Dr. Samuel Wheeler, an expert on the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, was named Illinois state historian Tuesday by the trustees of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
As state historian, Wheeler will direct research and collections at the state historical library, a part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. He will also lead efforts to use the state’s historical resources, such as museums, library collections and historic sites, to educate the public about Illinois’ rich heritage.
Wheeler, currently a research historian at the Lincoln Presidential Library, noted the state’s bicentennial is approaching and the Barack Obama presidential library will be coming to Illinois. Those events will create new opportunities to engage the public and collaborate on educational projects, he said.
“I’m excited about the many challenges that await the Illinois state historian. It’s a tremendous honor to serve the state and the many institutions dedicated to our incredible legacy,” said Wheeler, who will be the 10th state historian. “We can make Illinois a nationwide leader in preserving and promoting history.”
Wheeler, 38, holds a Ph.D. in history from Southern Illinois University, a master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Springfield and a bachelor’s from Illinois State University. He lives in Springfield with his son, Owen.
He has worked at the Lincoln Presidential Library since 2013. Earlier positions include researcher for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a joint project of the presidential library and the University of Illinois; a lecturer at Southern Illinois University; and a site interpreter at the Old State Capitol and Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices historic sites.
James Bruner, chair of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency Board of Trustees, welcomed Wheeler. “Illinoisans will benefit from having someone with his knowledge and enthusiasm leading our efforts to research the state’s fascinating history and share it with the world,” Bruner said.
Wheeler will report to Alan Lowe, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Lowe helped select Wheeler from a nationwide pool of applicants.
“I was impressed by Sam’s love of Illinois history, his experience as both a researcher and teacher, and his ideas for engaging the public,” Lowe said. “Filling this position is an important step forward.”
The previous state historian was Thomas Schwartz, now director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum in West Branch, Iowa.
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency protects the state’s historic resources, which contribute to education, culture and the economy. Its 56 sites include ancient burial mounds, forts and buildings erected by settlers, and homes connected to famous Illinoisans.
It also oversees the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which tells the story of America’s 16th president through old-fashioned scholarship and modern technology. The library holds an unparalleled collection of Lincoln material, as well as some 12 million items pertaining to all aspects of Illinois history.