Hoosiers in Thailand: Indiana University and International Development

Art Exhibit Brochure
Program from a 1960 art exhibit at the Indiana University Art Museum entitled “The Arts of Thailand.”

When you think about a university situated in a small city in south-central Indiana, chances are, Thailand is the furthest thing from your mind. In actuality, Indiana University has close connections with Thailand dating all the way back to 1948 when President Herman B Wells met with Thai representative H E Mom Luang Pin Malakul, the Permanent Under Secretary for Education, in Bloomington to discuss education and development in Thailand. This involvement continued in 1955 when IU assisted with the development of Thammasat University in Bangkok, and continued with the establishment of the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) in Bangkok in 1966, the latter of which was administered by IU through MUCIA.

The Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities, also known as MUCIA, was composed of representatives from several large Midwestern research institutions, including Indiana University, the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin, and Michigan State University. Indiana University provided two representatives, usually faculty members or administrators, and the IU president always served as Vice Chairman of the organization’s Council of Institutional Members. This consortium worked together to supply grants that would allow its member universities to build or assist in the leadership of academic institutions in developing countries with the goal of encouraging economic development and education abroad. Most of the MUCIA sponsored programs promoted the fields of education, government, business, economics, and public administration.

Pointers on Thai Manners and Customs
Page of a report from 1956 offering instruction and advice for interacting with Thai people.

These programs benefited the MUCIA member institutions by giving faculty and graduate students the opportunity to teach and conduct research abroad, thus strengthening their own academic programs. In fact, before becoming President of Indiana University, John Ryan traveled to Thailand as a Visiting Research Associate in 1956, co-authoring the monograph Administration of the Bangkok Municipality based on his research there. In addition to this item, the MUCIA records also include research and publications by scholars from Indiana University about Thai culture, including local government, institution building, agriculture, and family life.

Indiana University was a member of MUCIA from 1964 until the mid-1990s. As part of this consortium, IU’s most significant contribution was its involvement with the formation of NIDA. Funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation, NIDA was officially established on April 1, 1966 and included Schools of Public Administration, Business Administration, Development Economics, and Applied Statistics, all designed for graduate-level instruction. Although IU’s formal participation with NIDA ended in 1977 with the conclusion of the Ford grant, the university’s influence in Thailand continues to this day. Currently, NIDA has over 8,000 students, many of whom go on to become politicians, high-ranking government officials, and university educators in Thailand. In May 2012, Indiana University President Michael McRobbie took a trip to Thailand to meet with educational leaders, many of whom are NIDA graduates, to discuss the future of international education. While there, he also bestowed the Thomas Hart Benton Medallion to current NIDA President Dr. Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, further strengthening IU’s connection with Thailand.

NIDA campus in 1966
The National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) campus at its opening in Bangkok, Thailand in 1966.

The MUCIA records, which include resources about IU’s involvement with the consortium from 1952-1981 and documents about Indiana University in Thailand from 1952-1975, are now available from the IU Archives. For more information about Indiana University’s historic involvement with Thailand or other educational institutions abroad, contact a university archivist.

A different sort of Commencement

Book Nook Commencement, 1931. Herman B Wells, then an instructor in economics and sociology, sits on the stage to the left of the podium, in a white suit.
Book Nook Commencement, 1931. Herman B Wells, then an instructor in economics and sociology, sits on the stage to the left of the podium, in a white suit.

The Book Nook Commencement was a mock commencement ceremony that took place at the Book Nook, a popular student hangout in the 1920s located at Indiana and Kirkwood Avenue. A combination soda fountain and bookstore, the Book Nook was known for its music and the sometimes rowdy behavior of its customers. For many years the Book Nook played a significant role in Indiana University student culture. The 1924 Arbutus humorously makes this clear in their account of the University’s founding: “The university was founded on Foundation Day in the year 1820, by a band of pioneers who stopped their covered wagons in front of the Book Nook. Upon learning that it was Foundation Day and a holiday, the decided to celebrate and found a university. Where they found it no one knows.”

Notable IU alum musician and composer Hoagy Carmichael was a frequent patron, and it is said he composed his most famous songs, Stardust, at one of the Book Nook booths. In his autobiography, Sometimes I Wonder (1965), Carmichael described the Book Nook as, “a randy temple smelling of socks, wet slickers, vanilla flavoring, face powder, and unread books. Its dim lights, its scarred walls, its marked up booths, and unsteady tables made campus history.” (54) Herman B Wells described a slightly less raucous establishment in his autobiography, Being Lucky (1980): “since there was not yet a union building or its equivalent, extracurricular activities centered in a campus hangout known as the Book Nook, later called the Gables. In my day it was the hub of all student activity; here student political action was plotted, organizations were formed, ideas and theories were exchanged among students from various disciplines and from different sections of the campus. For most of this period the Book Nook was presided over by something of a genius, Peter Costas, a young Greek immigrant who transformed a campus hangout into a remarkably  fertile cultural and political breeding place in the manner of the famous English coffee houses. All in all it was a lively, exhilarating place.”

The first Book Nook Commencement was held in 1927 for William Moenkhaus, a contemporary and friend of Carmichael. Moenkhaus was a leader of a group of students who called themselves the “Bent Eagles,” known to spend a lot of time at the Book Nook. Carmichael was also a member of the “Bent Eagles,”; others included Bix Beiderbecke (cornetist), “Wad” Allen, Charles Bud Dant, and Ed Wolfe. Moenkhaus was often referred to as the “poet of Indiana Avenue” and was known to perform Dada poetry. When Moenkhaus was denied his diploma due to his refusal to take a required course on hygiene, the owners of the Book Nook George and Peter Costas worked with the Bent Eagles to put together the mock commencement. The Book Nook Commencement was certainly infused with the spirit of Dada; Moenkhaus delivered his speech wearing a bathrobe and holding a dead fish. “President” Peter Costas handed out degrees from the “College of Arts and Appliances.”

The Book Nook Commencements were increasingly elaborate productions, involving a parade from fraternity house to the Nook, absurd speeches, music, the conferring of fake degrees and diplomas, and “noise” by the “Book Nook Symphony Orchestra,” and “additional noise” by the “Concert Ya Book Nook Orchestra.” Students arrived attired in cone shaped hats and bathrobes. Some of the nonsensical degrees handed out included: Master of Hearts, Doctor of Physique, Doctor of Yell, Vociferatissimus, and Lord Mare of Hearts, Eroticus, Cum Laude. During the last Book Nook Commencement, Herman B Wells, then an instructor in economics, was presented with the degree “Doctor of Nookology.” Four Book Nook Commencement ceremonies were held, three between 1927-1929, and the last in 1931. In 1930, the Depression caused many students to drop out, and the mock commencement was cancelled. Although it was revived the next year, soon after the 1931 commencement the Depression again put a stop to the production.

Book Nook Commencement, 1928
Book Nook Commencement, 1928

Life as a Student at Indiana University in 1857

In the 1940s Indiana University was gifted a diary that belonged to one of the university’s early students, John C. Wilson.

John entered Indiana University as a freshman in 1857 in pursuit of a Bachelor of Science. As a student in the Scientific Course, John was required to attend three recitations per day, and pass a public examination at the end of each semester. As the typical mode of instruction, a recitation is where the student is asked to publicly perform the material from memory with the intent to foster the “development of the intellectual and moral faculties, the formation of correct habits of thought and study, and the communication of useful knowledge” (Indiana University).

Admission to IU in 1857 was not too different from today. Students wishing to attend were required to procure “letters of honorable admission” from previous institutions and pass an examination or provide proof that sufficient studies have been completed prior to admittance. Before attending a recitation, a student was required to show evidence that all bills were paid.

Many students were involved in one of the two literary societies on campus: the Philomathean Society or the Athenian Society. These societies gave members practice in public speaking through debates and regular orations. John was a member of the Philomathean, which had meetings on Friday nights–some sessions lasting until the early morning hours.

In the 1850s, Indiana was becoming more populated, reaching 1,350,000 people by the 1860 census (U.S. Census Bureau). Several efforts at modernization can be seen during this time, and in his diary John mentions traveling by train at the end of the first session to his family in Sullivan, Indiana.

Excerpt from the diary that mentions the Philomathean Society.
Excerpt from the diary that mentions the Philomathean Society.

Very little biographical information is known about John. The information we do have comes from his diary (which has been fully digitized and transcribed!), but curiosity and a desire to know more about John and his family prompted us to explore several resources to find out more. Our detective work proved fruitless, but here are a few of the resources we consulted:

  • Ancestry.com and other genealogy sites in attempt to trace known information of John’s great niece, Norbeth Koonce, who donated the diary to Indiana University in 1947, back to John with the hope of determining John’s date of birth. There is mention of a Josiah Wilson in the diary, who may have been a family member attending Indiana University as a preparatory student, but this is unconfirmed.
  • Papers and diaries of Professor Wylie and President Daily from the 1850s, located in the Archives.
  • Newspaper archives from Indiana, such as Access Newspaper Archive, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, and America’s Historical Newspapers.
  • Looked through the minutes of various administrative bodies on campus.

As always, please contact Archives staff if you have any questions!

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References:

Indiana University. (1858). Annual Report of the Indiana University Including the

Catalogue for the Academic Year, MDCCCLVII-VIII. Indianapolis, IN.

U.S. Census Bureau. Resident Populations and Apportionment of the U.S. House of

            Representatives. Retrieved from:      http://www.census.gov/dmd/www/resapport/states/indiana.pdf