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Lincoln expert Wilson shares history with SWE

Former professor, author, award-winner and Doane graduate are just a few ways you can describe Douglas Wilson ’57.

The Doane alumnus was contacted by Director of Instrumental Music Jay Gilbert when Doane's Symphonic Wind Ensemble made a tour stop in Galesburg, Ill., where Wilson lives, in late January. Because their concert at Carl Sandburg College was cancelled, Dr. Gilbert brought Wilson in to speak with his students.

Wilson graduated from Doane with a degree in English Literature, which he said surprises most people considering he has spent most of his life researching Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

“Jefferson and Lincoln are two of the greatest writers,” he said. “They were known as writers’ writers who were also politicians.”

Wilson became interested in Jefferson when he wanted to write about the Agrarian Ideal. Many writers wrote on the idea that rural society was superior to urban, but Jefferson was the creator. Eventually, Wilson wanted to compare Jefferson to another president and he initially thought of Lincoln.

Fast forward and Wilson is now the co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College, also in Galesburg, and has written four books, one about Jefferson and three about Lincoln, with another to be published within the year. He was also one of the consultants for the 2012 feature-length film “Lincoln,” a narrative of the former president’s life starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the iconic president. It won two Screen Actors Guild awards, two Oscars and a Golden Globe.

Wilson met his wife, Sharon, when he was a freshman at Doane. Her parents were also Doane graduates and met while attending the college.

“We had a great time at Doane,” Wilson said. “We loved it. Doane is the most beautiful college."

Beyond meeting his wife while at college, other highlights include his teachers and a great Old Testament class he took. Wilson attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.

Moving east after college, he said he was concerned about his preparedness coming from a small school in Nebraska. But his doubts were soon laid to rest.

“I was prepared very well,” he said. “I had a new appreciation for Doane. (My wife and I have) always been very proud of being Doane graduates.”