In the Spot Light: an Unexpected Path

–by Nicole Harbour , Graduate Assistant, CSPL
Stacy McDermottWhen Stacy McDermott decided to get her master’s degree in history at the University of Illinois at Springfield , she had no idea that it would lead her to a job at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. Originally a journalism major at Olney Central College , McDermott switched her major to history and obtained her bachelor’s degree in that subject from UIS in 1991 and her master’s in 1993. It was through her graduate assistantship at UIS, however, that McDermott encountered all things Lincoln .

“I was a history graduate student at UIS, and Cullom Davis offered me an internship at the Lincoln Legal Papers,” McDermott says. “I wasn’t interested in Lincoln yet and didn’t have any documentary editing experience, but the internship opened a lot of doors.”

McDermott became a research assistant for the Lincoln Legal Papers in 1993, and in 1999, became assistant editor for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln in conjunction with the Lincoln Legal Papers.

“As assistant director, I administer images to the NCSA [ National Center for Supercomputing Applications] at UIUC and annotate documents,” McDermott says.

Part of McDermott’s job over the last few years has entailed traveling to Lincoln document repositories, as well. “I was on the road for about two years. I traveled to [repositories in] California and Maine ,” McDermott says.

While McDermott enjoys examining new Lincoln documents, her favorite part of the job involves learning more about the historical time period Lincoln lived in and experienced. “I love research and being in the library,” McDermott says. “I love the context around Lincoln , the family history. I’m less focused on just Lincoln .”

Currently, McDermott is looking at documents pertaining to an 1860 baseball club in Chicago , half of whom supported Abraham Lincoln and half of whom supported Stephen Douglas. “I like looking at this because it combines my love of history with my love of baseball,” McDermott explains.

McDermott recently helped with generating an online version of Lincoln’s Legal Practice , as well, in celebration of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial. She has even helped with Lincoln documentaries.

“The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign ‘s public access channel did a documentary recently called Abraham Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency ,” McDermott says. “Four of us [Papers of Abraham Lincoln staff members] were interviewed for it.” McDermott added that it was kind of weird to be interviewed because it took her out of the library and put her in the public eye.

So what is next for McDermott? “We have collected so many documents. the focus now is on digitizing and transcribing them all,” she says. It’s a large undertaking, but for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln staff, every scanned and transcribed document helps to complete the puzzle of Lincoln ‘s life and the historical period in which he lived, and for Stacy McDermott, that is what makes her job exciting.