The Lincoln Memorial and American Life

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Honoring perhaps the most celebrated and important president in history, the Lincoln Memorial is one of our most recognized national shrines. It seems impossible to envision the Mall in Washington, D.C. or national pageantry without it—yet the Lincoln Memorial was almost not built. From the project's inception, the memorial—a modified Greek temple designed by architect Henry Bacon—gave rise to charged cultural and aesthetic debate, including arguments about Modernism and Americanism. Christopher Thomas offers the...

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Overview

Honoring perhaps the most celebrated and important president in history, the Lincoln Memorial is one of our most recognized national shrines. It seems impossible to envision the Mall in Washington, D.C. or national pageantry without it—yet the Lincoln Memorial was almost not built. From the project's inception, the memorial—a modified Greek temple designed by architect Henry Bacon—gave rise to charged cultural and aesthetic debate, including arguments about Modernism and Americanism. Christopher Thomas offers the first detailed analysis of Bacon’s design and the memorial as a system, including the statue of Lincoln by Daniel Chester French. Using extensive archival data, Thomas discusses just why the memorial looks as it does.

Because the idea of a memorial to Lincoln raised questions of race, the legacy of the Civil War, and lingering sectional animosities, the project sparked political debate between the legislative and executive branches of government and between political parties. Thomas traces the long and controversial path of the project, ranging from the immediate aftermath of the Civil War through the Progressive era, with its mix of novelty, racism, and imperialism. As he concentrates on the memorial's background, design, construction, reception, and uses—including the many public demonstrations for civil rights and justice that have taken place there—Thomas shows that the Lincoln Memorial is not a neutral symbol of America at all but a partisan and racially coded object, susceptible to appropriation and re-appropriation.

A valuable contribution to American studies, this book combines architecture and art history with American history and politics. It will appeal to scholars in these fields and to any general reader with an interest in Lincoln, the early twentieth century, and the monuments of our nation's capital.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Thomas's lucid, revealing, and amply illustrated book gives a full-bodied history of the Lincoln Memorial, with an eye to the ways various political, social, architectural, and artistic interests claimed and used the memorial to push their own ideas about nation, race, aesthetics, and social justice."Library Journal

"A well-researched history of the Lincoln Memorial that takes into account the politics of commemoration as well as issues of aesthetics and design. . . . Students of architecture and design will especially appreciate Thomas's detailed treatment of architect Henry Bacon's evolving memorial design. Over 800 illustrations add interpretive value."Choice

"A trove of information on the design and building, and the human story behind the construction."—Kenneth Anderson, Times Literary Supplement

"[Thomas] presents his thoroughly researched, thoughtful, and thought-provoking study of a complex topic in an admirably concise and readable form: his book is exactly long enough to cover the subject. . . . [His] work deserves a broad readership."—Catherine Bishir, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

"Undoubtedly The Lincoln Memorial and American Life is the authoritative volume on all matters having to do with the Lincoln Memorial for the foreseeable future. . . . The finale of this book is worth the whole volume, being the definitive essay on the meaning of the memorial in American life."—Cynthia R. Field, The Public Historian

"A very fine study of the cultural politics surrounding the creation of one of the most important public monuments in the United States. . . . Christopher Thomas breaks much new ground in illuminating the context for the memorial's emergence and in the process makes his book required reading for students of the Civil War in American memory."—Paul E. Teed, Civil War History

Library Journal
Thomas's lucid, revealing, and amply illustrated book gives a full-bodied life history of the Lincoln Memorial, with an eye to the ways various political, social, architectural, and artistic interests claimed and used the memorial to push their own ideas about nation, race, aesthetics, and social justice. Thomas (history of art, Univ. of Victoria, British Columbia) looks at the whole of the memorial, including the inscribed tablets, murals, building, and even landscape and location on the Mall, to show how and why the memorial came to dominate the public imagination. In the process of conceiving and then building the project, as Thomas argues, the memorialized Lincoln moved from being the symbol of sectional reconciliation, to aggressive statesman in the Theodore Roosevelt mold, to emancipator and more. By the 1960s, the memorial had become the symbol for civil rights and human justice that went beyond party or any one person. Thomas devotes considerable attention to issues of design and appearance, all to good effect, in showing how "beauty" informed belief. The result is a book that gives life and meaning to the great marbled temple on the Mall and reminds us how contested "memory" was and can be. Highly recommended for all libraries. Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691011943
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2002
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 7.76 (w) x 10.30 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Table of Contents

Illustrations xi
Introduction xvii
Chapter 1: "Greatest American": A Memorial to Lincoln? 1
Chapter 2: 1902-1912: "What Shall the Lincoln Memorial Be?" 25
Chapter 3: Design: Tradition, Modernity, and Americanism 55
Chapter 4: Constructing the Memorial 100
Chapter 5: The Memorial in American Life 144
Notes 169
Bibliography 193
Index 207

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