Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Random Recent Lincoln News

I've been playing catch-up for the past few days and haven't found/made time for Lincolniana. So, there are several blog posts bumping around in my mind and in some notes, including two book reviews. In the meantime, here's a few Lincoln-related stories that shouldn't be overlooked.

The Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College receives $850,ooo NEH grant

The National Endowment of the Humanities, as part of their "We the People" challenge grant program, has awarded its largest grant this year to Knox College's Lincoln Studies Center. The $850,000 challenge grant, which must be matched 3-1 in other fundraising (effectively Knox College must raise another $2.5 million) over the next 5 years, will be used to start a permanent endowment for the Lincoln Studies Center.

Ann (the irrepressible), also known as LincolnBuff2, has written a full article on her blog award the grant award and about the good work over the past decade of the center. The college has also posted a news release about the grant, including their many plans for the endowment proceeds, the most exciting of which sounds like funds for a salary, likely somewhat generous, for the center's director -- "intended as a position of distinction for a major scholar in Lincoln studies."

Lincoln Cottage website launches online educational feature about emancipation

Last week, President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldier's Home launched another online interactive educational feature, "Lincoln's Toughest Decisions, Debating Emancipation." The presentation allows students to learn about how different members of Lincoln's cabinet advised him on the issue of emancipation by answering questions as one of those members. The program is interesting and seems to target Middle School age students. You can explore the online program for yourself here.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Shrine to close for renovations

The National Park Service is closing the Memorial Building, or as I like to more accurately describe it the Birthplace Shrine, for renovations from this week until sometime in 2010 -- the NPS site now says February 2010, but some previous reports have given a range of completion dates into next summer. Evidently the renovation will focus primarily on significant roof improvements and a new heating/cooling circulation system.

Mike Kienzler over at The Abraham Lincoln Observer wryly notes that the restoration of "the faux-Classical temple" which houses the fake birthplace cabin is probably a questionable use of money. I agree that the "traditional" or "symbolic" birthplace cabin, depending on who you ask, is almost certainly not the log cabin of Abraham Lincoln's birth. But the exterior shrine and the interior log cabin are organically related: the purported birthplace cabin, when initially placed in the shrine, was deemed too large for the memorial building, and the logs of the cabin -- then believed to be authentic -- were shortened so that it would be more aesthetically pleasing. (I came across this tidbit in Barry Schwartz' Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory, Univ. of Chicago, 2000, p. 282 and also found it in a NPS report on p. 57.)

So, was it good for you? Considering the Lincoln Bicentennial's effects

Brian Dirck, over at A. Lincoln Blog, posted an open question about the long-term impact of the Lincoln Bicentennial celebrations. He wonders whether all the Lincoln hoopla, and all of the books, lectures, panels, etc. involved, have increased our collective knowledge about Lincoln. He wonders too whether it has increased our academic scholarship about Lincoln.

The post ends with two questions to the blogosphere, which Dirck will himself address at some future date.
First, do we now have a better understanding of Lincoln than we did before the bicentennial, on a purely scholarly level? And second, is the national community, as a whole, stronger for having paused and engaged in this year-long act of celebrating Lincoln's life and career?
I don't know if anyone has read enough of the academic work published this year (books, journal articles, magazine articles, Internet pieces, speeches, etc.) to substantively answer the first question. I know that I have yet to read any of the big bicentennial books, especially the biographies by Ronald White and Michael Burlingame, so I am unwilling to comment about the recent scholarly output.

As for the second question, I think that the answer is yes and no. The awareness of Abraham Lincoln, judging by things like Lincoln-related book sales (and the Lincoln publishing industry is still very strong) and Lincoln-related TV programs, was already high even before the bicentennial, at least compared with other historical figures. I'm not sure that the bicentennial really added much to the already very real interest in all things Lincoln.

On the other hand, I imagine that the myriad of exhibits related to Lincoln this year, all across the country, have had some positive impact. From my perspective, both as someone who has read countless press releases for these exhibits, and visited some of them, I think that they were marvelous on numerous levels. Aside from the sheer number of Lincoln artifacts on display, there was obviously an attempt to contextualize these items for a large audience, especially to engage their interest by relating them to our times and to explain their historical milieu. If they were successful, they served to slightly improve the general American awareness of the art and science of history, which will benefit the national community in the years ahead.

However, I think it would be helpful to consider how the first Lincoln bicentennial effected both the Lincoln scholarship of the day and the national community. Merrill Peterson, in Lincoln in American Memory (Oxford, 1994), notes that much writing was produced in 1909, but "[t]he only truly important historical contribution was the Diary of Gideon Welles" (p. 186). Perhaps Peterson shortchanges some other writings of that year (I've not studied the 1909 publications closely), but I imagine he is mostly correct.

Still, I've always believed that the centennial outpouring about Lincoln led to the subsequent rebirth of Lincoln studies in the 1920s, and fertilized the popular imagination to embrace Sandburg's six-volumes, which might have laid the groundwork for modern Lincoln studies and their dual role in academia and popular publishing. Although there seems to have been an explosion of excellent Lincoln-related scholarship in the last 25-30 years, I imagine that the bicentennial may perpetuate, and maybe even increase, such widely-welcome studies for years to come.

The first centennial provided the impetus for a host of Lincoln-related memorial structures and sculptures, including the Lincoln Birthplace Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. While the bicentennial has mostly seen renovations instead of new edifices (such as yet another renovation of Ford's Theatre and the renovation of the Birthplace Memorial building), it has highlighted the wealth of such resources and perhaps will slow the decline in tourism to many of these. But any such impacts will likely be difficult to measure.

I look forward to reading Brian's answers to the questions he poses. But I think he's still hoping for more reader response before he adds his two cents. Here's hoping he gets it.

1 comment:

Lincolnphotog said...

I have not compared the number of statues erected to Lincoln during the centennial perriod to those eerected during the bicentennial period, I can tell you that there have been or will be a significant number of new works dedicated in during this 2-3 year period. Off the top of my head I can tell you there are new ones or will be new ones by the end of the Bicentennial in Springfield, IL, Sterling, IL, Pontiac, IL, Jonesboro, IL, Bowling Green, KY, Hodgenville, KY, Washington D. C., Lockport, IL, Hillsdale, MI, Louisville, KY, Springfield, KY, Gentryville, IN, Jacksonville, IL, Rockford, IL, Bloomington, IL, Shelbyville, IL, Metamora, IL, Hillsboro, IL, Rockford, IL, Marshall, IL, Decatur, IL, Leavenworth, KS, Philadelphia, PA, Rapid City, SD and Gettysburg, PA