Tag Archives: North Dakota Humanities Council

Cultivating the Humanities

This morning I am sitting down to my usual coffee, and thinking about several responses to the latest report issued by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, “The Heart of the Matter: Report of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences,” that of which is linked to here. I was checking in with my buddy Bill Caraher’s blog today and I noticed he linked to a few responses to this report as well, here and here, and another Wall Street Journal piece here. While reading all of these, a sort of anxiety started building up in me, this resulting from the following thought: why not read a scholarly monograph or a novel instead of reports on whether or not the humanities and social sciences is in a fatalistic state of decline?

I also thought about how the humanities are everywhere, and then I wondered how people who complain about having gotten nothing out of college spent the majority of their time in said college. Were they doing keg-stands, or were they in the library stacks, perusing used book stores, reading-reading-reading, having coffee and conversation and beer and more conversation about interests with others, writing, re-writing and looking over the papers of one another or, once again, strictly doing keg-stands? Did their schooling look like this, as in Bluto from Animal House? Or did it look more like this, as in Max Fischer from Rushmore? (Max Fischer, of course, was in preparatory and private school, but the idea is there: he received mediocre marks, but he was involved in an endless amount of extracurricular activities).

I also wondered about the state of communities immediate to university campuses. For example, I stumbled into an undergraduate program (at the University of Minnesota in downtown Minneapolis-St. Paul) where the humanities (not even defined as such) were happening arguably more outside of the classroom and off campus than they were on campus. At least between 1999-2002, Dinkytown had two to three used book stores, at least two coffee shops (the Purple Onion was one of them), several hole-in-the-wall taverns, a used CD/record store with an endless selection of everything, a liquor store, pizza shops, an Afghanistan cafe, and so on. And this didn’t include the other stretch of coffee shops and cafes and taverns immediate to the intersection of Washington Avenue and Harvard Street. I did the majority of learning outside of class, and I figured out that you take these ideas into classroom discussions, at least those classrooms where professors allowed it (there are, of course, professors that command students to strictly focus on the required readings and nothing else, which is a different tangent all together).

What isn’t addressed in this Harvard-published work is how universities might work with their local community planning boards to develop an immediate off-campus culture(s) that allows students to explore said humanities on their own. Historic preservationists might get involved for sure, as this would require the renovation of those pre-WWII homes (please don’t tear them down for 2013 asphalt strip mall construction) just across the street from campuses to be converted into those excellent used book stores and coffee shops and hole-in-the-wall diners, local and ethnic. Make sure students can walk to these places rather than drive. If need be, use Dinkytown as a model or framework.

Also notice that the board of this Harvard report lacks students and graduate students. Every contributor to the board is some kind of established, high-powered professional. They are required to fatalistically bemoan the disappearance of the humanities and social sciences (I’m not big on fatalism, to be fair), and they should be doing this because that is what they see at their professional level. It’s important to keep that in mind. A future report would benefit from bringing more voices in from individuals who are in that liminal space between getting their undergrad and graduate degrees in the humanities and social sciences, and figuring out how to locate jobs or start entrepreneur-ing (not a word) themselves.


Learning from a Digital Un-Conference

What it looks like when for the first time attempting to gchat an unconference talk from Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean to Fargo, North Dakota.

What it looks like when for the first time attempting to gchat an unconference talk from Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean to Fargo, North Dakota.

This last Friday the board of the North Dakota Humanities Council met for a regular meeting, and after a solid morning’s work (sweat on everyone’s brow, of course), we thought we would experiment at lunch with an attempt to beam Ancient Historian Bill Caraher (his blog here) from the Levant/Cyprus (for context, Cyprus is approximately 140 miles from the coast of Syria) into our meeting room at the Ramada in Fargo, North Dakota (for context, Fargo, North Dakota is 140 miles from Bemidji, Minnesota), this to give a short talk on some modern archaeology of man camps in western North Dakota (stay with me here).

Of course, before any idea becomes a reality, experimentation has to happen (this is where I start to explain what went wrong). Remember: all those polished talks are the result of a lot of experimentation and planning. In our case, the talk was cut short due to lack of band-with. While I’m uncertain what the band-with strength was like in Cyprus, I can say that on the Fargo Ramada conference room end of things it was dodgy — at best.

So what happened was this: while trying to establish a gchat connection with Bill Caraher in Cyprus, I texted and instant messaged back and forth a bit. While gchat struggled to keep up with beaming the powerpoints from Cyprus to the Ramada in Fargo, I messaged Bill to explain how things looked on our end (this in contrast to how things looked on his end: note, this is a metaphor and reality for life). Here is an excerpt from the messaging:

Aaron to Bill:

Your audio cuts in and out. You sound like a droid. And the power points aren’t synching on our end. Other than that, everything is great.

So the next time around, here is what needs to happen, at least beyond abandoning this technology all together (we have to keep trying: technology is supposed to save us from ourselves someday, right?). Establish relationships with the IT people at conference room establishment. Get a secure internet connection with heavy band-with. Use that. Also, what we did right in this case was exactly what we did: we experimented with it in an informal setting (at lunch) to see how it would work. Bill is scheduled to appear real-time at the next board meeting. The council, no doubt, will have more questions and thoughts for him then. As they say in the digital humanities, to be continued…


Punk, the Humanities and Academia: Some Analogies

Bret Weber and Bill Caraher prepare to present man camp findings to NDSU in the Spring of 2013. Tom Isern pictured at right saunters back to take a seat.

Bret Weber and Bill Caraher prepare to present man camp findings to NDSU in the Spring of 2013. Tom Isern pictured at right saunters back to take a seat.

This coming Friday the board of the North Dakota Humanities Council (or humanities council, however one prefers) will convene for one of its regular meetings. The council meets every three or four months in various locations throughout the state to conduct the business of a board. A primary function of these meetings is to consider a variety of outstanding proposal submissions. In addition to this, and at this Friday’s meeting, we will officially or unofficially welcome aboard — the board — some new members. One of these new members is Bill Caraher, a crack Ohio State University-trained jet-setting ancient and modern historian and archaeologist with University of North Dakota’s prestigious department of history. Bill is also a Punk Archaeologist without borders, much like our friend and colleague Andrew Reinhard.

Because Bill’s summer field season regularly takes him to Cyprus and the greater Levantine world, he physically cannot be with us in eastern North Dakota for this specific meeting. But because it’s the second decade of the 21st century — and even though we don’t have flying cars or flux capacitors, yet — we will digitally beam Bill from Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean to conduct a short presentation in Fargo, North Dakota. The topic is a presentation on our modern archaeological and sociological research of man camps in the petroleum booming Bakken of western North Dakota. I just returned

Dr. Kostis Kourelis, punk archaeologist and art historian with Franklin and Marshall College (Pennsylvania), gives his thoughts on punk archaeology through a PA after being introduced with a bullhorn.

Dr. Kostis Kourelis, punk archaeologist and art historian with Franklin and Marshall College (Pennsylvania), gives his thoughts on punk archaeology through a PA after being introduced with a bullhorn.

an e-mail to Bill this morning, letting him know the technology I’ll bring to the NDHC board meeting so that we can pull a kind of joint half-hour presentation off in good order.

Doing something like this is akin to playing in a band. Professors and teachers: encourage your students to start or join bands. Here are some analogies between the two: there is the processes of research and preparation (or what a band calls making songs and then rehearsing those songs), locating the technology to transmit that research (the band refers to this as instruments, including voice, guitars, harmonicas, drums, banjos, cymbals, sound boards, timpani, PAs, speakers, cow-bell[s], monitors, lights), finding the specific meeting room and location and coordinating with the executive director (this is what a band calls finding a venue, and “chatting with a bar owner”), and then executing the entire thing within the span of 30 minutes (this is what a band calls a “set”). Doing this over and over and over again, too, ensures that researchers and lecturers (or individual band members) will simply refine the process and get better and better.

Another note: while we can digitally bridge the spatial gap between the northern Steppe of North America and the eastern Mediterranean, there is little we can do about the temporal gap: it’s not that big of deal, though, since when it is noon Central Standard Time in eastern North Dakota, it is roughly 20:00 hours in Greeco-Levantine time (or about 8:00pm). This will be fun. Long live modern archaeology, the digital humanities, and punk.

Some modern archaeology of a punk archaeology set.

Some modern archaeology of a punk archaeology set.


US-Dakota Wars, Then and Now: Ellendale, North Dakota, April 5, 2013

1862-and-2012Last night in Ellendale, North Dakota (not far from a September 1863 massacre site of memory and mourning that is Whitestone Hill), a panel discussion between Natives and non-Natives took place at the Ellendale Opera House. The discussion opened with introductory remarks by North Dakota State University’s Tom Isern, and then by philosopher of ethics, Professor Dennis Cooley (Dennis is co-founder of the Northern Plains Ethics Institute, linked to here). From there Richard Rothaus provided an overview of the US-Dakota Wars that started in the Minnesota River Valley, 1862, but did not end in Mankato with the largest execution in United States history. In the following years, the US engaged in a protracted punitive campaign against all Sioux, regardless of whether they participated in the US-Dakota Wars throughout the Minnesota River Valley in 1862 — the many were punished for the actions of a few.

I think one of the main reasons folks came to this — and they expressed it — was to listen to what Tamara St. John (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, South Dakota) and Ladonna Brave Bull Allard (Standing Rock Tourism Director, North Dakota) had to say. Toward the end of the conversation, several of the Ellendale residents expressed immense thanks for the opportunity to listen, and one individual said they will use this panel discussion to navigate how to go about organizing the 150th year event at Whitestone Hill this September.

The US-Dakota War Panel Discussion from April 5, 2013, in Ellendale, North Dakota.

The US-Dakota War Panel Discussion from April 5, 2013, at the Opera House in Ellendale, North Dakota.

To solidify our imagined sense of geographic history, I thought that it might be helpful to circulate the following map above that situates Native America on the northern Great Plains circa 1862, and contrasts it with the 2013 Eisenhower Interstate system. Also, linked here is a audio recording of the panel discussion in Ellendale, North Dakota, from April 5, 2013, taken by Kenneth Smith. The entire event was sponsored by the North Dakota Humanities Council and the Center for Heritage Renewal.


US-Dakota War Memory and History

This last Friday (03/22/2013), I attended one of the four US-Dakota War Panel Discussions, this one at Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, Standing Rock Nation, North Dakota. The events are co-sponsored by the North Dakota Humanities Council and the Center for Heritage Renewal. The discussions are a give-and-take, where three Native and non-Native historians and discussants give introductory remarks and impressions of where we are “at” today, 150 years after engagements, battles and massacres — what today we call Total War — started in the Minnesota River Valley in 1862, and concluded albeit temporarily at Killdeer Mountains in 1864. (I say “albeit temporarily” because the Battle of Greasy Grass [aka, Little Big Horn] and Wounded Knee had yet to come).

Two of the many impressions I had at this particular event are as follows:

The US-Dakota Wars panel discussion at Sitting Bull College on March 22, 2013.

Photo from the US-Dakota Wars panel discussion at Sitting Bull College on March 22, 2013.

1) This public format remains one of the best ways to open a discussion that broadens the exchange not just with the “official” panel discussants, but with the audience members as well. The quasi-lecture and conversational format brings new voices into the fold, and this is important in that it allows researchers an opportunity to hear about historical particulars that simply do not exist in the archives or in “official” histories.

2) In this Sitting Bull College context, one audience participant noted how they, as a Native, felt a bit more comfortable opening up and chatting about the history and memory of the US-Dakota wars: depending on social contexts, individuals may or may not decide to talk about particular points of memory and history. This is an interesting intersection between our Sense of Place and Sense of History: the history we will talk about is largely dependent on where we are and who we are with. This also made me think about how it would be interesting to track how each one of these discussions played out. For example, in chatting with Richard Rothaus after the discussion happened on March 23, 2013 in Watford City, North Dakota, Rothaus noted how the audience contributed a completely different set of voices, and asked a completely different set of questions. This no doubt is due to the different range of cultural back-drops everyone comes from, and also how our vision and memories of the past are shaped by the different cultures we are born in to (for example, the first panel discussion was approximately 240 miles from the second panel discussion, both of which were in North Dakota: the first was at Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, the second in Watford City, North Dakota).

This is the first of 4 discussions, and each discussion is happening (or happened) at a different location.  The third discussion will take place on Friday, April 5, 2013, at the Ellendale Opera House in Ellendale, North Dakota, and the fourth discussion will be at the Lake Region Heritage Center in Devils Lake, North Dakota on Saturday, April 6, 2013. More details at the following links here and here.


Punk Archaeology Recap for Dakota Goodhouse

A photo of the evening crowd at the NDHC Punk Archaeology un-conference in downtown Fargo, North Dakota.

A photo of the evening crowd at the NDHC Punk Archaeology un-conference in downtown Fargo, North Dakota.

Today my good friend Dakota Goodhouse, staff with the North Dakota Humanities Council, sent out a group e-mail and asked individual board members to reflect on and write a short summary about a particular North Dakota Humanities Council event they attended. Dakota said he would accept these write-ups, consider them, and eventually post them on the NDHC blogspot sometime down the line. So this is a draft of what I wrote, photos, hyperlinks and all:

On the evening of February 2nd, 2013, at Sidestreet Grille and Pub in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, the first global Punk Archaeology un-conference unfolded with song, bullhorn, academic rants and discussion, and more bullhorn and song. The event was simple enough: get a group of scholars together in a tavern, get an audio-video system and a pitcher or two of beer, and have these scholars openly talk about and consider why and how “punk” might be part and parcel to the disciplines of archaeology, history, and art history.

Scholars from North Dakota State University, the University of North Dakota, Concordia College, and Franklin and Marshall College (Pennsylvania) contributed to the discussion. Considering that a winter storm pummeled central and eastern North Dakota that night — that evening, the North Dakota Department of Transportation shut down I-94 between Bismarck and Dickinson — an approximate audience of 300-to-400 visitors to the 5-hour Punk Archaeology un-conference was considered more than a success. One noticeable difference of conferences compared to un-conferences, at least noted by University of North Dakota’s Bill Caraher, was that at punk archaeology un-conferences, scholars are introduced with a bullhorn, and then they are required to give their talks through the same PA that the punk bands play through.

Dr. Kostis Kourelis, punk archaeologist and art historian with Franklin and Marshall College (Pennsylvania), gives his thoughts on punk archaeology through a PA after being introduced with a bullhorn.

Dr. Kostis Kourelis, punk archaeologist and art historian with Franklin and Marshall College (Pennsylvania), gives his thoughts on punk archaeology through a PA after being introduced with a bullhorn.

In the weeks that led up to this event, a variety of Red River Valley media outlets contacted me, as they were understandably interested in what was meant by the phrase Punk Archaeology, and also what an “un-conference” entailed. Without me rehashing everything that was said, here are the hyperlinks to the media punk archaeology frenzy. Bob Harris of KFGO 790AM in Fargo-Moorhead interviewed me on the evening of January 21, 2013. The first segment of that interview is linked to here, and the second installment is linked to here. On January 23, Kris Kerzman put together a Punk Archaeology write-up for the The Arts Partnership blog here, Kayleigh Johnson ran a Punk Archaeology story in The High Plains Reader on January 31, 2013 linked to here, and The North Dakota Free Press covered it on February 1, 2013 here. The Fargo Forum covered the story in two different instances, once in a January 23, 2013 blurb here, and John Lamb’s January 29, 2013 write-up of it here.  Steve Poitras asked me to chat about this event during his February 2nd, Saturday morning Fargo-Moorhead radio show on 101.9 FM from 7:30-to-8:15AM. So I did that too. This was what the official press covered, and it went over well.

Several additional sponsors of Punk Archaeology included Laughing Sun Brewing (Bismarck), Tom Isern’s Center for Heritage Renewal (NDSU), the Cyprus Research Fund (UND), and the Working Group in Digital and New Media at the University of North Dakota. In all, it was an event that brought together North Dakota State University, the University of North Dakota, and the North Dakota Humanities Council, among others.
In closing, here his Bill Caraher’s blog-spot recap of Punk Archaeology linked to here. It happened. And it was awesome. And there is light banter about doing it again.