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00:00:09>>From the Center for the Study and the Teaching of Writing
00:00:11at The Ohio State University this is Writers Talk.
00:00:13I'm Doug Dangler.
00:00:15Richard Shiels is an Associate Professor of English at Ohio State
00:00:18specializing in Colonial and American religious history.
00:00:22He directs the Newark Earthwork Center, an interdisciplinary center for
00:00:26studying and teaching about ancient earth works
00:00:28and Native American history in life.
00:00:31He has collected numerous honors including the 2010 Alumni Award for
00:00:35Distinguished Teaching from Ohio State.
00:00:37Welcome to Writers Talk, Richard Shiels.
00:00:39>>Good to be here.
00:00:40>>Well let's start with your background as a history professor.
00:00:44>>What were you like as a history student?
00:00:46>>I was double major, actually, in history and philosophy and was very,
00:00:50very interested in the history of ideas.
00:00:54That was the mid 1960s and I was very interested in abolitionism and
00:00:59pacifism before the Civil War.
00:01:03I've always sort of been interested in people driven by great ideas to
00:01:08try to improve the world, I suppose, and found it was fun to do that
00:01:12looking at the past.
00:01:14>>It's fun to do that.
00:01:15>>It is.
00:01:16>>Define that as fun for me.
00:01:17How is that fun?
00:01:19Because a lot of people will take a history course and I don't know
00:01:20that fun is the thing that they bring up.
00:01:22>>Well sure, you have to get beyond memorizing dates.
00:01:25You have to get beyond chronology and
00:01:27straights facts to ideas, to meaning.
00:01:34What I find particularly fascinating are people who've discovered that
00:01:37some of their principles conflict, you know.
00:01:40Abolitionists who desperately want to end slavery but where radical
00:01:45pacifists find themselves in a situation in which there is this war and
00:01:50the war promises to end slavery, but they're absolutely opposed to war.
00:01:57I find issues, the stories of people wrestling with their own
00:02:02principles fun.
00:02:04My idea of a good time.
00:02:05>>Alright. That's good.
00:02:06That will be the segment opener-the history
00:02:11professor's idea of a good time.
00:02:14>>You don't want to hang out with those guys.
00:02:16>>That brings up conflicting interpretations.
00:02:19You're talking about conflicting ideas of what should or shouldn't be
00:02:23done with radical pacifists, which in itself is an interesting phrase.
00:02:27It suggests almost an anachronism,
00:02:32not an anarchonism, military intelligence,
00:02:36something like that, where you've got two opposing views
00:02:38- I'm forgetting the term for it,
00:02:40when you look back at this and you say "I think I see this
00:02:44argument, this tension within this person, this tension within this movement
00:02:49about these writers, about these people that are leaving things behind."
00:02:52What can we know about it and what do you know about it?
00:02:55How do you find that out as a history writer?
00:02:58>>Well the first thing you have to understand is that you're never
00:03:01going to understand everything you're going to want to know.
00:03:04I suppose that's true about anything, but especially when you're
00:03:07studying the past.
00:03:11You have a lot of information or a little information,
00:03:13but you never have it all.
00:03:15I talk about it as a process in which you're putting together the
00:03:19pieces of a puzzle and the striking thing is that you know very well
00:03:24some of the pieces are missing.
00:03:26When you do ancient history most of the pieces are missing and there is
00:03:30no picture on the box.
00:03:32You sort of put them together in various ways to see how they work,
00:03:37knowing that the picture that you produce is provisional.
00:03:42That there will be new pieces that appear in the future, or somebody
00:03:47who looks at it very, very differently.
00:03:50>>Well that's got to be especially true.
00:03:51If you've got to move from something like radical abolitionists where
00:03:54you do have some connection, some writing, or other people writing
00:03:58about them to going to the ancient past, you don't have the characters,
00:04:01you don't have the people.
00:04:03You have to assume the story, which for something like the Earth Works
00:04:06seems to me exceptionally difficult.
00:04:08>>Sure it is.
00:04:10We have these massive Earthworks in Ohio and we have no textual
00:04:15information to go with them.
00:04:17There are no diaries or letters from the people who built them saying
00:04:20who they were or why they did this.
00:04:24It really is a process of putting together the pieces of the puzzle
00:04:29knowing that most pieces are missing and you begin by looking at what's
00:04:33there on the ground.
00:04:35You look at the Earthworks themselves, you know.
00:04:37In Newark we have an octagon, which encompasses fifty acres.
00:04:42The walls are six feet high connected to a circle, which encompasses
00:04:46another twenty acres.
00:04:49It turns out that when you analyze them the way a surveyor would do,
00:04:56the geometry is astounding.
00:04:59It turns out that there were earthen enclosures
00:05:02like this all over Ohio.
00:05:05We know of 600 earthen enclosures built in ancient times.
00:05:10I don't mean little humpy mounds, I mean walls of dirt that define a
00:05:15space that you can walk into.
00:05:18Most of them were circles or squares or octagons that were one hundred
00:05:23and fifty or two hundred fifty feet across.
00:05:27In Newark we have a circle that is twelve hundred feet across.
00:05:30Absolutely mammoth.
00:05:32So you study those things and you study as many as you can.
00:05:37Today we're using light-r which is to say we're using imagery that
00:05:42implores satellite sightings and we find regularities.
00:05:50The circle, which is attached to the octagon in Newark, is one thousand
00:05:54fifty four feet in diameter.
00:05:57All over the state of Ohio we find features that somehow have that
00:06:01measurement built into them, one thousand fifty four feet, or half of
00:06:05that, or a quarter of that.
00:06:09And then what really becomes fascinating is that we find that these
00:06:12things may very well align with the summer solstice or the winter
00:06:17solstice, or in the case if the octagon in Newark, the eighteen point
00:06:21six year cycle of the moon.
00:06:24That's a matter of studying the physical remains
00:06:29and that takes you a long way.
00:06:31It's astounding to discover how much these people
00:06:35understood geometry and astronomy.
00:06:38It still leaves you asking the question,
00:06:40what in heaven's name were these built for?
00:06:42>>Right. I mean you start stepping back from that.
00:06:45Stepping back in one way, but in the other way trying to create that
00:06:47story, the narrative of history and then it becomes one of those things
00:06:52where we assume they did this of that and it seems to me like that's
00:06:57the part where you become.
00:06:59Other than saying one part is pure statistics, here's what we've got.
00:07:03The other part is here's our assumption about why they did this, the
00:07:06eighteen year cycle of the moon and putting those two things together
00:07:11in some sort of narrative form that's going to bring in your students.
00:07:14That's the trick.
00:07:16>>That is the trick.
00:07:17>>So how do you do that?
00:07:18In three sentences.
00:07:21>>You put together the pieces and come up with the best interpretation
00:07:23you can and you talk to students about the problem.
00:07:27I try to be very upfront because every group I speak to wants me to
00:07:33give them a definitive answer.
00:07:36What were these?
00:07:37Who built them and why?
00:07:40I need to make it very clear that we're never going to have that, that
00:07:44the process is, as I described, a process of piecing things together.
00:07:52Of course there are artifacts in the ground that help.
00:07:57We know that those little humpy mounds were burial mounds.
00:08:02We know where the burials were in Newark.
00:08:04They were not in the octagon.
00:08:06They were not in this huge circle, so this wasn't a burial site.
00:08:13Go to Cahokia, this wonderful mound complex in southern Illinois
00:08:17directly across the Mississippi from Saint Louis.
00:08:20Cahokia was a city of thirty thousand people
00:08:24in the year twelve hundred.
00:08:26We know that from what's in the ground.
00:08:28Nothing like that is in the ground in Newark.
00:08:31Our earth works are not a residential site.
00:08:35This was not a city, this was not a place where
00:08:37large numbers of people lived.
00:08:39>>And you know that because you don't have broken pottery, you don't
00:08:41have shards, you don't have
00:08:42>>Because what you have is very limited and
00:08:45you determine, or the archeologists determine, that small groups of
00:08:50people were here over the long run and larger groups
00:08:53perhaps came for a few months at a time.
00:08:56You find artifacts made of shells from the Carolinas and of copper from
00:09:01Wisconsin and of obsidian from the Grand Canyon.
00:09:06That tells us that these people were at least trading
00:09:09over a very long distance.
00:09:11You go to the other end of what we call "The Hopewell Interaction
00:09:15Sphere" and you find items made of flint ridge flint.
00:09:21Flint ridge is about fourteen miles from the great circle.
00:09:26It's an outcropping of very colorful, very unique flint, so they were
00:09:31trading, perhaps, items, spear points, things like that made of flint
00:09:36ridge flint for items made of obsidian from the Grand Canyon and so on.
00:09:42That begins to tell you that they're connected.
00:09:45We're actually at the place, those of us who work at the Newark
00:09:48Earthworks Center, are at the place where we think they were actually
00:09:51traveling to come here.
00:09:54We think that in part because of the location.
00:10:00These Earthworks are on the Licking River, which takes you to the
00:10:03Muskingum River, which takes you to the Ohio River, which takes you to
00:10:07the Mississippi River.
00:10:09You can get here from a very long
00:10:13>>That's against current.
00:10:14>>Well, that very well may be.
00:10:16Or simply walking along the side of the water.
00:10:20But we talk as much as we can, as often as we can with native people
00:10:26and they come to this site and they say almost always they come to this
00:10:32site and they say this is the place you would have come to for
00:10:37ceremony. You think about how it's built to align with
00:10:43the eighteen point six year cycle of the moon.
00:10:47That suggests to me ceremony, something spiritual.
00:10:51It's an eighteen point six year cycle,
00:10:54every time it happens it's a different season.
00:10:56It doesn't help you figure out when to plant your crops or when to do
00:11:00this or that, so why would you build such a massive complex to align
00:11:06with an eighteen point six year cycle?
00:11:10I'm ready to say it must have been important to be here when the moon
00:11:16was in a particular place and that to me suggests ceremony.
00:11:21>>Have you been there during that cycle?
00:11:23>>I have a number of times.
00:11:24>>And what do you observe when it's starting in that cycle?
00:11:29Is the moon in a particular relation to it?
00:11:32Do you think this could be the start of a story?
00:11:35Could be a narrative of rebirth or something?
00:11:38>>Very possibly.
00:11:39It is an eighteen point six year cycle,
00:11:42a very strange cycle by our way of thinking.
00:11:45There are actually eight times in the cycle in which the moon seems to
00:11:51change direction in the sky.
00:11:53Now we're talking about the place on the horizon where the moon first
00:11:57sets and the place where it just rises.
00:12:02There are eight times when it seems to change direction and all eight
00:12:07of those are built into this massive octagon.
00:12:11The central axis of the octagon is built to align with the northern
00:12:16most rising of the moon.
00:12:19That happened in 2006 and we read the information that NASA puts out
00:12:26and we knew when that was going to happen and we thought it would
00:12:31happen once every eighteen point six years,
00:12:33once in a generation we said.
00:12:36Well that's true.
00:12:37There's once in eighteen point six years when it's at the northern most
00:12:41point, but it turns out there are a dozen times over a three year span
00:12:46when it's so close to that, that without scientific instrumentation,
00:12:51you can't tell the difference.
00:12:53I've seen it five times and I've been there at least that many times
00:12:57when it was raining, or the sky was so cloudy that you couldn't see the
00:13:01moon at all and I expect that was true two thousand years ago.
00:13:05>>It has to be a big disappointment to be there for a ceremony and the
00:13:08weather doesn't permit it.
00:13:09>>Sure enough. Clara Sue Kidwell, who is the director of
00:13:16a Native American Center at the University of North Carolina,
00:13:19came for one of these events and she talked about people
00:13:22coming out two thousand years ago to pray up the moon.
00:13:27Now that's speculation on her part, but what a wonderful story they
00:13:31must have come knowing it would happen, but there were plenty of times
00:13:36when it wouldn't and they came, we think, for ceremony.
00:13:40>>Alright. Well tell me about the kinds of teaching you do
00:13:43with the Earthworks.
00:13:44You do a little bit of it here, but what do you tell your students about
00:13:49so they can focus their writing on the Earthworks
00:13:52and how do you get them to write about these big mounds
00:13:55and say here's how you make it interesting?
00:13:58>>I teach a variety of courses.
00:13:59Every single quarter I teach a one credit hour class, which I call
00:14:03Civic Engagement with the Newark Earthworks, and students are expected
00:14:08to learn about them and to somehow find a way to engage the public.
00:14:12That might take the form of writing a letter to the city council or to
00:14:17some public official framing an argument, that kind of writing.
00:14:22>>Did they get tired of your students bothering them
00:14:24with these letters every so often?
00:14:26>>They don't complain to me.
00:14:28>>They have a big rush of complaint letters.
00:14:30Well actually that brings me to a point that the Earthworks in Newark
00:14:34have a somewhat contentious background.
00:14:35>>They do.
00:14:37>>Tell me about that because I'm especially interested in what happens
00:14:40when academic writing runs into public conflict.
00:14:44>>Well here's why they're contentious: they belong to the Ohio
00:14:49Historical Society, but the octagon, at least, is leased to a private
00:14:55country club and it's a sort of strange historical circumstance that
00:14:59lead to that, but mound builders country club has leased this site for
00:15:04one hundred years now, one hundred years this last spring.
00:15:08That means, for the most part, it's not publically accessible.
00:15:14I've been teaching in Newark for thirty-five years and I would often on
00:15:17the first day of class ask my students, "Have you been there?" and they
00:15:22would look around and I would see these dull eyes and finally someone
00:15:25would say, "Oh, you mean the country club" and the answer would be the
00:15:29few in the class whose parents were members
00:15:32had been there and the rest had not.
00:15:36I believed for a very long time that this needs to be a public site and
00:15:41I have pushed for public access.
00:15:43I've done that in person, I've done that in op-ed columns,
00:15:48I've done that in interviews.
00:15:51It's at the point, I suppose, that the contestation becomes clear.
00:15:58The folks who belong to the country club, of course, are good people
00:16:02who pay money to belong to a club and play golf
00:16:05and have dinner in this lovely clubhouse.
00:16:09They perceive that it's to their credit that the Earthworks
00:16:13is still there.
00:16:15They will often tell us that they're the ones who preserve the mounds.
00:16:20Fascinating, because as a matter of fact they have a different story, a
00:16:24different narrative, about these Earthworks.
00:16:28The narrative I tell, what I know to be true, is that before there was
00:16:32country club, politicians put a levy on the ballot in 1893, the good
00:16:40people of Licking County voted to raise their own taxes to buy that
00:16:44site in order to preserve it and it was twenty years later when a
00:16:50country club was allowed to build a golf course
00:16:54and begin leasing the site.
00:16:56We tell different narratives.
00:16:59We impart different meaning, I suppose.
00:17:03It seems clear to me that this is a Native American site,
00:17:07a Native American sacred site.
00:17:11We bring native people here every chance we get.
00:17:14We're now working with the Eastern Shawnee tribe in Oklahoma and with
00:17:19the Miami tribe here in Ohio and others.
00:17:23We celebrate the native origin of what we consider a sacred site.
00:17:31I've heard stories in town that they were built
00:17:33by the CCC in the 1930's.
00:17:37There was a country club manager who liked to say Franklin Roosevelt
00:17:40built these mounds, a rather different story, and it makes a difference
00:17:47in terms of whether these mounds should be shared
00:17:50with the world, I suppose.
00:17:53>>Well that's also an interesting different type of writing because
00:17:57when you're a history professor you're trained
00:17:59in a specific kind of writing.
00:18:01This is a very different kind of writing.
00:18:02It has different modes of communication.
00:18:06People say if I'm going to write an op-ed page it's got to have this,
00:18:10this has got to have that and then that gets you very much into the
00:18:13whole thing about what can we know, how can we know it.
00:18:15>>It does.
00:18:16>>It seems like there are two views of history.
00:18:19One is we don't really know everything so we can't really say this or
00:18:22that and then there's the other that said yeah, but I can show you a
00:18:24picture from the 1800s that had this mound in it before it was built by
00:18:29the works project.
00:18:31So the difficulties of working through that must be very hard as a
00:18:37writer, to say well wait a minute, before you makes these claims,
00:18:40you're not following through on the chain of evidence
00:18:43or things like that.
00:18:45>>I don't find it difficult.
00:18:47>>Well I mean to watch.
00:18:48>>Sure. The archeologists approach this rather differently
00:18:56than do the Native Americans.
00:18:58Mormons approach this differently.
00:19:00There were stories in the book of Mormon that they like to link to
00:19:03sites like this.
00:19:06There are a variety of narratives, a variety of perspectives, which I
00:19:10find absolutely fascinating.
00:19:12Part of what I want to do as an educator is make people aware of the
00:19:20variety of the interpretations and make the case that the
00:19:24interpretation we speak is the best interpretation, but that's very
00:19:29different than claiming to have a definitive chronicle of what happened
00:19:33when and who did what.
00:19:35>>How does that go over with classes?
00:19:37To say with students from Newark this is the best narrative, but
00:19:42they've grown up with a different narrative, or they may have grown up
00:19:47with a different narrative and then that fight comes in to sort of an
00:19:51unexpected place, a history class in a college to say
00:19:53that's not what I was told.
00:19:55You're calling into question the folklore I've grown up with, the
00:19:59stories I've grown up with, my narrative.
00:20:02>>That's a fascinating question because I don't think of students who
00:20:05have responded strongly or negatively to that.
00:20:10We've done surveys in the community to try to find out what people
00:20:14who've lived there for generations think about the place and the first
00:20:18thing we discovered is that they believe these were burial mounds.
00:20:23When we ask them to use a word or two to define this site, they're
00:20:30likely to pick a term like "haunted," or "scary."
00:20:35>>Even though a lot of them have been there.
00:20:37>>Even though many of them have been there, that's true.
00:20:40We're speaking a different story that there were burials, they were way
00:20:46over in this part of the area the rest of this was something else, but
00:20:52for a long, people in central Ohio were taught that these were Indian
00:20:57mounds and it's going to take awhile to persuade them other wise.
00:21:02>>There were burial mounds at one time.
00:21:04>>There were burial mounds elsewhere, that's not what these were.
00:21:07I don't find people reacting strongly or negatively to that, I simply
00:21:13find them continuing to repeat the old myth and you wonder how to catch
00:21:17their attention more than anything else.
00:21:20>>Well in reading about this I went of course to Wikipedia among other
00:21:25places and one of the things that I was interested about is there's a
00:21:30really brief statement about these do have a contentious background.
00:21:37It says to me that there are all these things working on it, there are
00:21:41different forms of writing.
00:21:42Like you said, there are all these different narrative and I'm curious
00:21:45about the history, the future of that.
00:21:48What is that going to be for history?
00:21:52In a related way you got things like the history channel.
00:21:56That used to be sort of like you would see a PBS documentary about when
00:22:00I was young, but now it's all opened up, it's all very different.
00:22:05The information is being disseminated in wildly different ways and what
00:22:09happens to your profession when that happens?
00:22:11How do you deal with that?
00:22:13How do you respond to that?
00:22:14>>Well certainly you lose control and you simply have to find ways to
00:22:19speak your narrative better and to speak it more effectively to reach
00:22:26larger numbers of people.
00:22:28This summer, Glenn Beck spent an hour talking about the Newark
00:22:32Earthworks on National television.
00:22:36He said some things that we believe in and
00:22:38some things we don't believe at all.
00:22:40I mean he repeated some of the old myths, for instance the notion that
00:22:44the great circle is a fort.
00:22:47There is no reason to think it is a fort,
00:22:48but people thought that for a long, long time.
00:22:51The notion that somehow the measurements at the Newark Earthworks core
00:22:56respond to the measurements at the pyramids.
00:23:00That's just factually wrong.
00:23:03How does one counter Glenn Beck?
00:23:06I'm not sure.
00:23:08He's got an audience, he's got a reach that we can't possibly touch, so
00:23:15you look for ways to reach more people, to catch their attention, but
00:23:22I'm afraid you're asking me a question that we wrestle with and we
00:23:26haven't yet resolved.
00:23:27>>Well that's the kind that I like to get.
00:23:29The difficult one.
00:23:32What you're working on, an interactive website that you've got
00:23:35interpretive materials, that you're making these moves towards
00:23:39downloading to ipods, cellphones this kind of stuff.
00:23:41Tell me about that and the impetus behind that.
00:23:43What started you on that road?
00:23:46>>Actually, let me give credit to a group of people in the School of
00:23:50Architecture at the University of Cincinnati and the man at the head of
00:23:53this effort, I'm not making this up, is named John Hancock, an
00:23:58architectural historian from the University of Cincinnati who spent
00:24:01many years studying in ancient Greece and Rome before he discovered
00:24:04Ohio Earthworks.
00:24:06He likes to say he had no idea, but he's devoted himself for the last
00:24:10twenty years to discovering and writing about Ohio Earthworks.
00:24:16John has created C.E.R.H.A.S. - The Center for the Electronic
00:24:19Reconstruction of Historical and Archeological Sites.
00:24:23They have done a couple of CDs; one all about ancient Newark Ohio and
00:24:29we are now partnering with C.E.R.H.A.S., with John and his team, to
00:24:33create downloadable materials for what we would call
00:24:37an ancient Ohio trail.
00:24:39The goal is to lure people here from Europe and Asia and around the
00:24:43North American continent and to take them around the state allowing
00:24:48them to download on the car radio, or on the ipod, or on the cellphone
00:24:54layer upon layer of interpretive material as well as directions about
00:24:58how you get to the next place.
00:25:00We have incredible Earthworks in Newark.
00:25:02We have incredible Earthworks outside Lebanon, Ohio at Fort Ancient.
00:25:06We have incredible Earthworks in Chillicothe and of course we have
00:25:09serpent mound.
00:25:11Those are the four anchors of an ancient Ohio trail.
00:25:16Let me also speak very quickly that we're working very hard at winning
00:25:19world heritage status from the United Nations.
00:25:24Just this past week Gordon Gee and lots of other people in Ohio wrote
00:25:27to the Department of Interior to support our chances
00:25:32of winning that status.
00:25:36Americans don't pay a lot of attention to world heritage,
00:25:39but Europeans do and Asians do.
00:25:43We we're being told by the Department of Interior that if we can win
00:25:47that, and I think we will in a few years time, we'll begin drawing
00:25:51significant numbers of people from Europe and Asia to Ohio
00:25:56to see these ancient sites.
00:25:58Those are pieces of our strategy for doing better than Glenn Beck at
00:26:06reaching the rest of the world with what we think the Newark Earthworks
00:26:10and other Earthworks in Ohio are all about.
00:26:13>>What you're referring to as interpretive materials.
00:26:15I think that's an interesting turn of phrase as opposed to a historical
00:26:19material because it's interesting that you're putting it out there
00:26:24because it let's you make the statement that this is what this is,
00:26:29it's interpretive.
00:26:30On the other hand, do you risk running into problems because you're not
00:26:34saying this is factual?
00:26:36Every time I stand in front of an audience, which I do regularly and do
00:26:41my spiel, somebody demands that I give them a determinative answer and
00:26:47I think this is part of the learning process.
00:26:52We're teaching about ancient America, we're teaching about Earthworks,
00:26:56we're also teaching about how do we know, what can we know, how do we
00:27:03understand the past?
00:27:06I think we have to be straight.
00:27:08I think we have to admit our limitations
00:27:11and talk about meaningful interpretation.
00:27:14>>That's your philosophy background coming into historical background
00:27:20because it's suggesting all these different interpretations and ideas
00:27:25about what history can be where as Glenn Beck probably didn't
00:27:28necessarily make the same arguments.
00:27:31>>He didn't make those caveats.
00:27:34>>But that's a different show.
00:27:35Anyway, Richard Shiels, Professor of History at The Ohio State Newark,
00:27:39thank you very much.
00:27:40>>You bet.
00:27:41Thank you for having me here.
00:27:42>>And from the Center for the Study and the Teaching of Writing at The
00:27:46Ohio State University, this is Doug Dangler saying, keep writing.
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