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The Historians Speak project is a collection of interviews conducted by professional historians with other historians who have spent their lives thinking, teaching, and writing about Illinois and the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. It is the most academic of our projects and focuses especially on the narrators' historiographical journey, their contributions to current scholarship, and the struggles and successes of their careers.
Dr. Michael Burlingame. one of the most respected Lincoln scholars in American, discusses his life spent studying Abraham Lincoln. As a psychohistorian, his "The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln" (1994) startled this subfield of Lincoln studies. Extensive work in Lincoln documents, many previously unpublished, enormously expanded the published sources for studying Lincoln's behind-the-scenes personal life and wartime work. His discovery in 1994 and publication in 2000 of key passages about Mary Lincoln's stealing, censored from the Browning diary (1925), made national news.
British scholar Richard Carwardine discusses his years studying Abraham Lincoln. He was named Rhodes Professor of American History and Institutions at Oxford University in 2002, a post he held until 2009. He then served as president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, from 2010 until his retirement in 2016. In 2002 he was asked to write a biography of Lincoln entitled "Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power," which was published in 2007 and for which he won the prestigious Lincoln Prize. His second book on Lincoln was published in 2017 and is entitled "Lincoln's Sense of Humor."
Dr. George Cullom Davis began his academic career as an assistant professor of history at Indiana University in 1964. In 1970, he moved to Springfield, IL, where he taught and served as an assistant to the president of the newly formed Sangamon State University, and was also responsible for establishing the university's Oral History office. He quickly developed a national reputation in the oral history community, and served as president of the Oral History Association from 1983-1984. In 1988 Dr. Davis became Director of the Lincoln Legal Papers, where he served until his retirement in 2000.
Dr. James E. Davis taught high school history and English for nine years before obtaining his PhD in 1971 and becoming a professor of History and Geography at Illinois College in Jacksonville, where he taught until his retirement in 2011. During his half-century of teaching, Dr. Davis was witness to many of the changes in American education and historiography that occurred during the latter half of the 20th century and the start of the new millennium. He has also published three books about life on the American frontier:
Alan Harn has had a distinguished career as an Illinois based archaeologist for several decades. He spent most of his career at the Dickson Mounds Museum near Lewistown, Illinois. He became a senior technician in anthropology in 1971, an assistant curator in 1980, Curator of Anthropology in 2010, and Curator Emeritus in 2017. Besides Dickson Mounds, Harn compiled a long record of work at other Illinois archaeological sites. He also has collaborated with a host of eminent Midwestern archaeologists and anthropological theorists, and was at the forefront of the transformation of the Dickson Mounds Museum from what was primarily a burial site to a regional prehistoric and environmental interpretive center.
Kathryn Harris began reenacting Harriet Tubman in the late 1990s, and does so in this interview. Harriet talks about her experiences as a ‘conductor’ for the antebellum Underground Railroad. Over a period of roughly ten years, Tubman made nearly a score of trips to the slave states to lead slaves to freedom in the north, risking her own life and freedom each time she went south. Harris has portrayed Tubman countless times, both to adult and children’s groups, and at the conclusion of the interview, she discusses how this experience has enriched her own life
Robert Hartley's journalism career began in the late 1950s in Idaho, where he served as a reporter for the Twin Falls Times-News. Over the next twenty-seven years he worked in a variety of newspaper positions. He served as editor of the central Illinois Lindsay-Schaub chain of newspapers during the 1970s and eventually became publisher of the Bellevue, WA Journal-American in 1981. Throughout his career, he has been an enthusiastic observer of Illinois politics and history and has published several works on the subject, including books on Senator Paul Simon and Governor Jim Thompson.
Fritz Klein has a world-wide reputation as an actor/presenter of Abraham Lincoln, a role he has portrayed for forty years. He writes his own scripts, can cite them all from memory, and is a highly knowledge student of Lincoln. He shares stories of his travels throughout the United States, and the astonishing insights that school groups, teachers, tourists, or foreigners ask him or tell him about Lincoln and his era.
Alan Lowe began his career with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in 1989 as an archivist at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. From 1992 to 2003 he worked for NARA in Washington, D.C., then served as the director of the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee. In 2008 President George W. Bush selected Lowe to be the director of his Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Alan discusses the creation and operation of that Library and Museum at great length.
Dr. Mark Plummer received his PhD in history from the University of Kansas in 1960. He became a Professor of History at Illinois State University in the same year, where he worked until his retirement in 1994. While at Illinois State, Dr. Plummer taught courses in American and Asian history, and served as Departmental Chair on three occasions. He also served as President of the Illinois State Historical Association in 1985. Some of his major publications include works on Governor Richard Oglesby and orator Robert G. Ingersoll.
Dr. Tom Schwartz became Lincoln Curator at the Illinois State Historical Library in 1985, and for the next twenty-five years developed a reputation as one of the nation's leading Lincoln scholars. In 1993 he was appointed Illinois State Historian by Governor Jim Edgar. As State Historian, Dr. Schwartz supervised the Lincoln Curator and Research and Collections Department of the State Historical Library, and also worked with scholars studying other aspects of Illinois history besides Lincoln.
Lee Slider served as a cultural interpreter for the Macon County Conservation District, and from the 1960s on he was a leading activist for historical preservation, interpretation and education in central Illinois. He was also active in the field of archeology. He worked at the Homestead Prairie Farm in the Rock Springs Conservation Area southwest of Decatur for decades. The farm includes the Macon County Conservation District’s restored 1850-era log home. Slider is an award-winning cultural and historic interpreter.
Wayne Temple served during World War II as a junior officer on General Eisenhower's staff. Following the war he enrolled in college, and by 1956 he had a Ph.D. in history and was teaching at Lincoln Memorial University. In 1964 he moved to Springfield and began a long career at the Illinois State Archives. Since then he has earned the reputation as being one of the nation's most knowledgeable Lincoln scholars. 'Doc' Temple authored scores of speeches, short articles, and research notes about Abraham Lincoln, as well as a half-dozen important volumes, with particular focus on Lincoln's military, religious, surveying, and domestic life. He still worked at the State Archives at the time of his interview in 2015.
Tim Townsend began working at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois in 1991, and at the time of the interview served as the site's historian. He spoke extensively about the many plans that civic groups and individuals developed for the home and surrounding area during the early 20th Century. In 1967 Congressman Paul Findlay, whose district included the Lincoln home, began to champion efforts to have the federal government take over the home (then owned and operated by the state of Illinois, with adjacent properties owned by local property owners). After several years Congress passed legislation transferring the home and the project to the National Park Service, which continues to operate the site. President Richard Nixon signed the legislation in August 1971. Following that, the site underwent dramatic changes. The home went through major renovations in the mid-1950s and again in the late 1980s.