Tag Archives: North Dakota Humanities Council

Northern Plains Ethics Journal

Last night I downloaded Volume 1, No. 1, of the Northern Plains Ethics Journal. It is a work born out of the Northern Plains Ethics Institute, a scholarly endeavor that will regularly bring public and academic conversations about ethics together in one edited journal. You can download the journal for free at this link here. It is a collaborative project funded in part by the North Dakota Humanities Council (if one wanted to donate any modest or obnoxious monetary sum to the NDHC, they can easily do so at this link here).

Thus far I have read the introductory remarks by friend and colleague, John Helgeland, and also an article by another friend and scholar, Tayo Basquiat. Of the former, Helgeland says,

…ethics aims its focus at the future. So, ethics is the kind of thinking that imagines the future, to conceive how things could be better and different. Friends doing the Theology of Hope tell us the meaning of hope, namely, that tomorrow can be different from today. People need not feel imprisoned in a web of human frustration. Working through problems in concert creates a community of concern, a value of which is to understand that we are not alone in response to problems and challenges. (Helgeland, 2013: 5)

Of the latter, Basquiat speaks to ethics in the face of roaring economic energy development in western North Dakota. Numerous quotes popped out at me, and I’ll give you a short slice of one of those here. Speaking to how one faces the realities of violence on women as a repercussion of male-dominated petroleum booms, Basquiat focused on that, and broadened it to other groups. He says,

This difficult work is entailed in widening the values which are given power, because, as the old saw goes, when money talks, people listen. I propose listening to people instead of money. Vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly, and those unable to work are always in danger of having their values ignored and of having to bear the costs of models of development that focus too narrowly on growth. The question is how do we account for values such as personal safety or clean water if such values are always seen as derivative, secondary, or can’t be monetized for quantification in the calculus? (Basquiat, 2013: 42)

If we take what Helgeland and Basquiat said together, we do have the ability to shape the future, to modify existing institutions so that they can keep up with social and cultural changes. The onus is on all of us, though. I haven’t much to add to that, other than to again recommend visiting this journal in all of its thoughtful glory.

Humanities Un-Conference: November 2-3, 2013, Fargo, North Dakota

Ideas are just that: ideas. They often start out with the thought of the results first, and this often bypasses the entire processes that went together to get an idea to that result, to give it actual traction. So the idea of getting ideas together in an informal setting is, well, a good idea. And bringing a confluence of idea-driven individuals across the state together and talking is also a good idea. Who knows where a conversation may lead?

Within North Dakota, the Plains Ethics Institute, North Dakota State University, and the North Dakota Humanities Council have come together to give rise to an idea un-conference. Below is the full poster, with just a couple modifications here: the date for registration has been extended to October 1st, and a proposal is not required. Reimbursement is also available for those individuals thinking about coming from non-Fargo, North Dakota, but wondering how they are going to fund the mileage and lodging (Williston to Fargo, for example, is a 422 mile, 6-cups-of-coffee, 1-way drive). The official handbill is below.

Hum Un-Conf


The Stump Lake Pavilion of North Dakota

This last week, from Sunday evening to Friday evening, I camped with a small cadre of highly trained artists at Stump Lake (the Dakota called it Wambduska Bde, which means “Snake Water” or “Creeping Thing Water,” this translation courtesy of good friend Dakota Goodhouse), Nelson County, North Dakota. When we (meaning Molly McLain and I) first approached Stump Lake, and since it had been our first time each, everything was new. So it came as a kind of pleasant shock to find a massive historic pavilion situated at the end of the road at the campsite. My eyes widened large when I first saw it. The pavilion has been used as a roller-skating rink since, I was told, it was constructed. And while I was there, I heard banter about the pavilion either being on, or wanting to be on, the National Register of Historic Places.

A panoramic photo of the pavilion at Stump Lake, North Dakota. Photo from August 2, 2013.

A panoramic photo of the pavilion at Stump Lake, North Dakota. Photo from August 2, 2013.


I also heard from Dwight, one of the overseers of Stump Lake campsites, that a raging international polka festival goes on at Stump Lake every summer. Dwight also chatted with me about the stories old timers have told him about their experiences at the Stump Lake pavilion. Dwight said one individual told him how throughout the 1930s they used to polka at the pavilion throughout the night, running down to cool off with a swim in Stump Lake, and then returning to the hard wood polka floors to continue dancing. Does this seem like something out of Prairie Home companion? Of course, anyone from North Dakota knows that the Prairie Home Companion is actually based off reality that has and continues to take place in said North Dakota. It is where Garrison gets all of his best stuff.

An exterior shot of the pavilion from the last week of July 2013, Stump Lake, North Dakota.

An exterior shot of the pavilion from the last week of July 2013, Stump Lake, North Dakota.


There are numerous Bohemian enclaves throughout northern Dakota (check this one out here). One just has to devote the time to stop and listen for the accordion. Note: a future research project will have me investigating whether or not the pavilion is on the National Register of Historic Places. If it is, then yes, the universe is in accord with itself. If it is not, well, then there is more work for all of us to do. Might this be an excellent place to consider a future ND Humanities Council Chautauqua, too?… Perhaps, folks. Perhaps…

Pavilion interior, from hardwood floor to exposed rafter ceiling.

Pavilion interior, from hardwood floor to exposed rafter ceiling.


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.