Ninety-eight years ago, the founders of the University of Illinois Press considered its mission. Academics will disagree, of course. Debates raged. Memos were strongly worded.

But it all worked out in the end. The founders thankfully put aside any temptation to publish research on, say, deep water diving, a sport that in Illinois is usually associated with certain organized crime figures—the ones on the outs, as they say in the (family) business. Instead they created an institution known today for its commitment to music, labor history, cutting-edge feminism—and, of course, the history of the Land of Lincoln, with its rivers gently flowing and its prairies verdant growing.

callaryPlace Names of Illinois, by Edward Callary
Ever wondered why anyone would name their town Oblong? Place Names of Illinois is the unsupernatural Ouija board that can answer all such questions.

The comprehensive guide on the subject, it illuminates how the history and culture of Illinois are embedded in the names of its towns, cities, and other geographical features. Author Edward Callary unearths the origins of names of nearly three thousand Illinois communities and the circumstances surrounding their naming and renaming.

Organized alphabetically, the entries are concise, engaging, and full of fascinating detail. Many entries concern the names of currently populated places, providing information on local pronunciation, the name’s etymology, and the community’s location, all set in historical and cultural context. The volume also introduces natural and constructed points of interest such as lakes and airports whose names reflect aspects of the state’s history.

jensenIllinois: A History, by Richard J. Jensen
The epic struggle between traditional, agrarian society and modern industrial capitalism was played out on the national stage as the War between the States. The same struggle between traditional and modern values split Illinois between “Egypt”—the southern region populated by yeoman farmers who came to Illinois from Kentucky, Virginia, Missouri, and other southern states—and the Yankee-dominated, urban north.

Treating Illinois as a microcosm of the nation, Richard J. Jensen argues that the state’s history exhibits basic conflicts that had much to do with shaping American society in general. Northern reformers in Illinois were intent on remaking the state in their image: middle-class, egalitarian, urban, and progressive. These values clashed with the patriarchal supremacy and intense loyalty to kin and ken by which the people of southern Illinois, and the South, organized their lives.

grayThe Illinois, by James Gray
Waterway and highway of commerce, the Illinois River factored in the state’s history long before it became a state, indeed, long before Frenchmen rowed their canoes on its waters.

James Gray traces the saga of the Illinois River and its long-abiding link to the people of central Illinois. His vivid prose depicts such famous figures as the French explorer Sieur de La Salle, circuit rider Peter Cartwright, abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy, and political leader Stephen A. Douglas. He also explores the Indian massacre at Starved Rock, life in the French villages of the Illinois Country, the struggles of the pioneers, the rollicking steamboat days in Peoria, and the operation of modern towboats on the river.

fliegeTales and Trails of Illinois, by Stu Fliege
Based on a collection of fifty-two vignettes of Illinois history originally published as a weekly newspaper column, Tales and Trails of Illinois presents little-known episodes of the state’s past.

Stu Fliege highlights historical events, such as the Herrin Massacre and Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre fire, and covers the diverse terrain of Illinois’s natural and constructed wonders, from Lusk Creek Canyon to Robert Allerton Park. Readers will meet a colorful cast of characters that includes pioneers and squatters, farmers and miners, and gangsters and utopian dreamers. Travel back in time to when salt production was the state’s main industry. Learn of the Illinois ingenuity that spawned inventions including barbed wire and the Ferris wheel. Wonder at Oquawka’s elephant memorial. Quake in fear of Murphysboro’s mysterious mud monster. Quirky and entertaining, Tales and Trails of Illinois is the important stuff they leave out of the average history book.

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