Friday, March 27, 2009

Reporting live from Jacksonville

Yes, Jacksonville (Ill.) is a good place to be today if you're a Lincoln buff. The theme of the 29th Annual Illinois History Symposium is Abraham Lincoln in Ante-bellum Illinois: 1830-1861."

The symposium started yesterday and I was able to attend about half of the events, as many times there were two seperate options offered simultaneously. Let me tell you a bit about the ones I made it to.

Lincoln - Jacksonville connections
It was really exciting to begin my day in the room in Beecher Hall where the very first college course in Illinois was held. And, it was appropriate that the presenters had strong connections to the town and the college. You can't get more connected than the college's First Lady, Loreli Steuer, and Mayor Ron Tendrick. The session was moderated by John R. Power, a past ISHS president.

Steuer's talk, "A Logical Alma Mater: Abraham Lincoln and Illinois College," was enlightening. I'll try to share more in a future blog post. It was interesting to hear her speculate that Lincoln may have attended the school had not Ann Rutledge died the summer before she was to attend a female academy in the town. It's not so far out there to think he actually may have followed her there and enrolled himself at IC. She shared much more, but too much for me to write about and still make it to today's sessions. I'lll have to give you very high-level overviews of all events so I can move on to learn more.

Tendrick packed oodles of information into his talk about John J. Hardin, including the large number (in the thousands) of people who came to town to his funeral - if I heard it correctly, in the heat of July.

Lunch not in the temple, but with one
Dr. Wayne Temple, an icon in Lincoln scholarship and one of the honorees awarded the Order of Lincoln in February, presented an enlightening talk about Lincoln's tombs - the one where he's buried and a much lesser known one on the grounds of the State Capitol. When Mathers and others were still pushing to bury Lincoln in downtown Springfield, even though Mary was against it, they were so bold as to begin work on a tomb. Construction workers in the 1930s and 1970s have run into the underground structure while laying trenches in the area. Unfortunately, no pictures exist.

Everything you ever need to know about research
Okay, not quite, but a lot! David Joens and Elaine Evans of the Illinois State Archives and Dennis Suttles of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library packed a ton of helpful information into their session, "Historical Research Workshop: How to Find and Use 19th Century Documents for Illinois Research." Because my academic background to date ends with my late-in-life bachelor's degree, I didn't have an opportunity to learn to work with primary source material. Now, I feel prepared to dig in. This has been one of my "growth areas" in corporate-speak, so the session was a godsend.

Alton and Pike County - Wow!
Dennis Williams presented a paper written by independent scholar Terri Cameron about Alton's attempts to gain the state capital back when Springfield succeeded. The paper was informative and enlightening, and it would have been neat for Terri to see in person how well it was received.

One of the highlights of the week so far for me was hearing Warren Winston of Pike County talk about an obscure article in the Pike County Journal on May 10, 1860, which likely helped propel Lincoln to the presidency. Both Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Burlingame were thrilled when they learned of this piece. The significance - it was written for and fed to the paper by Lincoln's secretary, Nicolay, and included excerpts Lincoln likely collected himself about Henry Clay's views on slavery. The comparison of the similarities between Lincoln's and Clay's views likely garnered extra southern votes for Lincoln he may not have had otherwise.

To you Lincoln scholars out there: There's a treasure trove of information in the Pike County Journal, much of which you may miss on microfilm. The most significant piece of information here, that Nicolay was the author, was on a page edge that the microfilm didn't pick up. You need to get to Pittsfield, a charming little town 20 miles or so from the Mississippi River to see these for yourself,

To the philanthropists out there: These papers really need to be digitized. The paper often ran articles from other papers across the country. They are a treasure waiting to be devoured. Who knows how many other gems like this one are waiting to be mined.

Rowena McClinton, of Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville, had a view comments on the papers, including about how the rail presence in Alton today, unlike the days when it vied for he capital, makes travel to and from there much easier.

The only Illinois Governor's Mansion outside Springfield
I closed my evening with a relaxing talk by Rand Burnette, History professor emeritus, MacMurray College. Duncan, the sixth Illinois governor, is often overlooked in history. I learned a lot about him and saw a beautiful home. If you ever get to Jacksonvile, stop by to see it, and if you get the chance to hear Burnette, don't miss him. He's entertaining and engaging.

Here a tweet, there a tweet
I'm going to try to twitter a bit today to keep you up to speed on the events. I seem to have a bit of a challenge doing it from my phone and have to take a couple extra steps to get there. I'll do it when it's not disruptive or I'm not too mesmerized by the speakers. You can find me as LincolnBuff2 on twitter.

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