Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory / Edition 1

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Abraham Lincoln has long dominated the pantheon of American presidents. From his lavish memorial in Washington and immortalization on Mount Rushmore, one might assume he was a national hero rather than a controversial president who came close to losing his 1864 bid for reelection. In Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory, Barry Schwartz aims at these contradictions in his study of Lincoln's reputation, from the president's death through the industrial revolution to his apotheosis during the Progressive Era and First World War.

Schwartz draws on a wide array of materials—painting and sculpture, popular magazines and school textbooks, newspapers and oratory—to examine the role that Lincoln's memory has played in American life. He explains, for example, how dramatic funeral rites elevated Lincoln's reputation even while funeral eulogists questioned his presidential actions, and how his reputation diminished and grew over the next four decades. Schwartz links transformations of Lincoln's image to changes in the society. Commemorating Lincoln helped Americans to think about their country's development from a rural republic to an industrial democracy and to articulate the way economic and political reform, military power, ethnic and race relations, and nationalism enhanced their conception of themselves as one people.

Lincoln's memory assumed a double aspect of "mirror" and "lamp," acting at once as a reflection of the nation's concerns and an illumination of its ideals, and Schwartz offers a fascinating view of these two functions as they were realized in the commemorative symbols of an ever-widening circle of ethnic, religious, political, and regional communities. The first part of a study that will continue through the present, Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory is the story of how America has shaped its past selectively and imaginatively around images rooted in a real person whose character and achievements helped shape his country's future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
There have been many studies of Lincoln's life and how it has come to be perceived in the minds of Americans, the best being Merrill Peterson's Abraham Lincoln in American Memory (1994). Schwartz's scholarly account manages only to be a workman-like job of surveying the power of Lincoln's image since 1865. Unlike Peterson's user-friendly book, Schwartz's volume appears to have been written with an academic readership in mind: a scholarly dryness permeates the prose. Nevertheless, Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Georgia, hits all the important points on his way to a larger argument about memory and history. He contends that the common view of Lincoln changed over time alongside changes in national interests and priorities. In the Progressive era, for example, Lincoln was lauded as a common man who rose to the White House despite all obstacles; during the mid-20th-century civil rights struggle, on the other hand, he was known as the Great Emancipator. Lincoln buffs might protest that Schwartz then uses up too much space talking about the sociology of collective memory as represented in the work of scholars like Charles Horton Cooley and Emile Durkheim--but they'd be missing the point. Ultimately, this is not a book about Lincoln as a man or a symbol. It's a study that uses the American commemoration of Lincoln as a vehicle for studying the whims and whiles of national memory. As such, it is a success. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
In this work, Schwartz (sociology, Univ. of Georgia; George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol) examines the endless American fascination with Lincoln. This first installment of a projected two-part study chronicles the Great Emancipator's ever-changing image, from his 1865 assassination to the May 30, 1922, dedication day of his national monument in Washington, DC. The author charts the commemoration of Lincoln's life through analysis of eulogies and other hagiographies, monuments, shrines, statues, state portraits, historical paintings, prints, and centennial, sesquicentennial, and annual birthday observances. During the industrial and social revolutions of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, the rich complexities of Lincoln's life served as a unifying beacon to immigrants, Socialists, economic and social conservatives, African Americans, and even white Southerners. Following World War I, Lincoln assumed the mantle of "epic imagery." Schwartz puts it best in this final sentence of this profound study: "Lincoln...became America's universal man standing beside the people and above the people." Although this highly provocative book is a major contribution to American social and intellectual history, its concentrated academic approach may have little appeal to general readers. Recommended for large public libraries and academic libraries.--John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
An engaging scholarly study of the dynamic links between Lincoln's image and the rapidly changing American culture during the six decades after his assassination. Sociologist Schwartz (George Washington, not reviewed) wants to test sociological theories with historical evidence and bring history back into his own discipline. Fortunately, he also knows how to tell a good story. One needn't like sociology (which appears here only at the start and finish and is spread on lightly anyway) to learn much from his engrossing account of the sources of Lincoln's changing reputation between 1865 and the 1920s. (A forthcoming second volume will bring the story up to date.) Schwartz's approach differs from Merrill Peterson's Lincoln in American Memory (1994), which focused on the contents of Lincoln's image: Schwartz explores instead how public perception of Lincoln waxed and waned as it did (the 16th President was by no means universally admired during his lifetime). Drawing on a wide variety of sources (art and statuary, schoolbooks and speeches, and the efforts of "reputational entrepreneurs"), Schwartz shows that Lincoln came to be revered as he was as much on account of the needs of particular historical moments and groups in the population as because of his own deeds and words. In other words, Americans constructed Lincoln's image in their own. Such an argument will not surprise historians engaged in the scholarly industry of "memory studies." But it reminds us of the complex interdependence of fact, memory, and culture. It also fills out our understanding of such specific phenomena as North-South reconciliation, military preparation, andracerelations through the Progressive Era. And true to its sociological foundations, it reveals how images grow more from need than reality, and how reputations are as likely to be imposed as achieved. Anyone who wishes to learn more of Lincoln, the nation he helped govern, and the way memory serves social and cultural functions will gain from this highly illuminating work. (b&w illustrations not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226741987
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2003
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 382
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Barry Schwartz is a professor of sociology at the University of Georgia. He is the author or editor of four books, including George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Two Faces of Collective Memory
Part One: Nineteenth Century: Symbolizing Nationhood
1: Death and Commemoration
2: Promoting Lincoln in the Late Nineteenth Century: Successes and Failures
Part Two: Twentieth Century: Symbolizing Industrial Democracy
3: Lincoln and the Culture of Progressivism: Democratizing America
4: Lincoln, a Man of the People: Dignifying America
Part Three: Twentieth Century: Symbolizing Unity
5: Lincoln and the Culture of Inclusion: Integrating America
6: Lincoln in World War I: Strengthening America
7: Two Lincolns: Symbolizing America
Conclusion: Two Faces of Collective Memory: Refining the Discussion

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