Indiana University students revisit county history

Students contribute interviews, analysis, and research to historical mapping project


Carl Nelson


Jacob Simpson, Marshall Curry


Orange County, IN
Community Size
19,646 (2019 Census Estimation)
Indiana University
Sustaining Hoosier Communities
Case Type
Project Stories
civic engagement, political engagement
EPA Region 5, USA
Sustainable Development Goals
Sustainable Cities and Communities

Orange County is a rural southern Indiana county comprising four incorporated towns and a number of unincorporated communities. Residents are intent on celebrating the county’s industrial roots, natural beauty, and historic architecture while embracing and preparing for the future. Local progress is driven in large part by “grassroots cooperative leadership” (Report, Pg. 4), while legal and medical non-profits provide essential communal services. This community-oriented mentality lends itself to innovative partnerships between various actors working towards common goals in areas like infrastructure, culture, tourism, and healthcare. 

Amidst changes, a community tries to get its bearings

In an effort to better understand changes in local leadership and economics over time, Orange County residents sought to map a timeline of their region which particularly focused on the history of rural development. By embarking on this project, the community hoped to engage with local culture and accomplishments while simultaneously planning for the future. When it came time to begin, stakeholders enlisted the help of Indiana University undergraduates.

Students look for trends through a multi-pronged approach

Enter the Sustaining Hoosier Communities (SHC) program at IU. This project took the form of a unique collaboration between the Media School and the Political and Civic Engagement Program. Dr. Lisa-Marie Napoli’s introduction to theories of leadership course was challenged to contribute to the mapping initiative while encouraging community participation. Working with community partner Roger Moon, participants assessed regional social and economic trends, examined local artifacts, analyzed archival interviews, and interviewed current residents.

A valuable historical project the whole community has a stake in

Using interviews, research, and data analysis, student participants successfully developed an historical timeline of Orange County. Through their interdisciplinary analysis, they were able to paint a clearer picture of regional development trends, an important step towards planning for the community’s future. Their efforts laid the groundwork for a worthwhile undertaking with potential for community involvement far beyond the project scope.

Understanding a changing region often requires stepping back and evaluating its past. Orange County is no different. The valuable historical insight participants were able to gather will help regional stakeholders make more effective economic predictions and decisions moving forward. 

Sustaining Hoosier Communities Contact Info
Jane Rogan
Sustaining Hoosier Communities Director
(812) 855-0568

Indiana University Faculty Contact Info
Lisa-Marie Napoli

Read the full story of the partnership.

Read the final student report delivered to the local gov/community partner.

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