Abraham Lincoln inspired the high-profile director of the Dole Institute of Politics to leave in November.
Now, the director's replacements are hoping Lincoln's legacy will renew the institute's own prominence.
Dole Institute leaders next week will play host to five nights of talks by some of the leading Lincoln scholars in the country. The lectures are the first public program associated with the institute since former director Richard Norton Smith left to direct the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.
"We hope there's not a perception of, 'What happened to the Dole Institute? Richard left and it went away,'" said Jonathan Earle, the institute's associate director for academic programming.
Strangely, Smith had been working on the Lincoln Week events before he was approached to direct the Springfield museum. Earle said Smith had organized a similar week on Lincoln when he was director of the Gerald Ford Library.
The Lincoln lectures, at 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, are designed to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Kansas Territory, Earle said. The speeches are free and open to the public.
"People are inherently interested in Lincoln," Earle said. "He is, I think we can all agree, a phenomenal president."
Earle said the lecture series represented a shift in philosophy from best-selling authors such as David McCullough to more academic scholars. He called the decision to have five straight nights of events an "experiment."
"It's a huge dose of history," Earle said. "We'll see if people will get OD'd on Lincoln. But there's not going to be any overlap. We made sure to get experts on a variety of aspects of Lincoln's life."
One of those will be Douglas Wilson, director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. He is author of "Honor's Voice," which details Lincoln's life before entering the White House.
"There's still a lot to learn about Abraham Lincoln," Wilson said in a phone interview this week. "That's pretty amazing, since he's been studied so incredibly much and gone over and over and over again."
Wilson, who speaks Sunday, cited a new project by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Assn. to catalog about 100,000 pieces of paper tied to cases Lincoln worked on in his law practice.
Lincoln's place in history doesn't seem to surge and wane in popularity over the years, unlike other presidents, he said.
"When he was assassinated, he was sort of liberated of going into a new level," Wilson said. "His critics were either silenced or converted. One way or another, Lincoln's stock has always stayed pretty high."
Another speaker, James McPherson, said he expected a lot of focus on Lincoln and territorial Kansas during the next year. McPherson is professor of history at Princeton University and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era."
McPherson, who speaks on Lincoln's birthday, Feb. 12, said it was tough to separate Bleeding Kansas from Lincoln's involvement in the Civil War.
"The way I see Kansas, viewing it from the outside, is its importance as a mini-Civil War from 1854 to the late 1850s," McPherson said. "I see Kansas as a rehearsal for the Civil War. A lot of people involved in the Civil War got their start in the Kansas wars."
McPherson, who is currently working on a book on the Navy in the Civil War, said although it had been 139 years since Lincoln's assassination, the nation was still fascinated with the leader.
"It's hard to say anything absolutely new about the Civil War," he said. "But Lincoln is a perennial topic of conversation and scholarship each year."
|The Dole Institute of Politics will play host to speeches by five Abraham Lincoln scholars next week. Each lecture begins at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public.¢ Sunday -- Douglas Wilson, director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. He is author of "Honor's Voice" and several other Lincoln books.¢ Monday -- Allen Guelzo, professor of American history at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. He won the 2001 Lincoln Prize for "Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President."¢ Tuesday -- Phil Paludan, former Kansas University professor who now teaches at the University of Illinois. He won the 1995 Lincoln Prize for "The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln" and also wrote "Victims: A True Story of the Civil War" and "A People's Contest: The Union and the Civil War."¢ Wednesday -- Jean Baker, professor of history at Goucher College in Baltimore. Baker is an expert on Lincoln's personal life and wrote "Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography."¢ Thursday, Feb. 12 -- James McPherson, professor of history at Princeton University who won a Pulitzer Prize for "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era." He also won the Lincoln Prize for "For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War."|