We Stand Together

‘We Stand Together’: Jody Blankenship, Indiana Historical Society

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Some say the protests and continued fight for justice we’re seeing will hold a firm spot in our history books. What we do now will be remembered. And the Indiana Historical Society has made it it’s mission to keep up with our history. News 8’s Katiera Winfrey sat down with the IHS president for Wednesday’s “We Stand Together.”

Indiana’s history, at least a lot of it, is documented within the 8 million items stored at the Indiana Historical Society. Jody Blankenship, the Indiana Historical Society president, said there’s always more than one or two sides of history. And it’s all our jobs to tell it.

WINFREY: When you talk about the idea of history, with everything happening across the country I hear the word this is a historical time. Coming from your background is this an historic time, something for us to remember?

BLANKENSHIP: Well history is being written every day. I think we always need some perspective, some distance to understand the implications of that history. But yes it is historic. I think when we look at today and we compare it to past times that have been similar, there is certainly something here that is not the usual. And so how far does this goes? What are the ramifications of it. Those are still playing out right now. And it’s something that we need to keep an eye on. I do think that there is something different right now than we are used to. And certainly between the pandemic, the protest for equality and against systemic racism, this is not our usual society or our usual operations. And so we’re living through something special right now.

WINFREY: And you think about the civil rights. We often hear the phrase, if you don’t remember history you’re destined to repeat it or something along those lines. And it seems like we’re kind of in the repeating history cycle. What is your hope on people taking this moment and doing something with it?

BLANKENSHIP: One of the things as an historian that I hope is that times like this will cause people to reflect. Not just today on the past. How did we get to where we are today. It didn’t just appear yesterday. This has been building for centuries. And so with an understanding of how we progress where we’ve come from, what has happened what has happened, where we have regressed and move backwards it puts today in perspective. And understanding that helps us move forward intentionally. And informed. And so we don’t just make those mistakes that we’ve made in the past because we understand what those mistakes have been. And I love the quote from Mark Twain, history does not repeat itself but it sure does rhyme.

WINFREY: In the history that we do know, that’s not always coming from the most diverse group of people telling the tale or setting the tone. Talk about how the historical society is working to change that. To bring in all of these different voices to tell the story of now.

BLANKENSHIP: So you’ve heard phrases like history is written by the winners. And there is some truth to that. History over time has been written from a particular perspective. And in all honesty that has predominantly been from a white male perspective. We are working to change that as our our peers across the country because we understand that isn’t a full understanding of history. That the complexity and nuance that is needed when we study our past can’t come from just one point of view or one perspective. You have to understand it from multiple viewpoints. And so to do that we have to collect the perspectives of a situation from many different points of view. Whether that is based on the color of someone’s skin their sexual orientation, their gender, their geography, their background, their socioeconomic status. All those things play into how one experiences an event. And to fully understand our past we have to understand it from all of those perspectives. So the IHS has been for several years, and in some cases decades, we’ve been working to complete that narrative in our collection. So we’ve gone out and intentionally collected material from different groups, people, perspectives that aren’t in the record so that we have a fuller idea of what had happened.

WINFREY: How do you feel about living through all of this, and being able to say I was there when this happened? I watched this unfold.

BLANKENSHIP: I would say the best word I can use is surreal. We study this stuff all the time. Whether it was the 1918 flu, polio, the civil rights movement, the beginning of the 20th century, the 1960s even other times. To have read about this, to have studied it, to have seen the evidence of the past and then now to recognize we are going through something today, it is surreal. It does make me think. And I think it is important for people to understand 50-100 years from now people will be looking back on us. And they are going to ask, why did they make the decisions that they made? What did they do right, what did they do wrong. So I think as we move forward and as we move through this time it’s important to think about the legacy that we are going to leave. What are people in the future going to say about us. Did we do responsible things, were we kind, where we empathetic, were we trying to build something better or were we trying to tear things down? And that’s something that needs perspective. But I think if we were all thinking about what future generations were going to come back and say about us at this time, I think it would lead us to make more thoughtful decisions right now.

The Indiana Historical Society is kicking off it’s Project Take a Stand. An undertaking to document the current climate around the country. They want you to send in pictures, poetry, videos and art work of things depicting recent events.

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