Lincoln Scholar Harold Holzer Teases His Upcoming Lecture at Gettysburg College

By Alex Andrioli ’17

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2016 Lincoln Lyceum speaker Harold Holzer. Photograph courtesy of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities.

Harold Holzerwinner of the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, will be delivering the 2016 Lincoln Lyceum lecture entitled Lincoln and the Press:  Master or Monster? 

Harold Holzer is one of the country’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era. A prolific writer and lecturer, and frequent guest on television and radio, Holzer has authored, co-authored, and edited more than 45 previous books on Lincoln and the Civil War. He recently retired from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where he was senior vice president for public affairs. He joined Roosevelt House in September 2015, where he directs academic programs for Hunter College undergraduates in public policy and human rights, and hosts public programs on history and current events.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be held on February 23, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. in CUB 260 at Gettysburg College. We hope to see you there!

ANDRIOLI:  As you discuss in your prize-winning Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion, Lincoln was not the beloved president that he is today. Many Northerners despised him as much as Southerners did. Based on your research for Lincoln and the Power of the Press, do you think Lincoln really earned the reputation of “Honest Abe”?

HOLZER:  Here is one Lincoln legend that I think is true.  Impressed by stories of George Washington’s unassailable honesty from his own boyhood on, Lincoln really did try to live up to the example so dramatically retold by Parson Weems in his early life of Washington.  Moreover, Lincoln worked off the debt he incurred when that book was damaged while in his possession! And we do have testimony from Lincoln’s early friends, relatives, and neighbors that he too was meticulously, almost obsessively honest—his wife said honesty was almost a “mania” with him (she should know!).  So the young man who always got asked to be the judge at tugs-of-war or wrestling matches, earned his way to the sobriquet that followed him through the 1860 presidential campaign—and while many of his unique traits were criticized during his White House years (including his love of humor and the theater), I don’t think anyone seriously questioned his honesty.  It was a virtue he wore proudly and a mantle he deserved. Continue reading “Lincoln Scholar Harold Holzer Teases His Upcoming Lecture at Gettysburg College”

Why Historic Houses Suck: An Anarchist’s Guide to the Unorthodox Museum

By Alex Andrioli ’18

Picture in your head a historic house museum that you have visited.

Did you picture Mt. Vernon or Monticello? How about the historic house that you grew up down the road from? Did images of antiques and display cases flash through your mind, or was it the velvet rope barriers, musty smell, creaky floorboards, and dusty signs? I bet a majority of these things popped into your head because that’s what many people remember after they leave a historic house museum. I know that I have! The historical value of the museum is short term, but the memory of a musty old home you visited once as a kid will last you a lifetime. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

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The Dyckman Farmhouse is a Dutch Colonial style farmhouse that was built around 1784 and still resides in the same location that is now Broadway & 204th Street on Manhattan Island in New York City. It opened as a museum in 1916 and is the last farmhouse in Manhattan. Photograph by the Historic American Buildings Survey, via the Library of Congress.

When historic house museums started popping up in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries their purpose was to educate immigrants about “American values and patriotic duties.” As the years went by and the surrounding communities changed, the museums stayed the same. As a result, historic house museums have been experiencing a steady decline in visitors and funding over the years. However, people like Franklin D. Vagnone and Deborah Ryan are on a mission to revive interest and relevance in these museums. Continue reading “Why Historic Houses Suck: An Anarchist’s Guide to the Unorthodox Museum”

George Washington: Hero of the Lost Cause

By Alex Andrioli ’18

George Washington was a revolutionary founding father. He served as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army through eight years of war, turned down the opportunity of becoming sovereign of the newly-formed United States, established the precedent for future presidents, and voluntarily stepped down from office after two terms. Though it took many men to conceive and found the United States of America, Washington is the poster child of the revolution and the spirit of 1776. Washington embodies the basic American spirit, so it is no wonder why both the North and South staked a claim on the “Father of our Country” as civil war loomed.

In times of devastating war, people often turn to something that gives them hope and strength to justify their cause to fight. During the American Civil War people looked to the heroes of the American Revolution because it was the “apex of heroism” that bestowed liberty onto the American people. Soldiers of the Civil War were sons and grandsons of the Revolutionaries who shared admiration in their beloved leader, George Washington, with their descendants. As a result, Washington’s lasting legacy forced him to campaign long after he took his dying breath.

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Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress. George Washington. 1890.

Continue reading “George Washington: Hero of the Lost Cause”

“A Foe as Dangerous as Armed Rebels”: A Review of Harold Holzer’s "Abraham Lincoln and the Power of the Press"

By Alex Andrioli ’18

The beauty of the history field is that we can build upon the foundations of our predecessors and continually improve how we remember and explore the past. This allows for historians to delve deep into a particular subject that is often overlooked, but still has powerful significance. Harold Holzer, the winner of the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, accomplishes such a task in his book, “Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion.”

Holzer pairs the familiar subject of Abraham Lincoln with the relatively unexplored relationship Lincoln possessed with the social media of the nineteenth century: the newspaper. Journalism was, and still is, a force to be reckoned with that could make or break a politician’s career. Politics and the press walk hand-in-hand, and Lincoln realized this. “Our government rests in public opinion,” Lincoln claimed. “Whoever can change public opinion can change the government.”

Beginning in the 1700’s, improved printing techniques and “political enthusiasm” brought about the wide popularity of newspapers. Politicians harnessed the “power of the press” to reach a larger audience and spread political beliefs. Papers that sided more with a particular politician or ideology attracted loyal readership and the funds of political parties. Holzer’s work illustrates the “vigorous, often vicious” world of the nineteenth century press that could “distort” the lens through which the public accessed and viewed politics. Continue reading ““A Foe as Dangerous as Armed Rebels”: A Review of Harold Holzer’s "Abraham Lincoln and the Power of the Press"”

Living History or LARPing? The Case of Vox’s Modern Victorians

By Alex Andrioli ’18

Sarah A. Chrisman and her husband, Gabriel, love the late Victorian era. Like many lovers of history, the Chrismans have a specific time period they enjoy studying more than others. For them, it’s the 1880s and 1890s. However, they take their research a little more seriously than most. They don’t just take their work home with them, they live their work.

In an article for Vox, Sarah Chrisman wrote, “Everything in our daily life is connected to our period of study, from the technologies we use to the ways we interact with the world.” She and her husband live in Port Townsend, Washington in a house that was built in 1888. They have replaced many modern appliances with “period-appropriate” appliances like the electric refrigerator that came with their house when they bought the property. They now have an icebox that they stock with block ice that dribbles into a drip tray that requires being emptied once or twice a day depending on the season. Along with this icebox, the Chrisman house is stocked with a mechanical clock that needs to be wound every day, fountain pens and ink, electric light bulbs that are based on the original patents of Edison and Tesla, oil lamps, mortars and pestles, a hairbrush that has a 130-year-old design, and toothbrushes that have natural boar bristles. These, among other items, are what make up the Chrismans’ Victorian paradise.

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An 1885 painting depicting a woman playing tennis in fashionable Victorian clothing. Did the woman in this painting have the same opinion of her clothing as Chrisman? “I became so accustomed to the presence and movements of my skirts, they started to send me little signals about my proximity to the objects around myself.” Painting by Sir John Lavery, via Wikimedia Commons. Sir John Lavery. “A Rally.” 1885.

Continue reading “Living History or LARPing? The Case of Vox’s Modern Victorians”

Discovering the Civil War through America’s First Rock Star

By Alex Andrioli ’18

He was rebellious, had attitude, and invented the iconic American sense of humor. He had a knack for addressing issues of his day with a simple eloquence that can be translated to fit our modern times. He made his claim to fame in 1865 and the world has known his name ever since. He wasn’t just an American, he was the American. His name was Mark Twain.

We remember him today as the riverboat captain-turned-humorist that authored the classic American novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but few know that before his fame he served as a Confederate soldier for a whopping two weeks during the American Civil War in 1861. But the war wasn’t just black and white, right and wrong, or Union versus Confederacy for Twain. His loyalties were split in twain, just like his identity in future years.

In this photo, Samuel Clemens (circa 1859, around 23 years old) appears as he would have during his two weeks of service in the Confederate army in 1861. Photo via Smithsonian Magazine.
In this photo, Samuel Clemens (circa 1859, around 23 years old) appears as he would have during his two weeks of service in the Confederate army in 1861. Photo via Smithsonian Magazine.

Continue reading “Discovering the Civil War through America’s First Rock Star”

Making History Relatable

By Alexandria Andrioli ‘18

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

Since beginning my internship at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, I have learned that interpretation is immensely important. It is not just about spouting out facts, dates, and figures at members of the general public who will probably never remember half of the stuff you tell them. National parks are about taking important and interesting material and making it relatable to the lives of the visitors that come to the park on a daily basis. Although Civil War emphatics deeply appreciate meticulous information, the average visitor wants more than just cold, hard facts. He/she wants to take something more meaningful away from his/her time spent at the park and this is where interpretation is key.

Dwight Pitcaithley addresses the idea of interpretation and the deeper meanings behind the significance of national parks (especially battlefield parks) in his work “A Cosmic Threat: The National Park Service Addresses the Causes of the Civil War.” In this essay, Pitcaithley explores the history of interpretation at NPS battlefield parks. When battlefields were first being preserved, their purpose was “to understand the military actions which took place there and to remember the men who fought there.” As Pitcaithley puts it, battlefields were to be “explained in detail” like “a chess game of war.” This idea was widely accepted, especially among the Civil War veterans who had fought these battles, because it sped up reconciliation between the men of the Blue and the Gray armies. Avoiding sensitive subjects that could easily reopen old wounds and focusing on common experiences shared between comrades and enemies alike was too tempting to resist. So naturally, parks that memorialized the battles and the soldiers of the Union and Confederacy did the same. “Any interpretation of the war, any mention of the war’s causes, or any mention of slavery” was dodged like the plague. Continue reading “Making History Relatable”