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Book Reviews

A cornucopia for Illinois history enthusiasts


John Hoffmann (ed). A Guide to the History of Illinois. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1991. Pp. 349 with index. $59.95 (cloth).

The people of the Prairie State have waited a long time for an adequate guide to their written historical resources. They now have a splendid one, thanks to the extensive knowledge and skill of its editor, John Hoffmann, librarian of the Illinois Historical Survey at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. To produce this substantial volume Hoffman enlisted the able assistance of 28 contributors, all of them well versed in the state's history and each with a specialized knowledge of a significant segment of the Illinois bibliography. A Guide to the History of Illinois offers rich rewards to anyone wishing to look seriously into the bountiful past of the "Land of Lincoln."

The Guide opens with a 29-page introduction in which the editor surveys in a masterful fashion the history of historical writing in Illinois from its beginnings in the 1840s up to the present. The volume is divided in an appropriately straightforward fashion into two major sections: "Bibliographical Essays" and "Archival and Manuscript Collections."

The bibliographical essays, which make up approximately two-thirds of the book, are likewise divided into two units called "Periods" and "Topics." Eight periods of Illinois history are presented chronologically, beginning with "The Illinois Country before 1765" and concluding with "Illinois since 1945." The intervening units include such time-honored headings as "The Frontier State," "The Era of the Civil War" and "The Progressive Movement." The writings on each of these eras are surveyed and described by a scholar, librarian or other professional person with a first-rate working knowledge of the historical literature of the period.

The Guide shifts to consideration of six topics, which include such delights as "Literature," "Chicago," "Peoples of Illinois" and "Abraham Lincoln: The Illinois Years." Specialists again offer a rich fare drawn from the abundant resources present in and around the state. These topical sections strengthen the bibliographical approach to Illinois history and complement the chronological treatment significantly.

Part Two provides a very different approach and presents a veritable cornucopia of reading and research opportunities. This section, devoted to archival and manuscript collections, represents a tremendously ambitious undertaking and stands as one of the truly great achievements of the Guide. Following the editor's useful introduction, the major manuscript and archival repositories in the state are reviewed by individuals familiar with their holdings. These include the major universities in the state as well as a number of private colleges and seminaries, such public agencies as the Illinois State Archives and the Illinois State Historical Library and private repositories both in Chicago and downstate, of which the Newberry Library and the Chicago Historical Society are probably the best-known examples. The National Archives and the Library of Congress are also surveyed.

The writings ... are ... described by a scholar, librarian or other professional person with a first-rate working knowledge of the historical literature ...

A word of explanation and appreciation for the work of the Greenwood Press is in order. This publishing conglomerate is engaged in the enormous task of producing bibliographic guides for many (perhaps ultimately most) of the states of this nation. So far, guides have also appeared for California, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Texas, and 10 others are in various stages of development. The fascinating history of Illinois is admirably served within the context of this evolving series.

It is not possible in a brief review to capture the full breadth, wealth or richness of the carefully crafted sections of the Illinois Guide. To appreciate fully the flavor of this remarkable volume it must first be sampled, then examined and finally perused in great detail. The history of Illinois, which now covers more than three centuries of discovery, exploration, settlement and development, is exciting and full of variety, and its study is both challenging and rewarding. Those inclined to embark upon this stimulating journey will surely want to make A Guide to the History of Illinois their constant companion.

Until his retirement a decade ago, Robert M. Sutton was professor of history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. A past president of the Illinois State Historical Society, he has written extensively on Illinois history.

May 1992/Illinois Issues/29

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