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Chicagoland History

Growing up in Springfield, all I knew about the history of Chicago was what I learned from movies and TV and the columns of Mike Royko in the old Chicago Daily News, which meant I knew nothing at all. I was always interested by what I didn't know, and when I moved to the Chicago area in my 40s I found much to be interested about.

Chicago, like most big cities, has a heroic version of its own history. To an outsider, the "city of big shoulders" nonsense had the same effect on me that the sight of a bobby's helmet had on London street kids who were tempted to knock it off. Chicago’s actual history was not heroic, unless greed on a large enough scale becomes heroic.

My interest was spurred by a renaissance of sorts in Chicago history that was unfolding while I was living there. One result was the publication of The Encyclopedia of Chicago, a thousand-page historical reference work covering the metropolitan area published in 2004 by the University of Chicago Press; the project was the fruit of a ten-year collaboration between the Newberry Library and the Chicago Historical Society.

In the end, Chicago history proved to be the worst possible kind of topic for me. I wanted to write about everything that I found interesting and important, and did; my draft about the history of Chicago for my never-published guide to Illinois history and culture—one section of one part of a seven-part book, mind—added up to 349,000 words.

Unfortunately, few readers are interested in everything about anything, and in any event, no publisher can afford to put everything that is interesting and important into print. Much of that material thus appears here (credited to See Illinois) for the first time.

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Saving History from the Wrecking Ball

Richard Nickel and Louis Sullivan's legacy

Illinois Issues October 1986

How the Lakefront Was Won

Why private enterprise fought for public access 

Reader November 8, 1991

The Man with the Plan

Burnham explained, again

Illinois Issues  June 2009

Nature's Metropolis

Chicago's economic and environmental past, synthesized

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  December 11, 1991

Chicago's Women Take Charge of Change

The female new dawn has been breaking in Illinois for a century

Chicago Enterprise  May 1992

How Chicago Became the Gateway to the West

A review of Cronon’s Nature's Metropolis

Chicago Enterprise  October 1991

Politics of Necessity
Mayor Richard J. Daley reconsidered

Reader  January 16, 1998

13 Mayors of Chicago
What a show. What a cast.

Reader  July 17, 1987

Dismembering the Sullivan Legend

Louis Sullivan and modern architecture

Illinois Issues October 1986

Richard Nickel

Louis Sullivan, Chicago, and preservation

Unpublished, 1996

The Clout of the Irish

Review of The Irish in Chicago

Reader April 3, 1987

The Rise and Fall of Michigan Avenue

Too much of a good thing on Chicago's Miracle Mile

Reader  September 27, 1991

The Future of the Past

Preservationism in Chicagoland

See Illinois (unpublished) 2004

Chicago-style Urbanism

Making urban plans, and history

See Illinois (unpublished) 2003

Making a More Perfect City

Utopianism in Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2003

Making Words Come Alive

Some notes about Chicago theater

See Illinois (unpublished) 2002

City of Big Waters

Chicago’s maritime history

See Illinois (unpublished)  2004

The Man with the Plan

A lengthy reconsideration of the man and his plan

Reader  June 18, 1993

Chicago's Public Sculptor

How Lorado Taft carved a future for himself

Illinois Issues  January 1989

Utopia in Pullman

A rail magnate's worker paradise in Chicago

Adventure Road  Undated

Money Machines

Business in Chicagoland

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2008​

Making Things Good

The invisible hand gives some back in Chicago

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2006

Mid-America’s Port of Entry

Chicago as immigrant haven

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2008

From Slum to Sprawl

Urbanization, Chicago-style

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2008

Correcting Capitalism

Chicago’s labor reform movements

See Illinois (unpublished)  2007

Aviation City

Chicago takes to the air

See Illinois (unpublished) 2007

Riding Around Town on a Rail

Train-based public transit in Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2007

The City That Rides

Chicago’s railed past

See Illinois (unpublished)  2007

From Trails to Traffic Jams

The automobile eats Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2007

Making Memories

Chicago makes (up) history

See Illinois (unpublished)  2006

Putting the Fix in for Reform

Improving politics and government in Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2007

Civil Wrongs

Chicago clamps down on dissent

See Illinois (unpublished)  2005

A Rich Pageant of Chicanery

Government and politics in Chicagoland

See Illinois (unpublished) 2007

Bonfires of the Vanities

Folly feeds the flames in Chicago’s past

See Illinois (unpublished) 2006

Water, Water, Everywhere

Chicagoland tries to drain the swamp

See Illinois (unpublished) 2006

Urbs in Horto

Chicagoland’s natural landscapes

See Illinois (unpublished) 2004


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John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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