Category Archives: Public History

Reenactment of Lincoln-Hanks Wedding Scheduled for June 2008

It’s no surprise that the state of Kentucky would want to cash in on the Lincoln Bicentennial, but this seems to be just a bit of a stretch.  Does a reenactment of the Lincoln-Hanks wedding really stand a chance of attracting a substantial audience?  I don’t know, but it seems to me that a reenactment of Abraham Lincoln’s conception would be more relevant and more likely to attract attention.

Three WHITE Teens Arrested For Vandalizing Confederate Statue in Montgomery: (Is this still a hate crime?)

A few weeks ago I commented on the assumptions being made about the individual[s] responsible for painting a Confederate statue in Montgomery, Alabama in black-face.  Not surprisingly, editorials made it clear that many assumed the perpetrators must be black given the details of the defacement.  Here is what I stated in that earlier post:

On the other hand, what both statements have in common is the implicit
assumption that the perpetrators are black.  Now if I were a betting
man I probably would agree, but it is worth asking whether that
assumption tells us more about ourselves than anything about this
particular crime.  It could very well be white southerners that are
responsible for this incident, and it may also be the case that they
are making the very same point that might motivate black southerners.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans offered a reward for any tips that may lead to an arrest and apparently it paid off.  Assuming this leads to charges and a conviction I will be interested to see if anyone takes the opportunity to comment on the racial component of this incident.  I am curious as to how the Sons of Confederate Veterans, specifically, will attempt to explain the motivation of these young white men. Perhaps they can schedule H.K. Edgerton for a series of public talks and visits to local public schools.  Meanwhile, the restoration of the monument continues.

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.

Wrapping up My Lincoln Course

My Lincoln course is in its final weeks and I couldn’t be more disappointed as it’s has been a wonderful experience.  Judging by the tone and quality of discussions the students continue to enjoy the subject and are finding interesting ways to share their knowledge.  We continue to read secondary sources and yesterday we discussed Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan and Louisiana specifically as a case study.  The lesson was centered on Lincoln’s short exchange with three representatives from Louisiana’s planter class who asked for the state to be allowed entry back into the Union with all the rights that the state enjoyed before secession.  Hopefully we will have a few days to discuss various aspects of Lincoln’s legacy and memory before the end of the semester.  On the flip side my class is in the process of developing a Facebook page around a new Lincoln cereal for the bicentennial.  They must come up with a cereal name, design the box, and design the cereal itself.  All of it must have a rationale based on the history.  The box will come with educational materials that must also be designed by the students.

For their final project we will take a class trip to the American Civil War Center at Tredegar.  Students will be asked to evaluate how the main exhibition interprets Lincoln within the broader narrative of the war.  The notes they take will serve as the foundation for a final essay in lieu of a final exam.  The goal of the essay will be to compare the museum exhibit with the various secondary sources that we’ve read over the course of the semester.  It is important to place students in an active role when thinking about the past.  In this case they need to learn to appreciate, to whatever extent possible, that public exhibits involve decisions and interpretation.  My other goal is to give students an opportunity to synthesize much of what they’ve read this semester and to remind them that interpretation is always open-ended. 

As I was thinking about this assignment I thought that it would be nice if my students could develop their own museum exhibit on Lincoln.  The idea would be for students to utilize a program that would allow them to construct a 3-D space with artifacts and descriptions within an overarching interpretation.  I’m sure the technology is available.  This would be an excellent way for museums to further their educational outreach with area schools. 

I Don’t Get It

Stonewall Jackson’s horse has returned home.  Little Sorrel has returned to VMI’s museum after getting a makeover. Last month conservators gave Little Sorrel a bath and repaired his hide.  It was the first time he’d received a bath in 140 years.

Little Sorrel belonged to Stonewall Jackson.  The horse died in 1886, but his hide was preserved.  The Virginia Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy organized the fundraising for the restoration. The group raised about $16,000 by selling Little Sorrel toys across the state.

Sorry, but I say BURY THE DAMN THING!