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Getting my word in edgewise

Barb Stedman Overseeing the creation of "Our Land, Our Literature" has brought together four of my great loves: nature, literature, Indiana, and undergraduate students.

For several years I had been determined to create an anthology of Indiana's environmental literature, but time for research came only in fits and spurts semester after semester. Finally, I realized that through a seminar at the Virginia B. Ball Center, I might be able to lure fifteen undergraduate researchers into my obsession with me.

It worked, and I, perhaps more than anyone, am amazed by how much information we've uncovered. I expected to find plenty of writing about nature and the environment in Indiana, but I had no idea how very rich the texts would be—how vividly these writers would tell us what Indiana's early landscapes looked and smelled and felt like, and what the damage to that landscape would look and smell and feel like.

These fifteen students and I have only skimmed the surface, though, in our anthology that became an encyclopedia that finally became something else altogether. We started out with a list of 136 authors whom I expected to touch on nature and the environment in Indiana. This semester, we worked our way through 50 of them. (Three, unfortunately, had to be eliminated. As much as we wanted to include Kurt Vonnegut, David Graham Phillips, and Muncie's own Emily Kimbrough, the students in charge of each of these authors found virtually nothing relevant to nature and the environment in any of their writings.) In the years to come, with other students and on a much smaller scale, I hope to continue exploring the writing of the 86 writers who remain on our list and see the number of author entries in this website expand.

As is the case with any project of this magnitude, many individuals are responsible for its success. While I won't name all of them here, I do want to offer my personal thanks to a few key individuals and organizations:

  • Fani Anagnostou, a 1998 graduate of Butler University (Indianpolis). It was Fani's presentation at Butler's Undergraduate Research Conference that first tipped me off to the wealth of Indiana literature concerned with nature and the environment. I've been on a mission to learn even more ever since.
  • Ball State's Center for Energy Research, Education, and Service (CERES). CERES funded a 1999-2000 research fellowship that allowed me to begin formalizing my investigation of the literature.Clint Winkler
  • Clint Winkler, a graduate student in landscape architecture at Ball State University, who served as our Web Design and Development Advisor. His educational background in graphic design and professional experience in webpage development made him the ideal instructor, trouble-shooter, and "how-to" person through the entire process of building and fine-tuning the website.
  • The rest of the VBC staff, Donna Ferguson and Jamie Miles, who kept us on track and looking good in the public eye.
  • The many, many individuals and offices at Ball State that lent us equipment and expertise at the drop of a hat. Most important, thanks to Wayne Mock and the staff at the Center for Teaching with Technology, and the staff of University Computing Services, who took on the technology tasks we couldn’t handle alone.
  • Bill Duell, who, on behalf of Paws, Inc., donated the dozens of prairie plants and trees that we planted at the Limberlost.

My greatest thanks, however, go first to Virginia Ball and Joe Trimmer. Their vision for this amazing place, the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, has allowed my students and me to engage in the kind of learning and teaching that none of us otherwise would have experienced—ever—in our academic careers.

Finally, thank you to the fifteen students who jumped in, head first, to a topic that most of them hadn't even thought about before the fall of 2002. Their creativity, perfectionism, and commitment to the content and execution of this website are, ultimately, the only reason that this website works so well, looks so good, and means anything at all.