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2024 Regional History Conference

NIU Libraries Regional History Center will host the second annual Northern Illinois Regional History Conference on Saturday April 20, 2024 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center on NIU's campus in DeKalb. The conference theme is "Transnational Communities and Global Influences in/on Northern Illinois," and will feature concurrent panel sessions with presentations on a variety of topics and projects related to Northern Illinois' history, heritage, and culture in local and global contexts.

Erik McDuffie portraitThe conference keynote speaker is Dr. Erik S. McDuffie, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who will examine the global impact of Black Northern Illinois from the late eighteen century to the present. Specifically, McDuffie will discuss African-descended people such as Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, Ida B. Wells, and Christine Johnson, the historic all-Black municipality of Robbins, Illinois, and movements such as the Nation of Islam and the Black Arts Movement.


The Northern Illinois Regional History Conference is free and open to public but attendees are encouraged to RSVP by April 15, 2024. For more information, please contact Special Collections and Archive Department Head Bradley J. Wiles via email or 815-753-9392.

Program Schedule

  • 8:30 am - 9:10 am

    Coffee and Refreshments

  • 9:10 am - 9:15 am

    Welcome and Keynote Introduction

  • 9:15 am - 10:30 am

    Keynote Address

    • “But a Local Phase of a World Problem: The Global Impact of Black Northern Illinois,” Erik S. McDuffie, PhD, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • 10:40 am - 11:55 am

    Session 1

    Panel 1A (Ballroom): Settlement and Industry

    • “'Agriculture is the Noblest of All Alchemy': 19th Century Agricultural Contributions of Illinois Settlers,” Brian Conroy, Will County Historical Museum and Research Center
    • “Winnebago Cemetery: A Walk Through History,” Russell D. Kaney, Winnebago Community Historical Society
    • “Pulpits and Pickaxes: The Primitive Methodists in the Lead Mine District,” Tracey Lee Roberts, University of Wisconsin-Platteville


    Panel 1B (Ballroom): Community and Culture

    • “The Rural Reich: German-American Communities and a pre-Second World War Reckoning in Rural Northern Illinois,” Olivia Zimmerman, University of Edinburgh
    • “Only 'In the Big City': Isolation, Rurality, and Leisure in Lesbian Chicago, 1971-1996,” Hannah Fuller, Loyola University Chicago
    • “Scouting in DuPage County: A Reflective History of Scouting's Impact in the Community and Beyond,” Cecilia Ringo and Michelle Podkowa, DuPage County Historical Museum
  • 12:00 pm - 1:15 pm

    Lunch Break

  • 1:20 pm - 2:35 pm

    Session 2

    Panel 2A (Ballroom): History in the Built and Natural Environment

    • “Traversing Northern Illinois: An Outdoors Exploration of the Physical and Human History of the Northern Regions of the Prairie State,” Elizabeth I. Kershisnik, Oakton College, and Timothy D. Draper, Waubonsee Community College
    • “Health, Home Ownership, and Community: The Story of the Chicago Two Flat,” Jonathan Nerenberg, Loyola University Chicago
    • “Finding the Fact in Folklore: Verifying Underground Railroad Sites in Northern Illinois,” Zachary Bishop, Aurora University


    Panel 2B (Boardroom): Curating History

    • “Encouraging a Citywide Approach to History: The Chicago Collections Consortium and Nuanced Storytelling,” Jessica BrodeFrank and Committee, Chicago Collections Consortium


  • 2:45 pm - 4:00 pm

    Session 3

    Panel 3A (Ballroom): Collecting History

    • “Northern Illinois Food and Foodways: Memory, Identity, and Tradition in an Industrializing World,” Deb Lorentsen, Geraldine Rounds, and Bruce Kraig, Culinary Historians of Northern Illinois


    Panel 3B (Boardroom): Shifting Identity in Transnational Contexts

    • “Kente Cloth and Identity Formation in Chicagoland,” Sheila Bombaar, Independent Scholar
    • “‘America First, Last, and Always’: Big Bill Thompson, Education, and the Chicago History Wars, 1915-1931,” Connor Barnes, Loyola University Chicago
    • “Boom Town: Naperville, the Tech Corridor, and the Changing Face of America,” Andrea Field, Naper Settlement


  • 4:00 pm - 4:15 pm

    Closing Comments

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