Cover image for Abraham Lincoln and the forge of national memory
Abraham Lincoln and the forge of national memory
Schwartz, Barry, 1938-
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Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xiii, 367 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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E457.2 .S38 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Abraham Lincoln has long dominated the pantheon of American presidents. From his lavish memorial in Washington and immortalization on Mount Rushmore, one might assume he was a national hero rather than a controversial president who came close to losing his 1864 bid for reelection. In Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory , Barry Schwartz aims at these contradictions in his study of Lincoln's reputation, from the president's death through the industrial revolution to his apotheosis during the Progressive Era and First World War.

Schwartz draws on a wide array of materials--painting and sculpture, popular magazines and school textbooks, newspapers and oratory--to examine the role that Lincoln's memory has played in American life. He explains, for example, how dramatic funeral rites elevated Lincoln's reputation even while funeral eulogists questioned his presidential actions, and how his reputation diminished and grew over the next four decades. Schwartz links transformations of Lincoln's image to changes in the society. Commemorating Lincoln helped Americans to think about their country's development from a rural republic to an industrial democracy and to articulate the way economic and political reform, military power, ethnic and race relations, and nationalism enhanced their conception of themselves as one people.

Lincoln's memory assumed a double aspect of "mirror" and "lamp," acting at once as a reflection of the nation's concerns and an illumination of its ideals, and Schwartz offers a fascinating view of these two functions as they were realized in the commemorative symbols of an ever-widening circle of ethnic, religious, political, and regional communities. The first part of a study that will continue through the present, Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory is the story of how America has shaped its past selectively and imaginatively around images rooted in a real person whose character and achievements helped shape his country's future.

Author Notes

Barry Schwartz is a professor of sociology at the University of Georgia. He is the author or editor of four books, including George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol .

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

If this nation has a secular saint, Abraham Lincoln is it. In one of history's great ironies, a man with a high, squeaky voice who was often viewed as a bumbler by members of his own cabinet is now viewed as a master politician. A man who consistently stated his opposition to the social equality of "Africans" was frequently summoned as a rallying point during the civil rights agitation of the 1960s. Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Georgia, has previously examined the iconization of George Washington. Here, he tracks the steady, relentless evolution of the image of Lincoln in our national consciousness. He utilizes a variety of sources, including contemporary accounts, popular magazine articles, artistic renderings, and school textbooks. The intent is not to learn about Lincoln; rather, this is a largely successful and consistently interesting portrait of a changing nation that adopted Lincoln as a saintly symbol to meet its psychological needs and to justify a comforting image of its past. --Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

There have been many studies of Lincoln's life and how it has come to be perceived in the minds of Americans, the best being Merrill Peterson's Abraham Lincoln in American Memory (1994). Schwartz's scholarly account manages only to be a workman-like job of surveying the power of Lincoln's image since 1865. Unlike Peterson's user-friendly book, Schwartz's volume appears to have been written with an academic readership in mind: a scholarly dryness permeates the prose. Nevertheless, Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Georgia, hits all the important points on his way to a larger argument about memory and history. He contends that the common view of Lincoln changed over time alongside changes in national interests and priorities. In the Progressive era, for example, Lincoln was lauded as a common man who rose to the White House despite all obstacles; during the mid-20th-century civil rights struggle, on the other hand, he was known as the Great Emancipator. Lincoln buffs might protest that Schwartz then uses up too much space talking about the sociology of collective memory as represented in the work of scholars like Charles Horton Cooley and Emile DurkheimÄbut they'd be missing the point. Ultimately, this is not a book about Lincoln as a man or a symbol. It's a study that uses the American commemoration of Lincoln as a vehicle for studying the whims and whiles of national memory. As such, it is a success. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this work, Schwartz (sociology, Univ. of Georgia; George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol) examines the endless American fascination with Lincoln. This first installment of a projected two-part study chronicles the Great Emancipator's ever-changing image, from his 1865 assassination to the May 30, 1922, dedication day of his national monument in Washington, DC. The author charts the commemoration of Lincoln's life through analysis of eulogies and other hagiographies, monuments, shrines, statues, state portraits, historical paintings, prints, and centennial, sesquicentennial, and annual birthday observances. During the industrial and social revolutions of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, the rich complexities of Lincoln's life served as a unifying beacon to immigrants, Socialists, economic and social conservatives, African Americans, and even white Southerners. Following World War I, Lincoln assumed the mantle of "epic imagery." Schwartz puts it best in this final sentence of this profound study: "Lincoln...became America's universal manstanding beside the people and above the people." Although this highly provocative book is a major contribution to American social and intellectual history, its concentrated academic approach may have little appeal to general readers. Recommended for large public libraries and academic libraries.DJohn Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Schwartz, a sociologist, examines Lincoln's image after his death rather than exploring his life. Explicating Americans' "collective memory" of Lincoln through the early 20th century, the book complements Schwartz's George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol (CH, Nov'87), which focused on the 19th century. Ending this book in 1922, the author projects a second volume that will examine the rest of the 20th century. Schwartz argues that Lincoln's public image is an active creation that changes to suit prevailing social, cultural, and political demands. Progressive Era reformers used Lincoln's image to create a stronger activist state to accomplish national reforms. The author's method relies on sociological models of collective behavior rather than traditional historical analysis. The best historiographical approach to the subject remains Merrill Peterson's Lincoln in American Memory (CH, Oct'94), but this book represents a valuable companion that examines popular culture rather than scholarly interpretations of Lincoln's image. Crisp, engaging, and informative, the book extends the kind of visual analysis of Lincoln's 19th-century image perfected by Harold Holzer well into the 20th century. General readers and undergraduates may not appreciate the sociological constructs that scholars and graduate students will find valuable. K. Winkle; University of Nebraska at Lincoln

Table of Contents

Two Faces of Collective Memory
Part One Nineteenth Century
Symbolizing Nationhood
1 Death and Commemoration
2 Promoting Lincoln in the Late Nineteenth Century
Successes and Failures
Part Two Twentieth Century
Symbolizing Industrial Democracy
3 Lincoln and the Culture of Progressivism
Democratizing America
4 Lincoln, a Man of the People
Dignifying America
Part Three Twentieth Century
Symbolizing Unity
5 Lincoln and the Culture of Inclusion
Integrating America
6 Lincoln in World War I
Strengthening America
7 Two Lincolns
Symbolizing America Conclusion
Two Faces of Collective Memory
Refining the Discussion