New Tunes, Old World, and an Old Church

As an archaeologist in a History department, some days are more archaeological than others. This is doubly true this time of year when I am mostly glued to my computer writing rather than at my field sites in Cyprus or Greece. Mediterranean archaeology has always encouraged a kind of hybridity of purpose. Distance, permit restriction, funding, and schedules tend to limit the dirt under the fingernails” archaeology to less than a third of the year. The rest of the time, we spend whacking away at our computers in far from the exotic Mediterranean light.

So my day starts in a turn of the century house in Grand Forks, North Dakota. By 7:30 I’m sitting at my office (that is roughly the size of a jai-lai court) in a 1950s era building on the campus of the University of North Dakota.  A thermos cup of coffee is at my right hand and  Cricinfo is on my Mac’s second monitor clicking over the (somewhat shocking) first day of the Second England-India Test (85/5!?!?, but boy the tail does wag!!!).

My own Friday blog post creeps from my fingers as my brain engages the task at hand. By 8:30, it’s posted (here) and I have opened an increasingly overdue encyclopedia entry on Early Christian Baptisteries that demands editing. I can imagine Ravenna, Corinth, and the Syrian desert, but mostly I struggle with words and sentences more than pendentives, aedicula, or frescos. Interpol’s brilliant first album, Turn on the Bright Lights, streams from Spotify to my MacBook Pro, to my miniwatt N3 amplifier, to my Energy speakers which push their somber rhythms into the back of my head.

While it is simply to stream music from around the world to my office, it is a bit more involved to get research material to my little corner of the academic world. So I spend 30 minutes or so pushing interlibrary loan requests into the system so I can access scholarly articles with the same ease as my music. The topic of the day is Byzantine Archaeology, Time, and the Post-Colonial Critique. Sounds like the title of an article or an obscure post-punk album.

The day turns by 10 am. A colleague has gotten his hands on the keys to a turn of the century church which is owned by the city and will soon become the possession of our local land-trust. It’s fate is unclear despite it being a contributing monument to a local historic district.  The church was built around 1905 to house Trinity Lutheran, and represents one of the few remaining wood-framed “neighborhood” churches built on urban  lots around the turn of the century. It’s been empty, perhaps, since 1997, and apparently long since “scraped” of most its most interesting effects. Rumor has it, though, that squatters have lived in the building lately. I’m interested in squatting, so I am excited to check out what has remained from these squatters and what if anything can be done to document this church.

After a quick visit to the church, it was clear that the evidence for squatters was pretty minimal. The church itself was pretty empty. Evidence for a fire in the church in 1944 remained visible in parts of the roof above the present drop ceiling. In the basement the foundation looked pretty sound with sections of the characteristic buff to yellow North Dakota brick visible. The most interesting feature below the church was the concrete large baptismal font (we think) dating to the church’s long life as the home to a Church of God congregation.

The fate of the building remains unclear, but my visit has helped me understand the value and liabilities of this property. When the time for a community conversation comes, I feel like I can contribute a more informed voice the conversation.

Returning back to the office, I discussed with a local civic leader the potential for this building. We discuss its place in the local landscape, its potential as a anchor to the neighborhood, and the possibility that it is beyond repair.

A small stack of interlibrary loan articles await and some organizing for weekend work will usher my Friday afternoon into the weekend. A nice dinner with the wife will round out my day of archaeology. Undoubtedly we’ll talk about old churches will sitting in an restaurant in an old warehouse.


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