Project Title:
From Old Northwest Territory to New Entrepreneurial State:
Indiana and Illinois across Two Centuries of Historical Reflection and Global Change

Project Description:
The coming four years will present the people of Indiana and Illinois with some key moments in which to assess their past and future. Having commenced their period of American governance within the common bounds of the Northwest Territory in 1787, having then shared a subsequent identity as Indiana Territory until 1800 (when a newly drawn Illinois Territory separated itself from Indiana’s borders in preparation to become the “western state” foreseen in the original language of the Northwest Ordinance), these neighboring political units will soon mark the 200th anniversaries of their statehood.

For Indiana and Illinois’ citizens, public officials, educators, business leaders, and historians, the approach of 2016 and 2018, respectively, marks an opportunity to reflect on the tremendous changes visited on each state since its territorial beginnings. Further—and not incidentally—members of these and other groups have already begun to treat their bicentennials as occasions to look not just backward but forward—toward an era in which the ongoing economic and cultural health of American states or regions seems no longer to rise or fall according to the broader health of the nation. In response, they will continue to develop new strategies designed to help their political units to compete in what we are assured has become an increasingly “global” world.

Despite common origins, and despite their many shared cultural, geographical, and historical features, Illinois and Indiana are—no less than, say, Ohio and North Dakota, at the Midwest's extreme boundaries—patently different places. Each lays claim to distinct political traditions and cultural characteristics, each has memorialized its past in distinct ways, and each—in this era of what one social scientist calls “the entrepreneurial state”—is preparing its own plans for attracting international investment and retaining local talent within its borders. Each, in other words, represents the distinctive ways in which global interactions, from the time of the early Republic to our own day, play out in ostensibly similar sites.

Timed to inform and draw upon the public attention accompanying Indiana and Illinois’ upcoming bicentennial observances, this project proposes to investigate the unique combination of choice and accident that has shaped the distinctive or common culture of neighboring states over two centuries—and that, by extension, will condition their differing responses to the challenge of capitalizing on global capital, culture, and people in the years to come. While political, administrative, and fiscal differences—set in motion by their differentiation as separate territories in 1800 and continued through their centuries as separate states—will obviously inform this historical study, we propose to set such conditions within a broader cultural analysis, grounded in historical questions: Who are the people of Illinois and Indiana? What have they valued, and what have they feared, as they faced crises over time? What traditions did they bring from their origin cultures, and how has that global inheritance developed into a distinctively American hybrid, alongside the concurrent development of peripheral territorial settlements into a culturally identifiable “Heartland”? To what extent have political divisions, set in motion two centuries ago, either reflected or gone on to shape distinctive historical conditions in the years that followed? Has the notion of a common midwestern identity, itself so suggestive of shared insulation against forces of change and cultural transience, become a historical artifact in this age of relatively unimpeded flows of culture, finance, and people?

To focus these broad questions, we will bring our investigation to bear on three “moments”—brief historical periods when residents of each state articulated their relationship to the past and future, to each other, to the larger nation, and to the world:

  • 1816-18: Following a period of debate and discussion over the legacy of colonial status and the meaning of republican ideals, the two states come into being. Their new political status accelerates an ongoing process of Euro-American migration, cultural hybridization, spatial organization, and forced Indian removal.

  • 1916-18: Indiana and Illinois’ centennial celebrations are colored by the US’s entry into the global military-political scene, a steady urbanizing trend, and the peak of European immigration to the US.

  • 2014-18: Regional and global migration to (and, significantly, from) the area again rises; distinct urban and rural identities give way to a networked, unevenly developed metropolitan landscape; and an effort to adapt traditional agricultural and industrial labor resources to the demands of a postindustrial economy fosters ever-greater recognition of the Midwest’s dependency on overseas production and international investment.

We consider each era as a contingent moment, a time when choices and challenges shaped by the events of preceding years promised to lead the people of each state in any of several directions—and when historical reflection or celebration, often occasioned by a landmark event or anniversary, became a tool for articulating future ideals. Looking at the overlay of historical consciousness and contemporary anxiety for the first two periods, we then lay out a historically informed basis for directing scholarly and public discussion of critical challenges in our own time.

Organizer Name:
Eric Sandweiss

Organizer's Contact Information:

Organizer's Departmental and University Affiliation:
Chair, Department of History
Editor, Indiana Magazine of History
Indiana University
742 Ballantine Hall
Bloomington, IN 47405