Legends, rather than fading from memory, loom larger with the passing of generations. Abraham Lincoln may be the single best example of this in American culture. Over time, he has maintained a remarkably high profile while numerous films, biographies and historical studies about him have emerged. Lincoln is not simply a historical figure, but a contemporary one as well.
This raises questions for educators about how to best approach a topic which, rather than remaining the same through the years, continues to increase in size and scope. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Lincoln Landmarks Workshops for School Teachers, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and directed by Dr. Caroline R. Pryor, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, have been so popular.
This year’s workshop occurred twice in summer 2014, on June 23-27 and July 14-18 in Edwardsville and Springfield, Ill., and constitutes Pryor’s sixth year serving as the project’s principal investigator and curriculum leader. Interest in the workshop, much like that with Lincoln himself, has increased over the years. In the past six years, about 2,000 U.S. teachers have applied to the Lincoln workshop, 400 of whom were accepted as participants. In 2014, the workshop received 400 applications and accommodated 80 participants.
For the span of the program, NEH has provided financial support for the workshop, which includes a stipend for teachers to help cover travel and housing expenses. Additionally, the U.S. Department of State has sponsored international teachers to attend the workshop; teachers from Egypt, Kenya, Russia, Jordan and South Africa have joined American teachers. Meanwhile, Dr. Pryor and her teams of instructors have helped K-12 teachers to learn about and develop pedagogical strategies to enhance lessons about Lincoln, his era and his influence on our country.
While Pryor’s Lincoln workshops have become an annual tradition, they have not become mundane or routine. Each year’s workshop receives a different focus, and the growth of the project’s scope reflects the growth of Pryor’s own scholarship. This year’s program is appropriately titled, “Abraham Lincoln and the Forging of Modern America,” and featured SIUE faculty members, Professor Emeritus Dr. Stephen L. Hansen, Dr. Jason Stacy, associate professor of historical studies; Dr. Erik Alexander, assistant professor of historical studies; and art historian Dr. Ivy Cooper. In addition, Amy Wilkerson, director of teaching with primary sources, demonstrated uses of the digitized collection of the Library of Congress. Dr. Laura Fowler, associate professor of historical studies, has been a frequent past contributor.
Additional speakers this year included Washington University in St. Louis historians Drs. Iver Bernstein and Sowande Mustakeem; Dr. Louis Gerteis of University of Missouri-St. Louis; Dr. Graham Peck, Saint Xavier University, Chicago; and historians of the Abraham Lincoln Museum: Drs. James Cornelius and Mark Depue.
Pryor brings a career-long interest in creative approaches to pedagogy to her Lincoln workshops. In 2005, she co-edited a book with Art Pearl, published by Rowman Littlefield: “Democratic Practices in Education: Implications for Teacher Education,” which examined teachers' perspectives on democratic thought. In 2012, Pryor applied for and received an American Library Association (ALA)-NEH grant to bring the exhibit “Lincoln and the Constitution” to SIUE’s Lovejoy Library, opening the exhibit to the greater St. Louis and southwest Illinois regions. Pryor also co-authored a book with Hansen that addresses the focus of the NEH Lincoln Workshops, “Teaching Lincoln: Legacies and Classroom Strategies,” published in 2014 with the Peter Lang publishing house.
Pryor’s commitment to bringing education to a large audience is shown through her efforts to coordinate the ALA-NEH exhibit and her dedication to the Lincoln workshops. The impacts of these experiences, she says, are many and unexpected. To illustrate this, she cited an experience during the end of her 2010 NEH Lincoln Workshop. When she asked a teacher from Egypt what material from the workshop he planned to use with his students, he replied: “I learned that Lincoln was a hero for freedom. We [Egyptians] have our heroes of freedom also. I plan to teach about Lincoln along with the heroes of freedom we have in Egypt.” Pryor recalled this response soon after in 2011 when the “Arab Spring” occurred, marveling that education often has unexpected impacts. Just as unexpected, perhaps, is the notion that a young man born in an unassuming log cabin would one day grow up to be one of our nation’s most enduring figures.