ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE FORGE OF NATIONAL MEMORY by Barry Schwartz

ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE FORGE OF NATIONAL MEMORY

KIRKUS REVIEW

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, and race relations 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)

Pub Date: July 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-226-74197-4
Page count: 360pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2000




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