Friday, November 14, 2008

Sowing the seeds of Lincoln scholarship

It may surprise some of you to know that my excitement about the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial isn’t something which sprouted up overnight. Like anything worthwhile, it took seed, was nurtured and is now coming into its own.

My growth with Lincoln
I truly have been interested in Lincoln for as long as I can remember – very early childhood. Part of that comes from growing up in Illinois, some of it comes from the pride of this great state and its famous son instilled by my parents and grandparents, some also grew in the classroom, and the rest of it comes from inheriting a trait with roots stronger than an old milkweed plant on an Illinois prairie – an insatiable curiosity.

What many of you don’t know is that I earned my college degree much later than most – just a few days before my forty-first birthday. One of the courses I took was a Literature of Illinois class offered through Western Illinois University’s Board of Governors/ BA program (now Board of Trustees/BA). I’d been away from school a long time, and from my studies of Lincoln even longer, but I knew during the first evening of that class that I’d found my true passion. The history and literature of Illinois are so rich, and the legacy of Lincoln even richer. This was something that had a grip on me that would not let go. And – I wasn’t going to let it.

A few years later, through the encouragement of my professor from that class, I attended a writers’ workshop at the Carl Sandburg Days Festival in Galesburg, Ill. I then began writing freelance book reviews on books by Illinois authors or about Illinois subjects, including Lincoln, for The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill.

Then in 2002, the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, co-chaired by U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, U.S. Representative Ray LaHood and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, put out a press release announcing its new Web site. It was then that I began to formulate what I called my seven-year plan. I’d hoped that by Lincoln’s 200th birthday on Feb. 12, 2009 I could be making a significant contribution to keeping the legacy of Lincoln alive.

As often happens in life, my plans went awry, and I’m not making a huge contribution to the Lincoln world. I did, however, get to attend all the events associated with the April 2005 opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, met some brilliant Lincoln scholars and learned a lot. Then this fall I had an opportunity of a lifetime – to take a course on Abraham Lincoln at Heartland, the local community college. Through the course and a number of other Lincoln-related events here in the center of the Land of Lincoln, I’m finally pursuing my interests.

This blog is one way I hope to plant that Lincoln passion in others. Significant contribution? Maybe not. But a little seed - maybe…

Heartland Community College course
The Heartland course, “The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln,” will also be offered in the Spring of 2009, so if you’re from Central Illinois, you may want to check it out.

And let me tell you about a couple other places where students are learning about Lincoln.

Galesburg High School Lincoln Seminar
Galesburg has a rich Lincoln tradition, which is part of the reason I was always so passionate about the sixteenth president. Unfortunately, in the past much of the Galesburg community didn’t latch onto Lincoln with the same enthusiasm that held a grasp on Carl Sandburg and me.

This year, though, Galesburg High School is offering an interdisciplinary course, Lincoln Seminar. Sixteen young people have already been exposed to many wonderfully rich Lincoln-related experiences, which they’re chronicling on their own blog. I wonder if those young people really understand the magnitude of what this experience can mean to them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of those students – or better yet all of them – were the next generation of Lincoln scholars?

Loyola University courses
Through a comments post to another Lincoln blog, I recently learned of an exciting Lincoln class at Loyola University, “Lincoln and Citizen Journalism,” taught by John Slania. See some of the outstanding work of this group on their class Web site.

According to information on the Loyola Web site and in the Loyola online publication, this is just one of several Lincoln-related courses to be offered at Loyola this year. And, to top it off, they’ll also be hosting Lincoln scholar Doris Kearns Goodwin for a lecture on Feb. 11, 2009.

Other Lincoln courses?

Are there other Lincoln courses you’d like people to know about? If so, please let me know. I’ll try to let readers know about them here on Lincoln Buff 2.

© Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

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