As some of you know, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is opening a new exhibit on March 24 exploring the Cubs/Cardinals rivalry. This has taken up nearly all of my work time since I became Research Historian in November. It’s been fun immersing myself in the histories of these two teams and collaborating with the Hall of Fame and the clubs themselves has been a lifetime thrill. However, as the opening gets closer, the same sorts of questions I get about my work on music are popping up: Why should baseball be in a museum exhibit? What does baseball have to do with Lincoln? Is baseball really history? I wish I could say these questions reflect genuine curiosity but they usually don’t. They’re almost always pejorative–a phenomenon we cultural historians deal with constantly. So, I decided to dust off the old blog and offer my thoughts on why sports history is very much worthy of historical consideration and exploration. Read More
I’m happy to announce that this week I started a new job as Research Historian for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. While I’ll miss my colleagues at The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, I’m delighted to enter a position that allows me to do more public history and help promote this amazing institution. I was involved with a few programs and exhibits at ALPLM during my time with the Papers (including the a very cool exhibit on the Cubs/Cardinals rivalry coming this spring), and it really opened my eyes to the potential for places like this to educate the public and spark interest in the past. It’ll be great doing that same kind of stuff full time. Read More
As many of you know, my office is located in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Those of you who know me well also know I was once a great admirer of Robert E. Lee. One of the best aspects of working at ALPLM is its vast cohort of enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers. Last year, I was invited to do an educational program for them on Jefferson Davis. I jumped at the chance and the program had a large and engaged audience. I got invited back this year and was able to pick whatever Lincoln-related topic I wanted, so I went with Robert E. Lee. This is a very personal choice given how my perspective on Lee has changed over the years but, unbeknownst to me until a few days ago, it has also proven to be a controversial choice among the volunteers themselves and not in the way you might think. Apparently, many people around here are concerned about how Lee iconography is currently under assault in places like New Orleans and Charlottesville. Having written the talk two weeks ago, I’m now wondering how much I should tailor it to this new context and what that says about my own feelings about the man and his image. Read More
Last night, while you guys were watching the worst/greatest debate intro in history, I was attending a piano concert at Edwards Place here in Springfield. It commemorated the recent restoration of the Edwards Family piano, which the patriarch, Ninian Edwards, acquired sometime in the 1830s. Mary Todd was a relative of the family and stayed with them when she moved to town. Lincoln also came into their orbit as a rising young lawyer. Mary and Abraham would have frequently heard the piano during their courtship and it likely provided the music for their wedding. The instrument had been unplayable until a recent kickstarter raised enough money to restore it. I did a small part to help by co-authoring this newspaper article with the home’s curator Erika Holst on 19th Century parlor piano culture. This is how I got invited to the premiere performance. For someone interested in Lincoln and historical music, it was a double whammy and sparked a couple of thoughts I want to share here.
I’ve only lived in three places in the United States and it’s been a strange coincidence that two of them were fixated on historical figures. Upon moving to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I quickly discovered that images of storied Crimson Tide football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, were near inescapable. Go to the bank, the doctor’s office, even McDonalds, and there would be the Bear–usually squinting off to the horizon, seemingly contemplating his next national championship or victory over Auburn. I now view this as rehearsal for life in Springfield, Illinois, which boasts the most famous American in history as a former resident. Abraham Lincoln is everywhere in this town and, in part, the very engine that keeps it running (sorry state government, you’re a distant second). The message I received as a foreigner and a newcomer in both places was clear: either be part of this cult of personality or be an outsider. Read More