Understanding environmental histories and legacies
Hoosiers’ experience of the local environment plays an outsized role in how they relate to environmental challenges and what policies they support. Many urban neighborhoods in Indiana have inherited a history of industrial contamination, where the air, soil, and water pose a potential threat to residents’ health and livelihood. Understanding how residents interpret these legacies and who they trust can help inform strategies to address longstanding environmental injustices.
Anthropocene Household is part of the Anthropocenes Network, a global network based at the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute. Like many of the projects within the network, it focuses on bringing together artists, humanists, scientists, and community members to address environmental problems.
To better understand the lived experiences of Hoosiers in their local environment and their homes, the Anthropocene Household research team is talking to and collaborating with Hoosiers in disadvantaged communities, with an initial focus on lead pollution in Indianapolis neighborhoods.So far, researchers have conducted around 40 oral history interviews.
Through partnerships with churches in the Indianapolis Ministerium and nonprofit organizations like Groundwork Indy, the Kheprw Institute, and the Flanner House, researchers are distributing free lead testing kits to residents who live in high-risk neighborhoods. Community hubs established throughout Indianapolis have allowed for robust outreach and distribution within communities that traditionally have been difficult for government agencies to reach. Anonymous results are then returned to the households with suggestions for no- or low-cost solutions to reducing risk of lead poisoning. So far, the project has distributed 250 kits.
To empower residents to become their own “citizen scientists,” researchers hosted community conversations and focus groups, such as a series of porch parties during summer 2021. These events created educational opportunities for community organizers and allowed residents to share their hopes and concerns about their local environment.
The Path Forward
The data collected through the lead testing kits contributes to the IUPUI Center for Urban Health’s Map My Environment website, which provides up-to-date information on pollution in various urban communities around the country.
While still in its early stages, the Anthropocene Household project is establishing relationships with Indianapolis community partners, developing a powerful structure for community engagement while also helping Hoosiers identify an immediate threat to their livelihood. Similar initiatives have sprouted in places like Muncie, and a partnership with Notre Dame has expanded the distribution sites of lead testing kits in the state. The research team is currently working to identify corporate partners to help further expand the project to other parts of the Midwest.
Data for this project is collected through oral histories and focus groups. So far, Anthropocene Household researchers have conducted around 40 oral history interviews.
Recordings and transcripts will be available in the future through an online exhibition and will be archived with the University Library for future researchers to access.