Teaching Lincoln

With the end of the school year not too far off it’s time to think about electives for next year.  I’ve already decided to offer my Women’s History class next spring; that should give you an idea of just how much I am enjoying this class.  For the fall term I’ve decided to offer a class specifically on Abraham Lincoln.  I have yet to write up a detailed course description and I don’t even know what to call the class.  Perhaps “Lincoln’s America” or Lincoln’s Civil War” will work.  I foresee a fairly straightforward class that explores both Lincoln’s personal life as well as the war years, and if there is time I will introduce the class to issues related to Lincoln and memory.

As far as books are concerned I’ve decided to use the late William Gienapp’s short biography, Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America (Oxford University Press, 2002) along with the companion volume of primary sources.  The biography is right around 200 pages which will make it easy to bridge off from to examine other sources and work on various projects.  The companion volume of letter, speeches, etc. is compiled from Roy Basler’s The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.  I also wanted to order one book of essays on Lincoln, but am having some difficulty narrowing it down.  Right now Gabor Boritt’s The Lincoln Enigma: The Changing Faces Of An American Icon (Oxford University Press, 2001) is the front runner.  The essays cover a wide swath.  The essays include Douglas Wilson on Lincoln’s early life, David H. Donald on Lincoln and Davis as commander in chief as well as Allen Guelzo on Lincoln and the Constitution.  Finally, there is a wonderful collection of artistic interpretations of Lincoln by Boritt and Harold Holzer.  Feel free to offer any other suggestions that you think might work well.

I plan to write up something fairly substantial about the course in light of the upcoming Lincoln Bicentennial celebrations.  I am already working on a lesson plan that looks at how the Ken Burns documentary interprets Lincoln’s life.  Who knows, maybe I will take the class on a pilgrimage to Springfield, Illinois.

5 comments… add one

  • University Update Apr 6, 2007

    Teaching Lincoln

  • Joe Phelan Apr 23, 2011

    Dear Mr. Levin
    I salute your intention he to devote a full semester course to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War next fall. Despite the recent bicentennial of his birth, and the large body of new work on him by the leading historians of both the right and the left, I have noticed that most of the college students I teach don’t know much about Mr. Lincoln. They certainly have never read anything by him apart from the Gettysburg Address, and they seem to have no great interest in discovering why he is viewed as one of the greatest figures in the American political tradition.
    If I may, I’d like to ask you to take a look at the four lessons which EDSITEment developed on Lincoln’s political thought “Abraham Lincoln on the Union: A Word Fitly Spoken”. Each lesson is devoted to one of his great presidential speeches or writings on the relationship between self government and the union.
    http://edsitement.neh.gov/curriculum-unit/abraham-lincoln-american-union-word-fitly-spoken

    • Kevin Levin Apr 23, 2011

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for the comment. That course was taught back in 2009 and it was very successful. The bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth was the perfect opportunity to teach an elective focused on some of the most important Lincoln studies as well as a healthy dose of how Lincoln has been remembered over the years.

      • Joe Phelan Apr 23, 2011

        Oh thanks Kevin. I should have noticed the date! My bad.
        Do you think that most us history teachers share your passion for Lincoln? What about your students? I am now the official tweeter for EDSITEment and as a result watch tweeting about certain topics such as the CW and Lincoln. I have to say I don’t find most of the tweeting on Lincoln or the CW to be very rewarding.

        • Kevin Levin Apr 23, 2011

          Not a problem, Joe. It seems to me that Lincoln still receives a great deal of attention in the classroom as it should be. He is central to understanding a crucial point in American history. My students come to class with a narrow view of Lincoln that is rooted in the idea of the “great emancipator.” We spent a great deal of time in class working through this construct and trying to place him more accurately in the context of the time. Some of my students were disappointed by what they learned, but they walked away with a much richer appreciation of his life and his evolution when it came to the tough subjects of race and slavery. I would love to teach such a class again.

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