Monday, July 21, 2008

IHS Press Youth Biographies Nominated for Indiana Best Books Competition

Two publications in the IHS Press's Youth Biography Series--A Belief in Providence: A Life of Saint Theodora Guérin by Julie Young and Fighting for Equality: A Life of May Wright Sewall by Ray E. Boomhower--are finalists in the Indiana Center for the Book's 2008 Best Books of Indiana competition.

Joining the IHS Press books as a finalist in the Children's/Young Adult category is When I Crossed No-Bob, written by Margaret McMullan and published by Houghton Mifflin.

This competition began in 2005 to highlight Indiana's ongoing literary successes. Books by Indiana authors or about Indiana, published between January 1 and December 31 of the previous year, are eligible. Categories include fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children/young adult. A complete list of the finalists is available on the Center's web site.

The winners of the competition will be announced in a ceremony at 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 16, at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis.

Interview with Lincoln Author

William E. "Bill" Bartelt is a retired educator who, for more than fifteen summers, worked as a ranger and historian at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. Here he answers questions about his new book "There I grew up": Remembering Abraham Lincoln's Indiana Youth.

What was the main reason you decided to do this book on Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana years?

It is part of the Lincoln story that is not well known. When I worked as a ranger at Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial I learned few visitors understood that Lincoln spent almost a quarter of his life in Indiana. Even those who are aware of Lincoln’s time in the state have no real understanding of the land and the people of his Spencer County neighborhood.

I decided I would let Lincoln, his family, and his neighbors tell the story. I saw my purpose as providing the context for what Lincoln and others remembered about his life from age 7 to 21.

How important was Lincoln’s time in Indiana in shaping his character for his life to come?

I think we can all agree that much of our character is developed early in our lives and the period from age 7 to 21 is extremely important. The same can be said for Lincoln.

It is difficult to say with certainty exactly how those Indiana years formed his character, but it is obvious that experiences in Indiana helped develop traits we associate with the mature man. These traits include his ability to think for himself and trust his opinions, his ambition, his sensitivity and compassion, the ability to craft words to entertain and influence others, his curiosity, and his desire to learn from books and the people he met. Certainly the deaths of his mother and sister taught him at an early age that bad things happen and those things cannot be changed.

Did you discover anything new about Lincoln in doing your research?

I learned much more about the people living in his neighborhood. Using census records, land records, and family histories I was able to develop a greater understanding of the people he associated with on a daily basis. Many biographers fail to tell the story of the Little Pigeon Creek Community and portray the Lincoln family living in the woods far from other people. That was not the case. Lincoln and his family had neighbors to share the work, joys, hardships, and daily events of the area.

The most exciting discovery for me occurred while examining neighborhood land records in the National Archives. I unfolded a bundle of documents that probably had not been viewed for 150 years or more. There I found the record documenting that Thomas Lincoln had a claim on a quarter section of land adjoining his farm. He disposed of the claim after two years and the importance may be insignificant, but to discover something no one else knew was exciting. Adding to the thrill was seeing Thomas Lincoln’s signature and the signature of the local Justice of the Peace—one of Lincoln’s Indiana teachers.

You worked many years at the Lincoln Boyhood Home. What is your favorite story from your time there?

I have many fond memories of my summers at Lincoln Boyhood. I think I learned more about what history really is during that time than from any college class. There is a real difference between examining the big picture in a class and interpreting the story at a specific historic site.

One event that I remember with amusement occurred one afternoon as I worked the information desk. A small boy walked up to me and hesitantly offered an unexpected statement, “I have a friend who doesn’t believe in Abraham Lincoln.” I assured the boy that Lincoln had indeed been a real person and lived at this site when he was the boy’s age. That encounter has forced me to present Abraham Lincoln as a real human and not as some sort of mythical figure.

What are some of the things Indiana is doing to celebrate the Lincoln bicentennial?

The mission of the Indiana Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission is to educate residents of Indiana and the nation about Indiana's important role in the life of Abraham Lincoln. This is being accomplished by conducting conferences, erecting historical markers, constructing a Lincoln Bicentennial Plaza in Lincoln State Park, working with local communities to observe the celebration, erecting “Welcome to Indiana, Lincoln’s Boyhood home” signs on highways, and making a Lincoln’s Boyhood Home license plate available. Much of the work of the commission is focusing on education and assisting the schools of Indiana to observe the event in a meaningful manner.

I encourage everyone to go to the Web site for a more complete answer to this question.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lincoln's Legacy Explored in New IHS Press Book

In 1859 Abraham Lincoln covered his Indiana years in one paragraph and two sentences of a written autobiographical statement that included the following: “We reached our new home about the time the State came into the union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals in the woods. There I grew up.”

William E. Bartelt's new book “There I Grew Up”: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth uses annotation and primary source material to tell the history of Lincoln’s Indiana years by those who were there. Bartelt begins with Lincoln’s own words written in two short autobiographical sketches in 1859 and 1860, and in the poetry Lincoln wrote following a campaign trip to Indiana in 1844. In 1865 Lincoln’s law partner, William H. Herndon, began interviewing Lincoln’s family and those who knew Lincoln in Indiana. Bartelt examines Herndon’s interviews with Lincoln’s stepmother Sally Bush Johnston Lincoln, cousin Dennis Hanks, stepsister Matilda Johnston Moore, neighbors Nathaniel Grigsby, Elizabeth Crawford, and David Turnham, and others who knew Lincoln in Indiana. Also included in the volume are excerpts from Lincoln biographies by William Herndon, Ida Tarbell, Albert Beveridge, and Louis Warren, in which Bartelt analyzes to what extent these authors researched Lincoln’s Indiana period.

The book also reveals, through the words of those who knew him, Abraham Lincoln’s humor, compassion, oratorical skills, and thirst for knowledge, and it provides an overview of Lincoln’s Indiana experiences, his family, the community where the Lincolns settled, and southern Indiana during the years 1816 to 1830.

Bartelt is a retired educator who, for more than fifteen summers, was employed as a ranger and historian at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. He is a member of the Federal Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission's Advisory and Education Committees and serves as vice chair of the Indiana Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

“There I Grew Up”: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youthcosts $27.95 and is available from the Society's Basile History Market. To order, call (800) 447-1830 or order online at the History Market.