Dr. Michael Burlingame Gives Lecture on Abraham Lincoln

Emily Chudzik, News Editor

Internationally renowned scholar Dr. Michael Burlingame gave an insightful lecture on President Abraham Lincoln in Kaeuper Hall on Thursday, February 5.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Burlingame felt that he was “fated” to be a Lincoln scholar. He attended Princeton University as an undergraduate, then moved on to Johns Hopkins University, following a professor who was especially influential in sparking his love of Lincoln and the Civil War Era.

Burlingame has written a number of books on Lincoln, one of which is considered to be the definitive biography of Lincoln. The book, “Abraham Lincoln: A Life,” was a 25-year project, and it won the 2010 Lincoln Prize.

Dr. Dan Monroe, chair of the history department at Millikin, was overjoyed to receive Burlingame as a guest speaker. “He’s a wonderful guy, and he’s someone I’ve always admired as a historian and as a professor,” Monroe said.

Monroe met Burlingame when doing research at the Illinois State Historical Library in Springfield a few years ago. He recognized Burlingame and decided to introduce himself.

“He was very cordial, and he invited me to have lunch with him. He couldn’t have been nicer,” Monroe said.

In addition to the lecture in Kaeuper, Burlingame held a small “meet and greet” panel in Shilling 412 from 4-5 p.m. Everyone from Millikin was invited, and he agreed to answer any questions.

“The History Department wants students to have experience outside of the classroom,” Monroe said. “Meeting with national figures in the profession and being able to have that close interaction and ask him questions is what it’s all about.”

Dr. Burlingame’s biggest piece of advice for students in the field was to “Work, work, work. Historians search and do thorough research. Let the chips fall where they may, and don’t go in with preconceived notions.”

During the 7 p.m. lecture in Kaeuper, Burlingame spoke about his research endeavors. “Lincoln is my favorite subject, and I relish every opportunity I can get to talk about it,” Burlingame said.

He told the audience how he had to travel around the country to uncover new research materials and transcripts. “Lincoln had a tremendous sense of humor and was famous for his taste in off-color stories,” Burlingame said. He wanted to find new information on Lincoln to find a fresh perspective on a subject believed to be worn out.

Director Stephen Spielberg invited Dr. Burlingame to be an advisor for the movie “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day Lewis, five years ago. He was influential in changing the way Mary Todd Lincoln was portrayed. There’s evidence that she physically abused Lincoln, that she was mentally unstable and was a constant source of dread in Lincoln’s life.

“My favorite part was definitely the Mary Todd facts and how crazy she really was,” Emily Wunnenberg, a sophomore secondary social science education major, said. She found the lecture to be entertaining and informative.

President Patrick White said, “It was a wonderful talk, beautifully delivered with such scholarly insight. I was so very pleased that we had a packed house and there were not enough seats for everyone to sit in. It really shows the hunger our students have for this kind of thing.”

It was a great honor for someone as highly respected as Dr. Burlingame to come to Millikin and give a lecture on his subject of expertise.