North Dakota Man Camp Project

The North Dakota Man Camp Project seeks to document the material and social environment of the man or crew camps associated with the Bakken Oil Patch in western North Dakota. The project began as a collaboration between Bret Weber in Social Work and Bill Caraher in the Department of History at the University of North Dakota, and grew to include historian Aaron Barth, archaeologist Richard Rothaus, architectural historian Kostis Kourelis, and photographer John Holmgren. Our collaboration brings together research questions from world archaeology with those central to the study of the American West and labor history. In contrast to much ongoing research that has focused on the changing conditions present in the towns and communities in the Bakken region that predated the most recent boom, our research has focused on the communities created by the boom, namely man or crew camps established to provide accommodations for workers who came into the area to work in the oil industry or in related services.

Crew, work, and man camps associated with resource extraction are a wellknown historical phenomenon with precedents in the 19th American West century and even earlier in a global context. The continued development of this practice into the 21st century is hardly surprising as remote locations continue to pose logistical and economic challenges for resource extraction. With the boom in oil production in the Bakken range in the western part of North Dakota, man camps have appeared to provide housing for work crews in the sparsely settled western North Dakota counties.  Clustered outside or around the fringes of the longstanding towns in the area, the temporary settlements represent both the practical needs of an itinerant workforce as well as a continuation of longstanding practices common to the periphery.

Historical research into the material and social conditions of work camps has approached the topic through three main lines.  Recent work by archaeologists has presented the remains of man camps as important places in past industrial landscapes and their remains offer important evidence for understanding the archaeology of the working class, labor, and the American West.  Architectural historians have examined how mobile and company housing fit into changing architectural standards throughout the late 19th and 20th century.  These new architectural forms contributed to new forms of domesticity and community. The use of temporary accommodations for the labor crucial for resource extraction provided the social evidence for relationship between core and periphery and the consequences and responses to so-called boom/bust cycles in the American landscape.