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Historian Anne Moseley will be part of upcoming History Channel program. How to watch

Steven Spearie
State Journal-Register
Anne Moseley, the acting director of the University of Illinois Springfield's Center for Lincoln Studies, will appear on an episode of 'I Was There' on the History Channel. The show is on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Anne Moseley is ready for her closeup in the national spotlight Monday.

Moseley, 34, the director of engagement and curator for the Sangamon Experience and acting director of the Center for Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois Springfield, will be one of the historians speaking on the Abraham Lincoln assassination on the program "I Was There," debuting on the History Channel.

The one-hour program airs at 9 p.m.

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“I Was There,” which is hosted by Theo Wilson, is designed to offer viewers an immersive experience. The show places Wilson at the center of some of history’s most impactful events — like the Chernobyl disaster and the Salem Witch Trials — and uses original archival material, expert analysis and dramatic re-creations with CGI technology.

Springfield, and the UIS campus in particular, has its own caché of heavy hitters in the Lincoln field, including Michael Burlingame, the Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies, who wrote one of the definitive biographies of Lincoln, and Graham Peck, the Wepner Distinguished Professor of Lincoln Studies, whose scholarship focuses on antebellum American political history.

Moseley, in an interview at the UIS center earlier this week, said it was nice to be included in the Lincoln historiography.

"I always like to cheer on new young people coming into the field because we do need more of them and it's nice to see the next wave of Lincoln historians emerge and given an opportunity to have their light shine," Moseley said.

Moseley's connection to Women Also Know History, which promotes and supports the work of historians who identify as women or non-binary, led the History Channel to her. The former director and curator of the Lincoln Heritage Museum at Lincoln College also did social media for 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s funeral.

The History Channel, she said, sent her about 50 or so questions to start with about the assassination.

Many of those questions centered around John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, and some of the family dynamics, Moseley said.

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One of the more intriguing questions, Moseley said, dealt with a long-dismissed love triangle between Booth, Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln's eldest son and Lucy Lambert Hale, the daughter of New Hampshire Senator Robert Parker Hale and the "It Girl" of 1865.

"You always have to be very careful with answering the questions," Moseley said, "and making sure you're confident enough in your sources because you never know what parts (the program) is going to pick.

"For me, if I cannot explain something in entirety without a source connected to it, I tend to email them back and say, 'Hey can we rephrase the question to say this.' They were very open about talking to me about the facts pertaining to the questions. Sometimes they would rephrase the question."

Moseley said taping took place at the Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based Committee Films last June.

Moseley said didn't know what other historians were interviewed for the program and the History Channel didn't provide her with a "screener" copy of it. 

Anne Moseley

Moseley did get a recent email from the History Channel saying "they were going to be using more of my video than they expected to use.

"It was a very enjoyable experience (filming)," she said. "They were very easy to work with."

To be part of "I Was There," showcasing history from a front seat point of view, "I think it's really exciting because that's exactly what our design team at Lincoln Heritage Museum wanted to do when the public came into the museum, to put them in the memory, to put them in the event. 

"To use a Harry Potter reference, it's kind of like diving into the Pensieve that Dumbledore stores his memories in. When you fall into Pensieve, you're falling into the memory. People don't see you, but you see them and you're part of what's going on as an observer."

Moseley said she isn't surprised the Lincoln assassination continues to fascinate the public. After Christ, Lincoln is the most written about person in history, she pointed out.

When the Civil War ended, Lincoln's popularity grew and after his assassination, he was viewed "as a martyr, almost as a saint-like individual," Moseley said. "This is where the Lincoln legacy kicks off in a whole new way. It was someone who came from nothing and achieved greatness and was struck down at the height of his career."

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Moseley said historians like Caroline Janney, who was featured on the recent History Channel series "Lincoln," "speak to modern audiences. (Janney) is able to connect with people, whether she's on the screen or in person and her writing style is understandable versus dry."

Kathryn Harris, a local historian and the former division manager for library services at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, said Moseley has gotten her to pay more attention to women historians, especially those who have broken through as "talking heads."

In addition to Janney, Black historians like Christy Coleman of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and Edna Greene Medford, a University of Illinois alumna and recipient of the Order of Lincoln, the state's highest honor, were featured in the "Lincoln" docuseries.

"Annie is a nice, young, up-and-coming historian who deserves to be in the spotlight," Harris said of Moseley. "She was so excited (about being part of this program), I thought she was going to levitate off the ground.

"We'll be watching and cheering her."

Moseley said she and her husband, Michael, curator at the Pearson Museum at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, will be watching "I Was There" and cooking dishes popular in the 1860s, like chicken and noodles and cornbread.

"I'm sure he will be trying to make me feel relaxed, but I'll be sitting there analyzing everything," Moseley said with a laugh.

Theo Wilson, host of 'I Was There' on the History Channel, on the campus of the University of Evansville.

As for Lincoln, Moseley said she feels like the constant student.

"The wonderful thing about studying history is that you discover something new all the time," she said. "You're constantly learning. New perspectives are given and it allows you to think and re-think how historic sources are used and explained.

"There are facts that are evident and permanent but there's always interpretation. There's always an opportunity to learn. As long as we allow ourselves to be available for learning opportunities, I feel that's the only way we can grow as not only historians, but as individuals and truly live like Lincoln."

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, sspearie@sj-r.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.