The Primary Source Librarian

Dedicated to Excellence in Teaching with Primary Sources

The Lincoln Bicentennial–Start Planning Now!

Just in case you’ve missed the big news, the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth will be celebrated in 2009. What teachable moments! I’m starting to notice lots of excellent exhibits and teaching ideas centered on the event. Here are a few examples, and I hope to pass on more in the weeks to come:

The National Portrait Gallery opened a new exhibit on November 6 called “The Mask of Lincoln.” The online portrait exhibit begins with an introduction, then moves on through “The Rise of Lincoln,” “The Civil War,” and “Lincoln’s Contemporaries.” You and your students can also take an audio tour of the exhibit. You can listen to the audio explanations on the Web site, or you can download the audio to MP3 players. You can even call the listed phone number from a cell phone to hear the audio! The information is pretty basic, so it’s appropriate for several student levels, although not glitzy or filled with multimedia.

Want to learn more about bicentennial Lincoln exhibitions and events at all of the Smithsonian museums? You’ll find exhibits at the American Art Museum, the National Museum of American History, the National Postal Museum, and others. If you’re lucky enough to live near Washington, D.C., you’ll find numerous Lincoln bicentennial events, from lectures to exhibits to a reenactment of the second Lincoln Inaugural Ball of 1865 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (its original location).

Actually, what I’d really like to see at the Lincoln Inaugural Ball reenactment is the special exhibition entitled “The Honor of Your Company is Requested: Lincoln 2.0 Inaugural Ball,” with its rarely seen engravings and artifacts. Of course, it would also be fun to see all the party goers in circa-1865 Victorian costumes. $175 of the $375 ticket price is tax deductible because it goes to The American Experience Foundation, a 501c3 public charity. In affiliation with Destination DC, the Foundation is “committed to developing national programs…to educate the public about the arts, culture, American democracy, and the unique heritage of Washington, DC.”

While I’m on the topic of inaugurations, check out the “I Do Solemnly Swear: Presidential Inaugurations” collection at the Library of Congress for great materials to supplement learning about the January 20, 2009 presidential inauguration. The collection includes six special presentations, along with digital files relating to inaugurations from George Washington’s in 1789 to George W. Bush’s inauguration of 2001–

This presentation includes diaries and letters of presidents and of those who witnessed inaugurations, handwritten drafts of inaugural addresses, broadsides, inaugural tickets and programs, prints, photographs, and sheet music.

Returning to the Lincoln Bicentennial, be sure to look at the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, too:

Treasures include Lincoln’s draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, his March 4, 1865, draft of his second Inaugural Address, and his August 23, 1864, memorandum expressing his expectation of being defeated for re-election in the upcoming presidential contest.

Lincoln Carte de Visite

Abraham Lincoln, 1865
Alexander Gardner, Albumen Silver Print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


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