Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Michael Burlingame to Chair Lincoln Studies Department

In these days in late May, it seemed unlikely that there would be any major Lincoln-related stories for the next few days.  But that assumption was way off the mark.  Earlier today, the University of Illinois at Springfield announced that it had lured Michael Burlingame out of retirement to take its named chair of Lincoln Studies, previously held by the late Philip Paludan.

Burlingame has been in the news recently for his now-(finally)-published two-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, which has been in the works for several years.  Burlingame, who has a reputation as a supportive colleague of other Lincoln scholars (invariably showing up in the acknowledgements as the one who pointed the author to previously-unknown material), was a long-time professor at Connecticut College.  He retired a few years ago to concentrate full-time on the biography.

Now 67, Burlingame was lured out of retirement to take what is probably the most prestigious Lincoln-related university position, chair of Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois.  Previously, the Lincoln Studies program has boasted big Lincoln names (both among faculty and students), including Paludan.  For years, J. G. Randall headed the program (at University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana years before Springfield campus opened in 1995) and was recognized as the nation's foremost Lincoln scholar of his generation; among his many noted students was the recently deceased David Herbert Donald.

The appointment is quite a coup for the university, though I imagine that the prestige of the position is quite a lure for Burlingame too.  After the death of Donald, it is likely that Burlingame is now the unofficial "dean of Lincoln scholars" (with a nod toward Harold Holzer).  So it is appropriate that he now holds this position.  Selfishly, it also gives hope for more writing from Burlingame, given that Burlingame is only required to teach one course per semester (nice work if you can get it).

It is also big news.  Here is coverage from The State Journal-Register, Lincoln Buff 2 (special thanks to Ann for pointing out a mistake in an earlier version of this post), and The Abraham Lincoln Observer.

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