a “totalizing discourse”, as Averill Cameron proposed many years ago, then perhaps the function of objects and spaces in everyday life would take on a Christian meaning. Understanding the meaning of these practices in an archaeological contexts transforms the material culture of Roman and Late Roman world into objects, buildings, and places of faith even if the explicit link between Christian practice and meaning is lost. In this context, much like the context for understanding Christian art proposed by Robin Jensen, the reading of practice in the archaeological record can almost always exist within a Christian discourse.  

Beyond the Book

This post will seem pretty ordinary to anyone who has thought critically about the digital humanities or digital archaeology over the past few years, but since I’m up, it’s early, and I’m thinking, I thought I’d post it anyway.

Last fall, my co-editors and I saw our first book appear from our work at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria. About six months earlier we had published the data from our site on Open Context. Unfortunately, since the book only appeared in paper, there was no way to connect the PKAP I volume and the Pyla-Koutsopetria book. The great thing about being an author, though, is getting page proofs (although the worst thing is having to read through them one. last. time.) Page proofs are usually just .pdfs of the final draft of the book, but they’re also a bit of a blank canvass. They provide the author or authors with all the value of layout and copy-editing (provided by the press) but also flexibility modify the content. 

So, I began to go through the catalogue section of the volume and insert links connecting the various objects in the catalogue to the entries in Open Context. 

For example:

94.29. Rim (fig. 4.10, reproduced at 1:2). Diam.
= uncertain, PH = 0.020, PL = 0.035, Th. (rim)
= 0.006, Th. (body) = 0.005. Medium-grained,
yellowish-red fabric (5YR 4/6) that is poorly fired
with a discolored gray exterior and a discolored
dark gray slip (10YR 4/1 to 7.5YR 4/4) on the ex-
terior. Fabric contains rare, sparkly inclusions.

With one click in Open Context, you can move back to the survey unit where the object originated, Unit 94; and another click allows you to see photos of the artifact here, here, here, here, and here

More recent updates to the Open Context database will expand the links throughout the volume. My edition of the book will be much better, more dynamic, and potentially more accurate than the paper original.

Pretty cool, right?

The problem is, how do I circulate this modified version of the book. Technically, I do not own the copy of the book that I’m modifying so I can’t really circulate it. So what I have is a private circulation book that has significantly added value on an “Unofficial Digital Edition.”

ARS 21  PKAP Text  Unoffical Digital Edition SQRpsd

So I got to thinking about my press and dynamic books. I know this is old turf for people thinking about the future of the book, but I have a current project at my press that will initially have only a very limited circulation. Bret Weber and I have been working to layout a collection of interview transcription from our work on the North Dakota Man Camp Project, which the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota will publish. The book is tentatively titled: Voices of the Bakken, and some time soon I’ll produce a snazzy cover for it (soon as in, um, today; see below).

There are two issues. First is that we need to sort out the organization of the interviews and decide whether we might obscure the identities of some of our informants (although we don’t have to according to our IRB paperwork) or contextualize certain aspects of our interviews more thoroughly. 

Second, we are in the process of developing online digital content for this project. Since our dataset is relatively large, we’ll likely publish parts of it over time rather than all at once. So the book will continue to accrue online content as we make more available. At present, though the book is in a private alpha which will probably expand to a private beta before being made available as a public beta sometime before the end of the year. The public version will then get a version number 1.0 that will be updated over time. The book then becomes an entity undergoing continuous development, like a piece of software, until it is formally retired. The final publication of the book, then, is the end of its existence as a living document rather than the start.  

I’m not saying that this will be the cover, but I’m also not saying it won’t be the cover. (Note the Gill Sans for the cover. I really, really wanted to use Cooper Black which to me invoked the 1930s and industry, but it was just too heavy to use in this mock-up.)

Voices of the Bakken 01 01

Byzantium and the Public Sphere

In a couple of weeks, I head back east to the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture at the Hellenic College Holy Cross to be on a panel of scholars who “use traditional and digital means to build a broader audience for the field inside and outside of the academy.” I suspect my blog caught their attention or a series of posts a couple of years ago on marketing my Byzantine history class to unsuspecting undergraduates. 

In these blog posts, I complained that the place of Byzantium in most “master narratives” presented to college students, limits how we can present the Byzantine Empire to an unfamiliar audience on campus. Some of these approaches are useful. In my very traditional history department, Byzantine history serves as another way to complicate what the students understand to be “the Western tradition.” To simplify this discussion (as I would present it to undergraduates unfamiliar with Byzantium), the Byzantine world has a Western pedigree: it represented the persistence of the Roman Empire, it was ruled and populated by “people of the book” (Jews, Christian, and Muslims), and it partook in familiar practices that ranged from Hellenic philosophy, to architecture, forms of literature, and political history. At my lowest points, I found myself saying: “Don’t worry, it will be far more familiar than the world of Tolkien or George R.R. Martin!” (Putting aside that these worlds were made up and featured, you know, dragons). In my best moments, I found that I could channel my inner Anthony Kaldellis

Appeals to familiarity, of course, only serve to highlight the things about Byzantium that are utterly unfamiliar. On a short flight this past month, I read over Averill Cameron’s slim volume titled Byzantine Matters. The book provides a useful, if incomplete view of trends in the field over the author’s influential career (or since the publication of Ostrogorsky’s History of the Byzantine State in 1969. More than that, her book is accessible and generally indicates some profitable lines of inquiry that challenge the traditional view of Byzantium as a theocratic despotism satisfied to simmer gently beneath the ponderous weight of Orthodox uniformity. This approach not only offers a way to open up Byzantium to questions that are profoundly Western (e.g. what was the relationship between church and state?), but also to urge students to see the study of Byzantium as a way to critique Orientalism and its view of unchanging, almost unthinking traditionalism. This may be a hook to ensure that “Byzantium belongs to all of us, and … belongs to mainstream history.” Lest we imagine that Cameron went all populist on us, she also calls for renewed attention to Byzantine religious writing (sermons, theological treatises, et c.) as works of literature. Nothing is likely to broaden the appeal of Byzantium more than combining the study of literature, with all its theoretical pretensions, with the study of theological texts which were probably bored the vast majority of the Byzantine world. That being said, this suggestion does follow her overarching argument for hidden complexity in the Byzantium world.

I don’t think that I was invited to this panel to share my penetrating understanding of Byzantine historiography, however. 

I think I’ll try to inject a few observations.

1. Blogging Byzantium. Over the last 10 years or so, there has been a constant presence of Byzantine bloggers on the web. In most cases, these blogs are pretty traditional, text-driven places. None of us have truly embraced the potential of social and new media although a few of the blogs feature videos from time to time.

There are a few exceptions. For example, there is Lars Brownworth’s 12 Rulers of Byzantium which started as a podcast and has expanded into a media empire featuring videos and a book. The Cry for Byzantium Twitter feed of Alexius I Comnenus pushes Byzantium into the social media sphere. The /r/Byzantine page on Reddit appears to be thriving.

The typical Byzantine Blogger, however, is pretty textual with the occasional image of a domed church or a map. There are, of course, a few panoramic views of Byzantine churches and a mishmash of mostly outdated efforts to create interactive maps of Constantinople or whatever. Generally speaking, scholars of Byzantium have stayed on the sideline of recent trends to create a more dynamic web. These kinds of projects require significant funding and, perhaps more importantly, a clearly-defined audience.

2. Byzantine Archaeology as World Archaeology. I need to work this into a fuller post at some point in the near future, but one observation that my buddy Kostis Kourelis made a few years back is that a meaningful subset of Byzantine archaeologists also do archaeology in their local communities. What brought this to mind was David Pettegrew’s recent work on mapping 19th century Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and the Greek community there. Kostis has been involved in my North Dakota Man Camp Project and various initiatives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he teaches. The willingness of archaeologists of the Byzantine world to engage in the archaeology of their local communities hints that Byzantinists are not as disengaged as our scholarly output might suggest. In fact, it suggests that some of the trends in Byzantine archaeology resonate with issues prevalent in world archaeology. For a discipline that almost takes a perverse pride in its idiosyncratic conventions, this is a significant revelation and offers hope for Byzantinists everywhere that our skills and professional interests can have a direct impact on local communities in North America.

3. Mash-Up and Convergence. Finally, I’ve been thinking a bit about how our scholarly production – books and articles – rarely extend beyond their academic audiences and rarely enjoy lives outside of their final, published copies. The divergence between academic works and popular books could not be more stark as influential popular books often feed a growing participatory community engaged in fan fiction, form the basis for transmedia productions like films and video games, and spawn communities of commentators and critics. George R.R. Martin’s mostly-depraved Game of Thrones series of books and TV series is just the most recent and perhaps most visible example.

As Byzantinists contemplate engaging the public sphere more fully, it might behoove us to consider the changing the changing state of popular media. How do we ensure that our books and articles become living, media entities that go beyond their utility to a small group of scholars? Do we push to make our work available in open access? Do we work harder to contribute to linked-data practices? How does our work interact or intersect with the larger media universe? 

To my mind, this is not simply about making our work known to more people, but making it more accessible to audiences who think about media in new and more dynamic ways. Books and articles are more than just forms of scholarly communication or instruments designed to get tenure, but simply aspects of an increasingly dynamic media universe that extends beyond the life of a publication, its physical or digital form, and goals of the academic author. How can Byzantine studies engage this world?

The Soon and the Summer

I bought by tickets to Greece for next summer and I need to buy my tickets from Athens to Cyprus this week. After a year away from my work on Cyprus to focus on the Western Argolid Regional Project in Greece, I’m going to return to Polis-Chrysochous for a three-week study season starting May 5. Then heading to Greece for almost two months on May 25th or 26th. This all means that planning for the summer has to start now.

First, the next few weeks will prove to be busy, but exciting.

On April 8th-11th, I’ll host Andrew Reinhard and Richard Rothaus on campus for a public showing of the documentary, Atari: Game Over, and an academic round-table on the archaeology of gaming and the contemporary world.

On April 7th, I take a quick trip to Fargo for a dissertation defense. 

On April 18th, I’ll be in at the Mary Jaharis Center in Brookline, MA to participate in a roundtable on “Byzantium in the Public Sphere” and somehow simultaneously at a Man Camp Dialogue presentation in Ellendale.      

Over the same stretch of time, I need to put the finishing touches on two sabbatical projects. One is the final round of revisions on the North Dakota Man Camp Project paper for Historical Archaeology, and the other is a book proposal for the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, which is become a more and more compelling project every passing week. The book proposal is virtually done and I have a meaningful draft of the manuscript in hand. Now all I need to make is a few final touches and pull the trigger. I’m also doing the final revisions on an article for Internet Archaeology on archeological blogging.

At the same time, I’ve been trying to put together the kit of necessary summer gear that has to be ordered and sorted out before the start of May.

1. New Laptop. My three year old 15-inch Dell XPS has finally become unusable thanks to a combination of Windows 8 and some kind of nagging hardware issues. So I have to order a quad-core Dell Precision 15-inch today with 16-gb of ram. 3D image processing takes a tremendous amount of power.

2. New GPS unit. My trusty, 10 year old Garmin Gecko was stolen from my 12-year-old truck this past fall. We used Garmin Oregon 650s this past summer in Greece because we could upload aerial photographs to them and they had 8-megapixel cameras. In turns out that the cameras were not particularly useful and drained the battery. So this summer, I’ll purchase a Garmin 600 which is the same unit without a camera.

3. Camera. I love my Panasonic GX1, but the camera will be going on its third field season and has enjoyed such exotic opportunities as being used in a landfill in a dust storm, being lugged up every elevation in the Western Argolid without a lens cap, and several trips to the froze tundra of North Dakota. My hope is that it survives this summer, but I bought a fall back camera, a Canon ELPH135, which is discontinued and sells for less than $90 on Amazon. It’s nowhere near as good as the Panasonic, but it’s small, cheap, and good enough for a backup camera.

4. Microphone. With my career as a podcaster slowly gaining momentum, I need a small, decent USB microphone. Suggestions? For our podcasts, I’ve used a Blue Yeti, but this is a heavy microphone and I need to save some weight for, you know, three months of clothing.

5. Music. Living away from home for this long of a time is hard on me for a range of reasons (wife, dog, house, other responsibilities), but part of the thing that makes it hard is that I go from being alone most of the time to being surrounding by people most of the time. My escape is listening to music. To facilitate this, I have seriously upgraded my mobile music kit. First, I got a pair of new Audeze EL-8, closed back headphones and a little bird has hinted that I’ll get a new ALO Rx MK3 B+ amplifier which appears to be getting phased out of the ALO line-up and is now available at steeply discounted prices from their warehouse page. The amp is probably overkill for the EL-8s, but I suspect even in single-ended mode (balanced cables are not yet available for the EL-8s) it’ll provide a bit more oomph for the relatively efficient EL-8s as well as the option to move to a balanced set up in the future. 

6. Books. Usually I make a request for summer reading recommendations, but this summer, it looks like the American Journal of Archaeology has that all sorted out for me. I’m going to be working on a review article featuring several new books on the archaeology of the contemporary world and the growing interest in materiality among archaeologists. That being said, I’ll need to track down a few recreational books to read this summer, preferably with spaceships in them. 

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

We’re in that delightful time between winter and spring when its still below freezing in the morning but warms over the course of the day. There are enough clouds in the sky to give us beautiful sunrises and sunsets, but not so many to keep the strengthening sun from providing that little extra warmth on our afternoon walks. It’s a lovely time of year. I only wish that it didn’t extend from early March to the middle of May here in North Dakotaland.

Before I start my usual list of quick hits and varia, I want to remind you to check out my buddy James Bradley Wells new book of poetry, The Kazantzakis Guide to Greece, which is available for pre-order here. It’s $12.40. Preorder it.

Also, check out our Call-for-Papers for the Bakken Goes Bust? Conference in October, and do listen to the most recent Caraheard podcast

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Poetry for Greece

My post today is about poetry. It is also an advertisement. It’s not, an advertisement for myself, which will probably come as a shock to many of you.

My old friend James Bradley Wells has prepared his second book of poetry, The Kazantzakis Guide to Greece. His first book of poems, Bicycle, appeared a few years ago and you can get it here. He also wrote a book on Pindar.

If you like Greece and like poetry, then you should pre-order a copy of his book

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So, I’m advertising James’s poetry book here for a few reasons. First, the book is about Greece and is due to appear on July 15th. While I complained that this publication date made it impossible for me to take the book to Greece and read it after a long day in the field, James assured me that the best time for reading this book is in the late summer as I reminisce (fondly at that point) about my times in Greece while sitting on my front porch ignoring the start of the semester.  

Some of the poems came from his time at the American School of Classical Studies when we had neighboring rooms in the annex. He introduced me to performance theory and Erving Goffman and Richard Bauman, and patiently (tried to) explain to me how their ideas could expand my reading of Pierre Bourdieu and Anthony Giddens. To this day, I have never felt smarter (and more humble) than when I was sitting at Kolonaki Square with James on a Sunday morning, drinking coffee, talking about our work.

I can clearly recall his excitement when he returned from Crete having seen Katzantzakis’s tomb in Heraklion. So while I’m just making my way through a generously-offer (ok, I begged) manuscript now, I can already hear certain rhythms in his poetry that remind me of my time in Athens over a decade ago, and the list of sites evokes will only be more meaningful to people who endured the famous American School Regular Program. The American School should certainly pre-order a copy and add it to their collection of work produced under their auspices.

Finally, the book is being published by a small, but award winning press in Georgetown, Kentucky: Finish Line Press. They are counting on a certain number of pre-orders before they’ll begin production. While this might horrify those of us used to working with larger commercial ventures or subsidized academic, university presses, these kinds of strategies are what small presses need to do to make ends meet. What I like about this system, though, is that it makes buying this book less of a straight commercial transaction (I want, so I buy) and more of a decision about whether one thinks this kind of thing should exist. 

Here is some of the poetry:

I do not have the tonguefeel for nomenclature.
Names of things are the second fork beside
a dinner plate. I never know just what

to say if checkerspots, coppers, elfins, azures,
metalmarks light upon salvia, lavender blossoms,
coneflower, or coreopsis. If cedar waxwing

or purple finch complains when I compete
with them and pick serviceberries, I do not know
the words to mark the surprise of its being the case

that these creatures heckle me so. Nomenclature clouds
me over, but the panorama of wing
possesses me. A skybound god’s same unsayable

hemline trailing down the aisle of time’s
cathedral, wing and horizon are the same.

~~~~~

Here’s some more, a ghazal (which is not the same as an antelope, but some form of poetry). For those who know something about poetry and the ghazal, in particular, check out the last line for some insider, poetry cleverness. This is what happens when someone who studies Pindar

Olympia in nimbostratus October chronicles the word naós.
Zeus Olympios, Phidias’ art, Jesus Pancrator, each Lord’s naós.

Gold leaf, ivory panels, glass sheets, jewels, and copper fixed
to wooden core, the skyscraping icon dwelt in god’s naós.

One of the ancient world’s seven wonders, Phidias sculpted
Lord Zeus’ icon in his unquitting workshop, this replica naós.

Libation vessels, golden censers, the table where the reverent
offered bread, Antiochus pillaged the Jewish Lord’s naós.

Assyrians handwove a woolen curtain dyed in Tyrian purple,
the Temple veil that Antiochus offered at Zeus’ naós.

Archaeologists discovered sculptor’s tools, terra cotta molds,
centuries after Christians repurposed Phidias’ replica naós.

I belong to Phidias inscribed on the bottom of a cup.
Lichened, pockmarked column drums, Greek is a language scarred by naós.

~~~~

So pre-order copies of his book for yourself (because it’s good), for other people (as a gift), and for the entire community. Doing what we can for small presses like this to thrive and for passionate work to see the light of day is good for everyone. Plus, the book only costs a penny less than $12.50.  

Three Unrelated Things: the Homeshow, Lemonskinheads, and the UND Writers Conference

Sometimes I get a backlog of blog ideas and I realize that it makes more sense to push them out in a disjointed post than to wait for some opportunity to expand each idea into a individual posts. I realize that this violates a rule of writing which states that writers should give their ideas room to stretch out and not cram too many thoughts together in one place. I’ve never been good at that.

So here are three unrelated things combined in a single post: 

1. The University of North Dakota Writers’ Conference starts today! If you spend any time at the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks, or in North Dakota, you know about the Writers Conference. In fact, if you know anything about UND at all, it’s likely to be their long tradition of hosting one of the great writers’ conferences in the U.S. As people might recall, the Writers Conference was almost sacrificed to budgetary priorities advanced by careerist administrators looking to prove that they’re tough enough to stand up to faculty and make “hard choices.” Fortunately, the community and donors rallied to save the conference. 

This year the theme is “The Other Half” and will feature women writers who write about gender and race. But as always, the Writers Conference is more than that, it is an opportunity to hear writers talk about their craft. The lunchtime panels are completely enthralling and well worth sacrificing a lunch hour! So go and check it out this week! 

2. The Home Show. This past weekend, my wife and I went to the Grand Forks Home Show. I’d never been to such a thing! Apparently the purpose of the home show is to show off various ways to improve, change, or repair one’s home. According the local newspaper, over 150 vendors rented booths at the show and thousands attended. As an archaeologist with an interest in the contemporary world, the Home Show fascinated me. Here in one place was an example of many objects that might appear in an archaeological assemblage from a modern home. There were three or four booths showing off cook pots, for example, and we know from our experiences in Bakken that cookware is often left behind when a temporary settlement is abandoned. There were two or three vendors showing off windows, which if our home is any indication, are a common object set aside in provisional discard even when they have been replaces (and can, in the right hands, be the objects of salvage). There were several firms advertising landscaping services by elaborate displays. Because the materials in these displays are relatively low value and designed for a particular space, they tend to persist at a place and accumulate traces of earlier landscaping efforts. Unsurprisingly the vendors at the show were almost all men, suggesting that the materiality of the home and its immediate environs continues to be something constructed (in a physical sense) by men even if the gender balance between the visitors appeared more even.

3. The Empire Theater and Usama Dakdok. Last week, the anti-Muslim speaker Usama Dakdok came to Grand Forks. He was brought to town by one or another conservative evangelical church and sponsored by the local conservative Christian radio station. Dakdok is know as an inflammatory speaker and leverages his Egyptian heritage to purport inside information about Islam to help Christians convert their Muslim neighbors. His talks have a pseudo-academic structure where he presents his “more authentic” translation of the Quran and compares it unfavorably – apparently almost at random – to passages in the Christian Bible. Whatever one things about Christian-Muslim relations, Dakdok provides very little substance and considerable fuel to already enflamed audience who fear the imminent arrival of ISIS type militants, Sharia law, and anti-Christian pogroms in their small town. 

His reputation proceeds him, of course, and in many communities he struggles to find a venue to spout his venom. This has apparently allowed him to play the victim and to demonstrate the urgency of his message. The grand plot against God-fearing Christians is already well underway, because his truth is being suppressed. As a few of my colleagues pointed out, this kind of rabble rousing has a long history in American political life where conspiracies, secret knowledge, identity politics, and playing the victim often combine to fuel the fires of hatred. 

In light of this situation, I expressed disappointment that the Empire Arts Center (our local early 20th century movie house turned to an arts center) agreed to host a speaker like Dakdok and suggested to some colleagues that the Empire Arts Center might no longer be a great venue for, say, a lecture series organized by the International Studies program to explore ideas of global diversity. Two things made our conversation all the more emphatic. First was a confused Op-Ed piece in the Grand Forks Herald which somehow celebrated the Empire Arts Center for allowing hate speech in its venue as an important opportunity for the community to consider Dakdok’s views as a valid contribution to a global conversation on religious difference. Second, with the appearance of some anti-immigrant graffiti directed at Somali immigrants in town, the Herald cautioned us from jumping to conclusions and claiming that our community has a race problem. Ironically, if the views expressed appeared in a venue like the Empire rather than on the wall of a local strip mall, then, according to the Herald we should celebrate the vitality of civic conversation: “Some claim Dakdok’s speech was beyond the pale. But a big reason for the United States’ world leadership and enormous strength is the fact that we trust debate — not repression — to resolve political quarrels.”

The upshot of our conversations is a meeting with the folks at the Empire, mediated and facilitated by a city council member and some fine folks at the University of North Dakota. We do not want to damage the Empire as a civic institution because it’s a great venue, a good partner, and an asset to the community, but we do want to make sure that we expect more them. It’s not that we’re angry, we’re just very disappointed.

One good thing to come out of all this is that I discovered calling Usama Dakdok, Evan Dakdok is pretty fun (for me). It’s a mash-up of Dakdok with the drug-addled lead singer of the Lemonheads, Evan Dando. Evan Dakdok is the frontman of a band called the Lemonskinheads. So that’s fun.

 

Adventures in Podcasting 6

We’re rolling out Episode 6 in our first season of Caraheard a bit early this week because our unofficial, non-sponsor The University of North Dakota Writers’ Conference, begins tomorrow at 10 am.  

Richard’s show notes have been putting mine to shame so I need to step it up today. In this week’s episode we discuss the storage crisis in archaeology prompted by a recent forum in the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies. I start with the observation that everything is getting bigger and expanding (as Woody Allen once observed, the universe is expanding) except archaeological storage. In fact, companies like Amazon have multiple warehouses ranked among the largest buildings in the world and they’re patrolled by ROBOTS. Richard returns us to archaeology and contextualizes the storage crisis within larger issues of archaeological method (including storing artifacts in plastic bags purchased from a guy who sells pomegranate seeds). Richard and then Bill, finally, get to the point that storage crisis is a proxy (war?) for larger issues within the discipline, before returning the discussion to the reality that modern consumer culture is rapidly becoming part of that archaeological record. So maybe, the archaeological universe is expanding. 

Enjoy this week’s podcast, check us out on iTunes, and feel free to drop us a line in the comments here, over at Caraheard.com, or via email. Let us know how wrong we are, what would make listening to our podcast better, or anything else!  

Some things we mention during the podcast:

First, the Morag Kersell et al. forum in the JEMAHS is here, and my blogged response is here.

The famous (and let’s hope ironic or at very least post-ironic) Lansing Community College job ad is here.

The Tragedy of the Commons.

I could not find a link to Richard’s flocks of hypersexualized rabbits, but I’m sort of fine with that.

Richard’s dissertation.

R. Scott Moore’s dissertation on the pottery dump at Isthmia.

Here’s a brief biography of Paul Clement who was the director of the UCLA excavations at Isthmia.

Here’s a discussion of the Fountain of the Lamps

Here’s an example of what can be done with material in storerooms excavated many years ago at Polis-Chrysochous.

I think we’ve linked to Corinth excavations before, but here is a link again.

Here’s David Yoder’s article in Advances in Archaeological Practice titled “Interpreing the 50 Year Rule: How a Simple Phrase Leads to a Complex Problem.”

Finally, if you want to buy a genuine American antiquity, you can go shop here.

Call for Papers: The Bakken Goes Bust? New Research on Communities, Challenges, and Culture in the Bakken Oil Patch

Over the past month, I’ve been working with Kyle Conway and Carenlee Barkdull to organize a conference on new research, challenges, and culture in the Bakken oil patch. We are particularly interested in research that considers how the patch is adapting to the current decline in oil prices, production, and activity in the Bakken, but we also recognize the the current bust might not be a permanent state so we are equally interested in works that considers changes in the Bakken related to any number of political, social, and economic issues.    

Some of our motivation comes from the time that Kyle and I have spent editing the Bakken Goes Boom volume. The papers in this volume are, in general, fine and sophisticated, but are also a bit preliminary. We recognize that we only captured a sliver of the important research taking place in the Bakken and, in many cases, on the the preliminary results of this work.

So the Digital Press has teamed up with the College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines to hold a one-day conference on Friday October 30th at the University of North Dakota. We hope to be able to run a couple of formal paper sessions and a couple of workshop sessions where people from the arts, humanities, and social sciences discuss their work and the work presented in the formal papers. We plan to have a 

Here’s the call for papers. Abstracts are due July 1. Contact me for more details.

The Bakken Goes Bust?
New Research on Communities, Challenges, and Culture in the Bakken Oil Patch

For most of the past decade, the Bakken oil boom has generated unprecedented economic growth, population increases, and industrialization in western North Dakota. For much of this time, researchers in North Dakota and surrounding states have worked to understand the impact of the Bakken Boom on the state, the participants in the new economic growth, and long-standing communities in the affected regions. The rapid changes in region, the difficulties acquiring reliable data, and the myriad of interrelated challenges and opportunities facing the Bakken region have spurred creative projects and research initiatives prompted by wide range of challenging questions concerning the impact of the boom.

The Bakken Goes Bust? conference invites abstracts for contributions (<250 words) from scholars involved in all area of social science and humanities research, teaching, and creative work that explore the challenges associated with the Bakken oil boom. While this conference encourages submissions on any recent Bakken research, we are particularly interested in research and creative activities that embrace the “spatial turn” in the humanities and social sciences, considers the rhetoric of boom (and bust), examines the impact of social or new media on communities, situates the Bakken boom in a national or global context, or explores issues of crime, discrimination, and social justice in the patch.

The one-day conference will feature formal papers as well as interactive workshop sessions over the course of a single day. A public event in downtown Grand Forks will offer a critical capstone to the day’s events and provide an opportunity for socializing and outreach. The one-day conference will be held at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND on Friday, October 30th. Abstracts are due by July 1.

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota has expressed interest in publishing the proceedings of the conference as a companion volume to their Bakken Goes Boom book slated to appear in the fall of 2015.

Bakken Goes Bust Poster 01

Part of the fun of this conference is that we’re working with almost no budget so we’re approaching it punk rock style. In other words, we’re not going worry about whether every participant has a awesome UND branded folder and note pad. We’re not going to get anxious about whether every “stakeholder” has embossed invitations. We want to have actual conversations about the art, culture, and social world of the Bakken rather than to use this event to showcase how much UND cares about some imaginary place or problem or thing. We just want to do it. To show how punk rock I am, I did ignored the Oxford comma in the poster. And, I made the poster myself. Yeah! 

So we need a poster in black-and-white with a type-o that we can staple to bulletin boards across campus.

Bakken Goes Bust Poster BW