The folks at WBIR stopped by on Saturday to cover our closing event and the upcoming expansion. Enjoy!
The folks at WBIR stopped by on Saturday to cover our closing event and the upcoming expansion. Enjoy!
This week is your last chance to visit the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum before we close for our big renovation and expansion project. We’re throwing a celebration on Saturday, July 20 from 10:00 to 6:00 with free admission, refreshments, a special glimpse inside our manuscript vault, and major discounts on items in our gift shop. If any of you folks are within driving distance of the Cumberland Gap area, I hope to see some of you there.
And I definitely hope to see lots of you visit the expanded museum when this project is done. We’ve got big changes in store, both inside and out: brand new exhibits on Lincoln in memory and the history of Lincoln Memorial University, some updates to our current gallery spaces, a learning lab, improved visitor access, a new front entrance, outdoor experiences, and more. It’s going to take quite a while to get it all in place; we’ll probably reopen in late 2020. But it should be well worth the wait.
Glenn David Brasher paid a visit to the newly opened American Civil War Museum in Richmond. His review is mostly positive, with a notable caveat:
But here is the main problem: the museum is making great effort to tell a more inclusive and diverse narrative of the war, and the written interpretation does so. But the artifacts they have now are just not yet helping them tell that story.
Yes, you won’t find many Civil War museums with an audio and visual presentation telling the story of an enslaved girl that was brutally whipped for allegedly poisoning her owner, or that displays slave shackles, or that interprets the post-war years by featuring a Reconstruction era KKK hood and garment.
The African American story, as well as the Union story, are both featured throughout the exhibits. There is also homefront and gendered history, but with few exceptions (like the ones just mentioned) the artifacts packed behind the glass cases are overwhelmingly the treasures from the old Museum of the Confederacy.
The battles themselves get shunted away to high tech electronic video boards that visitors can interact with, which is fine, I’d rather see visitors get out to the battlefields themselves if that is what they are looking for. But theoretically that means the museum should be focused on social and cultural history, and most of the interpretation is, but yet the most attention-grabbing relics are largely battle-related accouterment from southern soldiers and officers.
I assume this dissonance between narrative and artifacts is due to the nature of the ACWM’s collection, much of which probably consists of militaria from the Museum of the Confederacy. When an institution’s collection has been accumulating for decades, it takes time for the acquisitions to catch up with changes in academic or interpretive trends.
We’re actually wrestling with similar dilemmas at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum. We’re getting ready to break ground on our big expansion and renovation project, which will in turn enable us to make further changes to our permanent galleries. The biggest of these will be a new exhibit on Lincoln’s presidency. One of the themes we feel compelled to explore in this exhibit is the transformative nature of that presidency—how Lincoln’s use of presidential power changed the office, the nature of the Civil War, and the nation.
Like most museum collections, ours has its particular strengths and weaknesses, and not all of our strengths play to the content we want to include in the new exhibit. For example, we’ve got a lot of great artifacts from, say, the election of 1860 and Lincoln’s funeral, but precious little we could use to trace Lincoln’s evolving position on emancipation from spring 1861 to summer 1862. (I mean, we’ve got a ton of popular prints and cartoons illustrating American responses to the Emancipation Proclamation, but not much that shows Lincoln’s internal reasoning for changing a war for the Union as it was into a war for a new birth of freedom.)
Of course, we’ve got ideas to meet these challenges. After all, figuring out creative ways to convey historical information through exhibits is part of the job. But when we finally raise the curtain on our new permanent exhibit, there will inevitably be an imbalance in the number of artifacts per narrative section.
It’s a bit frustrating, since building narratives out of objects is what museums do—or at least it’s the thing they do that other for of communication don’t. But this is a dilemma that I think museums professionals are going to deal with more and more. Expectations for more well-rounded and inclusive narratives will continue to grow, and older institutions will continue to transform from showplaces for relics into places that more fully reflect the breadth of their respective disciplines.
As I’ve mentioned before, we’re getting ready for a pretty big construction project here at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum. After adding some new exhibit space, a kids’ learning lab, a programming and a collection processing room, and making other structural improvements to the building, we’ll move to the most exciting renovation phase: new exhibits on Lincoln’s presidential years in our second and third galleries. Along with an overhaul of our Civil War displays, this will complete the transformation of our permanent galleries that we began last year, when we installed a new exhibit on Lincoln’s life before the presidency.
The first step in creating a new exhibit is deciding how you want to organize the material. We knew from the outset that we’d start out with his nomination and end up at Ford’s Theatre, but we didn’t plan on a strictly chronological path between the two. Our early outlines took a more topical approach, with sections on emancipation, Lincoln as commander-in-chief, civil liberties under his administration, his family’s private life in the White House, and so on.
But when you’re dealing with the Civil War and Lincoln’s presidency, there are points where a topical approach mucks things up. As James McPherson noted in his preface to Battle Cry of Freedom, you run into problems when you try to break the Civil War era into self-contained subjects without recourse to narrative or chronology. Political, military, economic, and diplomatic events were inextricably interrelated. Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation was all tangled up with the course of the war, from Union reversals in the summer of 1862 to Lee’s check at Antietam that fall. Similarly, it’s hard to explain Lincoln’s re-election without making sense of the military situation in 1864.
Lincoln’s own development also calls for a more chronological approach. His attitudes toward the war changed so much between 1861 and 1865 that it’s difficult to speak of “Lincoln’s policy on emancipation” or “Lincoln’s policy on Reconstruction” apart from the specific crucibles that shaped those policies. One of the big ideas we want to convey is how the war transformed his thinking, and how he himself became a transformative agent as his willingness to wield presidential power shifted.
Lincoln claimed that events had controlled him rather than the other way around, and whether that’s accurate or not, the fact that he believed it means you have to take those events into account when you’re trying to explain why he did what he did.
I’m delighted to report that the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum received a number of awards at this year’s Tennessee Association of Museums conference. Our Civil War STEAM event and Skype in the Vault program earned Awards of Excellence, and our new permanent exhibit Log Walls to Marble Halls received an Award of Commendation. The big news, though, is this: Civil War STEAM received the prestigious Past Presidents Award.
Needless to say, I’m very proud of my staff, and very grateful for this recognition by our colleagues in the museum field. Kudos especially to Program Coordinator Natalie Sweet, who was the dynamo behind the STEAM event. Big thanks also to Owen Design Group and 1220 Exhibits, who made Log Walls into a reality for us.
And hats off to TAM for putting on the most enjoyable, collegial, and helpful museum conference I’ve ever attended. See you folks again next year!
The blog of LMU’s Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy—where yours truly was formerly a contributor—is back in business, at a new address and under new management. Update your bookmarks, blogrolls, and favorites tabs to https://li-reflections.com/. Check it out for historically informed reflections on law and government. (They’re on Facebook, too.)
Join scholars of American religion on Friday, November 16, 2018, at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, Tennessee, as they discuss faith in Lincoln’s America at this year’s Lincoln Symposium and Kincaid Lecture. Speakers include Dr. Thomas Kidd, Dr. Terrie Aamodt, and Dr. Luke Harlow.
The cost of the event to the public is $30.00 (covers lectures and luncheon). Students, faculty, and staff of Lincoln Memorial University may attend all sessions free of charge; lunch for LMU community members is $10.00 and requires registration.
Registration is required for all who wish to attend, whether a student, faculty, or community member. To register, please email email@example.com by November 13, 2018.
8:30am -9:00am: Registration, The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum
9:00am: Dr. Terrie Aamodt: “When Religion Goes to War: The Apocalyptic Imagination and the Civil War”
10:00am: 15 Minute Break
10:15am: Dr. Luke Harlow, “Religion and the Meaning of Civil War Emancipation”
11:15am: 15 Minute Break
11:30am: 2018 Kincaid Lecture, Dr. Thomas Kidd: “The Enigma of Benjamin Franklin’s Faith”
12:30pm: Luncheon, Cumberland Gap Convention Center
2:00pm: Roundtable Q&A with Speakers and Book Signing
Copies of each author’s book will be available for purchase and signing at the event.
Thomas Kidd is the Associate Director of the Institute for Studies of Religion, and the James Vardaman Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University. He is the author or editor of twelve books. Recent works include Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2017), American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths (Yale University Press, 2016), Baptists in America: A History (with Barry Hankins, Oxford University Press, 2015), and George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2014). He has written for outlets including the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Kidd blogs at “Evangelical History” at The Gospel Coalition website.
Terrie Dopp Aamodt is professor of History and English at Walla Walla University. Her own roots in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley informed her doctoral work in American and New England Studies at Boston University. Her revised dissertation, Righteous Armies, Holy Cause: Apocalyptic Imagery and the Civil War, was published by Mercer University Press in 2002. She has explored relationships between religion and visual culture in topics ranging from the American Shakers to the House of David barnstorming baseball teams, which pioneered racial integration in the sport during the 1920s and 30s. She has led several Civil War tours of the Virginia theater for college credit, including a bicycle tour. Current interests include the memorialization of the Civil War in the Northwest and investigation of photographs, magazine illustrations, and other images of Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era in an extension of her earlier work on the Civil War. She is exploring and comparing the trajectories of the Bloody Shirt and Lost Cause responses to the war.
Luke Harlow is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is a historian of religion, race, and politics in the era of the American Civil War, and his published work includes Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830–1880, which received a Kentucky History Award. He is currently writing Faith in the Institutions of the Republic: Lydia Maria Child in Civil War and Reconstruction, a book focused on one of the most famous abolitionists and writers of the nineteenth century. This project explores the relationship between northern antislavery reformers and politicians, and raises questions about the moral foundations of democratic republicanism in the age of emancipation.