History isn’t written by the winners anymore.
Heck, it may not even be written.
Sometimes history is spoken, or whispered, or screamed, or mumbled, in
bowling alleys and bars, in all-night diners, on the shop floor.
Jim Lane, for 37 years a professor of history at Indiana University
Northwest in Gary, has been listening to the voices of the Calumet Region,
giving ear to the folks whose stories usually fall through the cracks. Steel
and iron workers. Blacks. Latinos. Gays and lesbians. Immigrants, from the
Old World or from Kentucky. The working poor or just the plain old poor. And
families, always families—“At once the most fragile and resilient of
American institutions,” Lane says—tending their gardens, getting along if
not always going along.
“I consider myself a social historian, an oral historian,” Lane says. “It’s
called history from the bottom up, people who don’t normally make it into
the history books.”
Since 1975, in a more or less annual publication called Steel Shavings,
Lane has compiled his oral histories by theme. Now in its 41st volume,
Steel Shavings is a genuine body of work which voice by voice, like a
rising chorus, has managed to capture Northwest Indiana’s beating heart, its
rhythms and tensions, its passions and preoccupations.
Over the years Steel Shavings —a nearly complete collection is
available in the reference section of Thomas Library—has devoted whole
volumes to “Sports in the Calumet Region” (1984); to “Cruisin’ the Region in
the Fifties” (1978) and a “Doo-Wop Rhapsody” (2002); to the “Uncertainty of
Family Life” in the Eighties (2007); to “Race Relations” in the Sixties
(1979); to a “History of Cedar Lake” (1997) and a “History of Portage”
(1991); to “Vietnam Veterans” (1988); to the “Depression of the 1930s”
(1977); to “Tales of Lake Michigan and the Northwest Indiana Dunelands”
(1998); and to the “Concerned Citizens Against the Bailly Nuclear Site”
Just the merest fraction of snippets, like tiny shards of colored glass in a
vast mosaic: “War Bride”; “Pin Setter”; “Kiwanians”; the “1949 Steel
Strike”; “Paving Concrete”; “T.V.”’ and “Flick’s Tavern.”
Now, in the most recent volume—subtitled “Northwest Indiana Historian’s Blog”—Lane
is trying something a little different: a transcript of his blog, beginning
on Aug. 2, 2009, and concluding on March 31, 2011, of his musings and doings
as he settles into retirement and knocks about the Calumet Region. To that
blog he appends a collection of journal writing by the students of IUN
history professor Steve McShane during March 2011.
“As a regional social historian, my overall goal remains to record everyday
life and, in particular, linkages among friends, family, lovers, workplace
colleagues, classmates, and members of various organizations gay and
straight,” Lane writes in the “Editor’s Note” to Volume 41.
Sports Fan, XRT
Lane and his wife moved to Chesterton last year, after their lease-back in
the Edgewater area of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore expired.
Raised in the Philadelphia area and educated at Bucknell and at U of Hawaii
and U of Maryland, Lane nevertheless has blue-collar tastes. He’s a pretty
decent bowler—a hobby acquired when he decided he “wanted to be around
people other than academics”—and an avid sports fan and fantasy footballer.
He listens to WXRT, watches Dancing with the Stars, and reads Jerry
Davich in the Post-Trib. He’s also got an encyclopedic knowledge of
classic rock and thematizes his blog entries with epigraphs, from The
Grateful Dead (“What I want to know / Where does the time go?”); John Lennon
(“Imagine all the people / Living life in peace”); Neil Young (“There’s a
warnin’ sign / On the road ahead”); Night Ranger (“Well it felt so good to
be young / Feels like yesterday”).
So Lane has made a home here in Northwest Indiana.
It was always that way. When Lane first arrived at IUN in the Sixties and
visited the county fair, he recalls, “I almost felt like a sociologist
studying Hoosiers. Farmers with their bib overalls. But at some point these
people just began to seem like me. I’m a Hoosier. When I go bowling, if we
don’t talk about academics, we talk about going to the Star Plaza to see ZZ
Top. I’m one of them now.”
Lane’s also one of us now, a Dunelander. “We are gradually getting to know
Chesterton,” he blogs on Sept. 27, 2010. “We skipped the Oz Festival last
weekend but plan to subscribe to the Chesterton Tribune, which has
been in existence since 1884 . . . . Toni and I shopped at the European
market, where we have gone for bread in the past. Our cleaner’s family had a
booth, and we purchased four huge burritos to serve the Hagelbergs at Bridge
for just $22. We split one for lunch and it was delicious.”
Ides of March
2011, Journals written by IUN Students
“History,” Lane says, “isn’t what happened long ago but right now. All
Thus he compiles in Volume 41 of Steel Shavings the journalings of
McShane’s history students, who put their work-a-day lives to paper during
March of this year.
Caleb: “I am a morning stocker at Costco Wholesale. . . . Work was hellish
because there was so much to do . . . . I had to lift about 40 bags of ‘turf
builder,’ and each weighed 30 pounds so that wasn’t fun.”
Sarah: “Today I woke up early with son Mikey. He’s only 2, and an early
riser, but I think it’s because he hears my husband’s work alarm go off and
wants to say good-bye to daddy before he leaves.”
Shannon: “I worked my usual 8 to 3 shift at Subway. Exciting. Sarcasm. . . .
My sister Megan and I bought tickets to see a concert tonight in Chicago
featuring We Came As Romans, Pierce the Veil, and A Day to Remember.”
Melissa: “Tomorrow I’ll go to Bob Saget’s show and hopefully just have 19
other things on my Bucket List. They include: Drive a hovercraft; Go to
Tuscany, Italy; Run a 5K; Open my own business; Watch all of the Top 100
movies of all time; Read every book in my personal library; Graduate college
(come on May 12!); Go white water rafting; Learn to play the harmonica.”
As Lane notes in his Editor’s Note, “several trends emerge from the journals
herein. A surprising number of students were spiritual and attended church
services regularly. Most were health conscious and worked out. . . Working
mothers struggled with homework, jobs, and family duties, including caring
for elderly parents and grandparents. Almost everyone complained of rising
gas prices and food costs and worried about the earthquake, tsunami, and
nuclear meltdown in Japan and the military operations against Muammar
Gadhafi. Primarily Education majors, they had strong opinions about the
union rallies in Indianapolis and Madison, Wis., to protect teachers.”
How to Get a
Copy of Vol. 41
Volume 41 of Steel Shavings is available at the IUN Bookstore or send
a check—in the amount of $16 (including mailing and handling) and payable to
Indiana University—to James Lane, History, IUN, 3400 Broadway, Gary, IN