New local history research center at ISU sponsors student exhibit

December 3 2007

Ryan Evans had heard about Terre Haute’s seedy past and being dubbed “Sin City,” but the historical facts he dug up during a research project for his “Prohibitions: Morals, Policy and Behavior” honors class at Indiana State University substantiated the scuttlebutt.

“I was surprised to find out that in 1957, one of the largest international gambling operations of its time was being run out of a third-floor room on Wabash Avenue,” said Evans, a senior pre-medical liberal studies major from Francesville. “When it was raided by federal authorities, the establishment was found to be making more than $100,000 a week, from gamblers as far away as Cuba, Texas and Canada.”

Evans’ is just one of several history research projects -- ranging from prostitution in Terre Haute to popular baking recipes during 1890 to 1950 -- which will be on display from noon to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 5 in the exhibition space at ISU’s Cunningham Memorial Library.

The exhibit is being sponsored by the newly created Research Center for Local History and Culture, which is housed at ISU in Stalker Hall.

Proposed by the departments of history and English, with participation from Cunningham Memorial Library, the center was founded in 2006 with a grant from the Lilly Foundation. The center, which is designed to help students engage in original research into the history, people, and traditions of Illinois and Indiana, has been designated a Program of Promise by the university.

An undergraduate fellow at the center, Evans has been able to contribute to the new organization’s archives, but also to his own knowledge base as a doctor-in-training.

“I will be attending Indiana University Medical School next fall, and my project showed me how the population can not just be addicted to drugs and alcohol, but behaviors such as gambling,” Evans said. “As a physician, I will have to be aware of all these possible addictions to give a patient the most help that I can.”

The exhibit at ISU’s library will feature research into local history conducted by students from two classes -- an honors seminar open to all majors, “Prohibitions: Morals, Policy and Behavior,” taught by Anne Foster, assistant professor of history; and a history internship class taught by Cinda May, assistant librarian and adjunct instructor of history.

“My students have been conducting research into local issues -- current and historical -- related to the concept of prohibition. Not merely of alcohol, but also of methamphetamine, prostitution, gambling, prescription drug abuse, drunk driving and medical marijuana,” Foster said.

Students employed a variety of research methods, Foster says, including archival research at the Cunningham and Vigo County Public libraries, interviews with public officials and activists, and reviewing the current records of governmental agencies and university departments.

The idea of researching “prohibitions” stemmed from Foster’s own research on the narcotics policy in colonial Southeast Asia from 1890 to 1945.

“I wanted to explore some of the questions I ask in my own work with students, and on topics of local significance,” Foster said. “The students have gained insight into the policy-making process, and into the difficult trade-offs of making good policy, especially for such complicated subjects as drugs and potentially destructive behaviors.”

Some of the student projects even make specific recommendations about policy changes that could be adopted at the university or local level, Foster says.

During the history internships, students in May’s class researched the records of the Vigo County Historical Society, the Eugene V. Debs collection of Cunningham Library and the Clabber Girl Museum.

“The students in the internship class are all history majors, and they have benefited from their direct encounter with the primary sources,” Foster said. “They have had to learn how to construct a story from sometimes contradictory and sometimes incomplete sources.”

Along the way, there have been some exciting discoveries for both groups of students.

Jessica Wiles, freshman athletic training major from Wingate, researched the steroid policies of Indiana high schools.

“This project has shown me how easy it is to access steroids,” Wiles said. “Indiana as a state does not have a steroid policy. Only three states do -- Florida, New Jersey and Texas.”

Wiles chose her topic because, like Evans, she was able to relate it back to her degree.

“I want to be an athletic trainer and then go on to be a chiropractor,” she said. “My research gave me more information about the health risks involved in steroid use and made me consider the possibility of Indiana creating a statewide policy.”

Projects by students in the “Prohibitions: Morals, Policy and Behavior,” course that will be on exhibit include:
• History of Gambling in Terre Haute (Ryan Evans)
• ISU Efforts Against Binge Drinking (Whitney James)
• Effectiveness of MADD’s Local Chapter Against Drunk Driving (Analyssa Noe)
• Methamphetamine in Clay County (Maggie Williams)
• Methamphetamine Policy in Vigo County (Brandon Niece)
• Prostitution History in Terre Haute (Kimberly McCurrey)
• Medical Marijuana (Janna Farrell)
• Steroid Policies of Indiana High Schools (Jessica Wiles)
• Policies Against Prescription Drug Abuse (Juanita Carothers)
• Alcohol Advertising and Effects on Consumption, Local and National (Cory Jones)
• Comparison of Anti-Drunk Driving Efforts in Terre Haute and England (Sara Kuhlman)

Projects by students in the history internship course that will be on exhibit include:
• “Eugene V. Debs’ Trial” (Tyler Alexander)
• “Newport Hill Climb and Car Show” (Chris Kessinger)
• “Popular Baking Recipes, 1890-1950” (Nadia Kluesner)
• “World War II Propaganda Posters” (Joshua Lazarra)
• “The History of the Terre Haute Brewery and Champagne Velvet” (Nathan Lewis)
• “Nominating the Fairbanks Library Building to the National Register of Historic Places” (Justin Williams)

The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Indiana State University has designated the Research Center for Local History and Culture as a program of state/regional distinction as part of "Fulfilling the Promise - The Path to Pre-eminence," a plan to raise Indiana State to a high level of prominence in the state, Midwest region and nation. The plan is partially funded by a gift from the Lilly Endowment Initiative to Recruit and Retain Intellectual Capital for Indiana Higher Education Institutions.

PHOTO: Download a high-resolution photo here:History Research Showcase
CUTLINE: Whitney James (middle), an undergraduate fellow at the Research Center for Local History and Culture housed at ISU, discusses her research project on “ISU Efforts Against Binge Drinking” during the Showcase of Undergraduate History Research for Fall 2007 at Cunningham Memorial Library. (Kara Berchem/ISU)

CONTACTS: Anne Foster, assistant professor of history, Indiana State University, 812-237-8432 or; Christopher Olsen, Research Center for Local History and Culture, 812-237-2725 or

WRITER: Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or

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Story Highlights

Several student history research projects -- ranging from gambling in Terre Haute to popular baking recipes during 1890 to 1950 -- will be on display at an exhibit sponsored by the newly created Research Center for Local History and Culture, which has been named a Program of Promise.

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