Editor Matthew Pinsker organized the selection and ranking process of the top 150 Lincoln documents on the basis of how “teachable” they were, with the Gettysburg Address leading the list. ”Teachable” is of course a highly subjective term. For our purposes, it means most useful in a wide range of classrooms, not just K-12, but also undergraduate, and not just History or Social Studies classrooms but also for English classes. Teachable documents in this context are historically significant and highly readable. They cover a range of topics that are relevant to 21st century students. Readers should feel free to argue with the list in any way they choose –and to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think we made any mistakes.
Our 150 documents have also been divided into five themes with 30 documents in each theme. These themes –Railsplitter, Honest Abe, Father Abraham, Great Emancipator, and Savior of the Union– reflect five leading labels that have been applied to Abraham Lincoln over the years. We have used them to help sort out ideas about his legacy. Documents in the Railsplitter section generally cover Lincoln’s self-made rise during his pre-presidential years, including most of his political career before 1861. However, we have tried to place key documents that involve matters of faith for Lincoln –law, policy and religious belief– within the Honest Abe theme. Father Abraham documents include not only those that concern Lincoln in his role as father to four boys, but also in his role as father to the nation and the Union army. Lincoln spent a significant amount of time doling out advice –this category attempts to capture most of his best wisdom. Documents in the Great Emancipator section concern Lincoln’s evolving views on both slavery and race, from the earliest years of his career to the end of his presidency. Finally, the documents within Savior of the Union focus on Lincoln’s struggle as president and commander in chief to hold the nation together during a period when it seemed almost inevitable that it would fall apart.
We are in the process of providing short videos of Professor Matthew Pinsker conducting close readings of the 25 top Lincoln documents at this site. These videos are designed to show how an undergraduate instructor can weave together text and context to help understand subtext. They are also intended to offer useful models for the Common Core State Standards which emphasize the close reading of informational texts. It is hard to imagine anyone better at using information to make persuasive arguments than Abraham Lincoln. As a lawyer, politician, and statesman, he excelled at crafting clear and powerful rhetoric. Lincoln seems to be the ideal subject for the Common Core, and we hope educators engaged in teaching K-12 reading and social studies find this site to be an indispensable resource for their work. Nonetheless, there are many different ways to read Lincoln and many particular curriculum requirements that Prof. Pinsker does not model in his videos. We hope that contributors to our site –especially K-12 educators– will leap into this gap by providing their own templates for videotaped close readings. Production values matter less than content and passion. One of our principal goals in the “Understanding Lincoln” open online course will be to find and cultivate close reading talent to fill out the video slots in this expanding multi-media edition.
Throughout this site, we provide links inside the House Divided research engine, which is our main project database containing hundreds of thousands of records covering the period from 1840 to 1880. Here is where readers will find the annotated transcripts of Lincoln’s documents. The research engine attempts to connect every record to all of its other relevant records through a series of tabs and clickable nodes. In using the research engine, we hope that students begin to experience the true difference between “search” and “research.” Searching the Internet through a basic search engine yields hits and sometimes a great deal of confusion about sources. Researching with digital tools, such as (we hope) our research engine, yield connections and context.
Maps are a cornerstone of any good history classroom. Today’s digital tools offer a spectacular array of means to bring maps to life for the 21st-century student. We are featuring custom-made Google maps here that offer an easy way to visualize Lincoln’s writings, but we have plans to introduce even more ambitious map-making tools in the future. For those who want to see even more examples of House Divided Project custom maps, please check out our Google Maps page and view our tutorial to find out how to build them yourself.
Clickable Word Clouds
Word clouds have become popular ways to visualize word frequency in a text, but we plan to demonstrate an especially teachable way to use word clouds in connection with Lincoln’s Writings. We are building a series of clickable word clouds that allow readers to not only see the most frequently used words in sets of Lincoln’s texts (such as his top 25 documents or from the Lincoln Douglas Debates) and but also to click on them and go directly to excerpts in texts where they appeared.