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IHB Book Signing: The Changing Narratives of Indiana’s History

The following is an archived post from the IHB blog Marking Hoosier History.

At our book signing on April 16 we had a chance to hear about the fascinating work that eminent Indiana historians have recently completed. Book signings reinforce why we love and practice history. They also encourage us to look at Indiana history cumulatively, as we often concentrate on specific events or figures that are subjects of our state historical markers. We also got to see some familiar faces, reconnect with those in the field, and meet those generally interested in Indiana history.

Indiana University history professor and author Dr. James Madison spoke about and signed copies of his Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana, a comprehensive examination of Indiana history. Associate University Archivist in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives Stephen Towne signed copies and spoke about his recently-published Surveillance and Spies in the Civil War: Exposing Confederate Conspiracies in America’s Heartland, which provides groundbreaking insights about the U.S. Army’s work to identify and thwart those who conspired against the northern war effort.

After an introduction by IHB Director Pamela Bennett, Towne discussed Surveillance and Spies, describing how his interest in the topic began when he heard about the much-maligned Civil War general Henry Carrington. Shortly after, he conducted research at several Indiana, Ohio and Illinois repositories, eventually spending two months at the National Archives to examine overlooked Civil War records. His detailed examination resulted in Surveillance and Spies, which brings to light the little-known bureaucracy of surveillance in the North, a system devised by the U.S. Army to investigate deserters and those who plotted to disrupt northern war plans. Those employed established local surveillance bureaus and followed suspects, opened their mail and secretly sat-in on their meetings. This surveillance, although unsystematic and decentralized, resulted in treason trials against those thought to be conspiring against the North. Surveillance and Spies is especially timely, as Towne draws parallels between the NSA’s collection of information about citizens to counter terrorism with the Civil War Army’s spying techniques.

With ample primary documentation to support his assertions, Towne’s work boldly rebuffs and corrects a body of historiography about the level of threat to the North posed by such conspirators.  Towne found that earlier scholars neglected a large body of primary sources, including panicked telegraphs between army generals and state governors on the imminent dangers posed by those aiding and even arming draft dodgers, those working to free Confederate prisoners, and the secret organizations whose large numbers threatened insurrection. Towne proves that sometimes fact really is more interesting than fiction with the publication of Surveillance and Spies.

Following Towne’s talk, Dr. Madison discussed the compilation of his much-anticipated Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana, an updated version of his 1986 The Indiana Way: A State History. Madison informed attendees that he wrote Hoosiers because he felt that The Indiana Way was outdated, joking that readers should throw their copies in the trash. With Hoosiers, he hopes to represent the “phenomenal changes” that have taken place in Indiana within the last 30 years. Madison was motivated by the wealth of new scholarship, as well as his own evolving perspectives about the state’s history. This new scholarship allowed him to tell the story of Native Americans more thoroughly from their perspective and include black voices in the pioneer narrative, a period of Indiana history that tends to be thought about as exclusively white. Madison also included more women’s history, detailing how the movement for uncontaminated milk allowed women to escape the kitchen and enter the public sphere to fight for change. Based on his extensive research, Madison contends that Indiana citizens are generally slow to embrace change, assuming that they can always fall back on factory work and the automobile industry. Madison contends that the closing of these factories and their replacement by Japanese car companies symbolized the end of this way of life, a shift that Hoosiers have yet to completely accept.

Madison aptly concluded by stating that the state’s bicentennial provides us with an opportunity to read, think and talk about who we are and where we want to go. Following their enlightening talks, the authors graciously answered audience questions, signed books, and spoke with attendees. IHB is honored to have hosted the event and experienced such engaging discussion of new scholarship about Indiana’s history. Surveillance and Spies and Hoosiers are both available at the Indiana Historical Bureau Book Shop. We hope you’ll join us next time!