A new group of scholars at Hiram College, the Garfield Presidency Scholars, recently spent the weekend studying Abraham Lincoln’s presidency in Springfield, Ill.
This newly formed group is affiliated with Hiram College’s James A. Garfield Center for the Study of the American Presidency. Through interdisciplinary study, the academically diverse group of students will examine the issues at the very core of presidential leadership, each year focusing on a president of significant historical standing.
Doug Brattebo, associate professor of political science and director of the Center, chose Lincoln as the first president to focus on, so he and the students spent Fall Weekend (Oct. 9-12) studying Lincoln’s life in his hometown.
“The best part of the trip was being able to see firsthand all of the facts and information we have read about and been studying since the beginning of the summer,” said Ann Riddle ’16, a political science major from Mayfield. “We were able to see the sites — or at the very least the restored sites — that Lincoln saw; we were able to walk where Lincoln walked.”
Starting in the summer, the Garfield Presidency Scholars, who applied to and were accepted into the program, began their study of Lincoln by taking part in an online forum with assigned reading. As the school year began, they began to collaborate with their classmates to give presentations on certain aspects of the presidency.
While in Springfield, the students listened to private lectures from Timothy Townsend, a Lincoln historian and Dr. Matthew Holden, Jr., a Wepner Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois-Springfield, participating in discussions about Lincoln’s history, influence and his role in the office of the presidency. They visited Lincoln’s house, which is now owned by the National Park Service and explored both his Springfield neighborhood, as well as New Salem, the neighborhood that he spent his adult life in. The students also visited Lincoln’s Presidential Museum, where they received a lecture from James Cornelius, the curator of the Lincoln Collection.
“The museum was my favorite part of all the places we visited because of how well everything flowed together and the tone in the presentations,” Riddle said. “I felt like I was there in the 1800s. I could feel the tension in the assassination scene and the sadness in the display of Lincoln lying in state in the old Capitol building; it was heart wrenching.”
She and the other scholars have gained a deep appreciation for Lincoln as a president.
“Through this trip and our studies in preparation for it, I have grown to greatly respect Lincoln as a man who, despite what we learn in elementary schools, had flaws,” said Samantha Mullenax ’17, an early childhood education major from Cleveland. “Yet he was able to change the course of history in regards to slavery and keep our country alive during turmoil.”
She said the scholars program has proved an ideal opportunity for her to study outside her major.
“When I heard that I had the opportunity to join an academic group that is outside of my major, I jumped on it,” she said. “I applied to and later joined the Garfield Presidency Scholars because I thought it would provide extremely valuable information that I could use in my classroom someday.”
Throughout the academic year, the Garfield Presidency Scholars will continue participating in intense group discussions, hosting speakers on the presidency, attending events and traveling to destinations that are relevant to Lincoln.
The Garfield Presidency Scholars will go to Washington, D.C. in late March to continue their studies on Lincoln and further develop an understanding of the office of the presidency.