The Global Lincoln edited by Richard Carwardine and Jay Sexton (Oxford University Press, 2011), hardcover, 344 pages
William Lee Miller bookends his bestselling biography, President Lincoln, with an introduction and conclusion that focus on the global response to Abraham Lincoln. Miller contrasts the perfunctory greetings that Lincoln received from other heads of state when he assumed office with the more expansive condolences these leaders sent following his assassination. While Miller clearly believed that the changing tone offered a global appreciation, and even affirmation, of Lincoln's service as president, these chapters offered more questions than answers in my reading.
In a new way, after reading Miller's conclusion, I wondered if the global outpouring about Lincoln immediately following his assassination was a short-term emotional response or if it inaugurated Lincoln into the pantheon of noteworthy leaders, as it did in the United States. While Lincoln's cultural impact in the United States is fairly obvious, and has been the subject of many recent books, such cultural impact worldwide has been largely unstudied, especially outside of the British Isles.
The Global Lincoln, a series of essays edited by Richard Carwardine and Jay Sexton, seeks to explore this very question. Growing out of a conference sponsored jointly by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and Oxford University in 2009, the book brings together the research of several historians on the legacy of Abraham Lincoln around the world. While fully half of the essays focus on Europe (and half of those specifically on the United Kingdom and Ireland), there are also intriguing essays on Lincoln's reputation and cultural impact in India, Africa, East Asia, and, intriguingly, the American South.
The essays are a bit varied in their focuses. Some, like Harold Holzer's essay on the Lincoln image in Europe, build on previous work. A couple focus on Lincoln's specific impact during his presidency on Germany and Italy in one piece, and on Britain in another. Most, though, attempt a brief assessment on the Lincoln legacy over the last 150 years in specific countries or regions. In particular, essays by Vinay Lal and De-Min Tao on Lincoln's cultural impact in India and in China and Japan, respectively, are especially fascinating and provocative.
In large part, the individual chapters reinforce each other -- and the conclusions of books on Lincoln's impact in the United States -- showing that the person of Abraham Lincoln has been a fairly tractable and malleable figure, useful in different ways at various times in various contexts, though with certain limitations. They also demonstrate that Lincoln has been adopted as a global statesman, recognizable and studied around the world. The limitations of this book are straightforward. As in any new exploration, only so much ground can be covered. At times, the individual chapters seem to be hopscotching through history; more frustrating, though, is that large swaths of the globe -- the continent of Africa and the continent and a half of Latin America -- receive only a single chapter each.
Still, the overall strengths of The Global Lincoln far outweigh its limitations. The essays are strong, particularly those from well-known names in Lincoln/Civil War circles -- Richard Carwardine, Harold Holzer, and David Blight. And the project, long-overdue, invites the opening of new territory for future Lincoln and Civil War studies, namely the impact of this American crisis, and the examples of its key leaders facing that crisis, around the world.