TV movie review: Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana—The Next Indiana

Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana is a PBS documentary series based on the book by famous Indiana historian James H. Madison. The documentary series is split into four parts: Birth of a State, Split Rails to Steel Rails, The 20th Century, and The Next Indiana.

The Next Indiana looks at what lies ahead for Indiana. The documentary is narrated by Madison and includes interviews with various people.

The documentary looks at several cities in Indiana and how these communities are preparing themselves for the future: New Castle, South Bend, Gary, Warsaw, Carmel, New Harmony, and Jasper. Many of these communities thrived a century ago during the steel, car, and manufacturing heydays, but have fallen on hard times. During the last several decades, they strove to turn their communities around with innovation and high-tech.

South Bend, once the home of Studebaker, has been working to become a center of nanotechnology. Warsaw is the center of the medical device industry (which actually makes it vulnerable if it loses its edge in the field). Jasper has been looking ahead, laying high-speed fiber (GigaCity Project), reminiscent of rural electrification during FDR’s New Deal.

The documentary also touches on some challenges facing Indiana. Heroin and meth have become serious issues. Eventually, an HIV epidemic in rural Scott County, fueled by heroin addiction, forced Governor Pence to allow counties to set up needle exchange programs. In 2015, there were 543 cases of HIV across the state. By May 2016, there were 191 new cases of HIV in Scott County alone (out of 92 counties).

Another challenge is power. Most electricity in Indiana comes from Indiana coal (though it provides only 80% of electricity, down from 95% twenty years ago). Indiana has gone slowly towards weaning itself off of coal and using natural gas, solar, and wind (though I wonder if this trend will now reverse itself.)

Although Indiana established its first state park in 1916 (at its centennial), the state lags in conservation. Less than 4% of the land is protected. The state is a diverse ecosystem, from the Dunes in the northwest to the bald cypress groves in the south. The documentary calls out Goose Pond, a restored wetlands that is a major site for migrating birds.

Last, the documentary focuses on diversity in Indiana though it only touches on two groups: Latinos and Jews. Lignoir is a small northern Indiana community that is home to a large Latino community and historically a Jewish community. The Jewish community is long gone but the town has continued to maintain the synagogue left behind.

The four installments of Hoosiers: The Indiana Story are a whirlwind trip through Indiana history, places, and people. They provide a kaleidoscope of Indiana rather than an exhaustive look….and are a good jumping off point for learning about the Hoosier state.

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