Punk archaeology: yes, it’s a thing


Punk Archaeology
Saturday, February 2 | 7:30 p.m.
The Sidestreet Grille and Pub
Punk Archaeology Facebook event

“Punk archaeology.” How’s that for cognitive dissonance?

On the one hand, you have archeology, which calls to mind crumbling forgotten cities, khaki shorts, and artifacts. On the other, you have punk, which calls to mind mohawks and buzzsaw guitars and safety pins and Sid Vicious and disorder.

But the two don’t necessarily need to be strange bedfellows. That’s according to Aaron Barth, a PhD student in history at NDSU and an organizer of an upcoming event that will put some punk in your archeology and some archeology in your punk.

The genesis of the idea came about as Barth and two colleagues, Kostis Kourelis (an art historian at Franklin and Marshall College) and Bill Caraher (a historian at the University of North Dakota) did contemporary archeological field work together in the man camps of Western North Dakota. Over the course of their conversations, they discovered mutual love for the punk aesthetic and decided to put it to work, starting up a punk archaeology blog and devising a way to unearth a new approach to archaeology that flies in the face of common perception.

“We’re people of our times, too,” Barth said, “and there’s a Red River Valley punk scene that you can also link to the rest of the Midwest and the rest of the world. So I said, let’s try an ‘un-conference.’ This thing has to happen in a bar or in a tavern. And we can have this organic conversation about what the term ‘punk archeology’ even means.”

And so Punk Archaeology, the event, was born. There will be informal talks, music from locals June Panic and members of Les Dirty Frenchmen, some discussion about punk in the F-M area, and no shortage of discussion about Ralph’s Corner Bar, a pivotal location for much of the area’s recent music history and a place that Barth said deserves “thoughtful and proper consideration.”

“We hope to recover and preserve the archaeology of Red River Valley punk,” Barth said, noting that “officially unofficial” Punk Archaeology panelist Kris Groberg, an art historian at NDSU, has been doing similar work to pull some of those threads together.

“She’s told me stories about Fugazi staying in her basement. Somebody needs to write that down.”

This event (and academic mini-movement) speaks to a contemporary take on an institutionalized discipline, and Barth said that he wants to find where the formalized practices of history and archaeology have common ground with the DIY mentality and subversive nature of punk, forming a sort of people’s archaeology. In this case, Barth said it will also offer a platform for attendees who want to create a living history of the F-M punk scene.

“I’ll have a bullhorn. If people start talking crazy, we’ll take the microphone away,” he said, laughing. “It’ll be more of a dialogue and a conversation, and it’ll blur the lines between a formal institution and the informal nature of do-it-yourself punk rock.”

After the Punk Archaeology event ends, Barth said that there will be essays and other documentation from the evening that will be preserved in a print-on-demand collection that, he hopes, will be around for years to come and serve as a touch point for future archaeologists looking to dig into our area’s cultural history. Likely, they’ll be doing so in a time at which the fields of punk and archaeology will no longer cause such cognitive dissonance.

Image: Punk Archaeology handbill by by Joel R. Jonientz.

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