This exhibition takes you inside the highest levels of the United States government as Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet struggle with the momentous issue of war. Restricted to the information they possessed at the time, you will confront the perplexities and options they faced during the first weeks of Lincoln’s presidency — and decide for yourself if they made the right choices…
Following the approach so skillfully employed by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her critically acclaimed book Team of Rivals, the exhibition uses the experiences of Lincoln’s closest advisors to illuminate Lincoln’s leadership. A combination of compelling artifacts, images, and audio/visual presentations introduces you to the powerful personalities who advised the President and brings to life those fateful days when a divided nation teetered on the brink… then toppled into the dark abyss of civil war… [emphasis in the original]
My question or concern has more to do with the explicit connection with Goodwin and the title of her book. I should point out that I have very little understanding of how exhibitions are put together beyond my brief work with the staff at Monticello.
It’s not surprising to me that Goodwin would be involved in an exhibit that features the decisions made by Lincoln and his cabinet on the eve of war and given the popularity of her book it seems appropriate that she would serve as a “personal guide” through the exhibit. That said, for some reason I have trouble with the title of the exhibit; it smacks of crass commericialism and leaves the visitor with the impression that the exhibit is the result of one individual. More troubling is that the visitor is likely to believe that the exhibit is based on Goodwin’s interpretation and conclusions. Of course, I have no way of answering such questions. I must assume that the exhibit is the result of a collaboration between historians, curators, and archivists. Did Goodwin have overarching control and influence that would justify such a title? Again, I have no way of knowing. I would be very interested to know the extent of Goodwin’s involvement in the development of this exhibit.
Is there any precedent for this? Does anyone else have similar concerns or are my worries completely off base? What do you think?