July 27, 2016

Alumnus named Illinois state historian

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A Southern Illinois University Carbondale alumnus is the 10th Illinois state historian, appointed Tuesday, July 26, by the trustees of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. 

Samuel Wheeler, an expert on the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, will direct research and collections at the state historical library, which is part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. He will also take the lead on education outreach programs through Illinois museums, library collections and historic sites throughout the state. 

“The state historian job is one with many challenges, but I can’t wait to get started,” he said. “It’s a dream come true and there is no other way to describe it.” 

Wheeler earned his doctoral degree in history at SIU in 2008. Even as a student, he was interested in serving his community. He was on the editorial board of “Legacy,” the student journal of history scholarship, and held positions on the College of Liberal Arts Council and the Graduate and Professional Student Council, and was president of the History Graduate Student Association. He worked as a teaching assistant during his doctoral studies, and as a lecturer at SIU from 2007-2010. 

“Teaching was the best learning experience I ever had, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity,” he said. 

Until his appointment, Wheeler was most recently a research historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. In that position, he engaged in educational outreach that including speaking to civic groups and schools. He also assisted researchers, was part of the collections acquisitions, oversaw publication of the “Journal of Illinois History” and organized the annual Conference on Illinois History, among other things. 

“Abraham Lincoln is the most written-about American ever – even more than George Washington, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, he tops them all,” he said. “He’s so important to what America is, and I think that’s the reason for the sustained fascination. If you want a rags to riches story, he’s it. He was born in a log cabin, probably with a dirt floor, and he died in the White House. The hundreds-year-old institution of slavery ended on his watch, and that was significant for the whole world. And he saved the Union, the American experiment in popular governance. If he had failed to do that, we might not recognize the United States we have today. I think those are three pretty darn good reasons for the continued interest in him.” 

His past positions include research associate for the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress; director of academic affairs for the Illinois Community College Board; and executive coordinator of the Sangamon County Historical Society. 

Wheeler earned his master’s degree in public and applied history at the University of Illinois Springfield and his bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University.