Indiana University Bloomington

'Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana' tells stories of people, changing times

  • Aug. 13, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Just ahead of the state's upcoming bicentennial, Indiana University historian James H. Madison’s “Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana” provides a fresh take on the familiar but sometimes surprising stories of the people who settled, built and continue to change Indiana.

Newly published by Indiana University Press and Indiana Historical Society Press, the book covers the history of Indiana from the Ice Age to the present, including topics ranging from the rambunctious politics of the 19th century to the importance of the auto industry to Indiana’s love affair with basketball.

Increased attention is given to themes that were slighted in some previous accounts, such as the lives of African Americans on frontier and farm as well as in the cities, and the crucial role played by slavery and race in Indiana’s struggles over the Civil War.

Madison, a Pennsylvania native, moved to Indiana for graduate school and eventually made the study of Indiana history an academic specialty, along with scholarship of World War II. He initially set out to revise his 1986 state history, “The Indiana Way,” in advance of the 2016 bicentennial celebration. But he soon realized more than a simple update would be required.

“There has been a lot of change in the last 30 years, and I wanted to incorporate that,” Madison said. “But it’s not just what has changed; I’ve also changed, my perspective has changed. And then, very importantly, what we know about the past has changed. There’s new scholarship.”

One area where that’s the case involves the Civil War. “Hoosiers” describes the bitter fights in Indiana over the war and the draft, with Gov. Oliver Morton forcefully backing President Abraham Lincoln and a large pro-slavery element fiercely resisting.

“In the crucible of war,” Madison writes, “the outward harmony of the first few months gave way to the bitterest and most violent political battles in Indiana’s history. ... Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation unleashed fiery outrage.”

Madison chose “Hoosiers” as a title because that’s what the book is about. “By Hoosiers I mean the people of the state,” he said. “I don’t mean the state in any abstract sense. I don’t mean the government, though I write about the government. ‘Hoosiers’ is my way of saying, ‘It’s about the people.'”

And not just politicians, business owners and other influential people. The book also includes ordinary Hoosiers, such as Mariah Mendenhall, a Jay County midwife who delivered nearly 1,000 babies in the 1800s; Joshua Jones, a 23-year-old farm boy from Muncie who died at Antietam; and the African American pioneers who settled Lyles Station in Gibson County and Lick Creek in Orange County.

In “The Indiana Way,” Madison argued that Hoosiers are a cautious people, in favor of growth and development but wary of rapid change. We’re skeptical of government, protective of individual freedom and strongly attached to a sense of place. The state has produced some revolutionaries: socialist leader Eugene Debs, Indiana University sex researcher Alfred Kinsey and presidential candidate and “one-worlder” Wendell Willkie, for example. But they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

In “Hoosiers,” Madison sticks to that position, but with some qualifications. “Evolutionary, not revolutionary, change has long been the Indiana way,” he writes. “In the last several decades, however, there have been signs of more rapid change.”

Madison imagines an observer looking forward from the vantage point of Indiana’s centennial in 1916. Who would have imagined Japanese-owned car and truck factories rising in Indiana corn fields, he asks? Women’s basketball becoming a professional sport? Outlet malls replacing factories? And who would have guessed the state legislature would balk at amending the constitution to ban same-sex marriage?

Madison is the Thomas and Kathryn Miller Professor of History Emeritus in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. In addition to “Hoosiers” and “The Indiana Way,” his books include “Eli Lilly: A Life, 1885-1977”; “Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys: An American Woman in World War II”; and “A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America.”

A video trailer about the book by IU Press and Indiana Historical Society Press is available on YouTube.

To speak with Madison, contact Steve Hinnefeld at IU Communications, 812-856-3488 or

Related Links

James H. Madison

James H. Madison

Print-Quality Photo

'Hoosiers' book cover

The cover of "Hoosiers" is from one of the Indiana murals that Thomas Hart Benton painted for the 1933 World’s Fair, highlighting the state’s love affair with basketball and auto racing.

Print-Quality Photo

Media Contacts

Steve Hinnefeld