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History symposium looks are variety of Civil War topics, related issues and more

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CHARLESTON -- The Illinois State Historical Society's annual symposium is supposed to a combination of topics, who presents them and who might be interested in them, according to one of the organization's officials.

That seemed to fit well with Brian Dolinar, who served as the keynote speaker during the banquet at this year's symposium. He said he was also interested in what others had to say and to learn more about a local historical event at the same time.

"All these people have this great knowledge of Illinois History," Dolinar said Friday. "It's been a real lesson for me."

This year's symposium took place at Eastern Illinois University's Booth Library. The historical society announced a year ago that the event would be in Charleston in conjunction with this weekend's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Charleston Riot.

Several activities are planned for today and Sunday for the commemoration of the March 28, 1864, fight in Charleston between Union soldiers and a group of Copperheads, those who opposed the war.

During more than a dozen sessions Thursday and Friday, presenters covered topics directly related to the Civil War but also many related subjects.

During the symposium, Dolinar, a member of the University of Illinois faculty, spoke about his research on a history of African Americans in Illinois compiled by those in the WPA, one of the New Deal programs of the Great Depression.

He said that covered history from before the Civil War, to Reconstruction and after. He shared some history of the Undergound Railroad's activities in the state and related that there were slave owners in Illinois, mostly in southern mining regions.

But Dolinar also said he "talked at length" about Edward Coles, the second governor of Illinois, for whom Coles County is named. Coles worked against slavery and defended the rights of former slaves, Dolinar noted.

"Edward Coles is largely the reason Illinois remained a free state," he said.

The symposium is different than other academic conferences that are "kind of closed shops," Russell Lewis, the historical society's president, said Friday.

"What's great about it is it's open," he said. "It's a mix of scholars, history buffs and the general public."

This year's event focused on Civil War topics but in a variety of ways because the symposium should address a certain interest but not be too limited, Lewis also said.

"If it's too narrow, we're not going to get as many speakers," he said. "If we can make a connection, it really resonates with people."

Lewis said another of the historical society's goals with the symposium is to try to show how events from history can be put in perspective with current problems.

"We don't live in the past," he said.

Contact Fopay at dfopay@jg-tc.com or 217-238-6858.

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