This year, Indiana is celebrating its bicentennial. Unfortunately, we will not be getting a piece of birthday cake in the mail. Instead, the state chose some really interesting ways to celebrate the occasion.
The “Indiana in 200 Objects Bicentennial Exhibition” is on display at the Indiana State Museum. Among the 200 objects is a pair of Chuck Taylor basketball shoes — the high-tops made famous for Converse by Taylor, a 1919 Columbus High School graduate.
Indiana’s Bison-tennial Public Art Project has the ambitious goal of displaying a decorated fiberglass bison in each of the state’s 92 counties. In September and October, a 2,300-mile long Olympics-style torch relay will make its way through the state.
Indiana’s bicentennial is an opportunity to consider the triumphs and tragedies in our state’s past. It is a time to celebrate our achievements and learn from our mistakes.
A state’s birthday celebration is also when we revisit some of the great stories that we already know. But it is also an opportunity to spend some time learning from voices long ignored by the historical narrative. The bicentennial is certainly an occasion where we should share Indiana’s unique history and culture with children or with people that have just moved to the “Crossroads of America.”
It is also a great time to think about Indiana history in new ways, too. What was the result of changing Indiana’s landscape? How has Indiana’s wildlife changed? How did the influenza pandemic of 1918 impact Indiana history?
Our past is complicated. Some of the events in Indiana’s history are, for lack of a better word, ugly. Although it can be difficult, the bicentennial is an opportunity to learn about both the good and the bad. Birthdays are not just about celebration. They are also about reflection and evaluation. Sometimes that process can be quite painful.
The lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in 1930, the 1838 forced removal of the Potawatomi people during the Trail of Death, and the state’s forced sterilization program are a part of Indiana’s history, too.
In sharp contrast, many moments in Indiana history have been glorious. Indiana played an important role in the formative years of Abraham Lincoln and the Wright Brothers. Hoosiers have worked hard to provide for their families and make the world a better place. They have made important contributions to art, science, and medicine. Indiana colleges have won national championships in basketball and football. The state is home to numerous Medal of Honor winners.
While we pause to examine Indiana’s past, I think it is also a good opportunity to think about our future. Could Hoosiers in 1816 have predicted what life would be like in 2016? In 1816, the state’s population was approximately 65,000. Today, it is more than 6,500,000. Could Hoosiers in 1816 have predicted the industrial and technological revolutions or the transitions in Indiana’s economy? Could they have predicted how participation in the democratic process has expanded since 1816?
What do we want for our state in the future? It is difficult to imagine what life will be like in Indiana in 2216?
Are you optimistic about our future? Do you believe that humanity will be able to find peace, end poverty and cure diseases? Or are you more pessimistic?
I could make predictions about 2216, and I am certain that I would be wrong. I do know that it will be dramatically different than today and that each of us has a hand in shaping that future.
Aaron Miller is one of The Republic’s community columnists and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He has a doctorate in history and is an associate professor of history at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.