August 03, 2006

Course on Lincoln now available in Springfield

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Two Southern Illinois University professors are again teaming up to offer a distance-learning course on Abraham Lincoln, and this year will make the class available in Lincoln's adopted hometown of Springfield as well as Carbondale and Edwardsville.

John Y. Simon, professor of history and director of the U.S. Grant Association at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Stephen L. Hansen, dean of graduate studies and research at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, will team-teach the course for undergraduate and graduate students this fall. The class uses an interactive Internet audio-video connection to join all three classrooms and teachers for a weekly session.

David Joens, a doctoral candidate in history at SIUC, will teach the class in Springfield. The Springfield class will meet in the Telehealth Conference Room at the SIU School of Medicine, Room 1252 in building 913 on North Rutledge Street. Springfield-area residents interested in taking the course can sign up through SIUE or simply show up for first night of class, set for 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24, and register.

Simon said offering the class in Springfield, the site of the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, makes sense.

"I thought because it was Springfield there would be people with a special interest in Lincoln," said Simon, an acknowledged authority on the nation's 16th president. The central Illinois city and the library also are preparing for the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, which also might trigger more interest in the class, Simon said.

The class examines the leadership style of Lincoln and explores his legacy as president. Simon said the course seeks to separate myth from reality by following Lincoln's rise from lawyer to state politician and finally to national prominence. Students will study Lincoln's management of the succession crisis, his skills as a politician, his position on slavery and other topics.

Simon said Lincoln remains a subject of fascination for many, despite years of study by scholars.

"I don't think he's every really been known," said Simon, who arrived at SIUC in 1964 and has gone on to author and edit dozens of books and articles about Lincoln, Grant, the Civil War and Illinois history. "He doesn't reveal all his secrets and there is always a new frontier."

Because of Lincoln's stature, countless groups and political parties have sought to use him in promoting their own causes, politics and points of view over the years, Simon said. Two recent books – once arguing Lincoln was gay and the other pointing to evidence that he suffered from severe bouts of depression – are recent examples of people viewing the issues of today through the prism of Lincoln's life, he said, and only serve as more evidence of Lincoln's powerful influence.

"He's just so gigantic and ultimately unknowable," Simon said. "He's a constant source of investigation. We want to be close to him."

Simon, who has teamed up with Hansen to the offer the distance learning class for several years, said it offers history students a chance to look in depth at subject as opposed to taking a traditional, broad survey approach to history. "Sometimes you get new perspectives when you do this kind of close-up look, rather than the general romp through time that is so common," he said.

Hansen said the teachers hope to snag a few nationally prominent Lincoln scholars to lecture during the class as well.

Building coalitions, partnerships and coordinated efforts with SIUE, other universities and community colleges is among the goals ofSouthern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.