In December 2009, American Studies professor and chair Erika Doss received the Thornbrough Award of the Indiana Historical Society for the best article published in the Indiana Magazine of History in 2009.
The award was established in memory of two sisters -- Gayle Thornbrough and Emma Lou Thornbrough -- who were mainstays of Indiana history scholarship throughout most of the twentieth century. Gayle Thornbrough was a retired editor and former director of the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana Historical Bureau. Emma Lou Thornbrough was a professor of history at Butler University and past president of the Indiana Association of Hisotians.
The award is based on writing quality and scholarship originality. Doss's article, titled "Action, Agency, Affect: Thomas Hart Benton's Hoosier History," tells the story of American artist Thomas Hart Benton's controversial 1933 mural titled A Social History of the State of Indiana, which was painted for the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition and was movd to the campus of Indiana University at Bloomington a few years later. One panel in particular, featuring a scene of the Ku Klux Klan staging a rally and burning a "fiery cross" has occasionally generated protests from students and faculty at IU.
Doss explains how public murals are often a source of conflict on college campuses and compares the controversy over Benton's murals with similar debates over the Columbus murals at the University of Notre Dame and the Hovey murals at Dartmouth College.