Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

May 28, 2008

Ball State University is developing a documentary that will examine the little known daily life of residents of a failed utopian community in southwest Indiana.

Ron Morris, a Ball State history professor, is leading a group of students to film a 90-minute documentary on the little known Owen community that inhabited New Harmony in the early 1800s. New Harmony is a historic town in Posey County on the Wabash River about an hour's drive from Evansville.

The project will re-create the life of a community started by Welsh utopian thinker and social reformer Robert Owen. His experiment was established in 1825 and dissolved in 1829. The town banned money and other commodities while establishing educational opportunities for its residents to create a more balanced community atmosphere. 

"There were several attempts at creating such a utopian community, but the attempt by Owen may have been the most ambitious," Morris said. "We see this as an opportunity to bring the community to life, providing a glimpse of what these people were like and how they attempted to change society."

Exterior and interior shots of various historic buildings dating from the era will be filmed in New Harmony. Additional footage will be shot around the state in the coming weeks.

The documentary is being funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and will be distributed to fourth grade classrooms and libraries throughout Indiana. The project should be completed in 2009.

"The key component of our documentary is to allow youngsters to watch a documentary that will be historically accurate and give them a better understanding of one portion of Indiana's history," Morris said. "Unfortunately, our history books just give a few paragraphs about Owen and his experiment. We are shortchanging young students by doing that.

"In fact, the community has had a lasting impact, particularly in science and education. Many of the things the community leaders implemented were later endorsed by society."

Ball State students and area community members will be serving as re-enactors. Interviews will also be conducted with scholars and descendents of Owen community members.