Fort Ancient features mounds and embankment walls winding across a 126-acre plateau above the Little Miami River in Warren County. [Tana Weingartner / WVXU]
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It is a story similar to hundreds told before — the destruction of historical land to make way for the growth of a booming city. Once encompassing more than four square miles, the Newark Earthworks were built by the people of the ancient Hopewell Culture between 100 B.C. and 500 A.D. All that remains today of the Earthworks are two major segments: the Great Circle Earthworks and the Octagon Earthworks. John Low, Associate Professor of Comparative Studies and the new Director of the Newark Earthworks Center, will discuss these incredible indigenous monuments in their former days and what remains today at an upcoming Faculty Talks Outside the Box lecture.
“It is important to be familiar with these ancestral sites not only because they will likely soon be a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site, but also because they represent a legacy of human achievement in architecture, astronomy, geometry and evidence of humankind’s ability to work together in collaborative undertakings,” said Dr. Low.
Dr. Low will discuss how the Newark Earthworks are an architectural wonder of ancient America, and how they are part cathedral, part cemetery and part astronomical observatory. He will note the work of the Newark Earthworks Center and the importance of the Earthworks as a potential UNESCO World Heritage site.
During Faculty Talks Outside the Box, Ohio State Newark professors discuss recent research in their fields as it relates to our community and answer questions. All talks are free and open to the public. The Warner Center is located at 1219 University Drive, Newark, Ohio.
John N. Low, PhD, associate professor at The Ohio State University at Newark, has been appointed as director of the Newark Earthworks Center (NEC). His term will begin on September 1, 2019, and run through August 31, 2022.
“Since arriving at Ohio State, John has put together not only a strong scholarly record, but an equally impressive record of outreach and engagement” said William L. MacDonald, PhD, dean/director at Ohio State Newark. “I am very happy to announce his new role with the Newark Earthworks Center.”
The NEC is an interdisciplinary academic center of The Ohio State University that is focused on advancing the understanding of the cultural and scientific achievements of American Indians through projects and research about the cultures that produced monumental Midwestern earthen architecture. The center started as the Newark Earthworks Initiative in 2005 and became the Newark Earthworks Center in 2006 after receiving official approval from The Ohio State University Board of Trustees.
According to Low, who is a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and also coordinator of the American Studies minor program at the Newark campus, “I am very excited to join a small but passionate team at the Newark Earthworks Center, as we build upon the foundations laid by former director Dick Shiels and interim director Marti Chaatsmith (Comanche Nation Citizen/Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma descendant). The Center will continue to grow and evolve. As a center for The Ohio State University we have a unique opportunity to promote scholarly engagement and research as well as contribute to the efforts of World Heritage Ohio to have the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the future we will also expand our focus to include earthworks and mounds throughout Ohio, and reach out to scholars, constituents and stakeholders around the world as we make the Ohio State Newark NEC a world class research center.”
Low received the American Society for Ethnohistory’s Robert F. Heizer Award for best article for “Vessels of Recollection – the Canoe Building Renaissance in the Great Lakes,” published in 2015 in Material Culture. His book,Imprints: the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and the City of Chicago (Michigan State University Press), was published in 2016.
He served on the Ohio State Cemetery Law Task Force and has testified before the Ohio legislature regarding establishing an “Indigenous Peoples Day.” Low is the chair of the Ohio State Newark/Central Ohio Technical College Advisory Council for Diversity and Inclusion and a member of the Program in American Indian Studies Faculty Oversight Committee. He has curated two shows reflecting traditional indigenous knowledge at Ohio State Newark’s LeFevre Gallery. In 2015-2016, Low received the COTC/Ohio State Newark President’s and Dean/Director’s Diversity Award. Further, he has served on the oversight committee for the NEC since his arrival at Ohio State.
Low, who teaches in the department of comparative studies, earned a PhD in American culture and a juris doctorate and graduate certificate in museum studies at the University of Michigan. He also earned an MA in the social sciences from the University of Chicago. Before coming to Ohio State, he was a visiting professor in history, law and American studies at Northwestern University, a visiting professor in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and executive director of the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston, Illinois.
When Low enters the role of director, Marti Chaatsmith, NEC interim director, will resume the position of associate director. University budget cuts in 2015 put the fate of the NEC in question just as the earthworks were on the brink of international fame. Announced in July 2018, the NEC will continue at Ohio State Newark, becoming the regional campus’s only university center. The decision was reached unanimously by Ohio State’s Council of Academic Affairs. The leadership of Chaatsmith was a key factor in this outcome.
The Ohio State University at Newark offers an academic environment that’s inclusive of diversity, challenging but supportive with world-renowned professors and access to Ohio State’s more than 200 majors. It’s where learning comes to life. Research, study abroad and service learning opportunities prepare students for their careers in ways they never expected.
On August 1st, I had the honor of giving a tour of the Great Circle to a group of about 30 Chinese undergraduate students who were visiting the area.
Professor Pat McAloon hosted the group and sent the below kind comments shared here with his permission:
John, Thank you very much for sharing the Earthworks with our guests yesterday. Your ability to share with us the perspectives of the First Peoples really changed the way we look at the Newark Earthworks, especially how we should keep in mind that dirt is a sacred medium and we should not evaluate the earthworks using our “civilized” preference for stone.
Gifting tobacco to the earthworks was also a great way to make the experience an experience.
Ralph Frese canoe at the at Skokie Lagoon. (Photo credit: John Low)
On May 30th I had the opportunity to visit Northwestern University and the folks affiliated with the Humanities without Walls grant group organized by Dr. Kelly Wisecup to discuss canoes and the relations of the Potawatomi people to the Chicago area. Specifically, I spoke about how the geography of the area made it a perfect place for Wigwas Jiimaan (birch bark canoes). Echicagou (Chicago) is at the North-South continental divide and with the many rivers there the first peoples of the region could travel east to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence river, west to the Mississippi and then north to Minnesota, west along the Missouri River, east along the Ohio River or south all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
We were able to secure a canoe made by Ralph Frese to also talk about the Chicago American Indian Center’s Canoe Club which revived canoeing in Chicago in the 1960’s and 1970’s. We put canoes in at Skokie Lagoon to try out the magic of canoeing and the day was completed with a workshop led by Dr. Margaret Pearce on mapping Indigenous homelands.
It was a great opportunity for me to make new friends and see old friends too. Thank you to everyone for your kind hospitality on a memorable journey.
I was honored to give an Armour Lecture yesterday June 5 at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. I spoke on the power of native baskets and the importance of the Black Ash Basket Coop to the Pokagon Potawatomi community. Highlighted were cofounders Julia Wesaw, Agnes Rapp, Judy Augusta, and Rae Daugherty.
I was also honored to be invited to guest curate a temporary exhibit on Black Ash baskets at the Field Museum scheduled for Autumn 2021.
Many thanks to my hosts Alaka Wali, Debra Yepa-Pappan, and Eli Suzukovich for their kind hospitality and to everyone who came out for my talk!
When Pokagon history professor John Low Ph.D., heard that The Field Museum in Chicago would embark on a project to revamp its dated Native North America Exhibit Hall, he brought that to the attention of the tribe’s Traditions and Repatriation Committee and the Department of Language & Culture. Committee members Christine and Gary Morseau and Jason S. Wesaw, as well as Marcus Winchester, director, and Blaire Topash-Caldwell, archivist, from the Department, went to view the museum’s collection. They met with Debra Yepa-Pappan, a Pueblo artist and community engagement coordinator for the Native American exhibit renovation project at the museum, who asked for Pokagon participation in the project. Topash-Caldwell is now serving on the committee reviewing the museum’s renovation.
Recently, Winchester spoke at a ceremony dedicating and installing an acknowledgment of the original inhabitants of the land the museum occupies. The new plaque sits in a garden full of native plants and states: “The Field Museum resides on the traditional homelands of the Three Fires Confederacy: Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi. The area was also a site of trade, travel and healing for more than a dozen other native tribes.”
It is a “much, much needed renovation,” Field president and CEO Richard Lariviere said in the Chicago Tribune’s article about the ceremony and project. “This project intends to correct the way the museum tells the Native American history by doing so through the lens and voices of Native Americans.”
“It means a lot for such an influential museum in the United States to put themselves out there and acknowledge indigenous people as traditional land owners,” Winchester said after the ceremony that included a hand drum singer and a jingle dress dancer.
“I met people from other museums there,” he said. “I would most definitely like to see other museums follow their lead.”
The museum’s current exhibit will remain open throughout the three-year overhaul, with fall of 2021 as the targeted completion date.