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Digging into Hoosiers and the American Story

I returned from the debut of Hoosiers and the American Story, a teacher workshop where I represented IHB as a partner organization, on November 6 with a plan to read this new textbook cover-to-cover in less than a week.  I did not manage to get to the student activities portion of each chapter, which is a testament to how thorough the authors were in their coverage of Indiana history in the readings offered.  I am slated to represent IHB at two more of the teacher workshops and at the ICSS Annual Conference during the weeks that follow, so I may revisit the Student Guide Activities once I’ve had a chance to talk to more teachers and give those sections of the book a bit of time.

First, a disclaimer:  I am not, nor have I ever been, a classroom teacher.  Instead, my experience with education is in informal settings.  I’ve planned and implemented hands-0n programming and tours for all ages at historic sites as small as IU’s Wylie House and as large as Monticello.  So, what follows are some highlights from my first reading of the book that impressed me as a parent and as an informal educator.

Though the book is written for an older audience (middle/high school) than most Indiana History textbooks or supplements that have come before, primary school teachers at Nov. 6th’s workshop remarked that with a bit of vocabulary development, they would use this new textbook with no qualms.  The book really captures change over time and frames Indiana as a state that has been and remains in motion.  Readers can track changes in industry, agriculture, social progress, demographics, politics, and innovation, both through the very readable text and the fantastic diagrams, images, and maps that pepper the volume.

And speaking of diagrams and maps, Hoosiers and the American Story is beautiful.  Well thought out diagrams illustrate complex concepts, like the continuum of opinions on slavery and race in 19th century America on page 97.  Large (sometimes spanning 2 pages) full-color reproductions of primary sources are striking and sure to capture the imaginations of readers.

As an historical interpreter (aka tour guide) at Monticello, I learned a very important lesson about interpreting history for the public:  the job of the historical interpreter (and I believe also the teacher) is not to feed facts, but to provoke. Provoking the listener or reader to think critically, to ask questions, or to make decisions has a larger and more lasting impact.  When provoked, an individual is likely to recall the experience  and the facts we’ve hidden within our great stories and explore topics on their own.

James Madison and Lee Sandweiss have risked provocation in Hoosiers and the American Story.  I say “risked” because earlier Indiana history texts for students collected by IHB over the years often tell a simple, binary history of the state. Many of the textbooks IHB has archived in its Resource Center offer students a very black-and-white view of Indiana, with controversial topics like slavery and tough concepts like Indian removal ignored or relegated to a sidebar.

Madison and Sandweiss offer a much more nuanced picture to students, one of an Indiana with a lot of gray areas to explore, including topics like the Trail of Death, slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, Eugenics movement, and women’s rights.  By incorporating uncomfortable and/or thought-provoking stories, Hoosiers and the American Story will undoubtedly spark interest in young readers and encourage them to develop critical thinking skills that will serve them well as they approach college and career.

Teachers: If you have not already registered to attend the Indiana Historical Society’s teacher workshops to learn more about the book, and the resources being offered by IHS and its partners (including IHB!) to supplement the text, there are a total of 11 workshops being offered.