Change was the resounding theme of the night: how society has progressed, how citizens respond to change, and the idea of historiography, or the interpretation of history and how it changes over time.
“The people of Indiana thought and feared the world was changing in 1916 – there will always be change, that’s what historians know,” Madison said.
Starting at the beginning, in 1816, Madison talked about the pioneers who settled in waves, filling Indiana from South to North. At this time, the fertility rate was among the highest of any other place in the world, and Native Americans and settlers were meeting face-to-face.
Recalling the theme of change, Madison noted how the perception of Native American figures in U.S. history has shifted.
“Tecumseh is an American hero, not only a Native American hero.” Madison said. “Scholarship is beginning to change its focus from Europeans to Native Americans.”
The topic of the state’s origin evoked the topic of its people’s collective nickname: Hoosier.
“There is no answer to the question of ‘Where did Hoosier come from?’ And honestly, I prefer it that way. We are a magical, mystical people,” Madison said.
Moving into the Civil War time period, Madison noted two of the most important Indiana politicians: former Governor Oliver P. Morton and President Abraham Lincoln. Throughout his life, Lincoln lived in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Washington D.C. But, Madison had no qualms to include him in Indiana’s history.
“Is Abraham Lincoln a Hoosier? You bet your socks,” Madison declared.
With the mention of Abraham Lincoln comes the story of slavery and the Civil War: while slavery did not function in Indiana like it did in the South, there was indentured servitude in the Hoosier state. Madison showed his audience an advertisement for a 39-year indenture, selling a “negro woman and child.”
Nevertheless, Indiana became a free state, and a crucial component of the Underground Railroad.
“We love to tell the Underground Railroad story, because it makes us look good; however, the majority of Hoosiers had no interest in slavery or helping slaves escape. That was left to a radical minority,” Madison said.
After the Civil War came an era of Jim Crow in the North, where laws of segregation were not enforced, but informally followed. Furthermore, an era of industrialization began. Companies such as Eli Lilly, the Ball Brothers, Studebaker, US Steel, and more, opened shop in Indiana. By 1900, Indiana had become an industrial and agricultural heartland.
At this time, schools and social reform began taking place. Child labor laws were put in place, tenement housing became regulated, and women agitators began protesting for the right to vote. In fact, nearly every social cause at this time had strong women behind them, pushing for change. In Indiana and throughout the country, women obtained the right to vote in 1920.
The 20s and 30s were dark times for Indiana. In the 20s, the Ku Klux Klan became a prevalent part of Indiana society, having parades through the middle of towns, including Muncie.
“They believed that America was going to hell in a handbasket. That we were in crisis, and the government was doing nothing,” Madison said.
The Klan had members from all social backgrounds: lawyers, doctors, housewives, those from poorer backgrounds, etc. They targeted Catholics, immigrants, African-Americans, Jewish people, and more.
In the 30s, the Depression began, and Gov. Paul McNutt brokered the “Little New Deal,” calling for government intervention. This was done before President FDR instituted his federal New Deal.
In the 40s came the war, and loss. But, the 1950s ushered in the age of affluence. There was prosperity and individual wealth, until the 70s came and creative destruction and disruption reigned. Corporations began moving overseas.
“As jobs were leaving, people were like deer caught in the headlights. They thought it was temporary,” Madison said.
Today, Madison said that we are seeing two Indianas emerging: one of continued prosperity, and one diverging, ravaged by illicit drugs and poverty.
“We have always had differences. Indiana has never been homogeneous. But, we are all bound by the brand name ‘Hoosier,’” Madison said.
Professor of History and Honors professor Bruce Geelhoed was coordinator for the Meyer Endowed Lecture this year. The lecture, an annual event that honors the late Honors College Dean Bruce F. and his wife, Ildiko B. Meyer, a school psychologist for the Muncie Community Schools and New Castle Community Schools, was co-sponsored by the Honors College and Ball State’s Department of History and took place in the Teacher's College.
“Madison is the authoritative person on the history of Indiana. We were fortunate to get him, he was booked solid and this was the only day on his schedule. I was pleased with the turnout, and pleased he was here. He was very complimentary about the students and faculty,” Geelhoed said.
Keeping with the theme of change, Madison had one last message for the audience.
“As we celebrate 200 years, I hope you pay attention to what happens in Indiana: past, present and future. We’ve been around for a long, long time. Think about who we are, and where we come from.”