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History of the Lincoln Studies Center

Actor Michael Krebs portrayed Lincoln in a debate re-enactment at Knox College in 1994.(Updated, from an article by David Amor in The Knox Alumnus)

"At last I have gone through college."

Since 1858, every Knox College student has learned the story of Abraham Lincoln's memorable visit to its Old Main building and the famous remark he is said to have made as he stepped through a window and onto the platform to debate Stephen A. Douglas. Though his visit created a lasting legend, Lincoln never returned to Knox, not even to receive his first honorary degree, awarded him at the Knox Commencement in 1860.

Abraham Lincoln is now finally back at Knox, this time to stay, thanks to the Lincoln Studies Center, established by Knox Lincoln scholars Rodney O. Davis and Douglas L. Wilson.

The two have been studying Lincoln collaboratively since the 1980s. Their editorial collaboration, Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, published in 1998 by University of Illinois Press, has been hailed as "a monumental achievement of scholarship" (James McPherson, New York Review of Books). Two books by Wilson, Lincoln Before Washington: New Perspectives on the Illinois Years (Illinois, 1997) and Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln (Knopf, 1998) appeared during the same period.

In 2006, Wilson and Davis published the first volume in the newly established Lincoln Studies Center Publication Series, co-sponsored with the University of Illinois Press. This was a new edition of Herndon's Lincoln, the biography published in 1889 by Lincoln's law partner, William H. Herndon, and his collaborator, Jesse W. Weik. A second volume in the series, The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The Lincoln Studies Center Edition, appeared on the 150th anniversary of the famous debates in 2008. Other volumes, including a compilation of Herndon's other writings about Lincoln, are in preparation.

The Lincoln Studies Center's statement of purpose commits it to promoting "the study of the life and work of Abraham Lincoln" through "research, publications, public events and classroom instruction." What was not contemplated at the inception of the Center was its involvement in collaborative arrangements with other Lincoln scholars and institutions, but such has been an important part of the Center's activity since 1999. In that year the Center agreed to collaborate with the Library of Congress and to produce annotated transcriptions of the Library's Lincoln Papers for its website, a project was completed in 2001. Wilson's study of Lincoln's presidential writing, Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words (Knopf, 2006), came directly out of this project.

A Board of Advisors composed of accomplished Lincoln scholars meets annually to advise the co-directors, who in turn oversee the center's policies and programs. The Center regularly provides student interns with the opportunity to develop skills in research and documentary editing. It also brings distinguished speakers to campus and sponsors colloquia on topics relating to Lincoln. All of these activities are scheduled to be centralized in a common area in Alumni Hall, an 1890 campus building that is currently being renovated.

 

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