Monthly Archives: May 2012

Go Smoke a Pig

A smoker fixed to a trailer. Yes, a mobile smoker.

The short clip below is what happens when some genius gives traction to the thought of combining a smoker with a trailer: instead of requiring folks to go to the smoke house, the smoke house is brought to the folks. Both simple and brilliant. If you carry this out in your front yard you invariably will attract neighbors. Note: in the case that you do not like your neighbors, do not smoke a pig in your front driveway.


Moms: The Original Alma Mater

Mom’s are important. Great mom’s are crucial. Tomorrow is Great Mom Day, or what is also known as Mother’s Day. I started thinking about a couple early moments in Aaron Barth’s Great Mom History. This is what the brain generated: when in the first grade at Grimsrud Elementary, I remember my mom coming to class to show students about primary and secondary colors. I don’t know if they still teach that in K-6 art classes. There’s probably an ap for it. But when I was in the first grade, my mom brought some kind of color wheel and watercolors to class. It was great. She painted a bit, and showed the class how a range of colors are created from primary colors. Amazing stuff for first graders. Amazing stuff still today. Looking back on

Aaron Barth’s mom and Grandma Barth put flowers on the grave of Grandma Christy. These are great moms.

this, it is no wonder today that my mom eventually got into teaching commercial art to highschool students. Today she teaches graphic design to the up and coming artists within the Bismarck Public School system.

My character was also shaped by two grandmothers, Vivian (“Larson”) Barth, and the late Jeannine (“Kulhavy”) Christy. Growing up, they answered to grandma, Grandma Christy, or Grandma Barth. I remember how it was always odd to hear their first names, Vivian or Jeannine. Upon hearing their first names, the thought that invariably ripped through my brain was, “That’s Grandma Barth, not Vivian.” My Grandpa Barth always referred to my Grandma Barth as “Mom.” I remember him often saying, “Let’s check with mom.” I knew what that meant: we had to go run it by Grandma. Information channels are important in households.

My grandmas helped my parents out, at least with managing us grand-kids: we had infinite amounts of energy, only crashing for sleep when incapacitated by total exhaustion. When Grandpa and Grandma Barth looked after my sister, brother, and I, it always necessitated a stop at the supermarket to pick up hotdogs. When Grandma Barth started fixing lunch, she would always give me a cold hotdog straight from the package. This would ensure that my bottomless pit would not invert and implode on itself. Grandmas know these sorts of things. They’ve been around the block quite a bit. I don’t think people should use high-pitched baby voices when addressing elders. This was the generation that fought the Nazis and the Japanese Imperial Army. They survived the Cold War and everything in between. So just talk to elders in a normal, regular tone. They’ll respect you for it, and you won’t sound ridiculous.

My late Grandma Christy lived at 718 N. 4th Street in Bismarck, and geographically this was about the middle of Hughes Junior High and Bismarck High School. I often lunched at Grandma Christy’s, at least in high-school. During junior high and during winters, Grandma Christy would treat my friends and I to a variety of soups (chili and wild rice are two that come to mind). These soups were made for supper, but Grandma Christy coincidentally prepped them in advance so they just happened to be ready when school got out. She liked to feed us. We liked to eat. It was a great set-up. Anyhow, this is just a short, localized and personal recounting of some individual episodes in Aaron Barth’s Great Mom History. Keep up the great work, moms. All these individual efforts are indeed important. Happy mother’s day.


Leaning the Hutmacher Complex Into a Global Context

By no means am I the first to recognize that the world, planet, or globe has lately been so intensely populated by humanity. Things really took off about the 18th century, and a variety of Industrial Revolutionary pulses provided the catalyst that intensified those population explosions. Think about it: assembly lines provide us with the economic access to all sorts of stuff. It is built so quickly and efficiently that more and more folks can afford it. Before assembly lines, though, artisans poured time and energy into works of art that were only accessible by a few (perhaps the Pre-Industrial 1%’ers).

Prior to the variety of Industrial Revolutionary pulses (so my thinking goes), I have experienced or have been fortunate enough to locate what we might call the archaeology of the home. In this

Robert Kurtz explains the Hutmacher homesite in western North Dakota to a group of scholars assembled in Houston, Texas.

realm, Robert Kurtz is making large amounts of scholarly head-way at the Hutmacher homesite in western North Dakota, and beyond. In my own experience, I have unintentionally come across (I’ve never been a big fan of the word “discover”) stone circles (or what in lay terms are “tipi rings”), earth-lodge remnants, and basement foundations, to name a few. Prior to the global population explosion, a large swath time was spent in villages, and these villages were built piece by piece using local materials.

Placing the Hutmacher site (and humanity) within the context of the globe is why descriptions of 1898-1902 Russian peasant vernacular architecture are of interest. Literary passages from, for example, Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia (Indiana University Press, 1993) help to understand these villages. Dr. John Cox first introduced me to this work in the spring of 2011.

If you look at the Hutmacher (and if you have worked there as well), you’ll notice that vernacular architecture reflects the spirit of the times (sometimes the spirit and times are very local). This means that the length and width of the building came about through human ingenuity using available technology at that particular place and time. So if you wanted to build an abode or outbuildings, you did so with the consideration that you had to, in the case of the Hutmacher, pitch straw and mud up on the roof with a pitchfork from the back of a wagon. This limited how wide any room of a home would be — practicality figures into this. Large homesteads and villages also required laborers (to maintain all the structures), and this in turn was something that the moms and dads would think about when enlarging families. If you have more children, you need more rooms or space, but you invariably have more laborers.

Hutmacher abode at the homesite in western North Dakota. On-going restoration organized in large part by Preservation North Dakota.

Back to Olga, and even Vasily Grossman’s opening remarks on peasant architecture in Life and Fate. Think about the German-Russian Hutmacher in western North Dakota, and then read the following passages. The first is from Olga, reporting from the countryside about Moscow, circa 1898-1902:

…Back to the house. The stretch of the wall from the stove to the wall with the entrance door is also lined with a bench (zadnik), which in the corner joins another bench (pridelok) that runs up to the entrance door. Next to the protruding corner of the stove there is a post (the same height as the entrance door) that supports a beam, the other end of which rests on the log forming a lintel just above the door. The space between this beam and the wall running parallel to it is covered with planks to form a kind of raised platform or loft, on which older members of the family and small children sleep. The rest of the family is accommodated on the sleeping shelf atop the stove and on the benches lining the walls of the house…

…Stay with me here. This is going somewhere…

…In the left-hand corner opposite the entryway stands a table. Normally a peasant’s house has one or two short portable benches that are brought to the table for dinner and supper. The floor is made of either hard-packed earth

A photo of a Russian peasant home taken by Olga Semyonova, likely from the village of Muraevnia. See Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, “Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia” (Indiana University Press, 1993), p. 122.

or wooden planks (rough or finished). If of planks, these are supported by joists and run across the house parallel to the entrance-door wall. In a floor made of boards, there is usually an opening through which a ladder leads into a pit dug out under the house where potatoes are stored. Above the bench opposite the entrance door, shelves are mounted on the wall to store dishes. Ceiling boards run parallel to the wall with the windows and are supported by a beam that rests on the walls. On the attic side these boards are coated with clay and a layer of dry leaves, and topped off with earth. The roof is supported by rafters and angle brackets. Wattles across the rafters form a base for brushwood, which is then thatched. The lintel is hewn as the walls are being ererected, but the door frame and window frames are purchased separately…

…Seriously, this is going somewhere…

…In the past, wooden houses were made chiefly of oak, but nowadays willow wood is more often used. Numerous masonry houses are also found, accounting for more than half the homes in a few villages. The clay-walled type of house is becoming increasingly common as we see more and more family divisions and splitting up of property [so that people live in smaller families but with fewer resources]. Many peasants now have neither a threshing barn, a shed, nor even a yard of their own…

This 1898-1902 sample is transposed against some of the opening lines to Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate, (essentially the War and Peace of the 20th century) at least his opening descriptions of how Nazis imposed standardization onto the village countryside of eastern Europe and Russia:

…It hadn’t rained, but the ground was still wet with dew; the traffic-lights cast blurred red spots on the asphalt. You could sense the breath of the camp from miles away. Roads, railway tracks and cables all gradually converged on it. This was a world of straight lines: a grid of rectangles and parallelograms imposed on the autumn sky, on the mist and on the earth itself. Distant sirens gaive faint, long-drawn-out wails… The fence of the camp appeared out of the mist: endless lines of wire strung between reinforeced-concrete posts. The wooden barrack-huts stretched out in long broad streets…

This next part is important.

…Their very uniformity was an expression of the inhuman character of this vast camp. Among a million Russian huts you will never find even two that are exactly the same. Everything that lives is unique. It is unimaginable that two people, or two briar-roses, should be identical… If you attempt to erase the peculiarities and individuality of life by violence, then life itself must suffocate.

Okay, that’s enough for now. But anyhow, this is some of the stuff to think about when slinging mud at the Hutmacher in western North Dakota; or some of the stuff I think about when I think about having slung mud at the Hutmacher site in western North Dakota. There is individuality within historic archaeological walls, or at least individual labor reflected by the walls. I don’t mean this in some kind of delusionally nostalgic or romantic vein. But hard work went into putting these homes up and together. It’s worth our while to think on this, to restore it, to preserve it. Not necessarily to stop humanity from living today, or pushing onwards into tomorrow. But at the very least to think on where we came from, and give a type of nod to our predecessors.


Reading for Archaeology in Cyprus: the Prologue

With a good chunk of semester-end grading behind me, it’s about time to look toward the Cyprus Bibliography and set down with a couple of works. I’ve gladly been charged with the task of archaeological trench advisor (or adviser, depending on your preference; I suppose archaeological monitor would also work). There is Dr. Bill Caraher’s blog that I check in with about every 1 to 3 days. Bill is Ohio State University-trained, and U of North Dakota’s historian of the Ancient World, North Dakota Man-Camps, and Punk Archaeology, among other topics.

But now I’m reading Yiannis Papadakis, Echoes From the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide (I.B. Tauris, 2005, ’06, ’08, ’10). When I first started reading it I thought to myself, “Is this guy serious?” but then realized he was parodying (or a parody as a youth) what Ed Said, well, said back in Orientalism circa 1978. Papadakis’s work is that way up through at

Actual hand-written notes from a book, this in 2012.

least the first 10 or so pages (easily more, but I got the point), articulating one Western view of the Middle East where coke-addled debauched sultans (this is one Western Parody of the Mid-East) since 635AD charged Janissaries with spreading Islam throughout the world “by the force of fire and the sword.” (Papadakis, 2005:6) Mehmet II was a bit overzealous, but oh c’mon. A person can’t go around razing villages and metropolises just because there are a few bad apples in the mix. If that were the case, then there would be no New York City.

Anyhow, and moving along, toward the end of the book Papadakis eventually finds himself having made friends with individuals he formerly had stereotyped, and a new level of objectivity is achieved. That is perhaps a universal in the history of humanity: generalized ideas about the world, or The Other, and all of this undermined once friendships are established with individuals in that Other. In lay terms, this is called getting to know someone, or what in kindergarten was called, “Making friends.” It’s okay to approach a stranger and ask them about the weather, and then move on to other standard topics like, “So you from around here?” It doesn’t always pan out, but life is a game of odds, and if you ask enough the odds are stacked in your favor. Eventually this leads to more substantive conversation, and perhaps even friendships. I think the point, though, is to listen more than you talk. And when you do talk, speak to what has been said to you. This is the epitome of conversation. And apparently you need to do this throughout life, not just in kindergarten. Back to Papadakis…


Some Thoughts on Plagiarism

In the last week or so a fellow graduate student, Robert Kurtz, uncovered a couple cases of plagiarism. He called me and we chatted about the different courses of action we were going to take and the implications of plagiarism in general. I have to remind myself often that just because I know through and through that plagiarism is stealing, and stealing is wrong, others may not understand this (or they may plead a case that they don’t understand this when they clearly do — this is what I call Cold Blooded Plagiarism).

The cases Kurtz uncovered had to do with a couple undergraduate student plagiarists cutting entire sentences from the old Internet or textbook and passing them off as their own. This, we told the classes — Wait. For. It. — was wrong. By and large the majority of students understood this. But with any organization or institution (I’m increasingly learning), there are always a few who disappoint and depress the rest.

Large scale cases of plagiarism (what I like to call Competitive Plagiarism) included the shenanigans intrinsic to Enron (circa 2001) and Madoff. It was plagiarism in the sense that short-term accountant fudging invariably turned into huge and delusional bubbles of profit, and this in turn generated an inertia of expectations. By this point, there was no way for the lies to stop because expectations had been developed, and investors believed what the plagiarists — who carried badges of Authority — delivered. The only thing that made it stop was for it all to come crashing down around them. It played out then as it played out this last week: the plagiarists are brought into some kind of court, and publicly shamed outside of court. In the case of large scale plagiarism, the thief gets sent to White Collar Prison (that’s just kind of how it is). Small-time plagiarists get locked up in the Criminal Justice System (that’s also just kind of how it is).

One of the goals I want to communicate to students, though, is not only why plagiarism is wrong, but how civilization and societies cannot rest or prosper on foundations of lies and deceit (well, not any more than this planet already has — we always seem to be at a threshold). There is a Plagiarism.org website (be sure to cite your sources so you don’t end up plagiarizing content in an effort to combat plagiarism), and following is the definition I produced some months ago for a mock syllabus in a graduate seminar, the Teaching of College History. The definition is a hybrid of NDSU’s code of academic conduct, some of what Dr. Tracy Barrett uses in her syllabi, and some of my own thoughts as well:

The American Oxford Dictionary defines plagiarism as the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. Plagiarism is, to be blunt, theft. Plagiarism is intolerable because it undermines the time, energy, critical thinking and writing used to produce a product, term papers or otherwise. Thus, plagiarism cheats not only the individual who is a plagiarist, but it also swindles fellow students and scholars who do put the time into playing within the defined rules. In short, this is why plagiarists will be disciplined in accordance with University policy.

Students have my official and unofficial blessing to openly shame and mock on social media sites and in public anyone who plagiarizes. This is regardless of political or religious affiliation, ideology, ethnicity, creed, nation, cultural relativism, and so on and so forth. I told them to especially mock plagiarists who are co-workers, fellow students, colleagues and comrades within their own organization, since the brand and integrity of the institution — something they are a part of — requires a solid foundation. Plagiarists undermine that foundation, this whether they know it or not.

One more point: if you call a plagiarist out, be sure to have data that supports it. Empiricism, evidence and data sets us free, so be sure to always get it from the source, and don’t be shy about citations, bibliographies and references. We’re all in this together.


An Evening Stroll in Downtown Fargo

Often times a Wednesday evening walk is in order to counter or shake off the protracted sitting incurred throughout the day (Homo sapien is at a peculiar time in history, the most sedentary we’ve been since emerging out of east Africa some 150,000 to 200,000 years ago). To recap my

A May 2, 2012 photo of Rick Gion in one of his natural habitats.

walk from May 2, 2012, about the 7:30PM hour, I set out from 4th Avenue and Broadway in downtown Fargo and headed south toward Island Park. Along the way I noticed that groups of two-to-five or more gathered here and there, folks wanting to be outside with the short-sleeve temps and all. They tended to station themselves on the sidewalk benches installed at the ends of each block. About a block south of where I started my walk I ran into Rick Gion (or Rick Gion ran into me) to, as we often say, shoot the breeze. After busting each-other’s chops a bit (which is a North Dakota thing to do), Rick rode off to the north and I continued south. After that I called my father on my cell phone, and also thought of the mobility cell phones allow us. Not that many years ago a chat on the telephone required that we seek out a telephone which in turn was attached to a telephone line: this arguably required more social commitment, since you had to call someone, plan on being at a set location, and then do everything possible to make it to that location at the designated time. Today the convenience of cell phones and text-messaging ensures that you will receive something like 3 to 17 texts from the party you intend to meet, first canceling the meeting, then rescheduling the time and location, and then informing one another that you are within 2 minutes of arriving via text. Cell phone technology influences our behavior, but technology does that often. It shifts how we behave throughout time, and tracking this otherwise gradual change is one of the businesses of historians. Phone booths are nearly if not entirely obsolete, now, and I often wonder if in two or three decades (or even sooner) we will look at the 20th century as the Age of the Telephone Land Line. Anyhow, I phoned my dad because before setting out on my walk a couple

About Main and Broadway in Fargo on May 2, 2012. Photo looks west toward the storm dumping rain on central North Dakota.

friends from Bismarck updated their social media web site with information about rain and possible hail. I wanted to check up on that, chat with kin, and since the weather is a very neutral topic, it is a great way to have a conversation with basically anyone in or outside of North Dakota. I stopped just north of the intersection of Main Avenue and Broadway, looked west, and snapped a photo of the eastern tops of the cloud system that was saturating Bismarck. I communicated this to my dad, and then moved on to other neutral topics such as the price of gas, how the Twins are doing, and so on. Eventually I got into Island Park, and visited the Henrik Wergeland statue, which has been a monument for quite some time, a video-history of which can be seen here. I circled the monument, and then to the west noticed a chivalrous scene playing out. I snapped a photo of that as well. “So this is what some people do on Wednesday evenings…” I thought. “Interesting…” By the time I rounded the park, the cell

Knights at Island Park in downtown Fargo, North Dakota.

phone conversation had ended and another couple folks spotted me. So more light banter ensued, and I remember asking the two if they had yet seen the Cold War Comedy, “Spies Like Us.” This was the third time in 24 hours that I’ve asked groups of two or more if they had viewed this movie. Each time the groups have responded with no. For some reason I think it’s important for people to watch it. After that, the final stretch of my walk took me back up Broadway, and I inadvertently ran into Den Bolda, perhaps one of the most accomplished Civil War reenactors in the tri-state area. I say this only after learning that Mr. Bolda had just finished attending another knitting class, this so he could reproduce vintage (aka, knit) Civil War wool socks to wear at all the 150th anniversary mock-battles back east. Nice work, Den. Nice work indeed.