WIU Libraries Awarded ALA/NEH Grant For Civil War Reading & Discussion Series

ALA/NEH Grant Awarded

The Western Illinois University Libraries system is one of only 65 library systems in the U.S. selected to participate in the American Library Association (ALA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) project, "Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the Civil War." In commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial this year, the "LTAI" reading and discussion series at WIU Libraries has been made possible through a grant from the NEH and the ALA. The "LTAI" funds are being distributed to selected libraries to provide educational programs and materials to stimulate discussion about this pivotal era in American history.

Marketing and Outreach Librarian Tammy Sayles will serve as the project director at WIU Libraries, and WIU Department of History Assistant Professor Tim Roberts will serve as the project scholar. According to Lainie Castle, project director from the public programs office at ALA, the LTAI project "was a highly competitive grant application process, with more than 175 proposals received." In her award letter to Sayles, she noted, "We are very excited about your library's unique programming plans to stimulate exploration and discussion…."

According to Sayles, the programs funded through the LTAI grant will not start until November, as the library project directors are required to attend an orientation workshop in October before implementation of the reading and discussion series. Sayles noted that her work with Roberts on this project stemmed from a collaborative project they implemented last year at the WIU Libraries' Leslie F. Malpass Library on the Macomb campus.

"Tim approached me and asked if I would be interested in partnering with him to apply for the LTAI grant," Sayles said. "We worked together on the 'Abraham Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,'" a traveling exhibition for libraries, organized by the National Constitution Center and the ALA public program office and made possible through a grant by NEH. ALA and NEH indicated they liked our programming for that project, which we implemented last fall. For the LTAI grant application, we put a lot of thought into the discussion topics. The materials for the grant are exciting because they not only explore Civil War history, but also its legacy in America and include both historical and fictional readings," she added.

Roberts noted the programs made possible by the grant funding include a series of public conversations to be held on the WIU-Macomb campus in late 2011 and early 2012.

"The first conversation, which will be held in November, will consider a collection of documents that help us understand why Americans supported either the North or the South. Some of these materials, such as the speeches of Frederick Douglass and Alexander Stephens, paint the issues of the war starkly and suggest it would have been easy for a northerner or southerner to choose sides at the war's outset. But other documents -- such as those of the Unionist southerner Chapman Stuart, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and even President Lincoln's first inaugural address -- show the complicated decisions and choices Americans faced. Supporting or opposing the Union, and even knowing what issues the Union and its opponents stood for, were hardly easy paths to follow," Roberts said.

Roberts added the second conversation (slated for December) will consider how the war impacted individual Americans, through the story of Mr. March, the main character of Geraldine Brooks' "March." In the novel, "March emerges as an idealistic chaplain in the little known backwaters of a war that will test his faith in himself and in the Union cause as he learns that his side, too, is capable of acts of barbarism and racism," notes Brooks' website description.

"In this case, the Union chaplain March has a relationship with the former slave Grace Clement, an interracial encounter that was taboo, though not impossible, in Victorian America," Roberts noted. "In our conversation about this book, we hope to consider some of the unusual social circumstances that the war created, for example how it created opportunities, but again called upon individuals to make their own choices, for crossing boundaries of race, section and morality."

The third and fourth conversations (to be held in January and February 2012) will, Roberts explained, "turn to how the Civil War affected African Americans, and how African Americans affected the war." And the final fifth conversation (April 2012) will be devoted to the anthology of readings about the great battle of Shiloh, memorable locally for the number of Illinois soldiers who fought in it.

In addition to funding the project director's and project scholar's costs to attend the LTAI orientation workshop, the grant provides WIU with 25 copies each of "March" and "Crossroads to Freedom: Antietam" and 50 copies of the anthology "America's War: Talking About the Civil War and Emancipation on their 150th Anniversaries," which will also be read in the program.

For more information about Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the Civil War at Western Illinois University Libraries, contact Sayles or Roberts.