Historian: Obama will affect how we remember Lincoln on the 200th anniversary

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The connections between presidents Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln define Obama’s image today, but these associations also influence how Lincoln will continue to be remembered, says a Purdue University historian.

“Lincoln, who was born 200 years ago on Feb. 12, is known as a great speechwriter, thinker and consensus builder,” says Caroline E. Janney, an assistant professor of history who studies Civil War memorials and remembrance. “While people are watching how Obama is following Lincoln, many may not realize that today’s president is shaping the way we remember the 16th president. Memory is always crafted by its contemporary context.”

abraham-lincoln-625

Janney says one type of memory is called the collective memory. Collective memory refers to the ways in which different groups reconstruct the past by adapting historical facts to fit the present. When individuals look to the past, or their perceived sense of past, they often create a sense of community. For example, white southerners may still look to their region’s Confederate history to create a common bond, while those from Illinois may refer to themselves as from the “land of Lincoln.” They use the past to create a community among people in the present.

Using historical facts to fill in the needs of the present in reconstructing the past creates a collective memory. For example, how people from the North and South remember Lincoln differs, and those differences, when expressed in each region’s monuments and memorials, create a sense of community for those who share a common past, she says.

“Obama has consciously constructed his connections to Lincoln from announcing his campaign in Springfield to using Lincoln’s Bible during the inauguration,” Janney says. “Obama and his staff are hoping to use the nation’s collective memory to set the tone for this administration.

“The way Lincoln’s image is used will affect how we remember Lincoln. In the celebration of his 200th birthday, it will be interesting to see what celebrations focus on and what images from 2009 will carry forward.”

Another type of memory is contested memory. Historians agree that memory isn’t something that just happens, but it’s creating something by determining what should be omitted or included in the historical record.

“Two prominent ways Lincoln is remembered are as the great emancipator and as a rugged frontiersman who was a self-made man,” she says. “But these perceptions are contested. Some historians argue that slaves emancipated themselves and Lincoln was not the key force in their freedom. Others try to dispel the image of him as frontiersman who educated himself because he was part of a middle-class family and he married a woman from a slave-holding family.”

Who contests these characteristics depends on the time and the group, Janney says.

“People are going to remember different things during different points of history,” Janney says. “Even if this year was not the 200th anniversary, national healing is still important because our nation has been so polarized in recent years. Of course, this is nothing like the 1860s, but it’s always helpful to look at the past to see what we can learn from it.”

Janney is writing about the memory of Lincoln in an upcoming Civil War series that will be published by the University of North Carolina Press to mark the 150th anniversary of the war. She also is author of the book “Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause.”

In Related News:

One Response to “Historian: Obama will affect how we remember Lincoln on the 200th anniversary”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Caroline E. Janney “Historian: Obama will affect how we remember Lincoln on the 200th anniversary”: “Lincoln, who was born 200 years ago on Feb. 12, is known as a great speechwriter, thinker and consensus builder,” says Caroline E. Janney, an assistant professor of history who studies Civil War memorials and remembrance. “While people are watching how Obama is following Lincoln, many may not realize that today’s president is shaping the way we remember the 16th president. Memory is always crafted by its contemporary context.” “Obama has consciously constructed his connections to Lincoln from announcing his campaign in Springfield to using Lincoln’s Bible during the inauguration. Obama and his staff are hoping to use the nation’s collective memory to set the tone for this administration. The way Lincoln’s image is used will affect how we remember Lincoln. In the celebration of his 200th birthday, it will be interesting to see what celebrations focus on and what images from 2009 will carry forward.” “Two prominent ways Lincoln is remembered are as the great emancipator and as a rugged frontiersman who was a self-made man. But these perceptions are contested. Some historians argue that slaves emancipated themselves and Lincoln was not the key force in their freedom. Others try to dispel the image of him as frontiersman who educated himself because he was part of a middle-class family and he married a woman from a slave-holding family.” “People are going to remember different things during different points of history. Even if this year was not the 200th anniversary, national healing is still important because our nation has been so polarized in recent years. Of course, this is nothing like the 1860s, but it’s always helpful to look at the past to see what we can learn from it.” – Lafayette Online, 2-11-09 […]


Greater Lafayette Community Calendar

 September 2018
SMTWTFS
2627282930311
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30123456