The Outstater

March 21, 2023

Indiana Has a Historian Gap

IF THERE IS ANYONE in Indiana with credentials to talk about a key battle in our Revolutionary War we would like to hear from them. We are looking for a speaker on the topic but a survey of the faculty directories of Indiana University and Purdue University came up dry.

Indeed, the listing of history faculty did not reflect a particular interest in America. There were plenty of experts in the history of sex, digital communication, women’s studies, black studies, East European studies and Asian studies. There was a sprinkling of specialists in early American history but they seemed focused on slavery or land stolen from Native Americans previously stolen from other Native Americans.

In fact, neither Indiana University nor Purdue has anyone on their faculty who specializes in the military aspect of this nation’s founding. That’s not exactly true. A Purdue professor is an expert on the American atrocities of the Revolutionary War. And Purdue has a history chair named after a political operative in the Orr administration, a friend of Mitch Daniels. Does that count? There are people there who can tell you what the Chinese were doing about that time or how the women’s movement was coming along.

No, our impression is that anyone interested in how this nation came to be — a student, perhaps — is out of luck. Someone, you see, had to fight for it, not like politicians are always promising to “fight” for us but like actually fight with muskets, bayonets, canons and stuff.

Take the Battle of Hannah’s Cowpen for example, the battle that some say won the war. Without military history we are left to assume that Brigadier Gen. Daniel Morgan just sat down at a nearby Starbucks with Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton and worked out an accommodation to cultural appropriation, say, or some safe space perhaps, or pronoun agreements and so forth.

That would have been remarkable, for the British commander is honored with the phrase “Tarleton’s Quarter,” which means that you shoot or behead all the prisoners and burn their families alive in a locked church. His allies in what is called the Southern Strategy were the Cherokees, also known for giving no quarter unless you can rationalize torture as an indigenous craft.

Interestingly, the battle involved at least one black. He was William Collins, a trusted orderly immortalized in a painting by William Ranney (above right). He saved the life of Col. William Washington, a hero of the battle, with a timely and expertly aimed pistol shot. You would think someone sitting in a well-endowed teaching chair for black history would be interested in that.

Whatever, this foundation has adopted the painting as its inspiration. It appears in every weekly mailing and in every quarterly journal. We intended for it to appear on our Facebook advertisements but a fact-checkers there rejected it, presumably because it stigmatized a black using a firearm. They must not have any historians there either.

Without a military element, I.U. graduate assistants in history and other disciplines, to pick a recent example, wouldn’t have been able to protest their sorry lot.  That freedom, please know, has precious little to do with women’s studies or East European studies or China studies. Even slavery would seem a separate issue when a British dragoon is bearing down on you swinging his backsword.

Again, there might be students interested in how we survived all that.

But maybe not. — tcl


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