The year was 1869. In New York City, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. Ulysses S. Grant was sworn in as the nation’s 18th president. The transcontinental railroad was completed with a golden spike in Promontory, Utah. Overseas, Egypt’s new Suez Canal linked the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. And here in Illinois, Cyrus Thomas was charged by the first Board of Trustees of the fledgling Southern Illinois Normal University (SINU)—(now Southern Illinois University Carbondale) to organize a university museum.
VOLUME 111 NO. 1-2 is our second consecutive double-issue commemorates Illinois’ 200th anniversary of statehood. For those of us laboring in the historical profession and cognate fields—academically affiliated scholars and their students, unaffiliated scholars and researchers, public historians, museum professionals, archivists and librarians, and the like—anniversaries are moments to reflect upon disciplinary practice. They are, in other words, splendid occasions to reckon with the past, take stock of the present, and imagine the future. The last two major anniversaries of Illinois statehood—the centennial and sesquicentennial—produced landmark works of state history that collectively established the main contours of scholarship on the Prairie State well into the twentieth century. (These works, and our intellectual debts to them, are identified in the articles that follow.) The current issue of the Journal, “Illinois History: A Bicentennial Appraisal,” is offered in the same spirit. We seek to highlight the connections between the past—the history of this land called Illinois; the present—the current state of professional history about this land; and the future—how we might fruitfully reframe and re-present this land’s history moving forward. The first six essays offer insightful surveys of recent trends in historical scholarship on Illinois from the colonial era to the very recent past. The historiographical essays mark the most important developments in historical scholarship on Illinois over the last thirty years or so, a necessary first-step in generating new research agendas and ultimately new narratives. The final two essays examine the practice of public history in Illinois, as it stands today. The cautionary lessons learned from museum professionals and other practitioners of public history—declining public investments, conflicting political agendas, the growing role of local initiative, and most crucially, greater reliance on private resources—should alert us all to the need for an historical practice that informs, connects, and enriches diverse audiences and stakeholders.