Thursday, July 22, 2010

More about the New Donner Party-related Lincoln Document

After yesterday's post, I received a friendly email with additional information from Kristin Johnson, a librarian who has studied the Donner Party for almost 20 years. Kristin sent the joint press release of the California State Library and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which details the story of how this document came to the attention of Lincoln experts who studied the handwriting and other details. Evidently, it was Kristin herself who brought the documents to the attention of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project, as she writes on her own blog.

In addition, Kristin passed along the newspaper article that caught her eyes a few years ago, alerting her to the possible existence of these materials. Published in The San Francisco Call as part of its special coverage of the Lincoln centennial in 1909, there is even a photograph of one muster roll.

Two thoughts. This is how many discoveries are made in archived materials. Someone researching one topic comes across items which may very much interest someone studying a different topic. The Donner Party and Abraham Lincoln are two largely unrelated focuses within US History -- though clearly we now see they is a relationship between the two. An experienced researcher about the Donner Party realized that it might interest experienced Lincoln researchers, and discovering an online way of sharing these documents, passed it along. I hope that I and other Lincoln students are as sensitive when we conduct our research if we come across material that might interest people studying other, seemingly unrelated, historical subjects.

Second, after reading the newspaper article, I am a bit disturbed that no Lincoln researchers had discovered these materials, or at least pursued them. Given the extensive coverage of Lincoln during the 1909 centennial celebration of his birth, this newspaper article should have been read by at least some Lincoln researchers. Certainly much of the centennial coverage was redundant, and some of it was probably exaggerated; this does not diminish the need to carefully pore over the extant resources when doing research, even recognizing the huge Lincoln bibliography. The obvious sources, such as periodicals published around February 1909, should have come to someone's attention in the Lincoln field -- which hasn't lacked for participants -- in the subsequent years long before the 2009 bicentennial. [Perhaps my frustration over this is heightened by my current reading of a Lincoln-related book -- which I will not name -- that has a very disappointing and limited bibliography.]

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