Digital Scholarship Lab. University of Richmond, 2014. http://dsl.richmond.edu/projects/
Reviewed by Leah Miller, Dickinson College
The Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond uses technology to digitize and present historical data in a way that reveals hidden patterns. The lab consists of eight main projects which present various insights into American history:
While the data covered by these projects spans all of American history from Columbus to the present, particular focus is devoted to the nineteenth century. Rather than presenting the large-scale, political history which is available in the average classroom textbook, these projects analyze the movements and actions of the common person. The result is a series of new stories about the experience of the average American—white, black, male, female—who worked, migrated, fought, and suffered for their freedom.
The most recent project is the digitized Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, originally drawn up in 1932 by U.S. naval historian Charles O. Paullin and geographer John K. Wright. The print edition of the atlas—which includes over 700 maps on 166 plates that cover American history from 1492 to 1930—has greatly impacted many historical publications even to the present day. Recently for the New York Times, project director Robert K. Nelson explained that “Paullin’s maps show ordinary people making a living, moving across the landscape, worshipping at churches, voting in elections.” This new, digital edition changes the way we can interpret these maps. Each map has been georeferenced and georectified to provide accurate and optimal web-viewing, but the viewer can switch to a high-quality scan of the original plates. The user can also toggle a sidebar with Paullin’s original text and legends, as well as zoom in and out and adjust the transparency of the map overlay. Permalinks save all these preferences and ensure they can be accessed in the future. Series of maps that show progression of movement or activity through time have been animated. For example, the animation of slave populations from 1790-1860 shows the concentration of southern slave power and its expansion westward concurrently with gradual emancipation of slaves in the North. Furthermore, the statistical annotations provided for this map declare the exact numbers and percentages of slaves in each county, and by 1820 provide a breakdown of the slaves’ genders. Some maps are accompanied by additional analytical blog posts. “Vanishing Indians,” by lab director Robert K. Nelson, discusses the atlas’ shortcomings when it comes to portraying Native Americans in their relationships to each other.
The Visualizing Emancipation project is another interactive map which highlights slavery’s end during the Civil War. The map “presents a history of emancipation where brutality is sometimes easier to see than generosity and where the costs of war and freedom fell disproportionately on the most vulnerable in the South.” Users can filter through different types of emancipation events (i.e. African Americans helping the Union, their captures by either army, fugitive slave-related incidents, etc.), as well as different types of sources, including books, newspapers, official records, or personal papers. Like the Atlas, this map is animated, so as the user toggles pins and filters on and off, she can follow the relationship between emancipation and the position of the Union army, or the agency of slaves in obtaining their own freedom. The project also features certain events and figures as starting points for understanding emancipation, with the ability to pinpoint each event on the map. I only wish that there were at least one featured example where a person or group were involved in multiple events, so a user could follow their physical journey using the map. For those teaching emancipation, there is an accompanying lesson plan and worksheet. Students are encouraged to contribute by submitting information they find in primary source documents, since the map, which covers “only a small slice of the available evidence documenting the end of slavery,” could never be complete.
Voting America also makes use of animated maps to show changes and differences in voting preferences for presidential and congressional elections (1840–2008). The key factor is scope, which illuminates different patterns and trends. For example, changing popular votes at the state level show which parties won each election, while at the county level show how each state was politically divided. The dot-density maps are even more democratic, as 1 dot=500 votes in an area; this way, more third-party votes are recorded. For these types of maps, every legend shows important political events in history; so, one can watch the progression of voter turnout since 1840 and note the effect the Fifteenth and Twentieth Amendments had. The user also has the option to view individual elections in each of these capacities. Population maps show the location and movements of black Americans (represented—a bit stereotypically—as black dots) and white Americans (represented by pink dots). Unfortunately there is no option to view these populations together, nor is there any representation of immigrant populations. The project is accompanied by an interactive map which can be used to compare presidential election years, but my computer, running Adobe flash player version 18.104.22.168, was unable to open it. An alternative version is available through Google Maps, but currently this feature is down. Finally, a “Scholars Corner” provides expert analysis by DSL staff on certain voting trends.
Three other projects in the lab focus on the American Civil War. Mining the Dispatch uses topic-modeling, a computerized method of pulling together multiple documents that have the same key words within them. This can reveal interesting categories and patterns among texts. In this case, Nelson ran every issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch from November 1860 to Lincoln’s death in April 1865. Some of the more interesting topics are fugitive slave ads, anti-northern diatribes, military recruitment versus conscription, humor etc. Nelson juxtaposed line graphs showing the frequency of similar topics, and, tentatively, relationships emerged. This project is still in its preliminary phase and because of its algorithmic collection process, the data is imperfect. Still, it is a good jumping off point for research questions.
The Virginia Secession Convention project seems to diverge from the site’s aim to tell the average American’s story. It seeks to explain the decision of the VA delegates to secede from the Union through their full-text searchable speeches and the Convention’s proceedings. However, as the Data Visualizations page shows, their decisions were likely influenced by their constituents. Each county is annotated with statistics about the constituents: percentages of slaveholders and the enslaved, average farm value per acre, and pro- or anti-Union stances.
Finally, though Hidden Patterns of the Civil War largely highlights many of the projects already discussed, it also includes other mini-projects and tools, like a collection of maps that shows the migration patterns of black Virginians who married after the war, a Google Earth tour of the Richmond slave market developed from a sketch by painter Eyre Crowe, and a full-access digital database of the Richmond Daily Dispatch during the Civil War.
While the two remaining projects are less relevant to the nineteenth century, they are great tools for the classroom. Redlining Richmond maps and annotates the racist categorizations of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (a New Deal agency) in the late ’30s. The assigned value of each neighborhood is based on race and nationality, and shows the lingering effects of slavery in the Jim Crow era. The History Engine is a “moderated wiki” where students generate three-paragraph “episodes” (rather than arguments) about people, places, or events in American history, drawing on local university or online archives and secondary sources. Because registration is required, each submission is carefully screened for quality and accuracy. The project’s aim is to place students from around the world in conversation with each other and their work.
The eight projects of the Digital Scholarship Lab thoughtfully and extensively explore the individual experiences of Americans during the nineteenth century. The Lab’s innovative use of technology illuminates otherwise obscure patterns of growth, contest, suffering, and change. This is an invaluable resource for studying the social history of our nation, and a must for anyone teaching or learning about the American Civil War.
The reaction to President Obama’s appearance on Between Two Ferns was swift. 32,000 viewers clicked through the video to HealthCare.gov, more than 1,000 tweeted about the segment, and health plan enrollments skyrocketed as the final deadlines approached. None of those suggestions of effectiveness, however, prevented Fox News host Bill O’Reilly from leveling a pretty tough criticism. O’Reilly was blunt and authoritative as always: “all I can tell you is Abe Lincoln wouldn’t have done it.”
Putting aside the question of whether Abraham Lincoln really would have refused to appear on Between Two Ferns, there are a few important issues to consider when comparing President Obama’s stated goals for his unusual interview with the political experiences of President Lincoln. Those comparisons can begin with O’Reilly’s criticism itself, which actually sounds quite similar to some 19th-century commentaries about Lincoln. Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in his diary, once accused Lincoln of “cheapening himself” as a public figure, noting that:
“He will not walk dignifiedly through the traditional part of the President of America, but will pop out his head at each railroad station and make a little speech, get into an argument with Judge A and Squire B, he will write letters to Horace Greeley, and any editor or reporter…or saucy party committee that writes to him…”
The letters Emerson was referring to – public letters – particularly rankled some 19th-century American opinion leaders. Douglas Wilson, a historian and two-time Lincoln Prize winner, notes in Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words (2007), that Lincoln’s unprecedented use of public letters was viewed by some as “undignified.” Lincoln was about as compelled by that criticism then as President Obama is now. The two presidents seem to share a desire to avoid, in Obama’s words, the “Washington echo chamber.” They both sought out mediums and messages that would do just that, resonating with everyday people and conveying a highly personal touch. In attempting to quench the desire to directly connect, Obama has the internet and Lincoln had the public letter. Beginning in 1862 with his letter to Horace Greeley and continuing in 1863 with longer missives to Erastus Corning and James Conkling, Lincoln shaped popular opinion and shared his views with constituents by “corresponding” through newspapers. His messages, on slavery, emancipation, and federal power, were circulated and read widely. The Conkling letter, which we recently annotated on Poetry Genius, includes Lincoln’s famous line stating that, “there can be no appeal from the ballot to the bullet,” and employs shifts in tone and argument to convince a broad swath of the political spectrum about the wisdom of the Emancipation Proclamation. Wilson, again in Lincoln’s Sword, argues that these public letters demonstrably helped improve the president’s popularity and support for the Union cause.
A public letter to the editor of a newspaper or a political leader is a long way, however, from appearing on an internet comedy show hosted by the actor from Hangover 3. And it is worth noting that Lincoln’s public letters rarely employed humor in any substantive form. He was far from unfunny, though; in fact, in connecting with political leaders and laymen alike, Lincoln employed a similarly eclectic sense of humor that was also subject to criticism. In fact, some public figures attacked Lincoln for his humor in a way that will sound familiar to keen observers of the Between Two Ferns debate. Historian Louis Masur has a great short post (“Lincoln Tells a Story”) at the New York Times Disunion series which details both some of Lincoln’s story-telling habits and the uneven reaction. He quotes Richard Henry Dana, a prominent nineteenth-century writer and attorney, who spoke for many New Englanders when he complained during the war that Lincoln “does not act or talk or feel like the ruler of a great empire in a great crisis.” In a scholarly article titled Lincoln’s Humor: An Analysis, Benjamin Thomas fully chronicles the 16th President’s flair for pith, wit, and tall tales. The article is a treasure trove of Lincolniana, ranging from yarns and one-liners to comic biography and commentary on 19th-century humor. Thomas notes that according to Henry C. Whitney, one of Lincoln’s friends from his Illinois years, “any remark, any incident brought from [Lincoln] an appropriate tale…he saw ludicrous elements in everything.” Thomas’s analysis is instructive, at least in one sense. After all, it is hard to imagine that the man who asked whether a Nebraska river named Weeping Water was called Minneboohoo by the Indians (“because Minnehaha is Laughing Water in their language”) would not have enjoyed at least some of Two Ferns banter about strange spider bites and 800-ounce babies.
Lincoln didn’t lampoon Nebraska’s American Indian population in a public speeches or documents, though. Much of the humor Thomas describes appears to be drawn from personal interactions described in diary entries or recollections. The historian argues that after 1854, Lincoln’s public persona became more serious. O’Reilly, who has written a book on Lincoln, might have this fact in mind when he criticizes President Obama. O’Reilly could argue that as Lincoln ascended to power, he acknowledged the seriousness of the moment and changed the tone of his rhetoric. It is true that Lincoln’s rhetoric during the late 1850s and 1860s lacks some of the Springfield lawyer’s earlier folksy-funny style, but this shift did not help him shed a humorous public countenance. In the House Divided research engine, we feature several anti-Lincoln cartoons, like the one detailed above (“Columbia Demands Her Children”), which take him to task for not being serious enough (See also “Running the Machine” and “The Abolition Catastrophe” –all from the 1864 reelection campaign). These images seem to indicate that there were personal and political dimensions to Lincoln’s humor that extended well into the years of his presidency.
It is never simple to compare different moments in history, but what is at the heart of President Obama’s appearance on Between Two Ferns - the desire to connect directly to citizens and convey a persuasive message – is familiar to all who study the history of American politics. Lincoln shared President Obama’s interest in communicating directly with the American public, and doing so in a way that was original and compelling. While his humor and desire to connect with voters do not converge in his public letters, Lincoln used both humor and public correspondence in the same way that President Obama used Between Two Ferns: to develop a personal rapport with constituents, and bolster their support for a national agenda. Few things are more presidential than that.
Last Friday, the Associated Press reported on the discovery of a previously unknown Abraham Lincoln document, and with it, a puzzling mystery. Addressed only to “My dear Sir,” a portion of the letter had been carefully removed, eliminating the key to understanding its meaning. Lincoln appears to have been writing “in haste” to someone asking if he or she could “keep up a correspondence” with an unknown person. “I like to know his views occasionally,” Lincoln wrote. Researchers at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project focused on the peculiar phrase, “keep up a correspondence,” and ran it through their database, matching it to a letter written to Lincoln by fellow Republican Leonard Swett in June 1860. In his note, Swett mentioned that he would “try to keep up a correspondence during the Campaign” with “our friend T W of Albany.” Researchers believe these initials refers to Thurlow Weed, the powerful editor of the Albany Evening Journal, a leading Republican newspaper from New York. During that period, Weed was essentially serving as a campaign manager for New York senator William Henry Seward, whom Lincoln had just defeated for the Republican presidential nomination in May 1860. Candidate Lincoln needed full backing from Seward, Weed and their various supporters in the upcoming election but worried that he might not receive it because they were so disappointed over Seward’s unexpected defeat. This would explain why Lincoln and Swett wanted to keep close tabs on Weed and his views and why Lincoln may have sent the mysterious letter featured above.
New letters and documents relating to Abraham Lincoln turn up more frequently than you might realize. Just a few weeks ago for Time magazine, House Divided Project director Matthew Pinsker highlighted some recent discoveries that give us powerful new insights into Lincoln. In 2008, scholars revealed that Lincoln had once fired off an angry letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune which belittled another Republican politician as “Sister Burlingame” and which Pinsker calls “the angriest, nastiest written statement Lincoln ever produced.” Another newly discovered letter from 1859 reveals that Lincoln privately called slavery the only “living issue of the day” and wrote that it would be “idiotic” to think otherwise. Pinsker also points out that even something as monumental as the transcript for Lincoln’s very first national speech (1847) has only just recently been made available to scholars.
For teachers and students using our Lincoln’s Writings: The Multi-Media Edition site, we’ve added a new tool to help you examine some of the best of these recent documents for yourself. Under the “Special Topics” heading, which can be found in the right-hand sidebar of every page, there is a link to “recently discovered documents.” As you browse each of these documents, you can also use the tags at the bottom of each page to find other related materials.
In your quest for new Lincoln materials, however, always keep in mind that there are sometimes Lincoln forgeries in circulation, especially over the Internet. This problem has even fooled us before. Just remember that the most reputable sources for Lincoln documents remain the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln and the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. And, of course, we’ll do our best to help navigate the truth as well.
Created by participants in the “Understanding Lincoln” open online graduate course (offered in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History), this site (still in development) features 150 of Lincoln’s “most teachable” documents and offers a full array of multi-media resources designed to help teach them in the K-12 and undergraduate classroom. This site is especially useful for Common Core alignments.
Created as part of the Lincoln Bicentennial anniversary, this site offers a snapshot of where the “Digital Lincoln” stood as of 2009, and includes a host of examples of research and presentation tools, especially designed for serious student and academic scholars.
Created in part to help transform insights from James Oakes’s prize-winning study, Freedom National (2013) into use for the modern-day classroom, this site presents an array of primary and secondary source tools for studying the complicated but fascinating subject of emancipation and abolition.
This “unofficial” guide includes access to Tony Kushner’s script, a full cast of characters (with photo comparisons to actual historical figures), and extensive analysis of the artistic license in the film and the historical reaction to Steven Spielberg’s important movie project.
This site offers a clickable word cloud of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates and host of other rare primary sources for use in studying these critical texts.
The House Divided Research Engine is a Drupal-based content management system that contains over 12,000 public domain images and tens of thousands of documents and other historical records. The link above takes users directly to Abraham Lincoln’s main record page and offers a well-curated gateway for Lincoln research.
This short but compelling exhibit came together as part of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and helps visitors understand the evolution of the document, including a sharp analysis of all five manuscript versions of the address in Lincoln’s handwriting.
Dickinson College students Leah Miller and Will Nelligan helped create short but engaging tools for studying Lincoln’s most important autobiographical writing –a sketch he produced in late 1859 to help launch his presidential bid. There is a six minute YouTube video of the sketch and an annotated edition of it through the new platform at RapGenius.
Michael Burlingame’s prize-winning Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2008) is the most important new multi-volume study of Lincoln, but it is difficult to teach because it is so lengthy. With permission, however, from both the author and the publisher (Johns Hopkins University Press), we have created short visually enhanced excerpts from the work that focus on the election of 1860 and include clickable footnotes, allowing teachers and students to “see” Burlingame’s sources directly.
Created by technologist Rafael Alvarado, this mash up includes an integrated interface allowing users to see the online edition of Lincoln’s Collected Works (his known writings), Lincoln Day-By-Day (his daily schedule), and The Abraham Lincoln Papers At the Library of Congress (the bulk of his extant correspondence) for the essential “one-stop” shopping experience. There is nothing else quite like this “timemap” available on the Internet –a must-see for serious and aspiring scholars.
As readers of Blog Divided are well aware, we have been fascinated by the story of Samuel and Bayard Wilkeson, a father and son who were both at Gettysburg, one as a correspondent for the New York Times and the other as a 2LT for the Union army. The son died on the battle’s first day after being wounded by an artillery shell and after amputating his own leg. The father discovered his son’s body on July 4, 1863 following more than a day of intense searching. Then he wrote a passionate, angry account of what happened for the New York Times, which closed by resolving that the dead at Gettysburg had “baptised” with their blood, the “second birth of Freedom in America.” President Lincoln knew the Wilkesons. The story of the family’s tragedy echoed across the North during the summer of 1863. So the connection to Lincoln’s famous phase in the Gettysburg Address, “a new birth of freedom,” seemed overwhelming, intentional, and eminently teachable. We first posted about the story of the “Angry Father” in July 2010, but then followed up with more details in the summer of 2013, here and here. I spoke about the Wilkeson family during the 150th anniversary commemorations for the Battle of Gettysburg and have been featuring the story in numerous K-12 workshops during the last five years, typically through this handout.
But there’s been one nagging concern that we just have not yet been able to fully resolve. What exactly did Sam Wilkeson look like? The problem is that there are multiple images attributed to him but they don’t seem to align properly. I brought this up at the final seminar session of the “Understanding Lincoln” open, online course and asked for help, in true “class-sourcing” fashion. Remarkably, within a few hours, I got a very helpful lead from course participant Martha Bohnenberger, a social studies teacher from South Carolina.
Here is the problem that first disturbed me in the summer of 2013. The House Divided Project has been using this striking 1859 image of Sam Wilkeson (on the top left) taken by Alexander Gardner, discovered and cleaned up by project co-founder John Osborne, courtesy of the online collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Yet the Buffalo News profiled the Wilkesons this past summer because the family were Buffalo natives and they used the image on the top right –clearly not the same person– to represent Sam Wilkeson (undated, no source citation). I presume they obtained this photograph from the Buffalo History Museum, but I haven’t yet tracked it all down. By the way, Buffalo was a nineteenth-century city partly founded by the grandfather in this story, Judge Samuel Wilkeson, Sr., who had hailed from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where Dickinson College is located. However, there is even more about the image to consider. The Gettysburg National Military Park features the story of the Wilkesons inside their main museum experience at the Visitor’s Center, but they use an entirely different image reportedly of newspaper correspondent Sam Wilkeson, which they credit to the National Archives (on the bottom left). Meanwhile, Martha Bohnenberger discovered this illustration (bottom right) in the New York Sun from December 3, 1889 as part of an obituary for Wilkeson –read it, he led a truly remarkable life– by doing some shrewd online research at the Library of Congress site, Chronicling America. Again, it’s different.
Now, I am not willing to bet my tenure on this, but I think that the Smithsonian Wilkeson (1859) is the same as the New York Sun Wilkeson (1889), just bearded in that latter illustration. The lines of the face, however, strike me as almost identical. But I don’t quite know what to make of the National Archives Wilkeson or the Buffalo News Wilkeson. The image quality isn’t quite good enough for me to decide, but they seem (especially the Buffalo Wilkeson) to be a different person (and probably different from each other as well). What do you think? There’s certainly more researching and phone calling to do, which I haven’t yet accomplished, but I appreciated the quick extra help from my class-sourcing exercise the other day and would like to continue to seek help if others would provide it. Feel free to comment here and leave your opinion, or contact me directly by email (email@example.com) to share any insights.
On Tuesday evening, July 7, 1863, Abraham Lincoln responded to a “serenade” from a crowd outside the White House celebrating the wonderful news received in Washington earlier that day that Vicksburg had finally surrendered to Union forces (actually on the Fourth of July, Independence Day). Speaking extemporaneously, the president struggled to find the right words to put the twin victories –Vicksburg and Gettysburg– into context.
How long ago is it? –eighty odd years– since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.”
Ever since, many Lincoln scholars have noted –though not nearly enough classroom teachers have realized– that this “Response to a Serenade” from July 7, 1863 stands as an especially compelling “first draft” for the Gettysburg Address, whose famous opening lines delivered just over four months later on November 19, 1863 clearly owed their origins to Lincoln’s desire to revise and improve what for him had been a somewhat awkward initial effort:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
But there’s even more to this “first draft” story than most Lincoln scholars have acknowledged. It appears very likely that Lincoln was working at least in part from another man’s text as he contemplated how to answer that boisterous serenade on Tuesday evening, July 7. Sometime the night before or earlier that day, the president probably read and was inspired by what historian Harold Holzer is now calling “the greatest piece of war reporting ever,” a stunning dispatch from Gettysburg written by a New York Times correspondent whose eldest son had died tragically on that first day of the great battle.
The story of the reporter, Samuel Wilkeson, and his son, Bayard, is also reasonably well known to Civil War scholars and Gettysburg buffs, but nonetheless remains absent from most American textbooks and classroom discussions. Yet the reason why Holzer is featuring it in his next book (on Lincoln and the press) and why we have been focusing so much attention on it here at House Divided (see our earlier posts here and here), is because of the many layers of human drama involved. Lt. Bayard Wilkeson was 19-years-old when an artillery shell nearly severed his leg around mid-day on July 1, 1863 north of the town , along what is now known as Barlow’s Knoll (see image above). The brave young man was then forced to amputate his own leg before he ultimately died from shock that evening while in Confederate custody. Meanwhile, his father Samuel had been trying to rush up to the battlefield to report on General Meade and the Army of the Potomac as they entered into combat with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Sam Wilkeson spent two anxious days reporting from Meade’s headquarters and wondering what had happened to his son, knowing only that Bayard had been wounded and captured. Eventually, Wilkeson found his dead boy on Saturday evening, July 4, and wrote his lead dispatch for the New York Times with these memorable words:
Who can write the history of a battle whose eyes are immovably fastened upon a central figure of transcendingly absorbing interest -the dead body of an eldest born crushed by a shell in a position where a battery should never have been sent, and abandoned to death in a building where surgeons dared not stay?
Wilkeson then produced a dramatic and detailed account of the battle, which was published on Monday, July 6, 1863, and which he closed in this stirring fashion:
Oh, you dead who at Gettysburg have baptised with your blood a second birth of Freedom in America, how you are to be envied.
To read the full text of Samuel Wilkeson’s article, go to the House Divided research engine, or click here
This story raises a profound question: was Wilkeson’s “second birth of Freedom in America” a line that Lincoln was recalling and intentionally evoking when he closed his own Address at Gettysburg on November 19 with the phrase, “a new birth of freedom”? The National Park Service displays relics from Bayard Wilkeson’s death, including the sash he used as a tourniquet, and they provide a text panel showing the opening of his father’s famous dispatch (later turned into a pamphlet, Sam Wilkeson’s Thrilling Word Picture of Gettysburg), but they refrain from making any direct connections between Wilkeson’s account and Lincoln’s address. Most scholars have so far been equally reticent about making that interpretive leap.
Yet that is surely too much scholarly caution. Holzer confirms that during the Civil War Lincoln had same day or next day access to the New York Times, and while nobody knows for certain if Lincoln read Wilkeson’s dispatch before he replied to the serenade, there are a handful of good reasons for believing that he did. First, he and his aides knew Sam Wilkeson quite well. The story of Bayard’s death and his father’s dramatic reaction is one that would have transfixed them as it did nearly everybody else in the North. But second, and more important, Lincoln appeared to allude to the episode in his brief remarks on Tuesday evening, July 7:
I would like to speak in terms of praise due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the Union and liberties of the country from the beginning of the war … [but] I dislike to mention the name of one single officer lest I might do wrong to those I might forget. Recent events bring up glorious names, and particularly prominent ones, but these I will not mention.
Perhaps the president was referring here to General John F. Reynolds or other tragic losses from the battle, but I believe this is a direct reference to the Wilkeson sacrifice. One certainly cannot ignore the fact that the sentiment Lincoln offered here of not mentioning names later became the guiding principle of his Gettysburg Address. On November 19, 1863, Lincoln mentioned nobody by name. He offered no specific details. Ordinarily, we warn students against abstractions and encourage them to be as concrete as possible in their writing. Lincoln was anything but specific in his Gettysburg Address. However, like many great writers, he was thoroughly evocative. Those last lines of the Address were especially evocative for nineteenth-century audiences, not only paraphrasing Daniel Webster’s famous Second Reply to Hayne (“It is, Sir, the people’s Constitution, the people’s Government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people” (January 26-27, 1830), but also –I would argue– paraphrasing the “greatest piece of war reporting ever” from Samuel Wilkeson. Even if we will never know the full truth behind the “first draft” of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, I hope more teachers see the value in bringing up this poignant and powerful story in their classrooms and letting students decide for themselves.
Stories like this one and many others like it that help bring to life Lincoln and the Civil War provide the animating spirit behind our latest project –the creation of a new multi-media edition of Lincoln’s Writings that we are launching on July 7, 2013 (marking the 150th anniversary of Lincon’s “first draft” of the Gettysburg Address). The multi-media edition will include 150 of Lincoln’s documents that I have dubbed his “most teachable.” The pages of this site will be populated with all kinds of digital tools, such as audio recordings of the documents in Lincoln’s voice (by Dickinson College theatre professor Todd Wronski), interactive maps, clickable word clouds, and videos of me conducting close readings of the top 25 key documents (starting with the Gettysburg Address, ranked naturally as #1). This has been a big project with excellent work from many people, most notably House Divided co-founder John Osborne, our technical director Ryan Burke, and Dickinson College undergraduates Russ Allen and Leah Miller. The multi-media project itself will then become the focal point of the “Understanding Lincoln” open, online course that we are currently preparing to offer this summer and fall in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Students in that course will work toward building out the Lincoln’s Writings website with an anticipated first-stage completion date of November 19, 2013 (not coincidentally marking the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address). Registration for that course closes on July 19, 2013. A full credit graduate section is available and designed especially for K-12 educators. Please check out the new Lincoln’s Writings website and watch specially designed close reading videos, like the one below, with me explaining Lincoln’s writing process for his Gettysburg speech and the Wilkeson connection to the Address: