Finding Lincoln Documents

The first key to a good close reading of a Lincoln document is to find the right document.  Such a choice always involves a shifting set of priorities:  what interests you, what might interest your particular audience, and what has possibly escaped the attention of other scholars.

The Lincoln’s Writings site is organized to help you navigate this selection process.  To begin, the site has already identified 150 of Lincoln’s “most teachable” writings, organized by themes and even ranked in order of teachability.  You can decide for yourself if you agree with such a list.  The fullest edition of Lincoln’s Writings, known as the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), is available online through the Abraham Lincoln Association.   Even the Collected Works, however, is not totally comprehensive.  There have been two published supplements over the years (1974, 1990), but neither is currently searchable online.  In addition, since the publication of the second supplement in 1990, researchers have continued to identify previously unknown or missing Lincoln documents.  The good news is that most of these recently discovered writings are now available online at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.

So, if you are a contrarian by nature, go find your own Lincoln document and explain why it should have made our list.  We publish some of those, too.  Here is the page where you can find these “alt-Lincoln” documents.   Yet just beware that there are many fraudulent Lincoln documents lurking around on the web.  Even House Divided Project has been victimized by that unfortunate circumstance back in 2012.  So if you are seeking your own document for a close reading outside of our list  –just check with us first.

But if you are happy to stay within the framework of our designated 150 “most teachable” Lincoln documents, we have also provided several tools to help you answer the navigational questions above.  We have included tags on all of the documents, so that you can search them by special topics.  All of those topics or tags are listed at this page.  Here is how it might work for you:

Special topic tags are incredibly helpful for this kind of selection decision.  We even have a hidden tag for “Needs Close Reading.”  There are actually just over one-third of the 150 documents at this site that are still missing a good example of a close reading effort.  If you want to make your biggest contribution to our multi-media effort and to your fellow students and educators, you might want to peruse this list most carefully:

But no matter what you initially decide, you are going to want to research a little bit about the document, its context and how much attention it has received from other scholars before you make a final selection.  All of the documents at this site contain links to resources “On This Date” that can help you see what else was happening in the nation at large  (HD Daily Report) and also in Lincoln’s daily schedule (The Lincoln Log).  Many of the document pages here also contain additional materials such as maps, images, other primary sources and even excerpts from leading scholars (How Historians Interpret) that can help launch your own research process.  Most important as you get started, however, we have created a Research Guide that offers our best recommendations for how to pursue primary and secondary sources essential for shaping a good close reading.  Taking advantage of that tool will not only help make up your mind about the right document, but also will set you in motion toward a finished close reading essay that will sparkle with insights.

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Editor: Matthew Pinsker
House Divided Project
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Dickinson College
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