Interpreting Lincoln at Tredegar

As I mentioned yesterday today my Lincoln class will be traveling to Richmond to visit the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar.  The purpose of the trip is to explore how Lincoln has been remembered/interpreted in a museum setting.  Students will write a final essay which compares Tredegar’s interpretation of Lincoln with other sources discussed over the course of the semester.  Below is the handout.  Feel free to offer comments.

Interpreting Lincoln at the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar: Final Project

Directions: Over the course of the semester we have read a great deal about the life of Abraham Lincoln and specifically his crucial role during the Civil War. Interpretations by historians such as William Gienapp, Ira Berlin, and James McPherson have given us a great deal to debate and discuss. While our main sources in this class have been primary and secondary sources, Lincoln’s life and public career has been interpreted much more widely through monuments and in other public spaces.  Museums also interpret the past and the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar is one of the more recent sites to do so. The museum’s overall goal is to interpret the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African-American perspectives. In doing so, this museum attempts to be both inclusive and at the same time acknowledge that the war was viewed very differently depending on a number of factors such as race, place, gender, and political affiliation. The information that you collect today will serve as the foundation for your final essay in this class, which will address how the museum at Tredegar interprets Lincoln’s presidency.

1. Overall interpretive questions that you must address at the beginning of your essay: Discuss the way the exhibit interprets the three perspectives on the war. Are all three given the same weight? What are the most effective components of the exhibit? Choose three artifacts that best represent Union, Confederate, and African-American perspectives.  Is the stated goal of the exhibit successful? sure you explain your answer.

While the museum is not focused narrowly on Lincoln, it does acknowledge his importance at various points in the exhibit. Your job is to explore where and how Lincoln is interpreted throughout the exhibit. Concentrate, but do not confine yourselves to three main areas of the exhibit, including the cause of the war, emancipation, and the end of the war. Use the following questions as a guide.

A. The Cause of Secession/War: Make sure you explore the interactive video on the cause of the war.

     1. Where is Lincoln first introduced in the exhibit and what does it say about him? How does the museum explain the cause of the Civil War and what is Lincoln’s role in the interpretation?

     2. As you view the interactive video on the cause of the war pay careful attention to references to Lincoln. What do the three commentators state or fail to state about Lincoln’s role in secession?

B. Emancipation: We have read quite a bit about Lincoln’s role in the “emancipation drama” this semester. Your goal here should be to think comparatively between how the historians discussed this semester explained emancipation and how the museum exhibit addresses this.

     1. How does the exhibit compare with Ira Berlin’s claim that the slaves themselves functioned as “primary movers” on the road to emancipation? Would Berlin be pleased with this section of the exhibit?

     2. Is Lincoln’s role in emancipation given sufficient attention? In thinking about this question pay careful attention to the video on the subject. [In your final essay you can compare the museum interpretation with Gienapp, Berlin, and Ken Burns.]

C. The End of the War/April 1865 and Reconstruction

     1.In what way is Lincoln’s legacy explored in the exhibit? Think about his visit to Richmond in April 1865 just after the surrender of the city as well as his vision of Reconstruction.

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