Tag Archives: Western Social Science Association

Notes from the WSSA Conference in Denver

Tom Isern at right listens to his student of history, Aaron Gutman, deliver his paper on the microhistory of three Prussian soldiers mustered into the US Army in 1862 to help with the defenses at Fort Abercrombie, Dakota Territory.

Tom Isern at right listens to his student of history, Aaron Gutman, deliver his paper on the microhistory of three Prussian soldiers mustered into the US Army in 1862 to help with the defenses at Fort Abercrombie, Dakota Territory.

It is now Saturday evening and I am finishing up another robust Western Social Science Association conference, this time in the Queen City of the Great Plains that is Denver, Colorado: a cosmopolitan cattle town and gold mining stop at the edge of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains (it was in this location that in the second half of the 19th century, south-north moving cowpunchers and cattle trails intersected with the east-west moving overland settlers, miners and pioneers). This morning Aaron Gutman (North Dakota State University) delivered his paper, “The Siege of Fort Abercrombie D.T. 1862 and its Global Connections,” emphasizing the ethnic make-up of three German-Prussians commanding the cannon battery for the US Army during the siege at the fort in late-August and through September of 1862. Gutman was apt to point out that the Prussian immigrants mustered into Civil War service were experienced with street fighting, having come from the renegade and liberal streets of the German revolutions of 1848. I also had a great time listening to Alex Steenstra (Northern Arizona University) and Christine Cheyne (Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand) talk about the Mighty River Power struggle between the Maori and the New Zealand Crown, and the fracking going on today in New Zealand.

Mexico City in downtown Denver, Colorado.

Mexico City in downtown Denver, Colorado.

Yet as historians, archaeologists, humanities folk and social scientists considered what happened and what is happening in great detail at these conferences, we also take account of our contemporary surroundings. This includes food, music and drink. So a quick run-down of some of the dining establishments visited during this professional conference include the spectacular Biker Jim’s hot dog joint (I had the delicious duck-cilantro dog), and the restaurant Mexico City, both in one of Denver’s historic districts. There was some Thai place that we visited too (the name escapes me, but I have found inspiration with the lemon grass coconut soup, and will be bringing the general recipe idea back to the northern Great Plains). Of music, I got to see the Tejon Street Corner Thieves belt out some street-level blue grass, and I purchased one of their DIY CDs for the street-level market price of $5.00. Of drink, there is an infinite amount of barley pop varieties to try, and I have taken to the stuff in the can — an archaeologist friend of mine in Missoula calls these “canned goods.” But I better wrap this up because the 55th Annual Western Social Science Association conference reception begins in less than 20 minutes.


Bakken Oil Field Paper Abstract for the WSSA

Field crew member Professor Holmgren (of Franklin and Marshall College, PA) documents a historic cemetery surrounded by a Type II camp just south of Tioga, ND in August 2012.

Field crew member Professor Holmgren (of Franklin and Marshall College, PA) documents a historic cemetery surrounded by a Type II camp just south of Tioga, ND in August 2012.

The Western Social Science Association‘s abstract deadline for the April 2013 conference in Denver, Colorado is but a day away. So in the last three days, I put together two disparate abstracts (one for a paper and one for a poster) and submitted them to the conference committee. The paper proposal draws from August 2012 research in the man or labor camps in western North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, and builds off existing scholarship at this link here. (Note: North Dakota is #2 for oil production in the United States, just behind Texas).

The paper will broadly touch on how and why an area is populated, depopulated, and then repopulated (or re-re-populated, ad infinitum), but focus in on the micro, or what in the business we call individual lives. Contextualizing the micro within the macro, the local within the broader theme. Sometimes historians say those sorts of things in academic papers, or in conversation in general.

Here is the proposed title and abstract of my paper, the one I e-mailed just yesterday to the WSSA people:

Food, Shelter and Water: The Bakken Oil Boom and the Repopulation of Rural Western North Dakota

In August 2012, a collaborative team of historians, archaeologists, architects, sociologists and photographers spent four days studying the labor and “man” camps associated with the Bakken oil boom in rural western North Dakota. While there is monetary success and tragedy inherent in any petroleum boom, the team documented the ways in which skilled and un-skilled laborers carved out their own identities. This captured how an oil boom is much more dynamic than the typical media reporting of it as 100% “good” or absolutely “bad.” Humans are much more complex. This paper considers how a selection of individuals came to work in the Bakken oil field, and how they find lodging, food and hygiene on a day-to-day basis in a rural environment with limited infrastructure.