Thinkin’ Lincoln

Thanks to the staff at the American Civil War Center at Tredegar as well as the University of Richmond for hosting what was by any measure a first-rate conference.  Special thanks go out to Mark Howell who organized the sessions and for inviting me to take part in the conference.  It was a true honor to be included in such a fine list of Lincoln scholars and Southern historians.  I am not going to try to summarize the entire conference in one post; instead, I am going to take the time to think about some of the things I heard and offer reflections in the coming weeks.  I do hope, however, to offer a summary of Ed Ayers’s keynote address, which included a new digital project that Ayers and others are now working on at the University of Richmond.

The most enjoyable parts of these gatherings is the opportunity to interact with talented scholars.  For me it was a chance to finally meet James McPherson.  Although I only spoke with him briefly it was nice to shake the hand of a man whose scholarship helped to fuel my interest in the subject and continues to frame many of the questions that drive my own research.  I can explain to you just how important his body of scholarship is to the field, but you don’t really get a feel for it until you attend one of these conferences.  Throughout the weekend speakers acknowledged McPherson’s role in shaping their own thinking on various topics as well as his generosity and encouragement.   You also get a sense of just how many historians were trained by McPherson and who went on to respectable careers in their own right.  I also spent time talking with historian and fellow blogger, Brian Dirck.  Brian is a hell of a nice guy and his presentation was particularly interesting and one that I will comment on at some point soon.  Sorry for sounding a bit over the top, but some people get excited about sports personalities while others get excited about historians.

In addition to meeting McPherson I had a wonderful time talking with Elizabeth Brown Pryor about her recent biography of Lee as well as the range of responses to it.  I also enjoyed chatting with Frank Milligan, who is the director of the Lincoln Cottage in Silver Spring, Maryland and look forward to the opportunity to work with teachers on the cottage grounds.  On Friday evening I had a wonderful dinner with Frank Milligan, Michael Burlingame, Manisha Sinha, and Leslie Rowland.

My teaching session yesterday morning went well.  We had a small group of educators and we spent the time talking about how we go about teaching Lincoln and the difficulties involved in moving beyond some of our own biases that may have been learned early on in our own lives.  It was a nice change of pace from the conference proceedings and gave me a great deal to think about in terms of my own teaching.  Thanks to everyone who attended.

On a different note, I noticed that the average number of visitors per day has topped 1,000.  I don’t know what this means relative to other Civil War/history blogs; perhaps I am being blown out of the water in this regard.  Still, it seems fitting to use it as an excuse to thank each and every one of you for making Civil War Memory part of your daily routine.

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3 comments… add one
  • Jimmy Price Mar 16, 2009 @ 4:37

    I was at the conference as well and am still trying to sift through everything that was put forth. It was truly excellent. However, one thing that really stood out was the exchange between David Blight and Michael Burlingame during Friday’s morning session. I could’ve watched those two go back and forth all day. I also somehow found myself sitting next to McPherson and it was a hoot watching him and his wife react to some of the more specious comments that were made.

  • Marc Ferguson Mar 15, 2009 @ 4:58

    I’m very envious. I looked at the program for the conference last week and wished I could attend. Last summer I attended the Gettysburg Civil War Institute Conference, and many of the same scholars were there, and made themselves very accessible. McPherson was there, and it amazes me that such a nice man comes in for such vitriol among some groups on the net. In addition to briefly meeting McPherson, I had a nice conversation in a lunch line with Elizabeth Brown Pryor. She is an extremely friendly and gracious person. I’m curious about what tidbits of insight you picked up from your dinner on Friday, and also look forward to your summary of Ayer’s keynote address.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 16, 2009 @ 2:24


      Much of the vitriol re: McPherson is an extension of the broader critique that is used to define academia, but I have to admit that I don’t get the anger expressed by some (including Rotov) against McPherson. It’s narrow and fails to take into account his many contributions to American history.

      As for dinner, we didn’t spend that much time talking shop. In fact, that’s what I enjoy most about these gatherings that you get to spend time discussing other issues besides history. Hopefully, I will have a chance to get the Ayers post up some time soon.

      Note: I’ve activated the Threaded Comments feature, but remember that you need to click “Reply” for it to work.

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