Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America


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History James W. Made in America Claude S. By the s, Abraham Lincoln had transcended the lingering controversies of the Civil War to become a secular saint, honored in North and South alike for his steadfast leadership in crisis. The decades following World War II brought radical changes to American culture, changes that led to the diminishing of all heroes—Lincoln not least among them. As Schwartz explains, growing sympathy for the plight of racial minorities, disenchantment with the American state, the lessening of patriotism in the wake of the Vietnam War, and an intensifying celebration of diversity, all contributed to a culture in which neither Lincoln nor any single person could be a heroic symbol for all Americans.

Paradoxically, however, the very culture that made Lincoln an object of indifference, questioning, criticism, and even ridicule was a culture of unprecedented beneficence and inclusion, where racial, ethnic, and religious groups treated one another more fairly and justly than ever before. Thus, as the prestige of the Great Emancipator shrank, his legacy of equality continued to flourish.

Can a new generation of Americans embrace again their epic past, including great leaders whom they know to be flawed? This book is about pages of content or so divided into several chapters. The author makes reference to a wide variety of works and there are a lot of appendices that help the reader make sense of the author's methodology.

There is a lot to appreciate about this book, even where one finds fault. For example, the author's discussion of works gives a broad context to the author's judgment of how Lincoln has been viewed at various times. Likewise, the author gives a good justification for his statistical methodology and provides a worthwhile explanation of it.

History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America

In addition to this, the author provides a multi-faceted view of Abraham Lincoln and demonstrates how most views of Lincoln are somewhat oversimplified by focusing on only one or a few of these facets, such as Lincoln as savior of the Union, Lincoln as Great Emancipator, Lincoln as self-made man, and so on. The main fault of this book is that the author views the decline of Lincoln's prestige in our present age of irony and cynicism as permanent.


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The author does not see a future age of heroism in which Lincoln's greatness will be seen in its proper context, but rather sees our own corrosive anti-heroism as continuing and deepening over time. It is for this facile and misguided view of historical inevitability that this book is to be faulted, and that error along with the turgid nature of the author's style are the main errors to be found here, unless the author can be faulted for his interest in the tawdry and superficial nature of a great deal of contemporary portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as well.

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About Barry Schwartz. Barry Schwartz. Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.


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Barry Schwartz is an American sociologist. He received his B. In , he received the William A. Since the early s, Schwartz has dedicated almost all his research to the problem of collective memory. His work affirms the perspectives of both realism and constructionism. The last, major, phase cannot be inferred from the first but is inextricably connected to it.

Like Blight, the Kunhardts traced a decline in public commitment to Lincoln's emancipation message and memory. But whereas Blight located the shift in a conscientious move toward regional white reconciliation, the Kunhardts say only vaguely that World War I led Americans to desire "Lincoln the Statesman" Schwartz made a much more wide-ranging and theoretically grounded case for quite a similar conclusion by showing how the Progressive generation found new uses for Lincoln as a symbol of inclusion for immigrants, as an example of state power for progressive reformers, and as a guide for both capitalists and socialists who saw in Lincoln both a confidence in open markets and a compassion for the working class.

In short, Lincoln became a symbol that helped forge a sense of American nationalism in the early twentieth century.

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Schwartz has been working on the second volume, Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era , for over a decade. The sophistication of his first volume combined with the intervening publication of some of his most tantalizing findings about Ann Rutledge and about Lincoln iconography have certainly primed the pump of reader interest in the rest of the story.

If the Kunhardts touch only lightly on other historiographical literature, Schwartz again digs in for a fight. In the first volume he challenged the then-dominant "politics of memory school" for overemphasizing the power of the conservative elite to manipulate popular opinion.

White Southerners Embrace Lincoln

In this round, Schwartz takes on the "new structural memory" that posits that memory can be collective only if it rests in symbols outside of individuals, such as places as argued by Pierre Nora , objects Richard Terdiman , or institutions Michael Schudson and Mary Douglas. Within the study of Lincoln's memory, Schwartz specifically targets Peterson's Lincoln in American Memory for examining the texts and symbols created by historians, writers, painters, sculptors, and architects while making "no effort to explain why different agents portray Lincoln in different ways, and whether these portrayals conform to what the average American believes about him" 3.

Schwartz's key to the beliefs of the average American—and the crux of his entire argument—rests in a series of public opinion surveys, from Gallup Polls conducted over the past 60 years in , , , , and to independent surveys conducted at the turn of the twenty-first century. Schwartz devotes several appendices to explaining soundly, I believe the survey methods, their limitations, and his efforts to compare disparate data sets. The result comes through clear and unmistakable: Over the second half of the twentieth century Lincoln's prestige fell, and his reputation transformed from being celebrated as the Savior of the Union to being conceived solely as the Great Emancipator.

Schwartz maps the decline and transition of Lincoln's memory onto a rigid generational outline in a sort of double helix that structures the book's development. Schwartz opens with a rich textual analysis of Lincoln's memory among the "G. Generation" of the s, from the deference displayed in asking "What Would Lincoln Do? Lincoln reached his apex in popular opinion during World War II when his experiences were invoked to give meaning to a new crisis, to orient and clarify the public need, and to inspire soldiers in war and comfort families in death.

During the cold war period from to , Lincoln's image leveled as the "Rights and Justice Generation" found useful comparisons in communism and slavery but grew increasingly preoccupied with civil rights.

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As the "Rebellious Generation" came of age after , Lincoln became pigeonholed as the Great Emancipator while his other attainments were forgotten. By the s, the "Uncommitted Generation" found itself awash in a postmodern culture of eroding authority and multiculturalism. In an era of "benign ridicule," Lincoln's esteem descended through changing presentations in school textbooks, decreasing visitation to historic sites, and such demeaning graphic representations of him wearing sunglasses or standing arm in arm with a flirtatious Marilyn Monroe.

Schwartz concludes with a final chapter on "Inertia" in which he makes a case that the collective weight of monuments, history, and the modern "Lincoln establishment" create a threshold of memory such that Lincoln will never entirely leave American culture. Schwartz makes a clear contribution to the study of Lincoln's memory in pushing Peterson, Blight, and the Kunhardts beyond artifacts, texts, and symbols into American politics, popular culture, and public opinion.

While it generally has been assumed that Lincoln's prestige declined—Peterson made the same observation—no one has so thoroughly documented the transition before. Chapters 2 on the s and 5 on the erosion of Lincoln's prestige present particularly nuanced pictures of the regional, racial, and ideological variations in Lincoln's memory—Southerners, blacks, and whites liked and disliked Lincoln for various reasons at various times and cannot be lumped into a simple "Anti-Lincoln tradition" or "Black image.

Within memory studies, the concept of inertia is a welcome addition to the longstanding dichotomous analytical categories of memory and amnesia. If Schwartz convincingly documents the transformation of Lincoln's reputation and the decline of his prestige, he is less persuasive in explaining the causes of the changes.

In what becomes a rather circular argument, Schwartz reasons that "the primary condition of Lincoln's descent is the fading of the concept of greatness itself" xii.

President Abraham Lincoln

Greatness, in turn, declined because of the great disruption of post-industrial society with its psycho-historical dislocation, tarnished idols, and the eroding acids of diversity and equality. This post-modern condition came about, as Lyotard argued, because humans abandoned grand narratives national for petit narratives local, communal, and individual.

Schwartz therefore concludes that "[t]he postmodern era is, plainly, a post-heroic era" The book's prose suffers an abrupt shift from Schwartz's compelling textual analysis in chapters 1 to 3 to a sound but more stiff elaboration of survey data in chapters 4 to 6. The book's editors seem to have ignored the absence of or purged entire footnotes necessary to document quoted newspaper articles 22, 70 , the works of D. Griffith 51 and Mario Cuomo —28 , David Blight's key work on Civil War memory , and the records of book acquisitions 26 and site visitor statistics used by Schwartz to make his case.

In the acknowledgements, Schwartz laid out his disciplinary pickets, as it were, to protect himself from methodological criticism by observing that the "Lincoln community" composed of "[m]ainly historians and political scientists" has "never invoked disciplinary privilege to dismiss sociological understandings of Lincoln and his legacy" xv. As someone with degrees in both sociology and history, I do want to comment briefly on his union of methodologies.

In his skillful use of public opinion surveys Schwartz brings a refreshing breath of air to what often become rather stuffy theoretical debates about collective memory. He compares survey results deftly and humbly acknowledges that they provide "no substitute" for the way narratives "frame individual experience" 4. He praises the surveys' open response sections for allowing Americans to speak about Lincoln "in their own words" yet, he quotes only briefly from those responses — In contrast to his sophisticated coding of survey responses, Schwartz compares the textbooks' content generically to conclude that they "move in the same direction" as the survey data More startlingly, especially in light of his earlier criticisms of theories of memory that overemphasize the power of the elite, Schwartz reasons that the textbooks "reveal most of what Americans learned about Lincoln's historical role" Educational researchers who used textbooks as sources are loath to grant so much authority to the books that students often hate and rarely read, preferring instead arguments that situate textbook reading within a wider "cultural curriculum.

These new contributions by Schwartz and the Kunhardts are welcome additions to our understanding of the story of "the ages. His categories suffuse Schwartz's work and give structure to the Kunhardts' chronicle. Second, the formerly narrow focus of historiography has been broadened to include written and visual sources, artifacts and artwork, statuary and survey results, and commemoration and culture.

http://ipdwew0030atl2.public.registeredsite.com/375563-track-tool.php Third, a broad consensus is emerging about a timeline for Lincoln's prestige that posits a rise after his death and a fall in the late twentieth century. The Kunhardts place the high-water mark at the centennial, Peterson thinks it came later in the s, and Schwartz puts the apex at World War II.


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  5. Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America
    Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America
    Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America
    Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America
    Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America
    Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America
    Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America
    Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America

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