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Lincoln Exhibit in residence at WIU

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Dr. Roberts at the Lincoln Exhibit Opening Reception

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National Lincoln Exhibit and Speakers Visit WIU

Nov 18, 2010

Lincoln: the Constitution and the Civil War, a traveling exhibition for libraries organized by the National Constitution Center and the American Library Association Public Programs Office, recently visited WIU for six weeks in Fall 2010. The traveling exhibition was made possible by a major "We the People" grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, awarded to Dr. Timothy Roberts, Assistant Professor of History at WIU, and Jeffery Darensbourg, then a member of WIU's Library faculty. Lincoln: the Constitution and the Civil War is based on an exhibition of the same name developed by the National Constitution Center. WIU was one of only two institutions in Illinois chosen to be a host site for this national exhibit; the second site will host the exhibit in 2014. Dr. Roberts was the project leader for this project, on behalf of the History Department and the University. He worked closely on the project with Library Marketing Director Tammy Sayles, who coordinated the set-up and dismantling of the exhibit, and College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Development Director Bryce Dexter, who helped raise money from private donors to more than match the NEH grant and fund the associated Lincoln Exhibit Speaker Series.

The exhibit consisted of a series of illustrated educational museum-style panels, tracing the evolution of President Lincoln's response to the secession crisis of 1860-1861, and his determination to preserve the Union, with a focus on how these problems shaped his view of his responsibility to uphold the Constitution during the war. The exhibit, which was housed in the Garden Lounge of Malpass Library, thus focused on Lincoln's treatment of civil liberties, especially habeas corpus, and his wartime policy towards slavery, culminating in the Emancipation Proclamation.

As part of WIU's outreach effort in connection with the Lincoln Exhibit, Dr. Roberts arranged for six area high school history and middle school social studies classes to visit campus to view the exhibit while it was in residence at WIU. Visiting classes included students from Lewistown High School, Macomb High School, West Prairie High School (Colchester), United Township High School (East Moline), VIT Junior/Senior High School (Table Grove), and Calvary Christian Academy (Macomb). History alum Sally Adams (M.A., 2010; B.A. 2005) and History M.A. student Victoria Stewart assisted the students and their teachers as docents at the exhibit.

Prof. Roberts also developed a comprehensive series of events, the Lincoln Exhibit Speaker Series, to occur on campus while the exhibit was at WIU. All were free and open to the campus and community. In honor of the opening of the exhibit on October 7, an opening reception at Malpass Library featured remarks by WIU President Al Goldfarb, Academic Affairs Assistant Vice President Ron Williams, CAS Dean Susan Martinelli-Fernandez, Library Dean Phyllis Self, and Dr. Roberts. Immediately following the reception, musician Chris Vallillo performed "Lincoln in Song," a medley of stories and folk music dramatizing Lincoln's life and leadership, at WIU's COFAC Recital Hall on October 7.

WIU also hosted a roundtable discussion of "Abraham Lincoln as a War President" on October 13. The panel offered three perspectives on Lincoln during the Civil War. Dr. Larry Balsamo, professor emeritus and former chair of the WIU Department of History, discussed Lincoln's wartime powers under the U.S. Constitution. Prof. Balsamo focussed on Lincoln's understanding of his use of military force and his policy towards slavery. Dr. Rick Hardy, professor and former chair of the WIU Department of Political Science, discussed the issues and implications of the landmark case of Ex parte Merryman. The case concerned Lincoln's decision to suspend the writ of habeas corpus at the outbreak of the Civil War, testing the Constitution's principle of "separation of powers." Dr. Antonio Delgado, Illinois Humanities Council Road Scholar, discussed Lincoln from a Pan-American perspective, particularly Lincoln's relationship with other leaders in the Americas and a comparison of the U.S. abolition of slavery to emancipation movements elsewhere.

The first of the national Lincoln experts to speak at WIU in conjunction with the exhibit was the Honorable Frank Williams, retired Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, who spoke on "Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties in Wartime" on October 27. Justice Williams is the author of Judging Lincoln (2002), coauthor of The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views (2008), a member of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, and a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

In the final event in the Lincoln Exhibit Speaker Series, nationally known Lincoln scholar Dr. Bruce Levine, J. G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History and Professor of African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke on "Abraham Lincoln as a Revolutionary Leader" at WIU on Thursday, November 11, in a presentation recorded by CSPAN for broadcast at a later date. Dr. Levine is the author of Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War (1992, 2005) and Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War (2005), among other works.

The local Lincoln Exhibit Speaker Series was made possible by generous contributions from the McDonough County Bar Association, the Abraham Lincoln Association, the Illinois Humanities Council, the Organization of American Historians, Dr. Jerry Spolar, Nancy Paridy, Esq., Anne Burton, Esq., Dr. Bill Burton, Dr. David & Sally Egler, Dr. Virginia Boynton, the WIU Department of History, the WIU Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies, the WIU Department of African-American Studies, the WIU Department of Political Science, the WIU College of Arts and Sciences, and WIU's Malpass Library, which housed the exhibit while it was on campus.

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