Dr. Robert E. Sterling

At the same time, Professor Sterling also began collecting images of the region to use in teaching the class. Today, his collection of photographs and negatives of the Joliet area includes more that 15,000 images.

Dr. Sterling’s extensive collection of historic photographs has served as the basis for several pictorial histories that he has authored on the Joliet region, including A Pictorial History of Will County, Vols. I & II; Joliet: A Pictorial History; Joliet Transportation & Industry: A Pictorial History; Joliet Junior College: A Pictorial History of America’s Oldest Public Community College; and Joliet Prisons: Images in Time.

His most recent publication, Joliet Then and Now, is both a celebration of the past and a depiction of how the city has evolved and changed. Early archival views are paired with contemporary photos of the same scene carefully shot from a similar perspective. The book has received acclaim for not only opening windows to the past, but also for capturing the present for future generations to enjoy.

Dr. Sterling is a member of several professional organizations, including the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Association for State and Local History. Sterling has served on the boards of the Joliet Area Historical Society and the Joliet Area Historical Museum. He also has been a member of the Illinois Historical Records Advisory Board, the Joliet Public Library Board of Trustees, and the Joliet Historic Preservation Commission. For his contribution to regional history, Sterling received the Bartleson Award from the Will County Historical Society.

Dr. Sterling’s wife, Jo Ann, is Professor of Education at the University of St. Francis in Joliet. Their son Geoffrey and daughter-in-law Kristina reside in Denver, Colorado. For more information about Dr. Sterling’s publications, visit his Web site at

Dr. Robert E. Sterling was born and educated in Joliet, Illinois. In 1960, he graduated from Joliet Township High School where he was active in athletics, student government, and the National Honor Society. The Joliet Jaycees named Sterling the Outstanding Junior Citizen of Joliet in 1959.

Sterling received a B.A. degree in history from Wheaton College in 1964. During his years at Wheaton, Sterling was awarded a scholarship from the Near East School of Archaeology to study in the Middle East and to participate in a dig at the ancient city of Dothan. He earned an M.A. degree in 1967 and a Ph.D. in Civil War history in 1974, both from Northern Illinois University. While at N.I.U., Sterling won the George P. Hammond Award for his monograph on Civil War conscription.

In 1967, Dr. Sterling joined the history faculty at Joliet Junior College and served as Chair of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department for thirty years. He also coordinated the college’s Distance Education program. Sterling retired as a full-time faculty member in 2000, but continues to serve part-time as Director of Distance Education at Joliet Junior College.

Dr. Sterling developed a course in state and regional history in 1969 and utilized oral history as an instructional method. For the next several years, his students recorded and transcribed numerous interviews with elderly residents of the Junior College District.


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