I’ve been doing a bit of traveling lately and spent some serious time in airports. Last night, we had to go from Gate C5 to Gate A13 at Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Lindbergh Terminal. While this map doesn’t really do the distance justice, gate C5 is close to the core area of the airport and A12 is perhaps the furtherest gate from the center. In fact, as you walk toward gate A13, the moving walkway ends, the concourse narrows, the little concessions disappear replaced by by open janitorial closets and worn gate furniture.
It was appropriate that gate A13 was on the periphery of the airport as our flight from Minneapolis to Grand Forks represented movement toward the periphery of the nation (if not geographically, at least in most other ways!).
In Brisbane, the situation was a bit different. We departed from Gate 75 of the International Terminal. Like gate A13, this was at the far left (east?) end of the International Terminal. Its isolation was largely because flights to the U.S. require additional security measures best managed at a gate that can be isolated from the major flow of traffic through the airport. So, in this case, the isolation of the gate represents another form of isolation both in terms of global security and in the local network
I am blogging from LAX today and there’s nothing like travel to give me time to entertain random thoughts. So here are three random, end of the semester, travel inspired thoughts:
1. LAX replicates the city of LA. The terminals and facilities are dispersed and more or less without a clear center. Minneapolis Airport in contrast is centered around a gaudy food court and shopping mall with a nice observation deck that lets you look out and watch jets come and go. LAX (at least the various terminals that I drifted through over this 8 hour layover) makes it pretty hard to watch the plains come and go and almost always involves a trip outside of a particular terminal to find important information like departure times, gate numbers, or even places to eat and chill out on a long layover.
2. Students. I’ve been pretty lucky this semester. I had a number of students take the time to send along little notes thanking me for the semester. These are so gratifying! This semester I taught two completely revamped classes and a graduate seminar that threatened to devolve into a kind of pedagogical trench warfare. Despite the challenging semester, it was energizing to know that students enjoyed their class and learned something!
3. What I read when traveling: Harpers, Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker. I’ve traveled enough this past year to have read almost every issue of the two monthlies. I’ll also read William Gibson’s Spook Country (2007)). When I asked my Teaching Thursday readers what they planned to read over the holidays, I got one response. This either means that we faculty need to do a better job of modeling our behavior or that the readers of our blog are unlikely (for whatever reason) to read books over break.
Last week, I pulled down a box full of slides that I had taken between 1997 and 2003. I was looking for photographs of Lakka Skoutara in 2001 and 2002 (and found them, for all you who doubt my filing system), but I also found my pictures of my first trip to Greece and my two years as an associate member at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. I looked through box after box of them with a combination of nostalgia and amazement as I realized the completely clinical character of my pictures. My photos focused almost totally on ancient and Byzantine monuments with almost no shots of my friends, traveling companions, or the physical surroundings. As I thought about this more, I remembered how expensive slide film and processing was (particularly for a graduate student) and how important I thought it was to produce a teaching collection of images (in the days before Google Image), and this helped me relax a bit.
It was pleasant surprise to see an article in the most recent volume of Hesperia that looked at the 19th century equivalent of my touristic perambulations and their photographic record. D. Harlan’s “Travels, Pictures, and a Victorian Gentleman in Greece” continues Hesperia‘s recent interest in articles on early travelers and tourists to the Mediterranean and the role that they played in shaping our archaeological expectations and perceptions of Modern Greece. Harlan’s article focused on the slides of T.R.R. Stebbing who traveled to Greece and Turkey at the end of the 19th century. He took a series of glass-plate lantern-slides of famous monuments and well-known scenes, like the harbor at Smyrna. These slides came eventually to reside in the archives of the Institute of Archaeology of Oxford and some of them may have contributed to a published series of educational slides distributed by Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. These slides, then, provide insights into not only the itinerary and values of a late 19th century tourist in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also the development of well-known educational collections that circulated on lantern slides widely in the the UK and the US.
The University of North Dakota has a small collection of these slides distributed by The Keystone View Company — one of the standard American firms distributing such lantern slides. Orin G. Libby, the long-time chair of the Department of History lobbied continuously for new and updated Lantern slide projectors. At the same time, Webster Merrifield the president of the University of North Dakota and, more or less, a contemporary of Stebbing traveled regularly to Europe and the Mediterranean. While there is no record of him taking slides photographs, Merrifield’s Classical training would have made it a likely possibility. After all, we know that he returned with a small number of objects purchased from across the Eastern Mediterranean and destined for a small (and now mostly lost) collection of University antiquities.
As Harlan argues, these slides served to link the tourist itineraries of the early guide books, like Murray’s, Cook’s, and Baedeker’s, to classroom instruction in the US. There is a direct parallel between these early tourist itineraries and the modern day itinerary of the American School of Classical Studies which, in turn, continues to reproduce and reinforce a standardized view of Greece as captured by the camera’s eye. (Check out this collection of images and compare them, broadly speaking, to the Stebbing’s pictures) The persistence of such structured engagements with both Ancient and Modern Greece is nothing short of remarkable. The distribution of such “tourist” photos (that is photos linked directly to a tourists itinerary) serve to condition particular engagements with the Greek landscape that, in turn, shape the itineraries of future tourists. One goes to Greece, according to this kind of structured engagement, less to see the country, per se, and more to reproduce images, vistas, and scenes burned into your memory through the wide distribution and use of images. This likely accounts for the slow rate of change in tourist itineraries (and the itinerary of the American School and other study tours to Greece) and the persistent (if slowly dissipating) view of Greece as a place of history rather than a dynamic society with its own character, problems, and potentials.
More on this exciting fascicule of Hesperia later in the week!
I attended the Modern Greek Studies Association conference in Vancouver, B.C. over the last few days. It was a great show. Our panel on the archaeology of modern Greece was sparsely attended, but the discussion was vigorous and the feedback good. It was great to reconnect with Effie Athanassopoulos, Amelia Brown, and Kostis Kourelis. It was also fun to meet Matthew Milliner, blogger at millinerd.com. and northamericanchurches which I have now happily added to my delicious blogroll and will link to regularly. (His Wordless Wednesday feature is the kind of alliterative brilliance that I can truly appreciate).
Here’s a link to our paper. My understanding is that Kostis Kourelis has recorded the session and I hope to make these links to our papers as MP3s available soon. As a preview, the papers captured the variety of methods employed to come to grips with modern Greece with an archaeologist’s tools. These methods ranged from diligent work in paper archives to field work rooted in the best practices of processualism to post-processual practices that sought to reconcile the varieties of relationships and experiences recoverable within the modern landscape. What was perhaps striking is that none of our methods were particular to the Greek national experience. This is perhaps good in that it avoids reifying age old arguments for Greek exceptionalism (rooted in the archaeological practices derived in large part from the study of ancient Greece), but it was a bit disappointing as well in that the unique history of Greek archaeology and its institutions must contribute more than just a particularly well-curated body of knowledge, but also distinctive ways of understanding the landscape, the place, and the people.
Vancouver was a great city. The trip to the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology was a particular highlight. Much like our panel and the project of archaeology more generally, this dramatic building sought to wrap the material culture of the first nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest in a modern setting. The interplay between the elaborately carved, yet functional house posts and totem polls and the austere economy of the poured concrete building made obvious the act of translation performed at the museum. The artifacts of the various local tribes found themselves recontextualized within the museum of the colonizer. The relationship between the vertical lines of the museum and the dimensions and functions of the architectural fragments and objects housed within it proved that some cross-cultural understanding is possible, and while it would be neither precise nor value free, it could at least be dramatic and emotionally evocative.
The scenery around Vancouver was simply ridiculous. The rain, the coastline, the diversity of the city’s neighborhoods, and the company made the entire experience memorable (and how often can we say that about an academic conference?).
I’m off to the Modern Greek Studies Association meeting in Vancouver, B.C. today.
Here’s my reading for the flight:
A. Mailis, “The Early Christian Baptisteries of Crete,” AnTard 14 (2006), 291-309.
Y. Hamilakis and A. Anagostopoulos, “What is Archaeological Ethnography?” Public Archaeology 8 (2009), 65-87.
M. Sahlins, Islands of History. Chicago 1985.
Be sure to check out Teaching Thursday tomorrow when we live-blog the Reflecting on Teaching Colloquium!
Colleen Berry graciously agreed to offer her thoughts on running a summer study tour to China for our Teaching Thursday blog Colleen is an experienced study tour leader and tour guide, and her trip to China in collaboration with Victoria Beard is one of the best regarded summer programs on campus.
She recommends that directed journals as a key aspect of keeping students engaged in the learning process throughout their time in China. We experimented with less structured journaling exercises through our Graduate Student Perspectives and Undergraduate Perspectives blog with the hope that making the students recount their experiences in public (and with some direction, see: A Primer in Archaeological Blogging) was likely to keep them honest. I particularly admire the probing questions with which Colleen prompts the students. She is not timid in encouraging the students to articulate their experiences in China on a personal level. For example: “How has this trip changed your life? Give some specific ways that your experiences on this trip will make your life and your actions different when you return home.”
I also like the idea that the journal explicitly served not simply as a means for the student to engage their experiences, but also a method to evaluate the success of the class. In this way, Colleen showed that her goals with the class were not just to familiarize students with Chinese culture (broadly construed), but to convert this familiarity into something that they can take home and make relevant in their everyday lives. That is a potent goal and posses a real challenge to any assessment regiment as it not only asks the student to reflect their own experiences in China, but to anticipate how their time there will change their engagement with American culture. In this regard, her assessment program asks students to anticipate certain changes and this likely goes a long way to making changes in student behavior real. It would be interesting to follow up with this assessment technique in a years time to see whether the student expectations prompted by Colleen’s questions came to pass.
Another thing that struck me about Colleen’s directed journal is that it did not emphasize the development of any particular skills, expertise, or knowledge nor did it engage a particular theoretic perspective (at least overtly) — except perhaps the question about feeling like a minority. In this way, her program (at least as represented in the directed journal) represents a departure from the current emphasis on teaching specific, well-defined skills (e.g. the ability to do “x”) and encouraging students to understand their experiences through a generalized theoretical vocabulary often keyed to potent terms like literacy, diversity, et c. On the one hand, clearly linking assessment goals to the assignments themselves can make evaluation easier as the values that you assess are linked the the student’s ability to understand key terms and concepts. On the other hand, these kind of limited outcome assessment practices (e.g. what did you learn about diversity?) probably work poorly for the immersive experiences associated with study tours in general. No matter how similar the backgrounds and the preparation, students will engage a foreign culture on their own, very specific terms.
As a final note, I wonder why Colleen presented almost nothing in her directed journaling that is specific to China; that is to say the word China could be replaced with the word Cyprus and the journal prompts would be equally valid. Is this good because she approaches her study tour with the hope that students learn fundamental lessons that would resonate with any transcultural experience? Or is this a limitation because it homogenizes the world outside the U.S. as “other than here” or “diversity”?
It’s great that Colleen agreed to engage some of the issues (and in such a practical direct way!) that I tried to bring up in my various posts on “Teaching in the Sun” (here, here, here) and I look forward to a continued dialogue.
I just finished reading Philip Duke’s short book, The Tourists Gaze, the Cretans Glance: Archaeology and Tourism on a Greek Island. (Walnut Creek, CA 2007). Aside from the cool title, the book provides a succinct overview of the relationship between archaeology on Crete and tourism with a main emphasis on Bronze Age, Minoan sites. There is a nice review of the book over at Archaeolog.
What interested me the most was Duke’s effort to problematize the relationship between archaeologists, the tourist industry (ranging from efforts of the Greek state to present archaeological sites to small, local businesses), and the foreign tourist. The boundaries between these groups, of course, are fairly artificial: even Duke in his role of tourist ethnographer become in some contexts a tourist himself. This same feeling comes to anyone who spends part of every year in a foreign country working as an archaeologist; the feeling of shifting from coddled tourist to specialist interlocutor occurs quite regularly as one passes from one environment to the next. The complex interplay between being a tourist and an archaeologist is particularly pronounced when leading undergraduate and even graduate students around Greece and Cyprus in the summer months.
For example, as a group, we’ve been flummoxed when an archaeological site is poorly marked, lacking on-site (or even published!) documentation, overgrown, or simply confusing. In some cases, of course, the challenge of working out the relationships between the evidence preserved on-site is invigorating and rewarding. In many more cases, however, it is just confounding as the myriad of complex site-formation processes conspire to obscure the process of excavation, the relationships between the visible remains and features, and the overall significance of the site itself. At these moments, there is a natural desire to be led through a site and a willingness to accept the hegemonic presentation provided by signs, labels, paths, and pamphlets (whether produced by an archaeologist or a member of the tourist industry or whomever).
In other cases, especially at popular destinations which tend to be thoroughly presented, the presentation itself becomes the basis for a critique. Even a beginning archaeology student can often see through overly nationalistic or tremendously simplified presentations of sites. In fact, at some sites in Greece and Cyprus, I’ve come to anticipate the relatively simple presentations and use them as the basis for discussion the visible archaeology in much the same way that thoughtful tourists would respond to Evans’ reconstruction of the Minoan palaces at Knossos.
Finally, putting together itineraries for students forces one to consider explicitly the basic tourist infrastructure that contextualizes site visits. For example, a stretch of lovely (if touristy) taverna restaurants will often make a site a more appealing destination. The requirements for a tour bus or even good access by road conditions the narrative of site visits even for even a group of experienced archaeologist. In fact, the accessibility of a site regularly features in the larger archaeological narrative. Sites that are more difficult to access or presented in confusing ways encourages a sense of remoteness, exoticism, and intellectual privilege derived largely from the contrast to the well-marked sites visited by the “average tourist”. So, even the most intellectual visitor, tourist, or archaeologist often draws upon expectations promoted by the “hegemonic” narrative produced by the tourist industry in all its manifestations.
Of course, the hybrid state of the typical archaeologist/tourist is precisely the position that allowed Duke to critique the “tourists’ gaze” so well. The real charm of his slim volume is that it seems like a nice addition to the reading list for our own study tour/field school next summer.
My parents were in town this weekend and we took a trip to Ft. Totten, North Dakota. It’s a remarkably well preserved “Dakota frontier era” fort. It functioned initially as a frontier fort with a garrison who guarded railroad construction and communication lines around Devil’s Lake, ND. In 1890 it was turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and began life as an Indian School. In 1960 it was given to the State of North Dakota who have subsequently opened it as a historic site and worked to restore and maintain its buildings. Here’s a Google Earth KZM file showing its location.
The way the fort is presented enables the visitor to understand its past as a military installation and as a school. This is no easy thing considering that several buildings — like the armory — changed functions considerably over that time. While hardly lavish in presentation, I thought that the simple signs and informational posters wove together the two, very different, stories of this site in a thought provoking and understandable way.
More interestingly still, is that parts of the site have been given over to local historical organizations, a theatre, and a bed-and-breakfast. These buildings not only take advantage of the extensive facilities available at the site, but also must also help with the maintenance of the site by keeping it in the public eye. Coming from Greece where so many sites with substantial remains are simply closed to the public, it was striking to see how the State of North Dakota can find ways to keep a site visible in the public eye while still maintaining some aspects of its “historical integrity”.
This photo is gratuitous… Wind power on the prairie.
I spent time in four airports yesterday(s): Rome (2 hours), Frankfurt (1 hour), Singapore (1 hour), Sydney (2 hours). I kept a journal of my travels (30+ hours), but I will spare you the details of the trip except that every flight was delayed and one was cancelled.
The most striking thing about my trip was the airports. It struck me that airports, in general, are incredibly homogeneous and yet substantially different from any other space in our society. Is their homogeneity an effort to create recognizable experiences in an airport — with the promenades of shops with familiar designs and fast food eateries? They nevertheless come across (to me) as profoundly foreign perhaps because we anticipate some kind of differences between geographically locations as different as Singapore and Rome.
Edward Soja developed the idea of Third Space as the distinct experiential space of the post-modern city (particularly places like Los Angeles). It seems that airports is another form of this kind of space. The homogeneity of "airport space" largely deprives them of the distinctiveness that allows us to orient ourselves within a society and negotiate meaning. This is compounded by the reality that travel is disorientating physically for the body. The indistinct space of airports compounds the feeling of disorientation derived from changes in time zone, long hours in the air, and the anxiety so typical of travelling.
[As I think about it more, it may well be that "airport space" is not necessarily indistinct, but that they are abstractly western in prototype and design irrespective of their geographical location, and therefore indistinct to my well-conditioned western perspective. And there are of course efforts to make airports unique and culturally specific -- like the small museum installations at places like the Amsterdam airport or the showers and beds found in Asian hubs like Tokyo or Hong Kong.]
I found that the disorientation was particularly intense in the Singapore airport (after about three flights a total of about 20 hours). Christmas carols played on the P.A. system as I walked by retailers that I have only ever seen in airports (stores like Hugo Boss) interspersed between decoration festooned the palm trees in planters. The arrivals boards were the only place where I could find something distinctive — they listed airlines and flights to places that I simply could not place (apparently Port Moresby is in Papua New Guinea) — in some cases, I could not even place the destinations on the proper continent much less the country!).
Finally, the disorientation is further aggravated by the diversity of individuals present in these spaces. Travellers at major international airports tend to appear in a such wide variety of dress that it is virtually impossible to discern the social codes instrumental in establishing social class or status rank in a particular society. The airport community like "airport space" lacks cues to orient us socially and to establish the basis for behaviour. They might be seen as producing the sense of "communitas" Victor Turner associated with the experience of pilgrimage — that is a temporary suspension of class and status boundaries typical of member of a pilgrimage community. While individuals are distinct in appearance, dress, and behaviour, the social context for these differences is suspended making the distinctions meaningless.
Enough ramblings (I was tempted to post my journal entries, but that was too much even for me). I’ll likely post only occasionally over the next few weeks, but I will be back regularly after the first of the year. Happy holidays!