As one of the nation’s leading research institutions, IU is home to more than 160 institutes and centers, 33 of which are under the auspices of the Office of the Vice President for Research. IU Home Pages has created Think Tank as the place to acquaint our readers with the missions and activities of this wide array of scholarly environments. The Polis Center, located at IUPUI, is an academic research center with a practical and applied orientation. Send suggestions for centers and institutes to be featured in future issues to Lee Ann Sandweiss at email@example.com
Taking its name from the Greek word for city, the Polis Center concentrates on issues related to metropolitan Indianapolis and other mid-sized American cities, but because of its unique model of adapting advanced information technologies for use in the communities it serves, it has achieved international recognition.
“We take technology invented for engineers and make it applicable to the humanities and social sciences,” said David Bodenhamer, who joined the Polis Center in 1989 as its founding director. An operating unit of the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, the center has 25 full-time employees in the center’s three divisions—Information Systems Technology, Community Systems and Heritage and Culture. Self-funded from its inception, the Polis Center receives the bulk of its financial support from government grants, private foundations, training and project income. An estimated $2.5 million is generated annually from these sources and from sale of products such as books and videos.
Foremost among current projects is SAVI (Social Assets and Vulnerabilities Indicators), a 40-gigabyte community information system that makes data and analyses a primary tool of community development in Central Indiana. “SAVI has great potential not just for Indiana, but serves as a national model,” said Bodenhamer, who added that the project has received two major grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce to extend the project to disadvantaged urban areas and a third from the U.S. Department of Education to create a partnership with community schools. To visit the interactive SAVI Web site and sample the range of data available, go to:
SAVI uses a spatial technology, geographic information systems (GIS), that Polis has made its technology of choice in many of its projects. GIS integrates and visualizes data and is a powerful tool for managing information from geographic areas such as a city or state. According to Bodenhamer, the potential users of GIS are diverse—neighborhood leaders, students, teachers, scholars and government agencies. “We are helping communities throughout the state learn about GIS and how they can use it to make more informed choices,” said Bodenhamer.
Polis also is using GIS non-traditional ways, such as in the North American Religion Atlas, an interactive, Web-based tool that allows students of American religion to map 20th-century adherence data (see NARA at:
The atlas emerged from the center’s involvement in the international Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), headquartered at the University of California-Berkeley. ECAI is a leader in applying spatial technologies to the study of culture, and Polis heads the initiative’s North American team. To learn more about this global collaboration, visit:
Besides fostering the development and application of technologies, the Polis Center has been a catalyst for growth in the arts and humanities in Central Indiana since 1996. As manager of the Spirit and Place Festival, the center brings together more than 100 arts groups, universities, museums, civic groups, cultural organizations and congregations for the annual event, which runs for approximately two weeks in November.
“I don’t know of any other city that has anything like this. It is a powerful force in strengthening the intellectual and cultural capital of the region,” said Bodenhamer.
Looking to the future, Bodenhamer cites plans for creating the state’s first electronic encyclopedia as one of the Polis Center’s more ambitious projects. Having produced The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis (IU Press, 1994), the major reference work on the city, the center looks forward to making the most current information about the state available to its citizens online. “We are partnering with the Indiana Humanities Council to make this happen. It’s a 10-year project that will result in the premier site for information about the state,” he said.