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A Question of History

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Exhibit Dates

Exhibit on display at Booth Library March 30- July 31, 2017.

About the Exhibit

Valuing history: Illinois’ track record

In 1827, within one decade of the formation of the State of Illinois, five well-connected residents drafted a constitution to govern the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Illinois. Dr. Terry Barnhart, curator of A Question of History, explains that these men intended to document the state’s natural resources and the successes enjoyed by its settlers and to put these into the context of extinct or weakened Indian nations. The body of work produced by the AHSI confirms that the authors constructed a history to suit their purpose — to help create a prosperous western state.

By 1839, legislators in the General Assembly created the Illinois State Library. By 1843, the state Senate published a history of early Illinois. During the 1850s, the General Assembly established the Illinois State Geological Survey and the Illinois Natural History Survey. In 1877, legislators established the State Historical Library and Natural History Museum (the latter renamed the Illinois State Museum in 1917). Such developments imply that the state supports the study of natural, historical and cultural resources, but financial support proved inadequate, and private competition arose as membership organizations pursued goals identical to those of the state-sponsored entities.

What can we learn from studying the origins and evolution of public funding for state history? What consequences result from inadequate public support? Why does it matter whether or not the state invests in organizations that exist to collect, preserve, and interpret? What do citizens gain (or lose) by inconsistent support?

A Question of History addresses these questions and many more. This catalog stands as lasting evidence of this student-driven exhibition undertaken in anticipation of Illinois’ bicentennial (2018). It conveys the importance of a balanced approach to studying the past, the tangible benefits that can accrue as a result, and the risks of ignoring the mandate.

Debra A. Reid
emeritus professor, History and Historical Administration



Booth LibraryEastern Illinois University Historical Administration