Hoosier author will frame state’s history with its future

Hoosiers who determinedly built their lives slowly and cautiously through the state’s first 200 years made that trepidation work for them. But Indiana residents of today and tomorrow must take a page from the state’s champion racecar drivers and speed up and steer toward more risk — at least when it comes to adjusting to a rapidly shifting landscape.

So says one of the state’s better-known historians slated to speak Tuesday in Columbus.

“We will have to be more light and quick on our feet, so to speak, in thinking about how to adjust to change and how we can make it work in our favor,” said James H. Madison, a Bloomington resident and retired Indiana University history professor.

The author of the 2014 book, “Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana,” will talk about that work, an Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project, and the state’s history in general.

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The book also is the local Community Book Read, with a variety of events surrounding that. The next free, group discussion for the work will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Viewpoint Books at Sixth and Washington streets in Columbus. It will focus specifically on Chapters 8 to 11.

“Hoosiers” goes as far back as the Ice Age and steps into today enough to include a look at the state’s hoops hysteria. The auto industry’s role in the state also gets a turn in the spotlight.

Madison, a Pennsylvania native who moved to Indiana at age 21, originally compiled the state’s beginnings and growth in “The Indiana Way: A State History.” Yet, the author always has believed that history is a fluid, living and changing component, depending especially on the perspective and background one brings to it.

“We didn’t have the same sources available then,” he said, adding that knowledge of blacks and pioneer women alone in the state is much broader than it was in 1986 when that work was published. “We just weren’t quite paying attention, and knew very little about all that.

“But we’re more willing today as 21st-century citizens to listen to these sources. When you change your perspective, you change your story. And, in my mind, things become much more interesting when you do that.”

He always has firmly believed that history cannot be set in concrete, anyway.

“Some young whippersnapper’s going to come along in the next few years — and maybe they already have — and research and write and speak about things (of Hoosier heritage) that I didn’t even think about,” he said. “And they will add to and modify the story.

“And to me, that is the joy of history.”

Mary Clare Speckner, the library’s community services coordinator, mentioned that area residents snapped up all 80 free copies of the book available last month. Plus, all of the library’s 10 copies for borrowing are checked out.

“This is a good sign,” she said.

Although crowds for other recent, local Indiana Bicentennial event presentations have ranged from 30 to 55 people, Speckner figures there could be 80 to 100 listeners for Madison in a room that has held up to 120.

Just a few weeks ago, he spoke to 200 people at the VFW post in Milan right after the Bicentennial torch passed through town. A member of the 1954 Milan state championship basketball squad was part of the celebration.

“It was one of those quintessential Hoosier moments filled with such sentiment that it nearly brought tears to my eyes,” Madison said.

Telling Indiana's story

Who: Bloomington author James H. Madison speaking about his 2014 book, “Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana,” the local Community Book Read.

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Red Room of the Bartholomew County Public Library, 536 Fifth St. in Columbus.

Focus: Indiana’s past, present and future, including Bartholomew County’s jobs and economic strength while other nearby areas struggle.

Free copies: Madison will give away four free autographed copies of “Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana.”

Information: 812-379-1266 or mybcpl.org.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.