As I am coming to the end of this project a serendipitous opportunity arose this weekend in my hometown of Bloomington, IL. Since the beginning of the summer, I have been filling my brain with Lincoln scholarship. I've read his texts. I've read what historians say about him. I've thought deeply about how to teach Lincoln to students. I traveled to Springfield and walked around his neighborhood. I've read into the lives of those around him from Bloomington. This weekend, my town is hosting it's annual Lincoln Festival. I've attended the festival in years past, but it has always held a more distant feeling. This summer, while taking "Understanding Lincoln," I've gained much insight on my hometown's hero (no offense, David Davis).
Today, I met Abraham Lincoln.
Now, a couple of years ago, I would have probably scoffed sardonically at an impersonator. But not today. Amidst my hours (and hours and hours) of research on Lincoln's connection to Bloomington, seeing this man (obviously not really Lincoln) and hearing him talk (did he really have that southern twang?), I found myself ... dare I say it? ... star-struck. There, I said it.
I found myself wanting to ask so many questions, but what question does one ask of Abraham Lincoln. I mean, really! I sat and listened to him discuss cases he defended and people that he had met. Of course, I took it all in with a critical ear along with my new arsenal of Lincolniana, but I was starting to feel what, I think, most people feel when they are really drawn to Lincoln: I just wanted to be in his presence. I wanted to shake his hand. I wanted someone to take my picture with him. I wanted to ask him about how he (Randy Duncan) goes about his research. I found myself almost giddy at the whole experience; I was immersed in the moment. And that was just it - I was immersed. It was as if the academic yearnings in me met full force with the childhood admiration of this great man. History was harmonizing.
When his "speechifying" was over, I shook his hand and of course, I could only stutter out the, "thank you so much, Mr. President" of a common groupie. (What's happening to me?) Also, I had someone snap my picture with him. (Two things: I only really realized afterwards that I was wearing a dinosaur t-shirt and at least I did not take a selfie.)
So perhaps this confessional blog post will discredit me to some degree, but I refuse to shy away from my love of Lincoln. The feeling I had today - my synthesis of learning - is what I will always hope to inspire in my students.
Truly though, over this summer I have learned the absolute joy of immersing myself into a subject that I have always treasured. The course "Understanding Lincoln" through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Dickinson College has reignited a passion for learning and it has inspired me to do do things I never imagined that I might do. In the last month, I have created a website that will greatly benefit my classroom and that, I hope, will benefit the wider educational community.
I started this journey a long time ago and not much by the way of my own doing. I was born in Lincoln land and so, it seems, my love of history naturally blossomed into an interest into my community's local hero, Abraham Lincoln. I am by no means a Lincoln scholar and there is much truth in saying that, "there is not much of me." I recently completed my first year as a middle school social studies teacher but am completely passionate about the study of history and all of the possibilities it holds in the digital age.
This past year, I have been privileged to work with the McLean County Museum of History through a couple of endeavors and have been thoroughly impressed and inspired by the rich stories and information offered. In addition, my graduate studies led me to take a course on Lincoln. There was a natural harmony between these two recent learning experiences that led to the creation of this website as the multimedia project for my graduate class.
This website serves as a way for Illinois educators to access and quickly utilize local resources. Obviously, the site is in its developing stages, but I hope to be able to provide several lesson plan modules through the lens of the Cemetery Walk, put on yearly by the McLean County Museum of History. This incredible local tradition has been an educational service to the community for the last 20 years.