University Park, IL,
08:30 AM

GovState's Megan VanGorder helps Illinois Historian search

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(University Park, Ill.) – Local historians have estimated anywhere between 3,000 and 4,000 refugees from slavery passed through the ground around what is now Governors State on their way to freedom, according to Dr. Megan VanGorder, Assistant Professor of History at Governors State University (GovState), about the prevalence of the Underground Railroad in Will County.

This fact is only a piece of Illinois’ history and not one many may know. In reinventing the position of Illinois State Historian, the state seeks to explore parts of its own history that have often been overlooked. 

VanGorder is part of the search committee and excited about the possibilities. “The revitalization of this position shifts attention from typical and dominant narratives about state history to celebrate a diversity of experiences in our increasingly diverse state,” said VanGorder, who currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Illinois State Historical Society, which led to her involvement in the state historian search.

In the past, the state historian position has been a permanent post held by a state employee who specialized in Abraham Lincoln studies. Due to legislative changes, the position will now operate similarly to the U.S. Poet Laureate with the  appointment lasting two years. Also, the position can be filled by anyone with the proper credentials, no matter where they work or their historical focus.

The goal is to have an array of historians to excite new audiences about different strands of Illinois history. Not only will this allow historians throughout the state to be honored for their scholarship and service to Illinois communities, but it also celebrates the rich diversity of the state's history and its historians. After all, Illinois’ history extends far beyond that of Lincoln. Broadening the historian’s focus presents an opportunity to amplify a variety of voices on the multiple facets of the state’s history. 

VanGorder spoke to the position’s changes as a reflection of the shift in the history discipline to one that celebrates non-white scholars and research topics that are not represented in dominant historical narratives.

“The state’s commitment to a more equitable approach to historical accolades promises to breathe new life into continued scholarship,” said VanGorder. “That is an exciting prospect that will benefit all Illinoisans.”

Candidates for Illinois State Historian must have expertise in the history of at least one underrepresented minority group, including, but not limited to: African-American history; Native American history; Latinx history; Asian-American history; and LGBTQIA history.

Individuals interested in the position are encouraged to apply now. The search committee plans to make a final decision by the end of January 2024.

For more information on the position and to apply, click here. A resume is required for each applicant.