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Monday, July 24, 2017

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Unmaking history

William Furry
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Unmaking history

IHPA is history. What does that bode for the Illinois State Historical Society?

Editorial
Unmaking history
By William Furry
EXECUTIVE ORDER CONSOLIDATING THE STATE’S HISTORIC PRESERVATION FUNCTIONS AND ESTABLISHING THE ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM AGENCY
WHEREAS, the State of Illinois is rich with cultural, historical, and natural resources that enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Illinois, and the State of Illinois has an obligation to effectively manage and protect these resources for future generations of Illinoisans; and
WHEREAS, the Historic Preservation Agency manages 56 historic sites and the Department of Natural Resources manages over 300 sites, including parks, trails, fish and wildlife areas, and forests that have natural resources significance; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Natural Resources has the requisite expertise to maintain, promote, and manage sites for the benefit of the people of Illinois; and
WHEREAS, operating two State agencies that both have the primary purpose of preserving the States historic and natural treasures is not an effective use of taxpayer funds; and
WHEREAS, consolidating the historic preservation and site management functions of the Historic Preservation Agency into the Department of Natural Resources will avoid redundancy, reduce bureaucracy, and save taxpayers approximately $3.2 million per year; and
FURTHERMORE, the State of Illinois is proud to be the home state of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States of America, whose leadership and efforts to preserve the Union throughout the Civil War are recognized around the world, and the State of Illinois has honored his contributions to the history of the United States of America through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum; and
WHEREAS, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a world-class institution that immerses visitors into the life and history of Abraham Lincoln, recognizes the importance of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln to the state and nation's historical and cultural heritage; and
WHEREAS, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum serves as the leading repository of academic works pertaining to Abraham Lincoln, and is the premier destination for historians who want to conduct research on President Lincoln; and
WHEREAS, operating the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum as a subordinate component of the Historic Preservation Agency has stifled the full potential of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum; and
WHEREAS, establishing the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum as an independent State agency recognizes the institution's unique importance to our state and nation and will enable it to create more effective long-term plans, craft stronger partnerships with State and non-State organizations, accomplish internal efficiencies, and identify independent sources of support;
THEREFORE, I, Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois, by virtue of the executive authority vested in me by Section 8 and Section 11 of Article V of the Constitution of the State of Illinois, do hereby order as follows:
II. HISTORIC PRESERVATION AGENCY ABOLISHED
HPA, including the Board of HPA, is hereby abolished as of July 1, 2017, upon the taking effect of the reorganization and transfer of functions set forth in this Executive Order.


It is not a little noteworthy that the vagaries of government, governance, and governors visit change on the historical landscape from time to time, revealing that public history is not always about people, place, and events of our common past, but often more about budgets and agendas and politics.
That, of course, is explicit in Governor Rauner’s decision earlier this year to abolish the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA), which was created by another Republican governor, James Thompson, and consolidate it under the Department of Natural Resources beginning July 1, 2017. The creation of the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Agency, which in name alone reaffirms the State of Illinois’s earlier mandate to diminish if not obliterate the former Illinois State Historical Library (renamed the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in 2004), is distressing, simply because it tells the citizens of Illinois and the world that the Lincoln legacy trumps the “wond’rous stories” of the Prairie State, from prehistory to present-day. That kind of unilateral decision making, without any real public referendum or discussion is why the Illinois State Historical Society continues to operate as a not-for-profit, run and to be managed by private citizens with a passion for ALL of Illinois history, not just the stuff that sells souvenirs and puts heads in beds.
Since 1899 the Illinois State Historical Society has pursued its mission to preserve the history of the state through its publications, symposia, annual tours, awards programs, and educational programs. Since breaking off from the IHPA in 1997 (a necessity given the restrictions imposed on our organization by the state), and becoming a not-for-profit organization, the ISHS has kept its commitments and programs, and done its best to be a reliable and positive resource to other historical organizations in the state who are likewise struggling to preserve their past.
Make no mistake. It hasn’t been easy. Producing a top quality popular history magazine such as Illinois Heritage and a renowned academic journal as the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (in continuous publication since 1908) would tax the ability and resources of most historical organizations if that were all they did. But the ISHS’s award programs, its symposia, its tours, and its historical markers program have thrived despite the state’s insistence on duplicating many of those programs at taxpayer expense and abandoning others. Now that IHPA no longer exists, its programs might too, be vanishing from the landscape, putting further burdens on the resources of the ISHS.
If you believe Illinois history is too important to abandon to legislators and political appointees, that the future of the state needs its past to prepare for its future, and that an understanding of our Prairie State history—not just the Lincoln story-- is essential to an informed citizenry, then we need you to step up and join or renew your membership in the Illinois State Historical Society. Do it now. Your membership is vital our future. More importantly, it is the essence, and the future, of our past.


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