Friday, April 17, 2009

A great way to spend a rainy day

I’m finally down to chronicling the last day of the 2009 Illinois History Symposium, “Abraham Lincoln in Ante-bellum Illinois: 1830-1861” – just three weeks late. I attended the symposium from Thursday, March 26 through Saturday, March 28.

March 28 was a gloomy rainy day, just the type of day you want to spend inside. My time attending sessions in classrooms at Illinois College couldn't have been better spent.

In this article, I want to tell you about a:

  • morning session with Samuel Paul Wheeler and Raymond Lohne and
  • a brown bag lunch with Eileen McMahon.

In a future article, you’ll be able to read about:

  • lectures by Norbert Hirschhorn, M.D. and Ron Solberg and
  • a visit to Woodlawn Farm.

The symposium was nearly as neat as the bicentennial activities in Springfield the week of Lincoln’s birthday, and I even think I may have learned more in March than I did that week in February. That’s okay, though. The bicentennial was a combination of scholarly and commemorative events, while this was primarily a place for intellectual growth. Mission accomplished on both counts.

Wheeler sets the stage for Lohne
I first discovered Samuel Wheeler last fall. I was taking a course on Abraham Lincoln at Heartland Community College and voraciously pouring over the Internet to learn as much as I could about him. One of the first Lincoln sites I stumbled upon was Lincoln Studies, maintained by a Southern Illinois University graduate student, Wheeler.

Wheeler’s site was super – had lots of great links to other websites, and even a video clip lauding the benefits of Google Books in his research. Social media has a way of creating a familiarity, which can even border on friendship. As I read Wheeler’s blog, I felt a brother/sisterhood of sorts – Lincoln siblings we were. When I read the blog post announcing that he’d been awarded his PhD, I couldn’t have been happier for him or prouder of what he’d accomplished.

So, when I learned Wheeler was presenting a paper on his dissertation topic, I knew this was one session I wasn’t going to miss. Wheeler borrowed a phrase from one of Lincoln’s poems when he named the session, “Every Spot a Grave: The Poetry of Abraham Lincoln.”

I’ve mentioned Wheeler’s website in my blog and have also added comments sometimes to his, so that “Lincoln family” bond I mentioned earlier was evident when I saw the smile on his face as I introduced myself and Wheeler recognized the moniker on my name tag.

This young man is enthusiastic, engaging and knowledgeable. As he spoke of Lincoln’s poetry, with some early works of verse better known than other of the sixteenth president's pieces, it was with passion for his subject and a gleam in his eyes.

Wheeler’s dissertation is not yet in manuscript form or on the receiving end of an offer from a commercial publisher or university press, but I think it’s only a matter of time. This recent grad/new professor is like so many of us this year – busy trying to keep up with the influx of Lincoln information and activity due to the bicentennial – and, like anyone else beginning a new career, meeting himself coming and going. My bet is that when he’s ready, he’ll have publishers begging to print his book. If they don’t, they’re missing out!

Lincoln addresses an important audience
Raymond Lohne, a Chicago area professor who immigrated from Germany as a child, presented a paper titled, “The Electric Cord in the Declaration of Independence: The Secret Behind the Speech.”

I knew nothing of Lohne ahead of time, and judging by the title of his speech, didn’t think it would be anything in which I’d be very interested. After all, I was going to this session to hear my buddy Wheeler. I knew I’d enjoy listening to him and especially enjoy his topic. I figured I could “tolerate” sitting through Lohne’s lecture and maybe grasp a thing or two.

Lohne told of a time Lincoln was speaking in Chicago. When he learned of a large contingent of German immigrants in the audience, he crafted a speech which would reach these listeners.

Lohne’s presentation touched me much more than I’d expected. My husband, too, immigrated to an ethnic Chicago German neighborhood as a child. Hearing Lohne, who isn’t a product of the Illinois prairie, show his interest in Lincoln was moving, and even more so was hearing him show a connection between Lincoln and an ethnic group close to my own heart.

I guess I never stopped to consider how Lincoln’s appeal touched new Americans even in the mid-1800s, or how important the support of those German-Americans was to his run for the presidency.

I’ll be watching for more of Lohne’s work – and listening spellbound the next time, just as I did this time. “Tolerating” a speech in which I wasn’t interested? Hardly. Instead, I was mesmerized – and I’m sure I would be all over again!

If you want a taste of Lohne’s work, read his books:

Just the information I needed
This blog, my earlier freelance book reviews and my full-time job in communications for a large corporation are all the result of a wrong number provided by directory assistance about 10 or 11 years ago.

I was a few years beyond completing my long-awaited bachelor’s degree and had recently attended a Sandburg Days Writers Workshop in Galesburg (Ill.). My college professor, John E. Hallwas, also the presenter at the workshop, had recently completed his book, The Bootlegger: A Story of Small-Town America.

In appreciation to Hallwas and tribute to his fine work with Bootlegger, I wanted to submit a book review for publication. I thought I’d try a scholarly review to the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. Instead the directory assistance operator gave me the phone number for The State Journal-Register, I did a popular review of the book, and it and other reviews helped me create a portfolio which led to a full-time communications position.

Yet, in the back of my mind, the little voice kept whispering to me, “When are you going to write a piece for the Journal?” I still love doing book reviews, yet my goals have changed some. I love studying Lincoln, and one of the items on my “bucket list” is to do a scholarly piece for the publication.

In a brown bag lunch session, “Writing for the Illinois State Historical Society: How to get your research articles printed in the Journal,” I got all the information I needed. Now, all I need is the time to do it. Thank, you, Eileen McMahon, for a great session. It will be a while yet, but I’ll be sending something your way. I aim to cross that item off my list.

Readers, if you want to know how to submit articles to the Journal, you’ll find submission guidelines on the society website.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

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