This isn’t really a major news item, but it hits pretty close to home for me. Somebody apparently tried to steal the state historical marker for Harrow School in Cumberland Gap. Rev. A.A. Myers founded the school as one of the Appalachian missionary efforts that sprang up throughout the region in the late nineteenth century. Harrow eventually expanded to become Lincoln Memorial University.
Tag Archives: Lincoln Memorial University
The Old Dominion has embraced Honest Abe, at least according to this article.
The writer claims that Tredegar’s sculpture of Lincoln and Tad is “the only statue of Lincoln in the South, where many people still refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.” I must beg to differ. In fact, if you visit my alma mater here in East Tennessee, you’ll find three of them: a standing Lincoln at the main entrance, a copy of Paul Manship’s larger-than-life “Hoosier Youth” in the museum atrium, and a depiction of Lincoln as a lawyer in front of the library.
There’s also a Lincoln statue at the state capitol in West Virginia, and Kentucky has more Honest Abes than you can shake a stick at.
One more quibble. I’ve lived in the South for more than thirty years, and I’ve only heard one person refer to the Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression.” The guy who said it was a reenactor; ironically, I was at an event in a state that never joined the Confederacy. Most of my fellow southerners aren’t nursing a grudge over a war that ended before their great-grandparents were born.
Then come to the third War in the Mountains Symposium this April at LMU’s Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been teaching a section of the introductory course on Abraham Lincoln which all freshmen at Lincoln Memorial University are required to take. On the first day, I asked the students to write down five things they think of when they hear Lincoln’s name. I didn’t require correct answers, and I told them not to consult any books or other sources. I was just curious to see what comes to the mind of the average American eighteen-year-old when Lincoln is mentioned.
The most common responses by far involved some aspect of the assassination, with all but five of the students mentioning Lincoln’s murder. About one-third of them referred to the fact he was shot in a theater, and one-fifth mentioned John Wilkes Booth by name. One of them mentioned Booth’s close proximity to Lincoln at the 1864 inauguration.
Lincoln’s height was the second most common thing that came up, followed pretty closely by references to the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s opposition to slavery, and his “Honest Abe” moniker. One-quarter of the students mentioned the fact that he was the Sixteenth President of the United States, and the same number mentioned his iconic stovepipe hat. One-sixth of them referred to Lincoln’s whiskers, his Kentucky background, his appearance on American currency, his “railsplitter” nickname, or his association with the Civil War.
The early deaths of several of Lincoln’s relatives was mentioned twice. So was the Thirteenth Amendment, the date of his birth, his election to the presidency, and the association of his name with LMU.
Only two incorrect statements appeared in the responses. One student claimed that Lincoln was “stern and serious,” perhaps confusing his appearance in formal portraits with his actual demeanor. Another wrote that Lincoln got into hot water with his dad for chopping down a cherry tree, but I half suspect that this answer was an intentional joke rather than an honest mistake.
The following references each appeared once:
- Member of the Whig Party
- He dressed badly
- Born in a log cabin
- Was a Republican
- His wife shopped a lot
- Carried letters in his hat
- A public speaker
- Had many enemies
- Was a great leader
- Loved reading books
- Had “defined” facial features
- Had disturbing dreams
- Mentioned the names of attending doctors at his deathbed
- Gettysburg Address
- Wrote about giant bones at Niagara Falls
- Grew up poor
Only one student mentioned the Gettysburg Address, which came as a surprise to me. Also surprising was the reference to Lincoln’s short meditation on Niagara Falls, one of his more obscure written works. In addition, I expected to see more references to his humble origins and log cabin birth, since that’s been such an important aspect of the Lincoln cultural phenomenon over the years. In fact, of the five major aspects of “Lincolnian memory” identified by historian Merrill Peterson (the savior of the Union, the great emancipator, the man of the people, the first American, and the self-made man), only the notion of Lincoln as emancipator was prominent in the students’ responses.
Finally, three students mentioned the recent “vampire hunter” meme. I leave it to you to decide whether that number is alarmingly high or reassuringly low.
Every undergraduate student at Lincoln Memorial University is required to take a one-hour credit course called “Lincoln’s Life and Legacy” which serves as an introduction to the university’s namesake, his significance to the history of nineteenth-century America, and the story of the school’s origins. (In case you’re wondering, the required texts are William Gienapp’s short but solid Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America; a one-volume selection of Lincoln’s writings; and whatever supplementary essays, articles, and excerpts the instructor wants to add.)
I haven’t taught this class in a while—not since a previous tour of duty at LMU a few years ago—but I’ve got a section next semester, and I’m really looking forward to it.
I used to end the course with a short overview of Lincoln in memory using the five themes identified by Merrill Peterson, and then I’d show clips from some of the more notable Abe-related movies. It’ll be interesting to see what impact, if any, the past year’s Lincoln films have had on the 18-22 set. I’m guessing it’s not a whole lot. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter didn’t draw big crowds, and most of the people I saw at screenings of Spielberg’s movie were quite a bit older than me. Maybe I’ll add a scene from AL:VH to my last lecture just for the heck of it.
Let me direct your attention to two of this year’s books from the University of Tennessee Press, both of which I’ve eagerly awaited for some time.
First up is Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia by Earl Hess, which will place the early history of LMU within the context of what was happening in Appalachia during the crucial late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and of the Lincoln apotheosis that peaked around the time of the centennial of his birth.
As regulars of the blog know, LMU is my alma mater, and Dr. Hess is one of the people most responsible for setting me on a path toward a career in history. Most readers know him for his acclaimed Civil War studies.
Another book to anticipate is Andrew Johnson’s Civil War and Reconstruction by Paul Bergeron, who spent more than a decade editing and publishing Johnson’s papers and is probably the country’s foremost authority on him. This book promises a more nuanced and balanced appraisal of Johnson than what many histories provide, and may lead to a thorough reassessment of his place in American politics.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum on the campus of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, TN has one of the finest Lincolniana/Civil War collections anywhere. For decades, this material has been a fabulous resource for both the public and for scholars.
Much of the credit for building this collection belongs to the late Lincoln scholar R. Gerald McMurtry. After spending a few years with the Lincoln National Life Foundation’s collection (formerly on display at the now-closed Lincoln Museum in Ft. Wayne, IN) and the Lincoln Memorial Highway Commission, McMurtry came to LMU in 1937. He stayed for nearly two decades—returning to the Lincoln National Life Foundation in 1956—and in that time he oversaw the university’s “golden age” of Lincolnian acquisition and scholarship, collecting many of the university’s most spectacular pieces and writing or editing an impressive list of scholarly publications.
Until several years ago, LMU’s museum hosted an annual lecture named for Lincoln artist and collector Lloyd Ostendorf. It was always a great opportunity for students, alumni, and visitors to hear Lincoln and Civil War scholars present their research, and it was sad to see it go.
I’m pleased to report that LMU is once again mounting a Lincoln lecture series, this time under the aegis of the college’s new Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy. Appropriately, it’s named in honor of R. Gerald McMurtry.
Dan Stowell will present the very first R. Gerald McMurtry Memorial Lecture on Feb. 12 at LMU’s Duncan School of Law in Knoxville. Dr. Stowell is editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln and author of a number of books on Lincoln and nineteenth-century history. You can get more information about the lectures series and the institute here.
As somebody who got his start in public history at LMU, I’m extremely happy to see the university hosting regular Lincoln lectures again, and equally happy that the school is honoring McMurtry. I encourage anyone in East Tennessee with an interest in history to attend and help get this series off to a great start.