Category Archives: Uncategorized

Alzheimer’s, History, Memory, Heritage, Identity…

Here’s a quick post, something that rattled though my brain while reading Stanford University’s advancements in Alzheimer’s disease studies. I know all of us have watched Alzheimer’s disease take a close relative or friend from us, and it may have been all the more distressful because your relative or friend is taken from you even before mortality sets in: we literally watch someone’s memory die before they die. This is super-depressing. When Alzheimer’s destroys the memory banks, it destroys our ability to remember what we did, and this means we forget who we were. If we don’t know who we were, or we don’t know our history and heritage, then we do not know who we are. Again, this is troubling for infinite reasons.

Certainly there is more to be said on this, but I’m just sending a flag into the air on it here. Thanks Stanford University, and the research and development and knowledge-sharing that goes with it throughout the global, university world. Let’s all get together on this and have more public discussions. I’d like to see a panel of Alzheimer’s researchers and professional historians explore why this research is so important. I’ll add it to my bucket list.


Engineering and Humanities

I’m fifteen minutes away from heading out to meet a group of friends (librarians, archaeologists, historians, humanities people) for lunch. Earlier this morning, just before Molly and I set out to hunter-gather for Saturday mid-morning breakfast, I came across Loretta Jackson-Hayes call for STEM folks to get into those arts and humanities classrooms before graduation (keep with it after graduation, too, no matter where life takes you). The article reminded me just a bit of the opportunity I had last summer (2014) to work in the Bakken oilfields of western North Dakota.

My evening notes from watching YouTube land survey tutorials while working on road construction in the Bakken summer 2014.

My evening notes from watching YouTube land survey tutorials while working on road construction in the Bakken summer 2014.

I spent several months working around Williston and Watford City, North Dakota. Williston is the arguable center of the Bakken universe, and Watford City can easily contest that. While in Williston, I befriended colleagues in the important business and profession of Land Survey. I helped them out, watching intensely what they were doing, and anticipating what they would need from me 2 to 5 chess moves in the immediate future.

We searched for section line corner markers throughout the summer. This is applied historic archaeology at its finest. In addition to me learning what land surveyors do, the land surveyors would ask me about my line of work, the world of cultural resource management and historic preservation. It was fun to show them, for example, stone circles in situ within the Native prairie, and to explain to them what different tribal groups have explained to me about the importance of those stone circles.

I also took up some work with a land survey group on the Watford City bypass. I helped pound hubs, as the phrase went. Pounding hubs means that wood stakes are driven into the ground with a 3lb hammer to specific elevations. The head construction manager then uses these stakes to determine where gravel and soil needs to be unloaded by a seemingly endless convoy of semi-tractor trailers. All of the drops are recorded .

While pounding hubs in the day, I wanted to learn about the gauging and marking of elevations with a level. After work in the late evenings I plugged into YouTube and brought up land survey tutorials. I familiarized myself with back-sighting and fore-sighting, turning points and benchmarks. I also took notes.

I thought about all of that this morning as I read what Loretta Jackson-Hayes said about the importance of science, humanities, engineering, arts, mathematics, and technology, at least if we are going to understand existing systems and create new and better systems for tomorrow. I hear the phrase STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) and another phrase STEAM, which adds “Art” to the original STEM. That’s important, but I want to advance the phrase SHTEAM, adding the “H” for Humanities. Civilization and culture is in a perpetual state of evolution. It has to be to stay healthy and thrive. We can train those tomorrow how not only to respond to culture, but how to spearhead culture, to be the avant-garde. Okay, my tangent has to end for now, because I need to dash to my luncheon.


Washington, DC and Dakota Territory: Then and Now

US Dakota WarsA Washington, D.C.-Minnesota and Dakota Territory historical note: the US Capitol cast iron dome approached final construction at the same time that the US-Dakota Wars unfolded in Minnesota and Dakota Territory from 1862-1864. On December 2, 1865, the “Statue of Freedom” was placed on top of the US Capitol dome. To bring this into the present, The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (SNMAI) has a Dakota-US War of 1862 exhibit up through December 29, 2015. This is a bulletin that speaks to that outside of the SNMAI’s entrance. The US Capitol’s cast iron dome in the distance is undergoing a much needed preservation/rehabilitation update. Here in the Dakotas, we are undergoing a much needed reappraisal of the US-Dakota Wars.


Updates on Aaron Beede and UND’s Digital Press

One of the only known 6:23AM screen shots from the NDDOT road conditions website on January 21, 2015.

One of the only known 6:23AM screen shots from the NDDOT road conditions website on January 21, 2015.

It’s about 6:20AM (at least as I sit down to type), and the snow is letting up. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Minot, Ward County, North Dakota, on the eastern edge of the Bakken. I have a short field-research trip to the west, but I’m temporarily yielding to the ND Department of Transportation’s road conditions map. Which appears like this, at left. I’m updating this blog post with a couple items on my brain.

The first is another public history sighting of Reverend Aaron McGaffey Beede, PhD. Beede figures seriously in the history of North Dakota, and only a handful of scholars have sifted through his papers. Last week, during a lunch meeting in the Peacock Alley, in historic downtown Bismarck, I sat at a table and looked over the picture to my left. In addition to offering delicious food (I ordered the half-prime rib lunch special with chips), the owners of the historic Peacock Alley have reproduced numerous local historical photos to hang on the walls. This was one of them. There is a gentleman addressing the legislature, with cigar in left hand. I accidentally cut out of the photo the ash tray at the foot of the podium. Believe me: it was there. Those were different times.

Beede

Note the ND legislator from the ’20s or ’30s, with cigar in left hand, and the nameplates on the desks behind him. “Beede, Grand Sioux” is behind him.

Behind that, behind the name Saumur of Grand Forks, is “Beede, Grand Sioux” agency or county. It was great to see the photo, and that is about all I have on it right now. I’ll do some more tracking on this. Beede figures into a chapter of my ongoing dissertation which, roughly, figures into how and why the US-Dakota Wars were remembered on the northern Great Plains. Beede was formative in shaping and pushing that memory in one direction, arguing just after the turn of the 19th century that Natives need to be listened to and allowed to tell their version of history. It was serious push-back against the Social Darwinian and Manifest Destiny crowd (some of which is still around today).

And finally, the third item is a hot-off-the-digital presses book, the second title from University of North Dakota’s The Digital Press, Visions of Substance: 3D Imagining in Mediterranean Archaeology (edited by Bill Caraher and Brandon Olson). The work is an anthology of blog posts Caraher charged guest writers with publishing at his blogspot linked to here. Susan Caraher edited the blog posts to comb out any of the craziness that is inherent in on-the-spot blogs. Caraher and Olson told the guest writers to respond to the following questions in each post. The questions include:

  1. How do we understand the current crop of 3D modeling technologies in the context of the history of archaeological imaging? Are the most optimistic readings of this technology a mere echo of earlier enthusiasm for photography in an archaeological context or is this somehow qualitatively different?
  2. Is there an emerging consensus on best practices of 3D imaging of archaeological sites? What are the current limits to this kind of technology and how does this influence the way in which data is collected in the field?
  3. How do we understand archival considerations for 3D models and their dependent data? For example, what happens when we begin to prepare archaeological illustrations from 3D models collected in the field and processed using proprietary software? How do we manage the web of interrelated data so that future archaeologists can understand our decision making?
  4. What is the future of 3D modeling in archaeology? At present, the 3D image is useful for illustrating artifacts and — in some cases — presenting archaeological and architectural relationships, but it has yet to prove itself as an essential basis for analysis or as a viable medium for communicating robust archaeological description. Will 3D visualization become more than just another method for providing illustrations for archaeological arguments?

Without going further into this (it’s about 6:50AM, and I need to move forward with the morning), you can read the entire collection of academically produced and academically edited and academically published essays, for free, at this link here. Thanks Bill and Brandon and Susan for compiling this. I know there will be many more.


The Latest Theodore Roosevelt Scholarship

I’m sitting here with a couple fresh biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, getting a little downtime around the 10:04PM hour. To my right is Edward P. Kohn, Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt (Basic Books, 2014) and Paul Grondahl, I Rose Like a Rocket: The Political Education of Theodore Roosevelt (Free Press, 2004). Being from North Dakota, these are nourishing reads since, naturally, North Dakota has claimed Theodore Roosevelt because Theodore Roosevelt claimed North Dakota.

They are nourishing reads because Kohn’s central idea challenges traditional TR scholarship (a Great White Battleship’s worth) which accepts TR’s ideas about himself as being a cowboy and American westerner. Kohn says no. He says TR was a New Yorker through and through. Kohn opens the introduction by saying, “Theodore Roosevelt’s path to the White House may have gone through the West, but it did not start there.” This is true.

Grondahl’s work situates TR as a young man in his freshman year with the New York State Legislature. In 1882, TR entered the assembly chamber in Albany, New York. In the second paragraph of the prelude, “Practical Politics,” he sets the stage for the reader, at least what TR was facing, using the present tense for added reality and to situate the reader in 1882:

“The atmosphere in Albany during the legislative session is part carnival, part college fraternity. Some of the city’s denizens are just passing through, looking to ride along on the political parade for a while. Others arrive full of idealism and a burning desire to make meaningful change. A few seem perplexed to be elected public officials in the state’s capital, as if they had awoken from a Rip van Winkle-like slumber to find themselves holding a seat in the Assembly or Senate. It’s a dream job for some, a nightmare for others. Many build their reputations here. A few sacrifice their respectability on the alter of politics, learning the rules only to abuse them. The Legislature is a closed system, a kind of political union shop. The principles of prep school secret societies guide its old boys’ network, clubby familiarity, oaths of loyalty, and rituals of initiation.” 

This is what TR faced when he caught wind of the plans of “Big John” McManus, one of Tammany Hall’s “persuaders.” McManus wanted to haze TR by tossing him in a blanket. TR, though, having fought his childhood through asthma and monetary privilege, made a bee-line for McManus and, flat out, said to him, “By God! McManus, I hear you are going to toss me in a blanket. By God! If you try anything like that, I’ll kick you, I’ll bite you, I’ll kick you in the balls. I’ll do anything to you — you’d better leave me alone.” This method, later popularized by Rooster Cogburn, worked.

While I’m only in the introductions to both, I don’t see the biographies by Grondahl and Kohn challenging the traditional TR scholarship so much as they do to humanize TR. Life is about change, and it is about evolving as human beings, and as circumstances warrant and dictate. It’s important to remember that, lest we think of historical actors as monolithic (a fancy way of saying 1 dimensional).


Northern Great Plains Cowboy Poetry: Shadd Piehl

Shadd PiehlWestern Americana persists and thrives on the northern Great Plains. A photo of a poem from cowboy poet Shadd Piehl, this commissioned by the Hotel Donaldson, Fargo. Shadd is a good friend.

The Bohemian pulse runs thick in the Piehl DNA (see here for detail). Some days I know we’re living out a long extension of a Willa Cather My Ántonia novel here in the 21st century. We’re sitting in the saddle of the 49th parallel on the northern Great Plains, North America.


2014 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.