Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America

Overview

By the 1920s, Abraham Lincoln had transcended the lingering controversies of the Civil War to become a secular saint, honored in North and South alike for his steadfast leadership in crisis. Throughout the Great Depression and World War II, Lincoln was invoked countless times as a reminder of America’s strength and wisdom, a commanding ideal against which weary citizens could see their own hardships in perspective.
 
But as Barry Schwartz ...

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Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America

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Overview

By the 1920s, Abraham Lincoln had transcended the lingering controversies of the Civil War to become a secular saint, honored in North and South alike for his steadfast leadership in crisis. Throughout the Great Depression and World War II, Lincoln was invoked countless times as a reminder of America’s strength and wisdom, a commanding ideal against which weary citizens could see their own hardships in perspective.
 
But as Barry Schwartz reveals in Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era, those years represent the apogee of Lincoln’s prestige. The decades following World War II brought radical changes to American culture, changes that led to the diminishing of all heroes—Lincoln not least among them. As Schwartz explains, growing sympathy for the plight of racial minorities, disenchantment with the American state, the lessening of patriotism in the wake of the Vietnam War, and an intensifying celebration of diversity, all contributed to a culture in which neither Lincoln nor any single person could be a heroic symbol for all Americans. Paradoxically, however, the very culture that made Lincoln an object of indifference, questioning, criticism, and even ridicule was a culture of unprecedented beneficence and inclusion, where racial, ethnic, and religious groups treated one another more fairly and justly than ever before. Thus, as the prestige of the Great Emancipator shrank, his legacy of equality continued to flourish.
 
Drawing on a stunning range of sources—including films, cartoons, advertisements, surveys, shrine visitations, public commemorations, and more—Schwartz documents the decline of Lincoln’s public standing, asking throughout whether there is any path back from this post-heroic era. Can a new generation of Americans embrace again their epic past, including great leaders whom they know to be flawed?  As the 2009 Lincoln Bicentennial approaches, readers will discover here a stirring reminder that Lincoln, as a man, still has much to say to us—about our past, our present, and our possible futures.
 

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Editorial Reviews

Times Higher Education

"Schwartz demonstrates engagingly and convincingly how Lincoln is a historical phenomenon who can weather misunderstanding, misrepresentation, mockery, caricature, and popular cultural exploitation and still maintain something of his real integrity."
Times Higher Education
"Schwartz demonstrates engagingly and convincingly how Lincoln is a historical phenomenon who can weather misunderstanding, misrepresentation, mockery, caricature, and popular cultural exploitation and still maintain something of his real integrity."--Times Higher Education
Library Journal

Schwartz (sociology, emeritus, Univ. of Georgia) continues his investigation of Lincoln's place in American memory and meaning with this second volume in his projected three-volume study. Here he studies Lincoln's image roughly from the 1920s to the present, with an emphasis on survey research from the post-World War II era. Schwartz argues that over the past 75 years, Lincoln's image in Americans' collective memory has contracted from savior of the Union, reconciler of sections, emancipator, and advocate of equality and justice to being principally emancipator, with even that role contested as to the extent and purpose of Lincoln's push toward freedom. Schwartz attributes this shrinking of Lincoln's stature to such factors as Americans' collective self-doubt, distrust of "great men," cynicism, fading nationalism, and self-absorption, in the midst of a growing collective emphasis on multiculturalism, postmodern relativism, and declining belief in human "greatness." If Schwartz overstates his case for the supposed weakening of faith in greatness by ignoring new heroes of collective memory such as Martin Luther King, Jr., he makes many important points about the contingency of public respect for its past and its heroes. In the end, Lincoln still stands tallest, but a diverse people don't look up to him alone as exemplar of all they hold dear. Provocative and disturbing; recommended for university and large public libraries.
—Randall M. Miller

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226741888
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2009
  • Pages: 410
  • Sales rank: 1,403,230
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Barry Schwartz is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Georgia and the author of five books, including Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Table of Contents

Preface  

Acknowledgments

Introduction 

1. Ascension: Abraham Lincoln in the Depression 

2. Apex: Abraham Lincoln in World War II 

3. Transition: Cold War, Racial Conflict, and Contested Images of Lincoln

4. Transfiguration: Civil Rights Movement, Vanishing Savior of the Union 

5. Erosion: Fading Prestige, Benign Ridicule 

6. Post-Heroic Era: Acids of Equality and the Waning of Greatness 

7. Inertia: The Enduring Lincoln

Conclusion

Appendices (A–K) 

Notes 

Index 

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