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North Dakota Man Camp Project: The Archaeology of Home in the Bakken Oil Fields
William R. Caraher
University of North Dakota
Bret Weber
University of North Dakota
Kostis Kourelis
Franklin & Marshall College
Dr. Richard Rothaus
North Dakota University System
ABSTRACT
This article describes the first two years of work of the North Dakota Man Camp Project which
documents the archaeological, architecture, and social situation of work force housing in the Bakken
oil patch of western North Dakota. An archaeological approach allowed us to argue that late
capitalism has transformed the nature of domestic space for the contingent work force associated
with extractive industries. These changes, however, reflected historical trends in American
vernacular architecture and distinct pressures on labor at the global periphery. Archaeological work
in the Bakken exists within the same challenging taskscape and produces both academic and
embodied knowledge as well as an archive of data to inform social and political engagement.

I. Introduction
In the spring of 2012, North Dakota surpassed Alaskas oil production to become the
second busiest oil manufacturing state in the United States. Just south of the Canadian border, on
the northern edge of the Great Plains, North Dakotas population of less than 700,000 had been
declining since its 1930 peak. But in 2007, high oil prices and improved technologies (especially
hydraulic fracturing or "fracking") precipitated a boom in the Bakken oil field that many have
predicted to last thirty years or longer. A severe housing shortage throughout the state is one of the
major consequences of this boom (North Dakota Petroleum Council 2011).
The North Dakota Department of Commerce estimated in the fall of 2012 that available
beds for new workers numbered just over 15,000, while a trade magazine suggested a higher figure
of 21,511 planned or available beds. One estimate suggested that the boom had created 65,000 new
jobs and a projected state population of over one million by 2020, an increase of over 30% in a
dozen years (Dalrymple 2012 for others see Bangsund et al. 2012; Hodur et al. 2013). The states oil
production has more than quadrupled since 2008 to over half-a-million barrels a day with past
estimates exceeding 850,000 by 2015 (Ellerd 2013). So far, all estimates have been overly
conservative and on May 30 a Bismarck Tribune story celebrated the state having achieved an average
of over one million barrels a day. With employment and production surging, the states housing
shortage will likely continue into the future. These pressures have filled the remote, industrial
landscape of the Bakken by temporary labor housing known as man camps or crew camps.
Since the spring of 2012, the North Dakota Man Camp Project (NDMCP) has carried out a
historical and archaeological study of the various forms of temporary labor housing in the Bakken
oil patch. The Bakken oil patch is a colloquial term for the Bakken and Three Forks formations
which is a geological formation unit that encompasses over 200,000 sq. miles across western North
Dakota, eastern Montana, southern Manitoba, and Saskatchewan (Figure 1). The unique geology of

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this area requires hydraulic fracturing to extract shale oil in myriad small pockets throughout the
subsurface rock formation (Gaswirth et al. 2013). The advances in these extraction techniques in the
21st century and the high price of oil on global markets allowed companies to exploit the Bakken
and Three Forks formations in a massive and sustained way over the past half-decade. This article
focuses on the area of Williams and McKenzie counties in western North Dakota which has seen
the most intensive activity in recent years. We also follow the local vernacular with references to the
oil patch, or simply the patch.
The following article derives from our study of over 50 camps in the Bakken oil patch of
western North Dakota. These camps ranged in size from a few beds to crew camps large enough to
be counted among the states 20 largest cities. The goal of this article is to introduce our projects
methods (Part II) and to analyze our results in a historical and archaeological context (Parts III-V).
The archaeology of contemporary workforce housing offers significant insights in three areas: first,
we consider the changing nature of domestic space in the architecture and archaeology of the
Bakken (Part III), the processes that shape site formation and discard practices (Part IV), and our
understanding of labor and related settlement within the Bakken taskscape (Part V). Our approach
to these issues draws freely from recent work in the archaeology of the contemporary past
(Harrison and Schofield 2010; Graves-Brown, Harrison and Piccini 2013) as well as work in
historical archaeology, industrial archaeology and the archaeology of labor (see Part I). These
approaches share an assumption that the concepts of place and material culture are vital for
understanding social relationships produced by late capitalism.

I.1. Archaeological Approaches of the Contemporary Past


The archaeology of the contemporary past has been particularly productive in its focus on
sites of short-term or ephemeral occupation. Larry Zimmermans archaeology of homelessness, the

archaeology of contemporary protest sites, the remote sensing of Guantanamo bay, photographic
documenting of graffiti, and the archaeology of tourism collectively demonstrate how archaeological
approaches to sites of contemporary contingency have the potential to inform issues of immediate
social and political concern (Kiddley and Schofield 2011; Zimmerman 2010; Schofield and Anderton
2000; Myers 2010; Graves-Brown and Schofield 2011; ODonovan and Carroll 2011). By
documenting the recent past through its material culture, archaeologists have demonstrated how the
material world represents and reveals forces of agency, matters of social and economic justice, and
the dynamic processes associated with labor, leisure, and everyday life. Moreover, material culture
has the potential to give voice to the oppressed and disadvantaged in ways that traditional historical
studies grounded in textual evidence have tended to overlook.
This interest in archaeology of the contemporary world has complemented the shift among
historical archaeologists from monumental sites to places of industrial activity, working and middleclass housing, and rural activities. Increasing archaeological attention in this diverse range of modern
remains has stemmed, in part, from the growth of the Cultural Resource Management (CRM)
industry, and the increasing number of diverse buildings from the post-war industrial boom
receiving protection under heritage management laws (Harrison and Schofield 2010). As a result,
archaeologists have contributed to the history of industrialization, modernism, globalization,
capitalism, and other related concerns of contemporary society.

I.2. Modern Spaces and Place


The recent spatial turn in the humanities and social sciences has exerted a particularly
powerful influence over the archaeology of the contemporary past. A robust body of theory
concerned with 20th- and 21st-century space has emerged in the fields of geography and critical
theory independent from practical realities defined in part by archaeological policy (e.g. Foucault

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1995; Soja 1989; Lefebvre 1992; Harvey 1991). For example, Marc Aug has identified the late 20thcentury as an era of supermodernity characterized by the speed at which life occurs and the
appearance of non-places which manifest the spaces of this transient, fast-paced existence (Aug
1992). David Harvey has noted that since the first post-war recession in 1973, spatial and social
flexibility has come to define the organization of labor, consumption, and capital (Harvey 1991:18997). For Harvey, the expansion of temporary office space, temporary habitation, and an increasingly
fluid workforce is just one manifestation of these profound changes in social and economic life of
the community. Harrison and Schofield have recognized in Harveys work more than simply the
fluidity of space, but also the compression of time (Harrison and Schofield 2010: 130-1). The spatial
reality of he global migration of labor intersects with the temporal reality characterized by just-intime inventory processes and supply chain management that weaken the rights and influence of
workers. The speed characteristic of our supermodern world has both created a need for highly
flexible, short-term domestic spaces as well as shifted the boundary between the contemporary and
the historical closer to our time as observers. In western North Dakota, man camps provide the
necessary interface between a transient labor force scattered across the U.S. and the requirements of
a single geological concentration of resources in the Bakken.
Echoing the work of geographers, theorists, and archaeologists, the architectural historian
Charlie Hailey has recognized camps and temporary housing as the quintessential 21st-century
space (Hailey 2009). Haileys work continues in a long tradition in the study of vernacular
architecture that has considered the social and economic impact of temporary or mobile housing
and settlement. Rapid rates of urbanization experienced in the developing world indicate that
impermanent housing (shanty towns, favelas, encampments, et c.) will characterize the dominant
form of global dwelling in the 21st century. Those cities yet to come, Dakar, Pretoria, Douala,
Jeddah, or Buenos Aires may have have more in common with the man camps of the rural North

Dakota than the cites of the past (Simone 2004; Perlman 2010). Recent work on labor camps in
Qatar, on dormitory labor in China, or on the seafarers of the global shipping industry has
contributed to an understanding of the relationship between the changing nature of global capital
and the related living conditions of workers (Brusl 2012; Ngai and Smith 2007; George 2013).
Drawing influence less from paternalist practices associated with 19th- and 20th-century company
towns, mining camps, and worker housing, contemporary workforce camps serve as much as the
practical needs of a dynamic labor force as the social life of workers in industries like garment
manufacturing, construction, global logistics, and natural resource extraction.
The increased pace of life, business, and travel in the 20th century has contributed to more
than just the mobility and the flexibility that is generically associated with an American lifestyle but
has transformed domestic conditions and the shape of vernacular architecture. J.B. Jacksons seminal
article, The Movable Dwelling and How It Comes to America, set the mobile home against the
backdrop of both a new world American experience and an expanding western frontier (Jackson
1984). Jackson argues that impermanent housing in wood has been a fundamental component in
Americas architectural production competing with permanent housing in masonry, which has
unjustly received greater attention in the scholarly literature. Data from 1991 suggests as much. In
that year, 25% of all dwelling in North America were mobile homes, typically located in mobile
home parks of an average size of 150-175 units (Kronenburg 1995:73). With the lowest socioeconomic registers of American society as its inhabitants, impermanent homes have escaped the
sustained attention of the architectural profession.
The place of mobile housing in the recreational life of post-war America (and earlier) as well
as in a larger discussion of domesticity solidifies a connection between mobile forms of temporary
housing and American ideas of the frontier (Jackson 1960; AUDC, Sumrell, and Varnelis 2007).
While scholars and government officials alike have recognized the difference between mobile

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homes, travel trailers, and recreational vehicles (RVs), these 20th century expressions of vernacular
architecture have collectively influenced a larger discourse concerned with the transformation of
domestic space (Hart, Rhodes, and Morgan 2002:19-21). Mobile homes and RVs provided housing
for the recreational retreat of the mid-20th century middle class and often occupied the same places
in the western United State where mobile homes also functioned as long-term housing solutions to a
growing population of internal migrants. Not always mobile or recreational, these units occupy the
strange intersection between leisure and labor. In North Dakota, temporary housing arrived with the
military industrial complexes of World War II, as well as with projects like the construction of the
coal gasification plant in Mercer County (Tauxe 1993). The growing requirements of an
industrialized economy expanded the reach of temporary housing, especially in a state with more
mineral resources underground than material resources for construction above ground (Foster 1980;
Mitchell 2012).
While traditionally the domain of architectural historians, archaeologists have likewise
recognized the need to study temporary housing associated with natural resource extraction and the
industrialization. Archaeologists have documented both ancient and modern mining camps and
located these sites within the emerging field of the archaeology of labor and working class life
(Shackel 2009). Bernard Knapps work on the remains of mining settlements and extractive
landscapes dating to the Bronze Age on the island of Cyprus demonstrated the longstanding
correlation between temporary settlement and mining (Knapp 1998; 2003). Scholars of Australia and
South American have likewise studies the role of workforce housing in the economic and colonial
transformation of those continents in the 19th and 20th centuries (e.g. Garner 2012; Van Buren and
Weaver 2012). For the U.S., a recent volume of Historical Archaeology dedicated to life in western
work camps located the archaeology of workforce housing in the context of the American west
(Van Bueren 2002). For the American West, scholars like David Hardesty have pioneered the

documentation of the often-times ephemeral and overlooked landscape of resource extraction


(Hardesty 1988; 2002). Paul Shackels recent survey of the archaeology of labor and working-class
life explored the ways in which archaeological remains preserve methods of control and resistance in
working class housing, the life of working class families, and the growing recognition of landmarks
of significance to working class history (Shackel 2009). Tim Ingolds concept of taskscapes offers a
way to engage the dynamic spaces of work, life, and movement within a temporally-defined
landscape of diverse social and economic relations (Ingold 1993; Van Buren and Weaver 2012). For
Ingold, the taskscape consolidates sites of movement, work, and experiences within a single
interpretative landscape in order to propose policies that recognize and protect groups of historically
significant sites. This integrated and dynamic concept of landscape provides an approach to
understanding the contemporary Bakken that explicitly links our archaeological investigation to the
places of life and work that have presented both challenges and opportunities for long-term
residents and transient labor alike. This forms a bridge between our experienced, the archaeological
investigation and our efforts to provide evidence useful for policy makers, local municipalities, and
developers and industry.

II. Typology and Methods


The methods employed in documenting the Bakken work camps involved systematic
photography, onsite illustration, textual description, and oral interviews. The NDMCP
photographed our study sites and their surroundings both from the ground and, when conditions
allowed, from the air, along with detailed photographs of a sample of individual units that make up
each camp. Additionally, documentation of camps and individual units included textual descriptions
and freehand architectural illustrations. Ethnographers interviewed residents about life in the camps.
These various methods collected a range of evidence demonstrating competing, divergent, and

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complementary narratives. The work has produced a robust, multi-vocal archive of social life,
discard practices, and the organization of space to inform contemporary and future industry leaders,
policy makers, and local municipalities faced with the rapid expansion of housing needs.
Each man camp under investigation was given a unique number, e.g. MC1, MC2, MC3, etc.
Upon arrival at a camp, an archaeological and ethnographical team filled out a form assigned each
camp a type, and descirbed location (both descriptive and coordinate), basic features, number of
units, and any available contact information (Figure 2). With the basic data recorded, ethnographic
team members would fan out with their consent forms and digital recorders to talk with anyone
available. The range of shifts and work schedules in the patch ensured that residents were always
available for interviews. The archaeology team would begin to document the camp as completely as
possible. Depending on the size of the camp, its location, and the weather, photo documentation
included kite photography, and in some cases, a tripod mounted in a car with a GPS unit to take
systematic geo-referenced photographs from the roads that provide access to the lots throughout
the camp. Additionally, archaeologists documented a sampling of individual units on separate forms,
including sketches and photographs of trailers and RVs, and an inventory of material objects. All the
paper forms were scanned and the digital photographs were organized at the completion of the field
season for study. This resulted in an archive of over 8000 photographs, hundreds of individual unit
description, and over 100 hours of ethnographic interviews. These processes produced an archive
especially suitable for qualitative study.
The challenge of documenting an ongoing phenomenon is the rapidly changing and
developing environment in the Bakken. Shifting municipal and county ordinances, the changing
manpower requirements in the region, seasonal changes, and movement and expansions of the oil
patch and its communities demanded a flexible approach to producing a representative group of
sites in the region. Despite the fluidity of the situation, there was nevertheless a need to establish a

standard vocabulary to describe the variations in settlement. Our preliminary visits to the oil patch
allowed us to develop a simple typology of workforce housing types to help describe the various
sites that we encountered in the field. These types were not meant to be universal or definitive, but
to help group camps according to features central to analysis.

II.1. Typology of Workforce Housing


Type 1 Camps: Sometimes referred to as crew camps, individual camps are among the
largest forms of workforce housing (Figure 3). Type 1 camps feature prefabricated buildings
imported on an industrial scale. The trailers generally rest in precise rows on a bed of leveled gravel,
pea-rock, or scoria, but sometimes stand on poured concrete footings or rails. The individual units
have power, water, and access to a typically camp-wide septic system. The pipes and cables are
typically routed out of sight beneath the trailers. In general, the appearance of a Type 1 camp is
uniform, even to the point of military-like precision. Type 1 camps are frequently operated by
specialized companies from outside the region and the cost of staying in a camp of this type is often
part of an employees overall contract with a large, multinational corporation operating in the oil
patch. Type 1 camps are rarely smaller than a few dozen units and can run as large as several
thousand with cafeterias, stores, and indoor recreational areas. A significant subset of Type 1 camps
are entirely pre-fabricated and designed to be transported and rebuilt wherever necessary in a short
period of time. Many are constructed and managed by multinational logistic companies that
specialize in providing shelter for the U.S. military. The national media frequently see this type as
typical of all temporary workforce housing in the Bakken under the term man camps.
The NDMCP field teams often utilized MC1, an archetypical Type 1, for part of their
lodging needs at a cost of around $165 for a stripped down double room per night. While this
included two cafeteria-style meals, it also required purchase of a $65 permit for all camp residents.

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Moreover, residence in MC1 required a criminal background check, an aspect of man camp living
distinct from a motel experience. A staff member at MC1 explained that the country required this
permit, and the administration at MC1 used the criminal background check in an attempt to screen
out those with current drug or sex offenses and those with violent backgrounds. The team did not
have to complete this process at any other lodging, and the price has more recently been reduced to
$35 per person (personal communication, Belinda Higman, January, 2014). It is worth noting that
background checks did not prevent all episodes of violence in this or other camps. MC1 experienced
a stabbing and another nearby camp saw a shooting death of a resident.
Type 2 Camps: These were more common than Type 1 camps, and showed a much greater
diversity both in form and among the individual units. Distinct from the uniformity of Type 1
camps, Type 2 camps consist of units ranging from third wheel type campers to large motor
coaches (Figure 4). Type 2 camps generally include leveled gravel pads for the units and wide roads
for access, offer hookups for electrical and, in most cases, connections for water and sewage utilities.
Metered electrical masts associated with each unit allow individual billing for electrical consumption.
Those camps with electrical masts, but with no water or sewage are included under this category, but
are distinguished as dry camps (e.g. MC14) and are increasingly rare. Individual units in wet
Type 2 camps often exhibit extensive insulation efforts around the sewage and water pipes in
response to the harsh winters. These units also feature ad hoc insulation practices such as attaching
pressed foam (extruded polystyrene) boards or plywood around the base of each unit to prevent
drafts and to protect water and septic pipes during the long, cold North Dakota winters (Figure 6).
Lot rental in Type 2 camps varies from $600 to over $1000 per month for those who own their own
units, and up to over $2,000 for those renting both a trailer and the space. Type 2 camps include
some form of administration to collect rents and offer some maintenance of roadways and limited
amenities. There is little consistency in terms of rents and the arrangement of the camp, their size,

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location, or the existence of other amenities. Type 2 camps sometimes emerged almost
spontaneously. One Type 2 resident at MC4 recalled moving in at a time when people just kind of
swarmed . . . and waited for someone to come around and kick them off or rent the place (Personal
Interview, Craig Hooper, August, 2012).
Type 3 Camps: These camps involve mobile trailers similar to Type 2 camps, but are not
set on formally leveled ground and lack electrical or other hook-ups outside of very informal
arrangements. These camps are typically small with only a handful of campers or tents clustered
around a farmstead, huddled in a shelterbelt, or set in a field (Figure 5). The unstructured nature of
these camps makes it occasionally difficult to identify whether a cluster of abandoned units in a field
is the remains of a work camp or just storage for abandoned campers. Identification is further
challenged by their often illicit nature as they typically exist outside of administrative oversight other
than law enforcement. While rent was generally free, residents in some Type 3 camps located near
Type 2 camps were charged some form of rent for access to Type 2 amenities.

II.2. Administrative and Historical Justifications, and Documentation of the Typology


From an administrative perspective, operators of Types 1 and Type 2 campus must obtain a
state issued business license. Additionally, both must comply with state health codes, generally
implemented by county departments who inspect for water, sewage, environmental compliance, fire
safety, and garbage pick-up. Most of the laws affecting these matters have been in effect since the
1970s or earlier. The only major, recent change is that in 2011 the state legislature added 54-21.304.3 to the North Dakota Century Code (NDCC) requiring owners of temporary work camp
housing to remove all housing and all related above-grade and below-grade infrastructure within
four months of vacating the camp. Owners must provide a surety bond or some similar instrument
to cover costs including any additional expenses that are reasonably incurred by the city or county.

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Also, 54-21.3, section two states that Temporary work camp housing can only exist for a
maximum period of five years. However, there is no enforcement mechanism, or prescribed
penalty for camps that exist longer. Beyond that, the two camp types are administered along related
but distinct rules.
The RVs that dominate Type 2 camps are treated as private residences with no interior
inspections and fall under the laws for trailer parks, distinct from the laws for mobile home parks,
which affect separate units in Type 1 camps. Differences between the two include minor
distinctions regarding electrical masts, along with some separate spacing requirements and licensing
categories. These distinctions are codified in NDCC 33.33.01 and .02, as well as 23-10. Type 1 units
that are connected by corridorsoften including community rooms and other facilitiesare
inspected according to the lodging authority found in NDCC 23-09. This section requires things
like lighted fire escapes and inspections of individual units
To this day, camps on private property including work sites, are largely unregulated as long
as there are proper restroom facilities and no environmental laws are being broken. Furthermore,
for both Type 1 and 2 camps, there is no state funding to support inspections at the local level.
Many communities have historically had laissez faire attitudes concerning such matters, generally
leaving it up to individuals (most frequently farmers) to determine the quality of structures on their
propertythere was little appetite for tax-supported inspectors. Local communities have since had
to develop planning departments and hire additional inspectors, but this has occurred at varying
rates with corresponding variations in terms of the quality of housing.
Type 3 camps, many of which are illegal or quasi-legal, are monitored on an even less regular
basis by local law enforcement and typically only in response to complaints. Police officers in the oil
patch are generally overwhelmed with crime reports and traffic accidents, all of which have increased
without corresponding increases in staff. Police claim that involvement with Type 3 camps tends

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toward a focus on safety. Williston City Police officer Caleb Frye stated, we do have to tell these
individuals to move, especially if they are living in tents. Some of them dont realize how cold our
winters are (Personal communication with Officer Caleb Frye, January 2013).
Beyond administrative practices and legal designations there is also a historic precedent for
the typology proposed by the project. Early 20th-century boom conditions in the Texas oil patch
resulted in surprisingly similar distinctions between different kinds of temporary worker housing
(Weaver 2010: 96-98). Company camps akin to todays Type 1 were set up to house salaried
employees of the major firms. These camps included four- or five-room houses with basic amenities
like electricity and water. Hourly-wage workers had to make do with more modest accommodations,
but companies understood the connection between housing and retention of quality workers. At
least one company created a Type 2-style camp by dividing land near their salaried workers camp
into lots with water, electricity, and sanitation where hourly employees could build or move small
houses or a small monthly rent. And, akin to todays Type 3 camps, boom areas in Texas attracted
workers who wanted to live beyond company owned housing. This group included independent
contractors or those who worked for smaller companies, along with laborers who toiled in related
industries not directly controlled by the large companies. These poor boy camps were informal
and often raided by law enforcement. One camp described in Bobby Weavers recent study of the
Texas oil boom accommodated close to over 100 people in a wide range of structures from tents to
cardboard and scrap-lumber shacks (Weaver 2010, 97-98).
Sampling the different types of camps was a challenge on multiple levels. The state of North
Dakota has only recently begun to prepare comprehensive maps of the workforce housing and for
the duration of our project, these maps proved to be incomplete and inaccurate making a full
accounting of workforce housing sites difficult (State of North Dakota GIS Portal 2013). Moreover,
the logistics of our work in the Bakken face many of the same challenges as other transient worker:

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housing is limited and expensive and travel frequently involved great distances along crowded and
damaged roads in this sparsely populated region. Trips into the oil patch tended to be for less than a
week, but we were able to visit our sites and the area several times over a 24-month period. An
additional complication to a standard sampling strategy was that short-term workforce housing is
intrinsically dynamic creating a fluid, rapidly changing landscape. As we conducted our research, we
confronted not only changes in the Bakken itself, but also changes at individual research sites.
The majority of the NDMCPs data collection involved work with Type 2 camps, which are
not only the most common but also the most distinctive. Type 2 camps represent a clear example of
contemporary approaches of short-term workforce housing and contributed directly to late-20thcentury arguments for the unprecedented fluidity of modern capital and labor. Type 3 camps offer
similar opportunities for critique, but, as we will discuss later, are difficult to locate and document.
The rather uniform character associated with Type 1 camps resulted in less visible and a less
accessible archaeological assemblage. Specifically, the controlled access to Type 1 camps included
intense security patrolling that limited our ability to move freely and document the facilities
independently. The result of these challenges is a study that focused primary on the archaeology of
Type 2 camps while using Type 1 and 3 camps to show the range of habitation types existing in the
patch.
III. Domestic Space and a Sense of Place
Mobile homes, RVs, campers, travel trailers, and other forms of mobile housing form the
bulk of workforce housing in the Bakken oil patch. These span a continuum from the elaborate
modular housing units characteristic of the Type 1 camps operated by large firms such as Target
Logistics to the most modest fifth wheel travel trailer tucked into a tree line or parked in a
farmers field (Rothaus 2013). While the units themselves all make varying concessions to
architectural expectations associated with domesticity, units in Type 2 and Type 3 camps exhibit

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architectural modifications designed to accommodate the temporary residence in the Bakken. In


contrast, Type 1 camps tend to be architecturally standardized with only limited opportunities for
the modification of space. The residences then reflect different expressions of a sense of place.

III.1. Work and Life


Ideals of domestic space emerged during the industrial revolution and created tension
between personal freedoms and pressures of workplace conformity (Hayden 2002). The emergence
of the factory and, later, the office as the site for work redefined notions of the domestic space as
separate from, yet related to, the work environment. Worker housing such as that provided for mill
girls in Lowell Massachusetts, and the later creation of company towns, led to a reciprocal
negotiation between workers and management in the creation of distinct domestic and work spaces
(Shackel 2009). Common practices throughout this struggle include an emphasis on the civilizing
character of middle-class domestic life. In addition to formalizing the relationship between work and
home, life in company housing often placed restrictions on alcohol consumption, enforced divisions
based on rank and salary, and generally controlled worker behavior to conform to rapidly developing
norms associated with propriety in a capitalist society. In the remote and arduous work of large-scale
construction and natural resource extraction, historically male workforce further presented a
perceived need for order in the absence of the civilizing influence of women and families.
Type 1 camps continue this tradition of maintaining an official division between work and
domestic space. One well-appointed Type 1 camp featured a large, community mudroom
immediately upon entering the camp, designed to provide a place for workers to shed dirty work
clothes and delineates the separation between work life outside the camp and the relatively sterile
version of domestic life within (Figure 7). Once inside, small, standardized rooms provide a
modicum of privacy, comfort, and personal space. Often set up in collaboration with the workforce

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needs of large multinational corporations, they maintain rather strict rules with regard to alcohol
consumption, cleanliness, and behavior. The space around the camps are clean, austere, and without
public space for unstructured interaction. Trucks from the various companies working in the Bakken
fill well-lighted, graveled parking lots in neat rows. Like the corporate suburbs from the first half of
the 20th century, these camps mimic the structured workforce housed within.
These camps provide a convenient domestic experience for the workforce. Connie Crandall
and her husband moved to Capital Lodge after losing their middle class lifestyle and their home
during mortgage crisis of the early 21st century. She worked and lived at the camp, with no
intention of moving out of temporary housing until her retirement. Working six weeks on and two
weeks off, they return to Wisconsin to live with family. Asked what she was doing to make a home
in MC1 she insinuated that workers have no other needs except, we buy laundry detergent, and
thats it. The camp takes care of all their physical needs amid a lot of policies to make sure that
everyone here is safe, including surveillance cameras and security officers who walk through the
units . . . people have to follow the rules otherwise their companies who pay for everything will be
unhappy. The employer wants them to eat good, and sleep good (Personal Interview, Connie
Crandall, August, 2013). Industry has a vested interest in reinforcing those existential distinctions:
working takes place on site and sleeping and eating in the camp. This model of domesticity rooted in
the late-19th-century efforts to separate work from non-work, generally resulted in tighter control of
individual time and movement whether during work or the day-to-day needs of living. The structure
of the camps, in this sense, reinforced the regimented structure of most jobs in the patch.
Type 2 and 3 camps represent a more fluid model for establishing domestic space. Irregular
in organization and allowing for substantial individualization, the camps blur the distinction between
work and home. Some camps, like MC4, stand astride major routes through the Bakken and
combine space for long-term parking of RVs with space for idling trucks as they prepare for the

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next shift. In other camps, tires, equipment, and tools litter the immediate vicinity of domestic space.
MC9, for example, was a hybrid camp along a major thoroughfare that includes both Type 2 and 3
features and houses the employees at a truck maintenance shop along a major thoroughfare (Figure
8). MC6, a Type 3 camp, is located behind a tree line on the main road into Tioga and housed
construction workers employed at a nearby site (Figure 5). This common arrangementthe
proximity of labor housing to the worksiterepresents one of the major advantages of creating
work camps. Unlike efforts to control the separation of domestic and work space in Type 1 camps,
the less managed space blurs this key distinction in Type 2 and 3 camps.

III. 2. Domestic Space and Architectural Agency


In the industrial era, architectural agency has an important role in the construction of the
domestic space and identity. The shortage of permanent housing in the Bakken presents some
productive challenges for understanding nature and limits of agency as the limited design vocabulary
of mass-produced mobile homes and recreation vehicles recreation vehicles recreation vehicles
displaces the traditional author of spatial design the architect or builder from expression of
domestic values. The architectural survey of man camp installations contributes to both a vertical
and a horizontal perspective on the history of labor. Vertically, it adds a late chapter to the history of
American labor spaces, from the paternalistic company towns to the tent colonies erected by
organized labor in relation to protests and strikes (Wright 1981; Mitchell 2012, Ludlow Collective
2001). Horizontally, the architecture of man camps adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting
that camps are becoming a dominant form of dwelling at an unprecedented magnitude and with
global variation (Hailey 2009). It also complements a growing body of scholarship on the vernacular
architecture of American leisure from tourist camps, youth summer camps, or festival camps (Van
Slyck 2010; White 2013).

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Type 1 housing units are modularly manufactured and assembled in the Bakken, leaving no
architectural agency to the occupants. The small size of the rooms, their regular arrangement, and
policies that restrict significant modification to the basic fabric of the units limit how individual
residents can present themselves in this space. A common pattern among workers lodging in Type 1
camps is to stay in the Bakken for four to six weeks, leave for a two-week break, before returning to
a different room within the camp (or a different camp entirely). The transience of this type of
workforce housing limits both opportunities and incentives to individualize space.
The case is different with Types 2 and 3 camps, where the labor force provides its own
mobile housing units by procuring an RV, either from home or upon arrival in North Dakota, and
driving it to the settlement site. Since RVs are mass-produced by the automobile industry, they are
not considered architecturally significant but rather extensions of the automobile design field.
Although industrially manufactured, RVs are typically not designed to satisfy the living specifications
of North Dakotas labor force. As a result, they require extensive tinkering by the owners, a process
of tactical manipulation that Claude Levi-Strauss describes as the bricolage of vernacular craft (LeviStrauss 1962: 16-17). By turning a vehicle designed or short-term leisure activities into a weatherized,
and semi-permanent residence, the North Dakota labor force claims a subtle architectural role that
represents a unique form of vernacular intervention within the framework of a globalized capitalism.
At the same time, the architectural interventions in the Bakken need to be aligned with the
study of the American trailer park, which has also received limited attention (Drury 1975;
Kronenburg 1995; Thornburg 1991; Wallis 1991; White 2000). The lack of scholarship on mobile
architecture reflects class biases, which in the U.S. are performed and negotiated through home
ownership. Trailer homes are associated with the impoverished rural class, derogatorily described as
trailer trash. Nevertheless, 7% of the American population lives in mobile homes, according to the
1990 U.S. census, suggesting that the man camp experience reflects a statistically significant

19

expression of the domestic condition in contemporary society (Hart 2002: 2). Since the 18th
century, J. B. Jackson argues there existed two parallel traditions of permanent and impermanent
dwelling, with the former receiving the bulk of architectural research (Jackson 1960, 1984).
RVs are mass-produced for the leisure tourist market. Both design and fabrication are highly
centralized with 80% of all vehicles manufactured in Elkhart County, Indiana. RVs are designed to
be used as temporary housing for an average of two-weeks during the summer (Economist 2012).
This chronological target is determined by the typical length of time that Americans can take off
from work, which is when families typically take road trip vacations. The expected distance driven is
about 200 miles from the occupants home. The sales of RVs in contrast to the sale of
automobiles has been increasing in the last few years and can be explained by additional usages,
such as commuting to work from campsites, tailgating in football games or NASCAR races, or
generally to transport children to after-school activities (Economist 2012). The use of RVs as a longterm housing solution at the Bakken stretches the design specifications of the vehicles and
necessitates aggressive interventions to make them inhabitable. It is in this area of appropriation and
subversion that local architectural agency is most evident. Type 2 camps formally replicate the urban
layout of a camp ground, typically on a flattened land with electricity, water, and sewage connections
along parallel parking rows. Type 3 camps, however, spring-up in a variety of locations, including
pre-existing buildings and abandoned towns. In such installations, we note an additional kind of
architectural agency that incorporates a much older vernacular framework.
On a global scale, the architecture of the American oil boom will necessarily be compared
with the architecture of other contemporary oil states, such as the United Arabs Emirates, with one
of the highest concentration of foreign workers in the world. Dubais extravagant architecture is
built entirely by foreign workers from India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh who are themselves
housed in the most rudimentary architectural dormitories. The former receives lavish architectural

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attention in the architectural press, while the latter remains secret beyond the cursory notes of
human rights activists (Gorney 2014). The NDMCP is the only contemporary effort to document by
archaeological means workforce housing in the global construction industry (Gourney 2014;
Stillman 2011).
The methodology used in the vernacular architecture study of the NDMCP involved three
procedures: mapping the RVs at an urban scale, producing continuous photographic panoramas,
and selectively drawing plans and elevations of exterior spaces. The documentation has been geared
towards identifying specific interventions rather that producing a complete architectural survey of
each vehicle in the settlement. Following this selective method, we have identified seven modes of
architectural agency among the man camp inhabitants: insulation, enclosure, platform (III.2) with
form a context for ritual objects, demarcated territory, decoration, and historicity (III.3).
Insulation. RVs are designed to be used in the warm months of summer. To survive a
North Dakota winter, the owners of the RV must modify the vehicles skin to increase the total Rvalue of thermal resistance. The material for insulation is extruded polystyrene foam designed to be
inserted within the cavities of an architectural structure (Figure 6). The material is acquired at stores
in Williston, Dickinson, and Minot, or provided by a service and applied directly on the exterior.
The RV is understood as a unitary envelope with weak zones through which air and heat leaks.
Although larger areas of the exterior may be covered, the most critical site of vehicles weakness is at
the locus of its mobility, namely at the wheels, where the volume of inhabitation (interior space) has
been subtracted to insert the wheel (exterior space). By covering the wheel zone with extruded
polystyrene, the RV bricoleur resists the cold of winter but also expresses the vehicles fixity and
long-term stability. The RV becomes immobilized as its wheels are encased within an adhered
rectilinear frame. The polystyrene blue becomes ubiquitous throughout the man camps, creating a

21

surreal relationship between the vertically weatherizing plastic and the horizontally expansive blue
sky above.
Enclosure. In addition to extruded polystyrene, plywood is used to create a small space
adjacent to the RVs entrance typically called a mud room (Figure 9). Like extruded polystyrene,
the plywood comes from a lumberyard or big-box home improvement center, and is loaded on a
pickup truck and brought to the camp. In some cases enough scrap wood can be found in the Type
2 camp itself as many residents leave behind scarp lumber or even completed mudrooms when they
depart. Many of the oil field workers were once involved in the building industry, and show great
facility in creating such additional space. The vestibule creates a new scullery, or a space to be used
for the process of cleaning, a place to strip oneself of soiled work clothes and muddy boots. It
provides an additional volume of air that can function as an additional layer of insulation. Looking
across the spectrum of interventions, this wooden new room is the most architectural. The
threshold of the door has traditionally become the site where trailer home occupants locate most
architectural agency. Kingston Heath, who compared regional variations in how occupants modify
trailers in Montana and North Carolina, has documented such practices. In Montana, fully enclosed
wooden mudrooms are typically built, but in North Carolina it is only a covered porch (Heath 20062007: 87-92). The built-out rooms used in North Dakota are similar to trailer interventions in
Montana. Heath characterizes this process as cultural weathering.
By virtue of its attachment along the end of a long vehicle wall, the enclosure turns the RV
rectangle into an L shape, whose short side creates a boundary to an implied exterior space.
Adding a space along a rectilinear vehicle does not simply increase the dwellings surface area, but it
also declares the formal stability of the new home. The L shape visibly denies the implied motion of
the aerodynamic directionality of an RV. In an undifferentiated interior space, where kitchen,
bedroom, and living room are one, the added vestibule introduces a historical layer of formality and

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privacy and subtly begins to refer to the specialization of rooms of a Victorian home. The vestibule
has two doors, one leading inside the RV the other to the camp outside, and creates a layer of
security. It also shifts the axis of entrance. Rather than entering perpendicular to the implied
movement of the RV, the entrance is now parallel to the long side of the RV. That switch of axis of
movement, moreover, creates an implied space in front of the new entrance, an open area parallel to
the walls of the RV that is typically elevated by a wooden platform contrasting it with a covered
porch typical to trailers in North Carolina (Heath 2006-7:86-91). Moreover, this open area serves not
only social functions but also a place for display. It becomes the front yard of the RV and a setting
for self-conscious articulation with fences, grass, and in some cases the accouterments of an
American suburban lawn. Not surprisingly, people take great pride in their customization projects.
In relation to a particularly elaborate extension, one woman tellingly exclaimed, its very niceits
almost like home! (Personal Interview, Lisa Holman, August, 2013).
Platform. The most typical architectural intervention at the Bakken is the elevation of an
exterior platform to mitigate between the door threshold and the ground (Figure 10). Such platforms
run typically parallel to the course of the trailer and have a twofold function. They provide an
intermediary surface for outdoor household activities, such as grilling, dining, or simply sitting,
associated with the American deck. They also provide an elevated surface from the accumulation of
snow during winter. It can be seen as another transitional element in an axis of cleanliness. It also
creates a defined zone of private ownership. Objects on the built platform are less ambiguously
public. Although not guarded by lock and key, they are visibly belonging to a private exterior space.
The platform, thus, offers a space for storage, typically for bulkier less prized material. Old
appliances, propane tanks, outdoor cooking and dining appliances, hoarded building material are left
on the platform as to unclutter the precious interior space. Beyond their practicality, they convey the
casual comforts of a suburban deck.

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The only check on the rampant individualization at Type 2 camps are increasingly restrictive
state and local laws and ad hoc policies enforced by camp owners at Type 2 camps dictating the
extent to which space can be modified. For example, counties are drafting ordinances to limit the
extent to which units may be enclosed in freestanding architecture (Personal Interview, Denise
Sasser, Williams County Planning, Zoning, and Building Department, July, 2014). The reasons
behind these laws are explicitly about safetyprimarily fire concernsbut also have as much to do
with the aesthetics of temporary housing within city limits and efforts to control the quality of
workforce housing in the Bakken.

III.3. Material, Identity, and Community


The freedom to control the space around ones unit mimics individualizing habits in modern
American suburbs or small towns and correlates closely with the ethos of private ownership and
being in place. Each camp type intersects with these practices in unique ways. While Type 1 camps
flatten almost all forms of individual expression, Type 2 and Type 3 camps offered significant
opportunities for expressing individual identities.
Some of the objects in the exterior of RVs suggest some ritual usage. Typically bulky, they
mark the location of a certain activity at the intersection of practical needs associated with RV life
and ways of identifying residents. The objects become icons of the function that they serve, and by
extension, the social space that they facilitate. Several units featured weight training equipment
outside. Set on either the platforms outside of the RVs or in close proximity to the unit, they are too
heavy and take up too much space indoors. In a practical perspective, the weights are too heavy to
steal and too bulky to keep inside the RV. Moreover, the cramped conditions inside the RV make it
difficult to lift within the confines of the interior. Additionally, their physical form becomes their
security. In the context of an RV park, the weights evoke the performance of weight lifting and

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presents a hyper-masculine and gendered identity. In an ironic counterpoint, they are often one of
the first items that gets left behind when the occupant moves on or returns home (Figure 11).
Even more common than free weights are grills in the context of Type 2 and 3 camps (and
occasionally in Type 1 camps where they are permitted). The grill set atop a platform outside of the
RV creates a private space for social eating. Like the weights, the grill embodies the iconography of
male cooking and bonding over the preparation of meat. The presence of the grill and the practice
of grilling registers a mastery of a particular kind of public cooking and socialization (Figure 12).
Few RVs have extensive or spacious kitchens for social cooking, and during the summer months
cooking in the RV adds heat to cramped space. The presence of folding furniture associated with
the summer camp site or the tailgate party provides a practical solution to the limited space for
socialization within the RV and further relates life in the RV to male bonding rituals common to the
campsite, the football game, and the cook out. Like the dumbbells, these items are used for a very
short time as tools, but since they are left outside, they become visible markers of these activities
even when their owner is absent. The weight bench, camping furniture, and the barbecue become
icons of the absent male.
The masculine encoding of the Type 2 man camp does have its limits, however. Hints of a
more traditional model of domestic life appeared. For example, some had small vegetable gardens
and even ornamental plantings (Figure 12). Visits to camps during summer months reveal childrens
play areas including small pools, bikes, toys, and other aspects of family life. According to a woman
employed at the large Type 2, MC11, increasingly, year round, men are bringing their women and
children out to the patch (Personal Interview, Hollman and Collins, August 2013). Evidence of
pets ranged from kennels to areas with ad hoc fences, and some particularly elaborate units featured
grass lawns.

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The arrangement and objects associated with Type 3 suggested more communal attitudes.
The residents of MC6 located their units around a common space where they prepared food and
socialized as a group (Figure 5). They had carved a horseshoe pit out of the undergrowth with a
bobcat from the local construction site. The common area included coolers to preserve food,
insulated jugs for water, tables, grills for cooking, dishes, pans for cleaning dishes, and an area for a
camp fire. A return visit to MC6 in February 2013 allowed us to compare changes to the site since
August 2012. A visit to the camp after a heavy snow revealed patches of bare ground where trailers
and tents had been previously photographed and made it clear that the camp had been vacated
collectively, abruptly, and recently (Figure 13). Left behind were coolers filled with food and beer,
along with other detritus. Since the residents were most likely squatters, they were neither required
to remove discarded objects nor, judging from the goods left behind, given much opportunity.
Since the 19th century, tensions have existed between ideas of domesticity and labor
managements goals of maintaining a malleable, productive labor force. The lines have been further
blurred by the realities of a highly structured industrial economy. As a function of their tight control
of space and behavior, Type 1 camps present the division between work and home in a way
consistent with early 20th century attitudes that saw domestic space playing a key role in instilling
certain economically beneficial behaviors in a work force. Type 1 camps provide the most
consistent, potentially highest quality food, hygiene, security, and sleep, but with restricted freedoms,
fixed scheduling, and limited opportunities for personal expression. In contrast, Type 2 camps
provide residents with greater freedom of expression and use of space. These camps are more
dynamic and diverse, and the architectural variety evokes a discordant echo of modern suburbs or
small towns where each home expresses something about the identity of the owner. These efforts
to normalize temporary, domestic space are complicated by the fact that many have now been
inhabited for several years. At least one Type 3 camp, in contrast, offered an alternate, vision of

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domestic life that was less formally structured, had only inconvenient access to utilities, but was
organized around shared space and a surprising degree of community.

IV. Site Formation and the Archaeological Processes


The study of discard practices and site formation focuses attention on how various
behaviors shape the material environment and, through time, the archaeological record (Schiffer
1976; 1996). Historically, the goal of this kind of work was to understand the natural and cultural
processes that produce sites in the archaeological record. Examining discard practices, the re-use of
objects, patterns of behavior at particular sites, and environmental transformations has become
standard practice among archaeologists seeking to understand the structure of archaeological
remains and to tie them to past practices. Archaeology of the contemporary past, however, has
recognized ethnographic perspectives as both informing and complicating the formation of
archaeological signatures in the landscape. This aspect of our study documents the material culture
of domestic space from the perspective of both the isolated and short-term nature of most
workforce housing and the discard and recycling practices associated with the improvised character
certain aspects of Type 2 and Type 3 camps. These factors have wide ranging comparanda with
workforce housing in extractive industries around the world and offer opportunities to understand
the variable that influence this phenomenon as well as the material culture left behind in the
archaeological record.
Workforce camps associated with natural resource extraction occur in numerous contexts
throughout time and around the world. The material culture associated with these camps varies
widely and reflects the peculiar requirements of temporary settlement in often remote environments
(Knapp, Pigott, and Herbert 1998). By definition, workforce camps tend to have relatively short life
spans, modest physical structures, and tenuous relationships both to nodes in the global economy

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and to the more permanent communities in proximity to extraction activities. Workforce housing
sites share functional similarities and their relationship to centers of both capital and settlement
provides the foundation for a comparison between these sites in a world and diachronic context.
The mobile character of the basic unit of habitation defined work camps through time.
Whether tents, wood frame buildings, high-tech modular housing, or repurposed RVs, the ability of
owners or residents to move the basic unit of the camp ensures that most camps leave little
architectural footprint behind (Garner 2012; Foster 1980; Hart, Rhodes and Morgan 2002; Jackson
1984). Some of the most impressive Type 1 camps, for example, can be disassembled, shipped
around the world, and reassembled in a matter of weeks and in a wide range of configurations. Even
the common areas in these camps are modular in design or, like the inflatable Quonset hut that
serves as a common area at one large Type 1 camp (MC1), easily transportable for use elsewhere
(Figure 14). Permanent concrete slabs were rare at Type 1 camps, and if they did appear they tended
to support the common area rather than individual units. Instead, many Type 1 camps relied on
leveled gravel beds for a lower-cost and lower-impact solution to issues of local drainage and
erosion. A heavy equipment operator explained that his job was to make pads for camps and oil well
sites. This worked followed environmental guidelines for slope, drainage, and containment issues,
and that after sites had filled their purpose they would be returned to a state where only the most
technically astute observers would be able to tell that anything had been done to disturb the land. He
would replace natural contour and drainage . . . then the grass grows and we are back to square
one (Personal Interview, Richard McCall, Sr., May, 2013).
Such claims might be overly-optimistic, but it is true that both Type 1 camps and many Type
2 camps featured only modest infrastructural investments including wooden walkways, street lights
for the parking lots, fences with concrete footings, guard shacks and storage sheds as well as
underground pipes and tanks for septic systems. These are likely to leave only faint traces in the

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landscape after the camps are gone. Whereas all camps are designed to be temporary, mobile, and
modular, the investment in long-term infrastructure, mobility and economy varies according to
camp types and function where the larger priorities remain the same. As significant is modern trash
removal at Type 1 and Type 2 camps ensuring that large-scale trash disposal occurs away from the
site. We have not seen the removal of a Type 1 camp yet, but we have seen the modification and
partial removal of Type 2 camps. The primary remains left behind by a Type 2 camp in the state of
abandonment are related to infrastructure, such as fragments of electrical or water connections, bits
of insulation, the contours of the land, or objects related to unintentional loss (MC14). Fragments of
piping, insulation, and other plastic material are likely to linger in the archaeological record for
centuries (Figure 15).
While in use, Type 2 camps often show evidence for provisional discard and recycling
practices. The transient nature of the residents and the relatively low value of many of the features
common to Type 2 camps resulted in regular recycling practices. At one large Type 2 camp the
maintenance staff set aside space for the storage of cast off shipping pallets, PVC piping, and other
potentially recyclable material useful to new residents in the camp (MC11). Piles of recyclable
material stood along the margins of a row of RVs (Figure 16). At the same camp, the managers
reported a brisk trade in mudrooms that residents constructed to lean against the side of their units.
Type 3 camps, on the other hand, are likely to leave behind a more complex and, perhaps,
more substantial signature. These camps were the most mobile and could stand without any built
infrastructure along the course of a pipeline, in a farmers field (MC15), in an urban parking lot, or in
a shelter belt (MC9). Since these camps tend to be more isolated from administrative processes and
services like trash removal, they may appear more visible than their typically short duration would
expect. As noted above, a recently abandoned Type 3 camp (MC6) revealed a robust assemblage of
material ranging from metal objects like grills, canned food, and tent poles to a wide range of plastic

29

coolers, chairs, cooking utensils, and discarded wood. The halo of waste around the site suggested
the relative haste of decampment and the lack of access to or concern for offsite waste disposal
(Figure 13). Another Type 3 camp set up along the route of a pipeline included masses of pallets and
abandoned trailers at one visit. A few months later, the land had largely returned to cultivation
(MC15).
The location of the Bakken in relation to larger concentrations of settlement and manpower
exerts a key influence on the formation processes at play at these sites. The arrival of modular and
transportable workforce housing units reflects not only the scarcity of available housing surplus in
this sparsely populated region of North Dakota, but also the reluctance on the part of both national
industries and local developers to invest in more permanent infrastructure and housing. The
willingness of major companies to extract their workforce and housing at a moments notice coupled
with the interest of individual workers to preserve their own mobility and independence contribute
to the light signature of workforce housing on the local landscape. The absence of investment and
resulting archaeological impact on the periphery by various corporate agents of the core belies the
short term significance of these settlements to the local communities (Frank 1966; Van Buren and
Weaver. 2012). While the lack of investment results in a lighter archaeological footprint, it also
results in local communities benefiting less from resources deployed by the corporate actors who, in
turn, feel less responsibility and accountability to the periphery.
As a specific example, the provisional discard practices evident at many Type 2 sites reflects
a willingness to reuse goods, in part, owing to the high cost of acquiring basic necessities in the area.
The small towns, busy roads, and long distances limited access to good brought from outside of the
area and prioritized recycling practices. The famously chaotic state of the Wal-Mart store in
Williston, North Dakota demonstrates the challenges of access to good available even at common
big box stores in the region, much less access to the range of amenities necessary to ameliorate the

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challenges associated with temporary housing. Indeed, the store itself sold transportable,
prefabricated skidshacks in the parking lot, where, before the store and local authorities banned
the practice, a Type 3 camp had appeared each night.
The archaeological investigation of workforce housing by the NDMCP provided a point of
departure for understanding discard and site formation function within a modern context. Unlike
archaeological sites from earlier centuries, man camps in the Bakken oil patch continue to function
today and with few exceptions are not abandoned. At the same time, attention to archaeological site
formation at an earlier stage in a sites development illustrates similar economic and political
conditions affecting a wide variety of settlement types around the globe. Minimal investment in the
landscape and Western North Dakotas place at the economic periphery shape the temporary
character of lodging and the minimal connection to the surrounding countryside. At the same time,
the NDMCP reveals how variation in the administration of the camps has had significant influence
on discard practices. The reality that Type 2 and 3 camps have much more visible discard practices
results as much from individual strategies as larger community or corporate judgments.

V. Settlement and Space in the Bakken Taskscape


The structure of settlement in the Bakken oil patch brings ideas of 21st century domestic
space and formation processes together in a singular landscape constructed through archaeological
analysis. As a form of conclusion we want to return to both global and highly local aspects of the
archaeology of the Bakken boom. The geographic location of the Bakken at the periphery of large
concentrations of population and capital has influenced the forms of settlement in the region. Any
analysis of contemporary settlement, however, cannot view the Bakken as a static space. The
constant movement of raw and manufactured materials in and out of the Bakken as well as workers
between their homes and places of work profoundly shapes any encounter with this dynamic region.

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On a global scale, we have shown how the location of the Bakken at a global periphery
influences both discard practices and site formation. The influence of A. Gunder Franks
development of underdevelopment provides a local, national, and global perspective to the
particular situation of workforce housing in the Bakken and the material culture associated with
these settlements (Frank 1966; Hall, Kardulias, Chase-Dunn 2011). The challenges of housing a
labor force in the Bakken connects our archaeological efforts directly to the requirements of
extractive economies and global capital. Our teams work confronted many of the same challenges
of movement and housing and our temporary stays intersected with the same temporal and spatial
regime as the workers in the oil patch. Our archaeology of the contemporary Bakken situated
ourselves as part of the same productive landscape as workers associated with the oil industry.

V.1. Core and Periphery


Western North Dakota has long stood as a peripheral place in the flow of global capital. As a
result, settlement in the region has ebbed and flowed with the national and global markets for both
agricultural products and, in recent decades, fossil fuels. The situation of most towns along rail lines
through the state demonstrates the close links between the physical flow of capital through the
region and settlement (Robinson 1966). The contemporary transformation of settlement in the
Bakken presents a similar portrait. The work of Frank and the development of underdevelopment
articulated the imperatives by which the core resisted or even prevented the development of the
periphery. Of specific relevance to the Bakken, the extraction of raw materials from the periphery,
with only limited investment in the region worked to maintain a unidirectional flow of capital toward
the core and the long-term underdevelopment of the periphery. In some cases, as in Western North
Dakota, local residents are complicit in the persistence of this pattern. The temporary housing
provided by man camps both reflects the limited ability of local communities to invest in the

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infrastructure necessary to extract resources on their own, but also conscious decisions by local
communities to limit their exposure to the vagaries of the global economy. The decisions of local
communities often appear as efforts to avoid what Elwyn Robinson, the noted historian of North
Dakota called the too-much mistake which led to an overinvestment in North Dakota
infrastructure in anticipation of an early 20th century population boom that never materialized
(Robinson 1959; 1966).
The settlement structure of workforce housing reflects this ambiguous relationship between
local communities and the needs of global capital. Unfortunately, the rapidly changing landscape of
workforce housing in the Bakken has outpaced comprehensive maps of the settlement in the region.
As a result, considerations of settlement remain provisional and anecdotal, but largely representative
of our experiences on the ground in the region. Large-scale, Type 1 man camps tend to appear in the
suburbs of existing towns and draw upon the existing infrastructure present in those communities
including access to good roads, more robust local power grids, commercial establishments, and
existing services. With a few exceptions, Type 2 camps tend to appear more closely associated with
work sites and generally further removed from existing settlement centers than Type 1 camps. The
resulting exurbs tend to follow a pattern of economic opportunism where the availability of land,
visibility, and access to work sites converge to allow for the development of these camps outside the
physical limits and policy restrictions of larger communities. After an initial period of issuing
numerous conditional user permits that avoided permanent changes to local zoning decisions, local
communities are increasingly striving to limit the spread of temporary camps, and are instead seeking
the development of permanent housing.
Another development includes the repurposing of largely abandoned town sites into Type 2
camps by exploiting loopholes in the laws that allow for a certain number of units on private
property. Sites like MC10 and MC12 cluster around small towns that have become almost

33

completely depopulated. These sites stand outside of the immediate jurisdiction of existing
communities and the resulting camps reveal an opportunistic access to infrastructure and roads
allowing a renaissance in formerly neglected, overlooked, and even abandoned spaces. The shells left
by earlier boom periods serve as opportunities for settlement expansion.
Type 3 camps require the least infrastructure, appear for the shortest period of time, and
blend into overlooked corners with the hope of escaping the attention of often understaffed local
authorities. As with Type 1 camps, the limits of and resistance to local investment in necessary
infrastructure inadvertently shape the structure of settlement with Type 2 and Type 3 camps that
sprout in the cracks between local investment and control. As noted above, the combined
requirements of global capital, along with both the limited political power of local communities and
even their cautious approach to the vagaries of markets beyond their control, minimize investments
in local infrastructure. These local and global decisions have contributed to the patchwork of shortterm settlement in the Bakken oil patch and the emergent taskscape.

V.2. Taskscapes
The dominant man-made features of the Bakken oil patch are the roads, worksites, man
camps, and towns. Residents of the man camps regularly trek from the camp to the drilling, fracking,
pumping, construction, office, or some other related work site. Pick-up trucks with company names,
laden with equipment, depart before the sun is up and return at the end of shifts traversing the
region on a neat grid of brand new roads and other roads badly damaged by traffic that exceeds
original design specs and intended traffic loads. Tensions over infrastructure development, the
expansive geography of the Bakken, and the technical realities of hydraulic fracturing make for long
distances between domestic spaces and work sites. While the expansion of the Bakken to the south
and west of Williston and Watford City has led to some expansion of Type 1 camps in those

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directions, it has also created even longer commutes for others. In either case, Type 1 camps assure
a physical separation between work and domestic spaces, even while the institutional ambience,
restrictions on personal freedom, and mechanical schedules limit opportunities for personal
expression.
Type 2 camps in contrast, are situated differently within the Bakken taskscape. Some are at
worksites or further afield from the pre-existing towns of Western North Dakota, forming fluid
exurbs which ebb and flow to follow the direction of the industrial and service requirements of oil
production. Huddled in clusters next to truck service bays, in equipment lots, and at busy
intersections, Type 2 camps blur the line between domestic space and work space. The movement
of the units themselves, the transience of the workspaces, and the informal routes from unit to work
create a landscape that embodies the various rhythms of labor in the oil patch (Ingold 1993: 162). As
Ingold notes, these rhythms are not inscribed in a static landscape but coterminous with bustling
material reality in the Bakken.
Type 3 camps are nearly invisible to the uninformed observer. Nestled near work sites, in
open fields along the routes of pipelines, and in public parks, Type 3 camps leave behind faint traces
of the activities of their residents and flicker on and off quickly serving the most ephemeral of
housing needs. In most cases, they appear to house micro-populations in ways and for such brief
lengths of time as to be nearly invisible amidst the continuous movement associated with the oil
industry and related services.
The rolling fields of Western North Dakota present an image commonly associated with an
imagined poetry of unchanging rhythms, traditional agrarian life, and the immutable persistence of
the land. In reality, the western part of the state has been continuously shaped by both white settlers
and their Native American predecessors. Fields, towns, rural cemeteries, gridded roads, and
churning oil pumps form a dynamic taskscape where man camps are prominent in the Bakkens

35

temporality. Rural North Dakota has become a place of dramatic contrasts with short term activity
of the Bakken boom set against the traditional agricultural landscape. Against the romantic
mythos of idyllic frontier are constructed contrasts serving a range of political and economic
interests consistent with the historical character of the west as industrial periphery.

V.3. Archaeologists and Place


The researchers of the NDMCP occupy their own place in the Bakken taskscape: lodging in
man camps, travelling the same rutted roads, and navigating the spaces of resource extraction that
have transformed the western part of North Dakota into a ten-thousand square mile industrial park.
We blended awkwardly with the rhythm of life in the Type 1 man camps, arriving a bit too late for
breakfast to see many of the shift workers departing for their sites. Compared to the relative
permanence of Type 1 camps, the field teams have watched and recorded as Type 2 camps recreate
themselves, as residents come and go, as the camps expand and contract and reorganize to
accommodate the needs of the new arrivals. Daily rhythms give way to the Bakkens three seasons:
ice with bitter cold, mud, and then dust. In preparing for winter, insulated barriers are rigged to
prevent cold wind from flowing beneath the units or through windows; in the spring, pallets are
disbursed to create pathways across the mud; and in the summer, efforts are made to deal with the
relentless dust while insulation is taken down to provide relief from the heat. As we walked through
the Type 2 camps to document the materiality of life, we noted the various ways residents express
their oil-field identity including tools and objects that mark their jobs, places of origin, and
expectations of domesticity. Especially in Type 2 camps, the dynamic nature of the workforce, the
oscillations of industry, and the mobile character of the housing structures ensure that we never
document the same camp twice and reminds us that the temporary settlements often transform at a
pace quicker than archaeological time allows.

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WORKING DRAFT. DO NOT CITE WITHOUT AUTHORS PERMISSION 2014

Our struggle to document Type 3 camps largely derives from the short duration of their
occupation, and their design to be out of sight. As a result, our research has found them exceedingly
difficult to document in a way that would produce a significant sampling. While this was frustrating,
it spoke to our place within the dynamic taskscape of the Bakken and located our efforts within the
same functional context as the various other groups occupying this region.

37

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Figures

Figure 1: Map of ND with Bakken (N.B. This is a placeholder. An original map will be prepared).

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Figure 2: NDMCP Form

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Figure 3: Type 1 (Photo by authors)

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Figure 4: Type 2 (Photo by authors)

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Figure 5: Type 3 (Photo by authors)

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Figure 6: Insulated Type 2 unit (Photo by authors)

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Figure 7: Mudroom in Target Camp

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Figure 8: Plan of MC9 and MC25 (B. Caraher)

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Figure 9: Type 2 Camp Mudroom (Photo by authors)

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Figure 10: Platform (Photo by authors)

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Figure 11: Weights in snow (Photo by K. Cassidy)

Figure 12: Garden and Grills (Photo by authors)

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Figure 13: Abandoned Camp (Photo by authors)

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Figure 14: Quonset Hut (Photo by authors)

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Figure 15: Abandoned Type 2 (Photo by authors)

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Figure 16: Provisional Discard (Photo by authors)

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