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IU Bicentennial Oral History Project captures the untold stories of campuses across Indiana

Sep 25, 2019

In the 1940s, Indiana University Bloomington students spent time with their friends at the Gables or Nick’s English Hut.

And if a female student didn’t have a date for a dance, the social director of her sorority would call up the social director of a fraternity and ask if there were any available men.

Herban B Wells Library
The IU Bicentennial Oral History Project started as a way to add student and staff stories to the IU Archives.Indiana University photo

In many cases, those blind dates would lead to marriages, their classmates remembered.

Two decades later, in the ’60s, Richmond community members came together to raise money for a new IU campus there. And in the 1990s, IUPUI partnered with community groups to fight systemic inequity.

Stories like these, about IU campus life from decades past, are part of the more than 1,200 interviews in the IU Bicentennial Oral History Project. A portion of the project will be available online on Sept. 27, with a majority of the collection posted by spring.

Now a universitywide effort to collect oral histories, especially voices of those who were likely excluded from university records in the past, it started as a volunteer-run project about 10 years ago.

While the IU Archives is filled with official documents and records, there wasn’t as much about the student or the staff experience, said Rafal Swiatkowski, who started as a volunteer before becoming project coordinator in 2017.

“One of our goals is to fill that gap in IU’s historical record, focusing on those marginalized voices,” he said.

The collection will help anyone interested in the history of IU and will be publicly available.

Once online, each oral history will have a written transcript as well as the audio version. And users will be able to search the text for keywords and then start the audio from that point in the interview.

“The audio and the transcripts go hand in hand,” said Jon Cameron, digital media service manager for IU Libraries, who is working on this project. “Having the transcript adds to the experience of listening to that recording, and users can read while experiencing the richness of the audio.”

When Indiana University turns 200 years old, you start the celebrations early – six months early.

IU kicked off its bicentennial at the start of July for a year of honoring the university with parties, symposiums, festivals and more across the state. While the list of events is ever-growing, here are five reasons to mark your calendar now:

Description of the following video:

Video Transcript

Indiana University Honoring the IU Bicentennial


[The Indiana University trident appears.]

[Words appear: 200 years. Indiana University. Honoring the Bicentennial]

[Video: Students walk across the IU campus, participate in Dance Marathon, attend an outdoor concert, and stand up at commencement. The public attends a sculpture unveiling at Luddy Hall. Women’s and men’s basketball players dance and work the crowd.]

[Words appear: IU knows how to celebrate]

[Video: Little 500 bicycle race. Students gather in Dunn Meadow for the Student Involvement Fair]

[Words appear: We’ve been at it for … ]

[Video: A crowd gathers around Showalter Fountain for CultureFest. Archival footage of a crowd celebrating an NCAA win for the Hoosiers.]

[Video: Numbers graphically count up to 200.]

[Words appear: 200 years and we’re still going strong]

[Video: A student dances in front of a crowd gathered in the lobby of the Herman B Wells Library. A professor gives a lecture in a large classroom. Archival footage of a women’s tricycle race. The men’s basketball team celebrates an NCAA victory. Students hug Jawz, the IUPUI mascot. Students participate in the IUPUI regatta. Color Run participants are covered in colorful powder.]

[Words appear: 200 Festival Sept. 26-29, 2019]

[Words appear: IU’s 200th Anniversary Jan. 20, 2020]

[Video: A band plays for a crowd at CultureFest. The Marching Hundred participate in a parade.]

[Words appear: Bicentennial Alumni Reunion June 1-6, 2020]

[Video: Jubilant fans attend an athletic event]

[Words appear: Bicentennial Celebration June 6, 2020]

[Video: The IU trident appears.]

[Words appear:]

Kick off the festivities

IU campuses will soon be bustling with students as the fall semester gets underway. And the 200 Festival will continue that momentum of the bicentennial from Sept. 19 to 29. A multiday event, the festival includes faculty research days on the Bloomington, IUPUI, Kokomo, South Bend and Southeast campuses. Additional events include the annual IUPUI Regatta on Sept. 21 and a Bicentennial Ceremony on Sept. 28 in Bloomington.

Travel the state

From September 2019 to August 2020, a traveling exhibit, “All for You,” will tour the state, stopping in all 92 counties. Hop on the big red bus for virtual-reality displays, videos, historic images and more showing IU’s impact on the state. Here’s how to book the bus.

Then, put your IU knowledge to the test during the bicentennial race. The multiday event slated for 2020 (dates are still TBA), racers will participate in mental and physical challenges on each campus to honor the history and campus culture of IU.

Nominate a historical marker

Modeled after the state’s historical marker program, IU created its own historical markers to honor the people, places, events and organizations that had an impact not just on the university but on the state, nation and world. Marker dedication events are being scheduled starting with events at IU East, IU Kokomo and IU Southeast in September and continuing to other campuses through the spring.

Nominations are still being collected, and deadlines are Jan. 10, 2020, and Jan. 15, 2021.

Bicentennial banners on the Bloomington campus
Bicentennial banners on IU campuses celebrate the university’s 200th anniversary.Photo by Chaz Mottinger

Expand educational conversations

The Bicentennial Lecture Series expands on universitywide conversations about issues in arts and literature, business, geopolitics, sustainability, civility and more. Look for lectures on your campus.

At least two symposiums are also scheduled for IU’s bicentennial year: the International Education at the Crossroads from Oct 25 to 27 on the Bloomington campus and Beyond Boundaries: Indiana Academies Symposium on April 3 and 4 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.

Happy 200th birthday, IU

IU officially marks 200 years on Jan. 20, and campuses across the state will mark the occasion.

Events for each campus will be announced soon, but here’s a peek at what’s happening in Bloomington: The new IU Bloomington history mural panels in Wright Quad and the new “Lux et Veritas” paintings in Presidents Hall will be dedicated. There will also be the ceremonial first ringing of the bells in the newly renovated Arthur R. Metz Bicentennial Grand Carillon.

On Friday, Swiatkowski and others will demonstrate the online platform for the project at the 200 Festival Collections Showcase, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Solarium of the Indiana Memorial Union at IU Bloomington.

To conduct the interviews, project staff use one of three sets – faculty, staff or alumni – of base questions to start. Each last between 45 to 90 minutes.

“It’s really about having a conversation with people: What’s their background? How did they come to IU? What was their experience like? What have they done since and what does IU mean to them? For faculty and staff, we have questions about initiatives they were a part of and historical events that happened when they were on campus,” Swiatkowski said, adding that the goal is to learn people’s personal history and to listen to their story.

And of all the interviews he’s done, it’s hard to pick the ones that stand out to him most.

In addition to alumni from the 1940s, he enjoyed hearing how the protests around Vietnam, the women’s movement and the civil rights movement affected students. Depending on a student’s social circles, the events of the ’60s and ’70s were all-encompassing, or they passed the student by. He also enjoyed listening to how technology affected student life over the decades.

On the regional campuses, it was also interesting to learn about the identities of each campus and the impact those campuses made on their students and the community around them, Swiatkowski said.

The oral history project is still taking interview suggestions, especially for voices not already in the historical record, he added. As the bicentennial comes to a close in June 2020, Swiatkowski said the goal is for the project to go on but will be overseen by IU Archives.

“It’s a legacy project. Part of our goal is to create a process so this work can continue going forward.”

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