George Fox University history professor Paul Otto selected for fellowship at National Humanities Center

April 23rd, 2015

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Scholar is one of only 32 chosen from a pool of 547 applicants nationwide

Paul OttoNEWBERG, Ore. – George Fox University history professor Paul Otto will be among a select group of scholars nationwide spending the 2015-16 academic year as a fellow at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Otto is the first George Fox professor to earn the fellowship, which this year was granted to 32 individuals out of a pool of 547 applications. He will spend the fellowship working on his book Beads of Power: Wampum and the Shaping of Early America, which incorporates historical, archaeological, economic, linguistic and sociological approaches to understand how wampum – white and purple beads of shell – functioned in the intercultural matrix of early America.

Earning the fellowship is a high honor, as Otto is one of only a handful of professors from a Council for Christian Colleges & Universities school to ever get the distinction.

“This award affords me the opportunity to commit a full year to writing, and it confirms for me the significance of the project,” Otto said. “I hope that my book will live up to the expectations of the fellowship and expand our understanding of colonial American and Native American history.”

Otto will write about a topic – wampum – he has dedicated much of his academic career researching. Originally used by northeastern Native Americans for ceremonial purposes, wampum came to play a profound role in European-Native American relations, European and Native American economies, and the evolution of early American society. One of Otto’s students, Jordan Keagle (2013), now a Dorsifer Fellow in the PhD program in history at USC, worked with Otto on a subtopic exploring wampum’s introduction to the tribes of the Missouri River Valley. Keagle received a Richter scholarship to undertake that research, which was eventually published in the Great Plains Quarterly.

Otto’s book will highlight the creative ways that Europeans and native people worked to understand each other’s cultures and the role wampum played in creating connections between them. Europeans and Native Americans drew on their own traditions and experiences in their use and understanding of wampum, but the intersection of their societies also contributed to wampum’s evolution as a product of intercultural exchange.

“[Otto’s] project completely won over the selection committee,” said Elizabeth Mansfield, vice president for scholarly programs at the National Humanities Center. “I think [wampum] is one of those concepts we all learn as school children, but don’t quite really understand. So this is one of those terrific projects that excites specialists, intrigues researchers in other areas of the humanities, and captivates lay audiences, too.”

Otto will spend September 2015 through May 2016 at the National Humanities Center, the only major independent American institute for advanced study in all fields of the humanities. His wife, Lynn Otto, has been invited to the Center as a resident associate. She will work on a new collection of poems. The National Humanities Center provides a national focus for the best work in the liberal arts, drawing attention to the enduring value of ancient and modern history, language and literature, ethical and moral reflection, artistic and cultural traditions, and critical thought in every area of humanistic investigation.

George Fox University is ranked by Forbes among the top Christian universities in the country and is a Christian college classified by U.S. News & World Report as a first-tier regional university. More than 3,700 students attend classes on the university’s campus in Newberg, Ore., and at teaching centers in Portland, Salem and Redmond, Ore. George Fox offers bachelor’s degrees in more than 40 majors, degree-completion programs for working adults, six seminary degrees, and 11 master’s and doctoral degrees.


Paul Otto
Professor of History, George Fox University

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