NYT hails the Lincoln papers project

Historians in the News
tags: Lincoln, Lincoln papers project

One of the most ambitious research projects on Abraham Lincoln ever attempted — giving scholars, history buffs and students online access to every document Lincoln ever wrote or read — is being threatened by an absurd and intractable political and budget morass in the Illinois statehouse.

Someone — Gov. Bruce Rauner, perhaps — had better cut through the mess soon to guarantee the continued operation of the long-running, nationally respected project before Illinois becomes the Land of Lost Lincolniana. Managers of the project, the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, warn that it is being starved of money, with five of its 12 staff scholars already cut and its future in considerable doubt.

The digitization project, eagerly supported by Lincoln specialists and private donors, has so far found, annotated and published scores of thousands of freshly uncovered documents, adding to the universe of Lincoln materials. It began in the 1980s researching Lincoln’s legal career, then grew far bigger in scope as the Internet arrived. It will be “the Grand Central of all things Lincoln,” says Harold Holzer, a Lincoln scholar and writer concerned about its future.

The office of Governor Rauner, a Republican, maintains that a standoff with Democratic legislative leaders over the state budget is the heart of the problem, leaving insufficient funds available to guarantee the project’s full operation. But members of the project’s advisory board suspect that political control is the issue. They complain of sudden and “unwarranted” actions last September by a state oversight agency controlled by the governor’s office.

Board members were shocked to be told there could be no renewal of the $243,000 staff researchers’ employment contract because of the budget crisis. At the same time, the state, which pays less than a third of the project’s $800,000 annual budget, announced an investigation of the Lincoln project over questions about its paperwork. ...

Read entire article at NYT

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