Cultivating a “Usable Past:” Insights from the 2022 Queer History Conference

Conference program, a preliminary list of sessions can be found here.

From June 12-14, scholars from all corners of the globe—including Cape Town, New Delhi, Toronto, Berlin, Peru, and Amsterdam—convened at San Francisco State University. Among them were Indianapolis historians Sam Opsahl (he/him), Jordan Ryan (they/them), and myself (she/her). The reason for this meeting of the minds?: the second ever Queer History Conference (QHC). Amidst the surreal beauty of the campus, lined by Muir Woods’s iconic redwood trees, we discussed universal research questions, learned about novel methodologies, and shared valuable resources. Considering how new the field of queer history is, I would be remiss not to discuss the insights gleaned at the QHC, many of which could be applied to various historical projects.

QHC attendees were a uniquely welcoming and curious bunch, although we were slightly intimidated by the number of people who decided to forgo compelling sessions like “Queering Women, Sex, and Youth in Colonial Settings” and “Legal Consciousness in Mid-Twentieth Century Queer and Trans History” in order to attend our panel. However, we felt immediately at ease presenting about those living on the margins of Indianapolis’s queer community, especially because our moderator Dr. Eric Gonzaba gave credence to Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that “wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something important there.”* Now an Assistant Professor of American Studies at California State University-Fullerton, Dr. Gonzaba grew up in rural southern Indiana and earned his BA from Indiana University. In his introduction, Dr. Gonzaba aptly noted that Indiana’s place in American queer history has been cemented both by the groundbreaking work of the Kinsey Institute and the controversial passage of the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Jordan Ryan, architectural historian, activist-scholar, and founder of The History Concierge, kicked off our session. Ryan adapted their presentation from their paper, co-authored with Dr. Paul Mullins for the Journal for the Anthropology of North America, entitled “Imagining Musical Place: Race, Heritage, and African American Musical Landscapes.” Ryan focused on the erasure of Black cultural sites along Indiana Avenue, including venues like the Pink Poodle (later the Famous Door) and Log Cabin, which hosted popular drag shows in the first half of the 20th century. Ryan noted that although female impersonators were popular in vaudeville revues, “moral ideologues sometimes resisted openly queer drag performances.” This was reflected in one Indianapolis Recorder editorial about a show at the Paradise that attracted an audience of 2,000. The opiner wrote that “‘fairy’ (fag) (pansy) public stage show and dance . . . was a disgrace to this community.” Ryan concluded that:

Like much of the complex expressive culture that flourished on Indiana Avenue, female impersonators have not found a place in the public memory that has been crafted by ideologues whose representations of jazz have revolved around a very narrow dimension of the Indiana Avenue musical experience.

Following Ryan’s analysis of the built environment and public memory, I presented my work about the exclusion of gender non-conforming individuals at Indianapolis gay bars and the queer community’s effort to grapple with this discrimination. (A draft of my paper can be read here). On separate occasions in 1989, Our Place refused to serve patrons Kerry Gean and Roberta Alyson, resulting in public humiliation and, in Alyson’s case, arrest. Bar employees refused service on the grounds that Gean and Alyson—members of the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE)—did not meet dress code and their identification did not match their female-presenting appearance. Our Place was by no means the only Indianapolis gay bar to implement these policies and soon the pages of gay newsletter The Works teemed with editorials about the conflict. The majority of them condemned this discrimination, likening it to the prohibition of Black individuals at Riverside Park, while some agreed that such policies were necessary to preserve the bars’ masculine atmosphere.

Perhaps ironically, it was Indianapolis police officer and community liaison Shirley Purvitis who facilitated a meeting to try to resolve issues between “certain segments of the gay community.” Bar owners, IXE members, IPD vice officers, and members of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and Justice, Inc. shared their experiences and discussed excise law. Although contentious, such meetings, coverage in The Works, and one-on-one meetings between IXE members and bar owners, led to the reversal of policies at many bars. The conflict illuminated the value of forums and facilitators and demonstrated how amplifying multiple perspectives resulted in greater inclusion.

Sam Opsahl, program coordinator for Indiana Humanities, concluded our panel, presenting a paper adapted from his 2020 thesis, “Circle City Strife: Gay and Lesbian Activism during the Hudnut Era.” He highlighted the work of Justice, Inc. leader Kathy Sarris, noting that she “worked to insert the queer community’s narrative into public spaces by celebrating the gay and lesbian minority in public.” Opsahl positioned Sarris at the center of the local rights movement, ensuring that she will not be forgotten, unlike many lesbian activists whose work has been overshadowed by that of white, male leaders belonging to the middle class.

In 1983, through the Indianapolis Gay/Lesbian Coalition (IGLC), Berg and Sarris secured a meeting with Mayor William Hudnut, where they presented a list of seven recommendations. This marked the first time an Indianapolis mayor met with gay individuals to discuss issues facing the greater community. While the closed door meeting did not produce the results they hoped for, Berg and Sarris left feeling that “at least a dialogue had been initiated that they would continue to pursue should Hudnut be re-elected.” Opsahl contended that:

Mayor Hudnut, Berg, and Sarris contested the space on Monument Circle via protests and community celebrations, which rendered Indianapolis’ queer community impossible to ignore. Hudnut’s visions of an entrepreneurial city were endangered by the public debacles on Monument Circle, police discrimination, and the HIV crisis. Activists established their own dreams for citywide recognition that conflicted with Hudnut’s.

In listening to my colleagues’ presentations, fielding thoughtful audience questions, and receiving feedback from Dr. Gonzaba, I gained insight about Indianapolis’s queer past in real-time. It occurred to me that each of the individuals we studied had had to navigate the internalization of white, cisgender, heteronormative ideals by the LGBTQ community. We were left to ponder questions, like “What makes Indianapolis’s community unique?” and “How do we best document and memorialize queer history in a conservative region, in which anonymity provides safety?” The examination of intersectionality, as it relates to queer history, is relatively new and we hope our panel contributed to this field of study.

With our session mercifully scheduled for the first day, I was anxious to learn about others’ research findings and methodologies for the duration of the conference. I found the “Strategies for Documenting and Memorializing Queer History” panel to be particularly enlightening, as University of Toronto Professor Elspeth Brown’s presentation made me rethink how we conduct and use oral history interviews. Dr. Brown spoke about implementing novel interview strategies, such as utilizing guided meditation in order to engage interviewee’s senses. She found that this practice allowed subjects to both reinhabit and meaningfully relay the past.

Dr. Brown and her team have also given much thought to the question of utility, asking themselves: “Is the main purpose of conducting interviews to create a primary source for future historians to draw upon? Or is their value entrenched in telling relevant stories to modern audiences?” Regarding the latter, Dr. Brown is mindful of a study that found people listen to only half of an oral history interview, regardless of whether it is one minute or three hours long. Therefore, her team tried to think creatively about how to capture listeners’ attention. They hired an illustrator and sound engineer to recreate settings described by interview subjects. Pairing the animated sequences with two minute interview segments provided a multisensory experience. Dr. Brown played one such clip for the audience and I think we were all stunned by how immersed we were in the story.

Slide from Professor Elspeth Brown’s presentation about novel oral history interviewing techniques.

While attention has certainly been paid to illuminating history through social media, San Francisco State University Master’s student Jesse Ataide’s presentation “Imagining the Queer Past on Instagram” probed issues unique to queer history. Ataide initially created his account @queer_modernisms to share interesting images he came across in his research, which focused on the period between 1890 and 1969. However, when the account rapidly grew in followers (it is now up to 26,000), he realized he needed to be more intentional about how he curated content. He became ever-mindful of the question “who and what is queer?,” noting that many images circulated online appear queer to the “contemporary eye,” but can easily be misinterpreted. These include fascist/Nazi images that glorify the male body and “same sex intimacy across different eras and cultures.” Ataide noted that the subjects of such images may have actively resisted the “queer” designation and that “unambiguous self-identification” is certainly the exception, not the norm. So, in order to avoid outing or misinterpreting someone’s sexual identity, he tries to “find mention or evidence of queerness in academic, published, or other authoritative sources before posting.”

He also discussed the importance of representation. Images of white, masculine, middleclass male subjects garner the highest rates of engagement, so he is currently strategizing how to amplify diverse content without losing his platform. Ataide left us with many insightful questions to ponder, especially about how best to create a “useable past.”

Jesse Ataide presenting issues that he grapples with regarding queer history.

My time at SFSU concluded with a roundtable comprised of both academic press editors and scholars whose work has been published by such presses. Larin McLaughlin, Editor in Chief at the University of Washington Press, emphasized the importance of vision when crafting and pitching a book idea. It is not enough that your topic has never been written about before, but you should able to articulate to a publisher how your work moves the field forward. Finding an editor that shares your set of goals is also crucial in executing your vision. McLaughlin encouraged writers to focus on interdisciplinary topics, as they appeal to audiences outside of history. Dominique J. Moore, Acquisitions Editor for the University of Illinois Press, noted that a well-executed introduction chapter goes a long way in convincing an editor to publish your work. She also advised crafting a table of contents that contains a summary of each chapter’s arguments and sources, as well as how the chapters relate to one another. When considering your audience, ask yourself, “What conference do I want to see my book at?” Write for those attendees.

Panelists also articulated the differences between trade and university presses. They noted that whereas trade presses typically have much bigger marketing budgets that can be used to quickly advertise your book to a broad network, academic presses provide longevity, as they continue to publish books long after the first printing. Similarly, trade presses sometimes present more obstacles to publication, as aspiring authors have to convince an agent who then needs to convince an editor about your work. For the self-doubting historian, their reassurance about the peer review process was liberating: ultimately, you can and should push back against critiques that you vehemently disagree with. You are the expert, after all.

Sam Opsahl, Nicole Poletika, and Jordan Ryan at Indiana’s first LGBTQ historical marker, Monument Circle, courtesy of Jordan Ryan.

In a field dominated by stories of stigma, violence, and oppression, the 2022 QHC provided a much needed opportunity to learn about LGBTQ individuals who thrived, helped build community, and furthered human rights. It was invigorating to be around scholars equally humbled and excited to be part of this nascent field. The conference also provided reassurance that I am on the right track in terms of respectfully telling balanced, accurate histories about LGBTQ Hoosiers. Likewise, it revealed to me that people genuinely are curious about queer life in the Midwest. But before delving back into the pages of The Works, this midwestern historian is closing her eyes and revisiting San Francisco’s winding roads, dotted with colorful condominiums and flanked by glimmering beaches.

* IUPUI anthropology professor Paul Mullins was originally slated to moderate our session. Although Dr. Mullins was unable to make it, he was with us in spirit and scholarship.

Making Women’s History: BSU Blog-a-Thon Recap, Sneak Peak at “Notable Women” Posts, and Hoosier Women at Play Conference

www.bsu.edu/calendar

Last week, IHB staff joined Ball State University faculty and students for the Making History Blog-a-Thon, hosted by the Delaware County Historical Society and the Ball State University Library. The event encouraged researchers to bring to life the stories of notable women from Muncie and Delaware County. Not only was it a fun and productive day, but an active, hands-on way to celebrate Women’s History Month. So, we wanted to share a little more here about the event, as well as the story of one bold Muncie women whom I had the pleasure of researching at BSU. Her story is below the event description.

“Making History” Blog-a-Thon

Left to right: Melissa Gentry, Map Collections Supervisor at Ball State University Library: Jill Weiss Simins and Nicole Poletika, Historians, Indiana Historical Bureau

When my colleague Nicole Poletika and I arrived at the lively GIS Research and Map Collection room at Bracken Library, several Ball State students and professors were already at work. The collection supervisor Melissa Gentry, who we admiringly refer to as the “map queen” for her incredible mapping and imaging skills, helped us select a “notable woman of Muncie and Delaware County” to research. We were challenged not to just collect facts, but to tell a story. We had limited time (just over an hour) and space (entries were to be less than a typed page), but we were determined to try to bring some color to the story of at least one Muncie woman. Thanks to the extensive advance research undertaken by the organizers, we had information on scores of women that helped us choose someone who piqued our interest. I was drawn immediately to the story of a young aviator named Marjorie Kitselman, who defied convention to forge her own path.

All of the posts created for the Blog-a-Thon, including some written in the form of obituaries and even imagined diary entries, will eventually be posted on the Notable Women of Muncie and Delaware County website. Organizers will also begin posting the submissions on their Instagram account (@themuncienotables) starting on April 6. Make sure to follow them, as they hope to announce an upcoming virtual Blog-a-Thon soon. Until then, learn more about notable woman, Marjorie Kitselman.

Aviator Marjorie Kitselman on Her Own Terms

Marjorie Kitselman became a local celebrity practically from a birth, enthralling the Muncie press with her every move. She was born to Leslie Curtis Kitselman, an author and philanthropist, and Alva L. Kitselman, a wealthy industrialist. The family lived in a large home and estate known as “Hazelwood,” now a National Register site.

Muncie Evening Press, February 22, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

Kitselman was front page news at the age of two. The Muncie Evening Press printed a picture of her on vacation with her family, calling her the “society belle of the ‘younger set.’” As she grew up among the elite of Muncie and Indianapolis, where she attended Tudor Hall, the papers reported on her participation in school plays, attendance at parties, visits to friends, and vacations. The press continuously commented on her appearance, referring to a 16-year-old Marjorie as the “attractive young daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Kitselnman.” Even as a teenager she was a public figure.

When Kitselman came of age in the 1930s, a rather austere and Victorian set of expectations of decorum for women reemerged. After the increased freedoms many women found during the 1920s, the 1930s saw a partial return to domesticity and homemaking as ideals. For Kitselman, these social rules were applied to everything from the people she associated with, to how she presented herself in public, to which philanthropic causes she supported. A search of Muncie newspapers shows that everything about her was up for discussion and judgement. She must have known that she was under scrutiny from the press and Muncie society, but she seems to have made up her own mind about what was important to her.

Muncie Star Press, September 11, 1932, 12, Newspapers.com

In September 1932, sixteen-year-old Marjorie Kitselman earned her pilot’s license at the Muncie airport. The Muncie Star Press reported that this accomplishment made her “the youngest pilot in the state.” The reporter explained:

Miss Kitselman was required to make several ordinary landings, a deadstick landing, do a spiral from a height of three thousand feet, make figure 8’s and other flight requirements in addition to taking a written examination on air traffic rules and regulation.

The deadstick landing was an especially death-defying stunt. In this practice for an aircraft malfunction, the engines are turned off and the pilot attempts to glide into the landing. It was not for the faint of heart. She continued to fly throughout the 1930s, sometimes visiting the Muncie airfield where she earned her license “to see the boys and prove that she hasn’t forgotten all she learned as a student here.”

Muncie Evening Press, September 16, 1932, 1, Newspapers.com.

Kitselman continued to live on her own terms, surprising the public by marrying an Olympic athlete and later a famous aviator. She finished school, traveled, stayed close with her family, and eventually died in Curnavaca, Mexico in 1953 after a very short illness. She was gone much too young, at the age of 37, but she lived a full life on her own terms, leaving the expectations assigned to her far beneath her flight path.

More Women’s History! Hoosier Women At Play Conference

Join us for the next exciting women’s history event: the Hoosier Women at Play 2022 women’s history conference. This year’s event is a week-long series of lunch and learn talks Monday, April 18 – Friday, April 22, 2022.

Women’s activities have been undervalued throughout history by patriarchal economic, political, and social systems. Women’s play, pleasure, and creativity have even been treated as dangerous and devious, challenging demands that women’s worth was defined only through their roles as wives and mothers or later as (still undervalued) workers in the capitalist marketplace. This conference challenges presenters to explore women’s play and what it means for individual and collective happiness, health, liberation, and value.

This year’s conference features two keynote speakers.

Dr. Tony Jean Dickerson

Dr. Tony Jean Dickerson will speak on the significance of quilting in Black history throughout the African Diaspora and on her motivations and experience in founding the Central Indiana Akoma Ntsoso Modern Quilt Guild, which she serves as president. She will also address the importance of this art, traditionally upheld and passed on by women, in linking the younger generations to the past and, from the Akan (West Africa) name Akoma Ntoso, linking “hearts and understanding.”

Dr. Michella Marino

Dr. Michella Marino will be presenting her personal experience as well as the extensive research she conducted for her new book Roller Derby: The History of An American Sport (published in October 2021, University of Texas Press). She will speak to the unique gender relations and politics of roller derby, which historically centered women athletes, while struggling to be accepted as a mainstream sport. Dr. Marino will shine a feminist light on how participants used roller derby to navigate the male-dominated world of sports along with their identities as athletes, mothers, and women at play.

Learn more about and register for the Hoosier Women at Work Conference here.

2022 Marker Madness: Overtime

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Learn more about each topic here!

To generate visibility of select Indiana history topics and encourage the public to apply for historical markers commemorating them, we’re kicking off the 5th annual Marker Madness bracket competition! This year, we’re bringing back thirty-two topics from past brackets that we think deserve a second chance in what we’re calling Marker Madness: Overtime. Each day, starting on March 1, there will be a featured match-up and YOU get to decide which topic will move forward.

Want to participate? Between now and March 1, fill out your own bracket and post it on social media using #MarkerMad2022. The person with the most correct individual matchups will win an Indiana history-themed prize. Vote on your favorite topic daily on both Facebook and Twitter and check back here to see updated brackets!

Below is the official Marker Madness: Overtime bracket. Good luck to all who participate!

What Former Legislators Want You to Know

While conducting interviews for the Indiana Legislative Oral History Initiative, I discussed with former Indiana state legislators quite a bit about the ins and outs of state politics. Our conversations covered topics like how legislators find themselves in politics, how the Indiana General Assembly has evolved over the years, and how elections are won and lost. Another interesting thing I learned, though, was how former legislators perceived of the general public during their time in office. In fact, during interviews I often asked former legislators about what they think the general public does not know about the Indiana General Assembly, as well as what they should know. Over the course of many interviews, I received a variety of answers. However, several important themes emerged, which some could argue, reflect a problematic trend for the State of Indiana.

Thomas Teague, courtesy of “Senator Quits Bill,” Indianapolis News, July 16, 1971, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

For starters, the majority of former legislators that I interviewed told me point blank that the average Hoosier knows nothing or very little about the Indiana General Assembly and how it operates. Former Democratic Senator Thomas Teague, who served in the Indiana Senate from 1971 to 1978 and was the Senate Majority leader, stated the following when asked what the public does not know about the Indiana General Assembly: “Well, that would take about a library full . . . I don’t think the public knows very much at all about it. Maybe they don’t care. I think some do.” This belief was echoed by former Republican Representative Stephen Moberly, who served in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1973 to 1990 and said “Well, they don’t know a lot about it…it’s a pretty superficial understanding of government, which is a shame.” This is obviously a big statement to make in regard to the Hoosier population and one that needs to be taken seriously, as it certainly does not bode well for our democracy and our ability to effect change in our state. Additionally, this lack of awareness limits our ability to hold legislators accountable for policies we may not like as citizens.

Indianapolis Star, January 6, 1967, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.

What exactly do Hoosiers not know about state government? First, interviewees noted that many people confuse state legislators for members of the U.S. Congress. This was pointed out by Indiana  State Senator Frank Biddinger, who served from 1967 to 1969. He recounted the following story: “I would be at home, on a weekend, and . . . almost always, people would say to me, well, aren’t you supposed to be in Washington? They all thought I was a U.S. senator, I guess—they didn’t know the difference between a state senator and a U.S. senator.”

William Vobach, a Republican senator who served from 1983 to 1990, pointed out that because the public often conflates state legislators with U.S. lawmakers, there is an “idea that you have a staff that can run around and fix things and take care of agency problems…We haven’t got any of that.” He added that “there was just not understanding that we weren’t there all the time if something came up in the summer or something, you know? That, ‘why can’t you just go over and do it?’ [mentality].” This lack of understanding about basic civics and the functioning of state government is not relegated to Indiana. Recently, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation published a survey concluding that two-thirds of Americans couldn’t pass the test immigrants take to become U.S. citizens. This is an alarming fact, considering test-takers are asked to name various ways to participate in democracy.[1]

Former legislators also felt not enough citizens understand the nuances of government and how complex it is to get a bill passed into law. This was highlighted by former Republican Senator Farrell Duckworth, who served in the Indiana Senate from 1981 to 1984. He said:

They don’t realize what it takes to get a bill passed. They just don’t realize that . . . All of the hearings and everything to get the bill through and then get it kicked back in your face from the other house and have to go through it again or it completely dies and next year you’ve got to bring it back again. They don’t understand that. They think we just go up there and write the bills and that’s it. And get a big check [chuckles]. You’d be surprised how many people think that.

This observation was reiterated by former state legislators. This fact is unsurprising; if most Americans can’t pass a basic civics test, it’s unlikely they understand the complex process of how a bill becomes a law.

“Emergency Powers House Bill 1123 sees Failed Amendments as it Moves Forward,” The Statehouse File, February 8, 2021, accessed thestatehousefile.com.

Additionally, a political majority—or even supermajority—does not ensure the passage of a bill. Recently in Indiana there has been disagreement within the Republican party, specifically between the Indiana General Assembly and Governor Eric Holcomb. The controversy centers around the ability of the governor to declare a state of emergency, without the intervention of the Indiana General Assembly.[2] Essentially, a Republican in the House authored a bill that would allow the Indiana General Assembly to convene for an emergency legislative session, in the event that the governor declares a state of emergency. The process of getting this bill passed into law proved incredibly complicated.

To summarize, after being authored it was sent to the House Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures and passed through committee. Then it was sent to the House floor for a vote and was passed by the Indiana House of Representatives. Next, it was sent to the Indiana Senate’s Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures, where it passed committee and was sent to the Senate floor for a vote. On the Senate floor, two amendments were made to the bill before it was finally passed by the Senate. As a result, it was sent back to the House, which disagreed with these amendments. Thus, it was then sent to the conference committee where leaders of the Indiana House and Senate get together to make agreements on bills in which they disagree. Finally, a conference committee version of the bill was agreed on and sent to the Governor of Indiana, who then vetoed it. In turn, the bill was sent back to the Indiana House and Senate, which voted to overrule the governor’s veto, which officially made the bill law. But, it is still technically not over yet because now the Governor of Indiana is suing the Indiana General Assembly over the legality of the law.[3]

This recent event perfectly highlights how complex the legislative process is and why many Hoosiers, as well as Americans in general, may not quite grasp the ins and outs of how bills become law. And this is only a simplified version of the events. There are many other complexities of how bills become law because there are so many ways a bill can be killed or passed into law due to various legislative tactics. Republican Senator Robert Meeks, who served from 1983 to 1990, described the sometimes gritty legislative process:

Makin’ laws is like makin’ sausage. Doesn’t look good. And you know, General Assembly’s— the legislature was created to take the fighting off the streets and move it into a confined area called the chambers. That’s why it was done, take it off the streets and bring it in here. That’s exactly the way it was. So what goes on in there, in those meetings is generally not general knowledge of the public, they shouldn’t know about all that. Not that it’s bad, but it’s just that it’s sausage.

Conversely, Democratic legislator Earline Rogers noted that while there could be conflict among lawmakers, she told ILOHI that she doesn’t think the public recognizes “the camaraderie that’s there.” Political differences might complicate legislation, but “there’s a bond that political parties just can’t break up,” like the period when she and Republican colleague Tom Wyss were both caring for loved ones diagnosed with cancer.”

“Railroad Crossing Haunts Parents of Victims,” May 26, 1982, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

The last and perhaps most important thing many legislators wanted Hoosiers to know: don’t hesitate to contact your legislator. As former Indiana Senator Dennis Neary, who served in the Indiana Senate from 1976 to 1992, argued:

They need to know that their voice does count, and legislators will listen to them. They won’t always agree with them, but they will listen to them. And the more legislators hear from their constituents, the more they will react on an issue . . . that the person thinks is important.

This may seem like a basic idea, but many Hoosiers and Americans are actually quite passive politically, and don’t seem to be as interested as they could be in employing their political voices. Rep. Charlie Brown, a Democrat who served from 1982 to 2018 and member of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, described in practical terms how his constituents made their voices heard. He noted that during and after session, he attended public forums and mailed out surveys asking what legislative issues constituents wanted to pass. Rep. Brown noted that the information was “compiled by the staff and then it shows us the issues that are most important to the constituents back home.”

Indiana’s former legislators seem to emphasize that not enough is being done by everyday Hoosiers to nurture the health of the State of Indiana. Citizens should strive to be more politically active. Political passiveness towards state government may seem harmless, but bills that could one day affect your life, for better or worse, are being passed every session. We must remember that many around the world are fighting just for the opportunity to have a fraction of the amount of political influence that Hoosiers possess. The enactment of laws may not seem to be the most pressing issue in our day to day lives, but it has the potential to dramatically affect us whether we want it to or not. So it is critical to look into potential legislation and to weigh in by bringing your concerns and experiences to lawmakers. After all, they work for us.

 

Sources:

[1] Patrick Riccards, “National Survey Finds Just 1 in 3 Americans Would Pass Citizenship Test,” October 3, 2018, accessed Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

[2] Tom Davies, “Indiana Lawmakers Override Governor’s Emergency Powers Veto,” April 15, 2021, accessed AP News.

[3] Indiana House Bill 1123, passed April 15, 2021, accessed LegiScan.

The Associated Press, “Judge Letting Gov. Holcomb Sue Indiana’s Legislature to Block Emergency Law,” July 6, 2021, accessed WTHR.

Former State Legislators Agree: Politics Has Changed

Indiana General Assembly, no date, courtesy of the Indiana State Library.

For many former Indiana lawmakers, the legislative and technological world feels quite different from the one in which they began their political careers. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that statistically the U.S. is the only democratic nation in the world where social trust has seen a major decline, suggesting political polarization is the major driving force.[1] Luckily, history provides us with perspective in these contentious times, reminding us of an age when things were once different and that there is always hope for change.

According to former legislators of the Indiana General Assembly (IGA), politicians have generally collaborated well and operated in an atmosphere where, despite political disagreements, most worked congenially across party lines. This is not to say that political polarization is as tense as it appears at the federal level, but Indiana Legislative Oral History Initiative (ILOHI) interviews indicate that bipartisanship is harder in Indiana than it once was. As ILOHI’s oral historian, I found myself hearing over and over again from legislators who began their careers in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s that state politics have changed, that the current political climate is less collegial. This belief was echoed by former legislators of both major political parties.

Rep. Choice Edwards (R), “History of the IBLC,” accessed indianahousedemocrats.org.

When asking former Republican legislators about their impressions of bipartisan cooperation during their service compared to today, I was given the following responses. Former Republican Rep. Ned Lamkin, who served in the House of Representatives from 1967 to 1982 and was crucial in creating Unigov legislation (which merged Marion County and the City of Indianapolis), stated: “ bipartisan groups would go to lunch together every day . . . so we had really good . . . collegial relationships with one another unlike it is today . . . we really did say ‘only 10% of this is political.’” Lamkin’s African American colleague, Representative Choice Edwards, served during the 1969 session and helped pass Unigov into law. In an ILOHI interview, Edwards recounted his experience in the IGA, saying “So it went from very serious kinds of things to jovial . . . you know I believe to quote the philosopher Mencius if you ain’t laughing you ain’t living. So, I believe in . . . trying to ease tensions with laughter.”

Edwards’ predecessor, Republican Van Smith, who served in the Indiana House of Representatives in 1961 and was chairman of former Vice President Mike Pence’s successful 2012 gubernatorial campaign, echoed these same thoughts. He reflected:

There’s not deep bipartisan political respect that there once was. I don’t know I would have as much enjoyment in the legislature as I had before. I don’t know if I would have as much fun running for public office as I had before. There is this tendency to really build extreme vitriol positions against personalities, rather than have a good discussion of issues. It saddens me, because it’s a magnification in both parties, it’s a magnification of the bitterness, the attractiveness of being bitter. . . I am a staunch Christian and it just ain’t good.

Rep. Charlie Brown (left), accessed NWI Times.

Former Democratic legislators, like Rep. Charlie Brown, who served from 1982 to 2018, too observed increasing political polarization. Brown contended:

It’s just over the last six years, that what you see at the federal level was at the local level here. It used to be that we’d fuss and fight on the floor or in committee, but then go out and have a drink or have dinner together. That changed drastically over the last six or eight years. It was a total separation and isolation of the parties as it is at the federal level. I don’t know what brought that on. We just do not have that camaraderie any longer.

Democrat Lindel Hume, who served in the House of Representatives from 1974 to 1982 and the Senate from 1982 to 2014, echoed this, stating

It’s a tale of two legislatures . . . Whether you were Democrat or Republican you had friends on both sides of the aisle and you would kid around together . . . A much better relationship across party lines and one of the reasons I decided to retire from the legislature was that it just wasn’t the same.

African American teacher and Democratic legislator Earline Rogers served in the House from 1983 to 1990 and Senate from 1990 to 2016. She noted that despite differing races or parties, her statehouse colleagues respected and related to one another, adding that the public probably wouldn’t “recognize the camaraderie that’s there.” She also recalled that while caring for loved ones diagnosed with cancer, she and Republican colleague Tom Wyss, “went through something together. . . there’s a bond that political parties just can’t break up.”

The Herald (Jasper, IN), February 23, 1984, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

While the legislators agreed that polarization had intensified, most did not attribute it to a specific source. One major factor exists today that did not in the early careers of former legislators: the internet. The Pew Research Center reported in early 2020 the results of a survey regarding how trustworthy Democrats and Republicans found 30 different news sources. The results found that Democrats trusted 22 of the sources and Republicans distrusted 20 of the sources, showing a deep divide.[2] The Wall Street Journal noted a few months back that mathematicians studying the role of social media in political polarization are seeing a disturbing trend, where social media sites appear designed to highlight the most contentious and extreme political posts.[3]

According to Facing History & Ourselves, online platforms “use algorithms to expose viewers to increasingly extreme content, which can lead them to fringe political views without their realizing it. . . . Spending time in a political echo-chamber can make it easier for negative feelings toward members of the other political party to develop.”[4] Information has become inherently political and it is harder than ever to discuss it, because so many have come to only trust information that fulfills their political biases. As a result, it is like throwing gasoline on a fire by reinforcing the idea that the other “side” is too extreme or untrustworthy to even interact with. In addition to “media bubbles,” Facing History cites “in-group bias,” or tribalism, and changing election policies like campaign finance reform and gerrymandering for increasing political polarization.

Indiana General Assembly, ca. 1948-1953, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The 2021 session indicated that the party divide among Indiana legislators isn’t likely to narrow any time soon, given the recent tension in the Assembly over a proposed bill regarding a South Bend school district. When Democrats belonging to the Black Legislative Caucus expressed concerns that the  bill would lead to racial segregation in South Bend, it was reported that a group of white Republican legislators booed and heckled them.[5] The conflict moved from the House floor to outside the chambers, and there, according to WFYI, a white male lawmaker had a confrontation with a black female legislator.[6] Democrats called for implicit bias training after the incident. While some legislators pushed back against this proposal, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed that the conflict exposed serious issues in the IGA.

Perhaps, if there is one thing we can learn from former legislators, it is that things don’t have to be this way, that political echo chambers can be dismantled. The Association of Retired Members of the Indiana General Assembly, a bipartisan group founded in 2016, is hoping to restore civility and bipartisanship among legislators. An Indy Star op-ed noted the group is “joined in fellowship of our common legislative and political experiences as well as our respect for the legislative process.”[7] Every two years, it awards legislators who demonstrate courtesy and respect for other members, are willing to find common ground, demonstrate self-discipline, and appreciate the rights of others. The op-ed’s author stated, and ILOHI interviewees confirmed, “Legislators are human and can be passionate. They can also be civil and work together for the good of our state.”

Sources:

[1] Kevin Vallier, “Why Are Americans So Distrustful of Each Other?,” The Wall Street Journal, accessed WSJ.com.

[2] Mark Jurkowitz, Amy Mitchell, Elisa Shearer and Mason Walker, “U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided,” accessed Pew Research Center.

[3] Christopher Mims, “Why Social Media Is So Good At Polarizing Us,” The Wall Street Journal, accessed Wall Street Journal.

[4] “Explainer: Political Polarization in the United States,” accessed Facing History & Ourselves.

[5] Brandon Smith, “Tensions Flare as Some Republicans Boo, Heckle Black Democrats on House Floor,” WBAA, February 19, 2021, accessed wbaa.org.

[6] Brandon Smith, “‘Nothing Was Normal’ About 2021 Legislative Session Amid COVID-19 Pandemic,” WFYI, April 26, 2021, accessed wfyi.org.

[7] Op-Ed, “Bipartisanship Group of Retired Indiana Lawmakers Encourages Civility,” Indianapolis Star, May 2, 2021, accessed IndyStar.com.

2021 Marker Madness

DOWNLOAD A PRINTABLE BRACKET HERE

Learn more about each topic here!

To generate visibility of select Indiana history topics and encourage the public to apply for historical markers commemorating them, we’re kicking off the 4th annual Marker Madness bracket competition! This year’s topics include well-known names such as Charles “Chuck” Taylor and the Jackson 5, as well as Hoosier history deep-cuts such as queer activist Stan Berg and pitcher Amos “The Hoosier Thunderbolt” Rusie. Learn more about each topic here. Each day starting on March 1, there will be a featured match-up and YOU get to decide which topic will move forward.

Want to participate? Between now and March 1, fill out your own bracket and post it on social media using #MarkerMad2021. The person with the most correct individual matchups will win an Indiana history themed prize!

Vote on your favorite topic daily on both Facebook and Twitter. Check back here to see updated brackets!

Below is the final bracket. Thanks to all who participated this year!

 

Re-Imagining Migration: Free Virtual Teaching Resources on the History of Immigration and Xenophobia

Teachers know that the U.S. history has some dark moments. The making of the republic was a flawed process where immigrants, among others, were marginalized. But history teachers don’t always have the tools to teach this difficult history as many textbooks and curriculum still emphasize a narrative that does not include the contribution of immigrants to the American story. Re-Imagining Migration is attempting to address this gap by teaching migration as a shared human condition and showing students of immigrant origin that they are part of the story of the U.S.  The Indiana Historical Bureau (IHB) has partnered with Re-Imagining Migration to supply original historical research and primary sources from Indiana State Library collections to create free virtual lesson plans. We hope these two new classroom resources help teachers guide students through some difficult, but highly relevant, historical events:

Resource 1: One Hundred Percent American: The Ku Klux Klan and Immigration in the 1920s

Resource 2: Save the Children: American Attitudes toward Refugees and the Wagner-Rogers Act

About the 100% American Resource

Xenophobia can sometimes present itself wrapped in the American flag, in the 1920s and today. Through understanding the 1920s Klan as a mainstream, not fringe, organization, students will learn how easily words and propaganda can become actions and official policy – like the 1924 Immigration Act and ensuing quota system. Students can learn to evaluate sources for bias and identify ways that hateful rhetoric can be disguised as patriotism. (Read more from the Historical Context essay).

The 1920s Klan was perhaps strongest in Indiana, where it infiltrated society and politics. Sources show how the hate group spread its message through newspapers, songs, picnics, and parades. And while sources are mainly from the Indiana State Library, the lessons can be applied much more widely. (View the Primary Sources).

About the Save the Children Resource

When people seek refuge from war, genocide, and oppression, who is responsible for helping them? When 300,000 refugees from Nazi persecution sought harbor in the United States in 1939, most Americans turned a blind eye. Others actively opposed new immigrants, while an admirable few worked to tear down the paper walls aimed specifically at excluding Jews. Still others hoped, if nothing else, they could at least save the children through the Wagner Rogers Bill. (Read more from the Historical Context Essay).

The sources include arguments for and against allowing 20,000 Jewish children into the United States. These arguments will help students think about who does and does not get to be an American and who gets to decide. These sources also allow for discussion of how economic arguments have been used to legitimize xenophobic policies such as the quota system. (View the Primary Sources).

Using the Teacher Resources

These resources don’t attempt to impose a curriculum on teachers, but only offer three main tools to bring discussions about immigration into the (virtual) classroom:

1. Historical Context: Each resource has an historical essay, providing the background and context for the topic. This academic essay could be used by the teacher, who then relays the content to younger students, or assigned to older students.

2. Primary Sources: IHB selected a diverse collection of primary sources, including photographs, newspaper articles, political cartoons, pamphlets, song sheets, and more. These sources will help students think about who has been considered a “desirable” immigrant or a “real” American, who has been denied refuge and citizenship rights, and how this has changed in response to demographic shifts and world events.

3. Teaching Ideas: Re-Imagining Migration provides a guide for teaching each topic, including reflection questions and thinking routines. These will help ensure that dialog remains thoughtful and respectful in the classroom. These questions and routines can be paired with each individual primary source or used more generally.

Join Us

Please join us on Wednesday, December 2 for a free webinar exploring the 100% American resource and teaching about patterns of anti-immigration prejudice.

Register at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/100-american-the-kkk-and-immigration-in-the-1920s-tickets-129022807691

A Guide: Commemorating Hoosier Suffragists via the National Women’s Suffrage Marker Grant Program

“Election Day Scene,” in which Brookville women are likely campaigning for suffrage, 1900s, Ben Winans Glass Plate Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

One-hundred years ago, American women won their hard-fought battle for the ballot with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Hoosier women from diverse socioeconomic, racial, religious, and geographical backgrounds were integral to this suffrage movement. While COVID-19 has presented challenges in commemorating the centennial of women’s suffrage, we are determined that Indiana’s reformers get the recognition they deserve. After all, the suffragists taught us the value of perseverance.

Although the Indiana Historical Bureau’s historical marker application deadline recently passed, we are pleased to announce our participation in the National Women’s Suffrage Marker Grant Program. The program, founded by the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (NCWHS) and The William G. Pomeroy Foundation, will commemorate “places where local grassroots activity took place, thereby recognizing the remarkable efforts of the foremothers who fought to win women the right to vote which will inspire women to vote today,” according to NCWHS President Marsha Weinstein.

Where does IHB come in? IHB historian Nicole Poletika has volunteered to serve as Indiana’s state coordinator and will work with Hoosiers interested in nominating local suffragists, enfranchisement organizations, and suffrage events to be commemorated with a Pomeroy/NCWHS marker. Each state is tasked with installing one to five markers, so the process may be competitive depending on how many nominations are submitted. Indiana’s markers will be incorporated into the National Votes for Women Trail, which weaves together the work of suffragists from across the nation.

We have put together a Q&A guide in order to answer questions related to the nomination process. If you have a question that is not addressed here, please contact state coordinator Nicole Poletika at npoletika@library.in.gov. The Pomeroy Marker Toolkit is also a helpful resource.


  1. How do Pomeroy/NCWHS markers differ from IHB’s state historical markers?

Pomeroy/NCWHS markers provide less space than IHB markers to tell the story of the topic being commemorated. Unlike IHB markers, Pomeroy/NCWHS markers contain text on only one side. Therefore, they lend themselves to telling the stories of women who certainly deserve recognition, but perhaps less is known about their work for the movement. While applicants must raise funds for IHB markers, the cost of Pomeroy/NCWHS markers has been covered by grant funds.

2. How can I find out if a marker or plaque already exists for the topic I’m interested in?
Please see IHB’s list of women’s history markers, which have already been installed. Other databases that catalog Indiana’s historical markers include Waymarking, HMdb, and the National Votes for Women Trail. Please note that over the next five years, IHB will be commemorating these Indiana women who worked for suffrage and citizenship with historical markers.

3. Do I need to be a professional historian or researcher to submit a nomination?
No! Any interested member of the public is encouraged to submit a nomination. Indiana’s state coordinator will work with you on the application process and direct you to primary source repositories.

4. I want to nominate a topic but am not sure where to start with research. Can you point me to some resources?
Nominated topics must be accompanied by primary source documentation in order to assure accuracy of text. Typically markers require ten primary sources to verify the text, although this number can vary based on marker content. Examples of sources accepted by the grant program can be found here. While locating these sources can seem daunting, local librarians, county historians, and the grant program state coordinator are here to help! COVID-19 has made accessing primary sources more difficult, but IHB’s Research Checklist, which can be found on the “Apply for a Marker” webpage, provides you with some easily accessible free digital resources.

5. What information is required for the nomination form?
The nomination form is a fairly simple one-page document. You will be asked to provide your contact information, your proposed marker text (which must include important dates), preferred installation location and reasoning for said location, and a short paragraph explaining the significance of your topic. Nominated suffragists must demonstrate enduring engagement in the movement. Examples of nominations can be found here. Please note that the marker location cannot be so extensively altered as to destroy significance and markers must be installed where they’re easily read.

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

6. Who should I contact for help with the nomination process?
Email state coordinator Nicole Poletika at npoletika@library.in.gov.  The Pomeroy Marker Toolkit can also guide you through the process.

7. When does my nomination form need to be submitted?
The Pomeroy Foundation has generously provided funding for a second application cycle. Nominations are now due on January 15, 2021. In addition to the nomination form, applicants must include a statement of historical significance, copies of primary sources, and the land use permission form signed by the property owners.

8. What happens once a nomination form is sent to the state coordinator?
Once the Nomination Form is completed the state coordinator will submit it to the NVWT Advisory Board for approval. The NVWT Research Team will then request primary sources and the Land Use Permission letter. The Research Team will also work with applicants and state coordinators to revise marker text or historical significance statements and add necessary primary sources. Once the nomination packet is complete, the NVWT Research Team will submit it to the Pomeroy Foundation for approval. If the Pomeroy Foundation approves the marker’s final application, the NVWT Research Team will contact the applicant and state coordinator about ordering and delivery.

9. How much do the markers cost and are applicants responsible for fundraising?
The Suffrage Marker Grant Program covers the entire cost of the historical marker, so no fundraising is necessary.

10. Do I need to get permission from owners of the selected site before installing the marker?
Yes. State coordinators, with the help of the marker applicant, will ask property owners to sign a Land Use Permission letter. If a municipality or another agency owns the land, their official letterhead will need to be added to the permission letter.

11. Who oversees installation of the marker?
It can vary, but either the state coordinator, marker applicant, community partners, or a combination of the three, will install the marker. Typically,  the seven-foot pole is sunk about three feet into the ground. Most sites use concrete to provide the marker with more stability, which takes about a day to dry (similar to a fence post). The marker needs to be affixed atop of the pole and secured with the hardware provided. In some cases, someone at the site does the install themselves. In other cases, the local partner has asked the municipality’s public works department to help with install to ensure it is done appropriately. The marker weighs about fifty pounds and the pole thirty-five pounds, so two people may be needed to handle or lift the marker. Installation procedures, developed by the foundry that makes the Pomeroy markers, can be found here.

Pomeroy marker dedication at St. James AME Church, Danville, KY, courtesy of Pomeroy Foundation webinar presentation.

12. How can I get the word out about the marker and dedication ceremony?
Together, the state coordinator and marker applicant will promote the marker and unveiling ceremony. IHB can submit a press release, which will be delivered electronically to various local press outlets. Additionally, IHB has cultivated a considerable social media following and will promote the event on its platforms. The NVWT Research Team is also available to help with publicity, and would like to attend the unveiling ceremony, so long as they are alerted to it three weeks in advance. Pomeroy’s toolkit offers examples of press releases and tips for social media promotion.

13. I want to learn more about Indiana’s suffrage movement. What is a good primer?
While historians still have much to discover about the state’s movement, especially the contributions of African American suffragists, Dr. Anita Morgan’s “We Must Be Fearless:” The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana provides a nice overview. She also wrote a brief history about the movement for the Indiana Women’s Suffrage Centennial website.

Indiana History Blog posts related to suffrage include:
Taking It to the Streets: Hoosier Women’s Suffrage Automobile Tour
A Silent Roar: Indiana Suffragists’ 1913 March to the Statehouse
“Suffrage Up In The Air:” The Equal Suffrage Association’s 1912 Publicity Campaign

ILOHI: The Oral History of the Indiana General Assembly and Its Relevance to You

What if I told you there is a way to get an inside look at the politicians who govern your state?  What if there was a place where you could find out not only who these politicians really are, but why they made the decisions they made? Most importantly though, what if I told you, what they do is ultimately up to you? The Indiana Legislative Oral History Initiative (ILOHI) serves as your gateway into the lives of Indiana’s former General Assembly members.

How the Project Began:

ILOHI was created by House Bill 1100 by the Indiana General Assembly (IGA) in 2017. It is an ongoing oral history project established to record the history of the IGA—from the latter part of the twentieth century to the present day—from those who experienced it first-hand.

What the Project Does:

Essentially, interviews are conducted, transcribed, preserved, and then eventually made publicly accessible. Thus, as ILOHI’s oral historian, I travel around the State of Indiana interviewing former legislators who served as early as the 1960s. I record their stories to provide a new history of the IGA and its members and shed light on the modern political and legislative processes that help shape our state. In turn, this project will highlight the ways in which Indiana has changed over the course of the last four decades and show lawmakers’ contributions and responses to this evolution. As a result, by sharing the history of the IGA and its influence on the people, processes, and institutions of the state, we can begin to more fully understand the role Indiana plays in a national and global context.

Portrait of Indiana State Senators inside the Senate Chambers in the Indiana Statehouse in 1967, courtesy of Indiana State Library Photograph Collections.

Why You Should Care:

State government, let alone government in general, can often seem like a remote and overly-complex process in which we have no control. Consequently, this feeling of powerlessness can sometimes cause us to remove ourselves from legislative issues. However, our role as citizens is far more influential than meets the eye. These are elected officials, meaning they work for us. They are voted into positions of power, because we the people chose them in hopes they will make our state better. Although we should be involved in what they do and how they do it, it is easy to feel intimidated by political officials and the political process. That’s where ILOHI oral history interviews come in. They can help demystify elected officials and inform you about the legislative process, so that you can better understand your state and the people who serve it.

As Ned Lamkin, former member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 1967 to 1982, states in an ILOHI interview:

It’s theirs [the people], and it will be whatever they want it to be, if they in fact want to have an influence. . . . The General Assembly is there to listen and respond to the needs of its citizens and if the citizens recognize that and think about how things could be better and organize to try to make them better, the General Assembly will ultimately respond.

Charlie Brown, former member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 1982 to 2018, informed the ILOHI that citizens:

have as much power as they want to have. . . . I often tell folks you don’t know how powerful you are. While I’m sitting there in the General Assembly and my staff comes to me with a stack of phone messages and all of them are centered around, most of them centered around one subject matter, something that I had not been giving much attention, I said, ‘Boy, I better find out more about this.’

Indiana House of Representatives, 1989, at their desks in the House Chambers inside the Indiana Statehouse, accessed Indiana State Library Photograph Collections.

Ergo, legislators may be members of the IGA, but the IGA answers to you. On the other hand, perhaps you already feel confident in your understanding of the legislative process and your role in it. But maybe you question the motives of some politicians and worry that political games or self-serving interests affect the actual will of the people.  After all, nearly everyone can recall a story about a corrupt politician at the state or national level. But a blanket dismissal of state government and the men and women who are elected into these positions of power removes their human aspects and motivations. This is why when government officials are examined closely via ILOHI interviews, a different side of politics emerge—one that may just restore your faith in your elected officials or at the very least helps you see a different side of the story. As a matter of fact, you may even come to think that they chose to get involved in politics because they honestly wanted to dedicate part of their lives to helping Hoosiers and the state that they too call home.

Bill Frazier, former member of the 1969 Indiana State Senate, provided insight into the responsibilities of legislators in his ILOHI interview. He says a legislator should:

Be honest, and know politics is not an excuse to be dishonest.

“Bulen Warns GOP Trails in Voter Registration,” The Indianapolis Star, August 4, 1966, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

Overall, these oral histories are meant to pull back the curtain and reveal the intentions and perspectives of legislators as they debated the policies, wrote the laws, and crafted the budgets in an attempt to shape and better the lives of Hoosiers today. Furthermore, the insights and lessons that emerge from their experiences are indispensable in understanding how we got to where we are today. If you care about your state, want to make a difference, and change how things work, let these interviews be a source of empowerment and reveal the nature of the relationship between the IGA and the citizens of Indiana. Because Indiana ultimately belongs to you, it requires interaction between elected officials and citizens, and the more citizens work with legislators to help make our state better, the more we all benefit.

Happy 105th Anniversary to Us!

Indiana Historical Commission – 1915, (from left to right) Samuel M. Foster, Lew M. O’Bannon, Frank B. Wynn, John Cavanaugh, Samuel M. Ralston, Harlow Lindley, Chas. W. Moores, Charity Dye, James A. Woodburn, Accessed IHB’s website.

This week marks the Indiana Historical Bureau’s 105th anniversary! We’ll be celebrating with cake and history—the two go really well together.  IHB’s founding can be traced back to the creation of the Indiana Historical Commission in 1915.  The Indiana General Assembly created this commission for the purpose of “providing for the editing and publication of historical materials and for an historical and educational celebration of the Indiana centennial.”[1]  The thinking was that as Hoosiers celebrated 100 years of statehood in 1916, an understanding of their state’s history would give them a sense of identity and community.

For the next decade, the commission led the centennial celebrations, gathered and published important historical documents, collected records from World War I, and worked with local and state historical societies as well as other state agencies.  They also began marking historical locations around the state—something we’re still passionate about today! In March 1925, the General Assembly passed a new law reorganizing the Indiana Historical Commission into the Indiana Historical Bureau.  We’ve been researching, publishing, surveying, writing, and telling stories about Indiana history ever since.

Of course, though, there have been many changes to and within IHB during its long history, particularly within the last five years.  We have a young staff here without a lot of institutional memory, so we have recently begun digging into our own history. We hope this will help us better understand our current programming and the work we do here, as well as the relationships we’ve had with other historical organizations across the state.  Just like the original organizers of the Historical Commission, we believe that it’s important to know where you’ve been in order to understand where you are.  We hope that our research during our 105th anniversary year can illuminate more about our fruitful past to better prepare for our future.

But back to those more recent changes . . . In July 2018, IHB formally merged with the Indiana State Library (ISL), and we became one of three divisions of ISL (IHB, Public Services, and Statewide Services).   We have long been tied to the library through various means, and in some ways, this merger was a return to the past (in a good way).  When the Bureau was formed in 1925, IHB, ISL, and what was then called the Legislative Bureau (now Legislative Services Agency) were each divisions of a larger Indiana Library and Historical Department.[2]

Since the 1930s, IHB maintained offices in the Indiana State Library and Historical Building.  However, this recent merger has really opened up doors for IHB in terms of access to resources and opportunities for new partnerships.  In February 2019, ISL underwent an internal reorganization when the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department and Digital Initiatives Department joined with IHB’s public historians to comprise a new IHB division.  We now have stewardship of documents important to Indiana history and provide free access to resources like digital newspapers, while our public historians make the history accessible through outreach.

So who are we as we celebrate our 105th year, and what exactly is it that we do?  Formally, IHB is a division of ISL made up of three smaller departments: Public History, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and Digital Initiatives. Informally, we describe ourselves as a public history research institute.  As such, we continue to abide by our mission statement adopted in 1996 that says,

The Indiana Historical Bureau provides publications, programs, and other opportunities for Indiana citizens of all ages to learn and teach about the history of their communities, the state of Indiana, and their relationships to the nation and the world.

We deep-dive into primary source research and then utilize that research in our public projects and programs.  We have re-imagined our work to include practicing 21st century history and have shifted away from publishing print materials, instead largely adopting digital media.

We’re still excited about markers! We’re proud to diversify and expand our marker program both by topic and geography.  We’ve drastically increased our marker content to include more women’s history and African American history topics, and we are determined to fix our problematic markers related to indigenous history.

Roberts Settlement Historical Marker, Hamilton County, Dedicated in 2016, Accessed IHB’s website

In addition, IHB offers new initiatives such as the Indiana History Blog, Talking Hoosier History podcast, the Indiana Legislative Oral History Initiative, and the Hoosier Women at Work biennial history conference, among other programs.  We partner with other organizations such as the Indiana Historical Society to operate the County Historians Program and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on their History Unfolded project. We also host a newspaper digitization project, Hoosier State Chronicles, and a collaborative collections portal, Indiana Memory.  In short, we keep busy and do our best to provide Hoosiers with fascinating and inclusive stories from our shared past, as well as provide resources and services to help you dig into the history yourself.

At the heart of all the projects, programs, and collaborations is our belief in and commitment to the History Relevance campaign.  The campaign, which has been in action for approximately seven years, “encourages the public to use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues and to value history for its relevance to modern life.” We want Hoosiers to first and foremost understand what history is, how to practice it, and develop the critical skills it offers. Secondly, we want Hoosiers to recognize its importance and relevance to the world in which we live.  History is NOT merely a series of names, dates, and facts to be memorized.  It is an interpretation of the past based on primary source materials and facts.  It is a narrative based on evidence and sources that helps us understand what came before, and why and how that informs where we are right now.  To emphasize a quote from Sam Wineburg,

History teaches us a way to make choices, to balance opinions, to tell stories, and to become uneasy—when necessary—about the stories we tell.[3]

Furthermore, as the campaign asserts, history is essential for the future.  Indeed,

historical knowledge is crucial to protecting democracy.  By preserving authentic and meaningful documents, artifacts, images, stories, and places, future generations have a foundation on which to build and know what it means to be a member of this civic community.[4]

As we celebrate our 105th anniversary, we want to ensure that we continue to help Hoosiers learn more about Indiana’s past and the ways in which it is relevant to the present. This also means that IHB will continue exploring our own history to stay relevant and continue serving Hoosiers in the best way possible.  We hope that you will help us do this and embrace the new and exciting things the Bureau has to offer in 2020!  Stay tuned for more, and here’s to another 105 years . . . Now cake!

[1] Laws of the State of Indiana, 1915, (Indianapolis:  Wm. B. Burford, 1915), 455.

[2] Laws of the State of Indiana, 1925, (Indianapolis:  Wm. B. Burford, 1925), 191.

[3] Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001), ix.

[4] Value of History Statement, History Relevance Campaign, https://www.historyrelevance.com/value-history-statement, Accessed 4 March 2020.