By Steven Viera
An exhibit celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address is currently featuring an essay by an F&M professor. The curators of the exhibit approached Louise Stevenson, professor of history and American studies, and asked her to write the essay as a result of her research into the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.
In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, located in Springfield, IL. is hosting an exhibit, entitled “272 Words,” commemorating President Lincoln’s speech. According to its website, the exhibit asks people to write an essay reflecting on some aspect of Lincoln’s life in only 272 words — the same number of words in the Gettysburg Address. People who have contributed essays to the exhibit include former president Jimmy Carter and director Steven Spielberg.
Carla Knorowski, CEO of the Library and Museum, invited Stevenson to write an essay as a result of Stevenson’s research into the global outlook of Lincoln’s presidency.
Stevenson feels she was asked to write an essay because of the unique focus of her work: While most scholars look at Lincoln through a domestic lens, she places him in an international context.
Stevenson, an historian who focuses on America in the 19th century, began her research of this topic four years ago while on sabbatical from the College.
“What got me started on this was finding out that the world responded to Lincoln’s assassination with so many outpourings of tribute,” she said, going on to list how countries like Argentina, England, Italy, and other nations remembered Lincoln. “So that got me curious. What had Lincoln done to inspire this outpouring of grief and support for his life?”
To conduct her research, Stevenson visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Library of Congress, the New York Historical Society, and the National Archives to uncover primary documents about Lincoln, such as letters, diaries, and a petition from the people of Birmingham, AL. to Lincoln that stretches over 22 feet long and contains over 12,000 signatures.
“The archivist told me [the petition] didn’t exist,” she said. “But because I’m a persistent researcher, he found it for me.”
As a result of her research, Stevenson uncovered a number of facts about Lincoln, including the reason why he grew a beard, his thoughts on issues of immigration and American exceptionalism, and much more. She plans to publish her research in a forthcoming book, Lincoln Thought Globally.
Stevenson is happy with the results of her research. According to her, this is the first time an historian has researched Lincoln as a global figure, and she feels it has the potential to provide a much more complete image of America’s 16th president.
“You aren’t seeing the whole Lincoln if you don’t understand him as a complex, somewhat cosmopolitan individual,” Stevenson said. “So, it gives a much fuller picture of him.”
Sophomore Steven Viera is the News Editor. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.