AMSTUTZ: Embracing history to shape the Next Indiana

December 10, 2016

AmstutzIn 1825, nine years into statehood, Indiana underwent a governmental change for the sake of shifting demographics. With the state’s bicentennial just a few days away, we face similar shifts in demographics and other economic and cultural realities, so we might want to consider lessons learned from that change.

After all, how we navigate the changes of today will have a lot to say about how Indiana flourishes in the next 200 years.

The real story of that 1825 change is the story of two factions. One was so determined that the state government set deep roots in Corydon that, when the constitution was drafted, its members inserted a clause saying the capital could not move for nine years.

The other faction saw Indiana’s growing population migrating north, so, in 1820, its members began an effort to move the capital to the north.

The winner of that tug-of-war is obvious. What’s less obvious is whether we’ll recognize the question this nugget of history foreshadows: Which group will we emulate—the one that resisted looming change or the one that embraced the opportunities of a shifting reality?

Indiana’s history has much to teach us about how we respond to change in general, but also about the specific changes we face. For example, as we have seen our immigrant population more than double in the last 15 years, we can learn from the experiences of the early 20th century, when European immigrants came to Indiana in droves. As we address resource limitations, we can study the way Indiana responded in the early 1900s, when natural-gas shortages led manufacturers to leave the state. In a time of transportation innovation, we can examine the state’s experiences with the interurban, the canals and the advent of the highway.

As we see our citizens migrate from rural to urban areas—many of them pursuing jobs that require higher levels of education—we can look to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when industrialization created a similar shift.

And as we see changes in our preferences about where we want to live and the ways we travel, we can learn from the era when Hoosiers first started to own cars or from the days when suburbia first blossomed.

Our story will be shaped by how we respond to these changes. So how do we ensure that, to future Hoosiers, we look like a people who saw change as opportunity rather than something to be resisted? I believe we do that by consciously considering what Indiana Humanities has dubbed Next Indiana—the Indiana that will be shaped by the next 200 years. I believe we must learn, engage and dream. Think, read and talk. And stand on the past’s firm foundation to look expectantly to the future.

By embracing change in Indiana, pioneers carved out a civilization from the wilderness and farmers drew increasing bounties from the land. Makers, manufacturers, artists and innovators claimed their places. Patriots, statesmen and citizens—people fiercely independent and yet fiercely loyal to their fellow Hoosiers—rose up to lead us. These people faced change and made the most of it—and they left the state better as a result.

I challenge Hoosiers to seize this opportunity to create the Next Indiana. In doing that, we can leave a legacy that will encourage future historians to say, “They faced change and made the most of it … and they left the state better as a result.”•


Amstutz is president and CEO of Indiana Humanities. A longer version of this essay appears in the fall 2016 issue of Indiana Historical Society’s “Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History.”

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