Sunday, April 22, 2007

Getting the story correct

Friday I walked around Washington, D.C. and visited many, many monuments. Some I had seen several times before, while some (like the memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt) were new to me.

Under the Lincoln Memorial is a small exhibit about the events that have occurred at the memorial and a small exhibit about President Lincoln. As I read the quotes, I heard a woman near me become disheartened when she read this quote (pictured here). We are taught to believe that Lincoln freed slaves in the South during the Civil War because he believed it was the correct thing to do. Although he did not believe in slavery, his real goal was to save the Union (the United States) which was being torn in two. He finally freed the slaves as a way of destroying the South economically so it could not secede.

It is said that the winners write history. And sometimes history is re-written a bit (or details dropped) in order to improve the story. However, we should strive to get the stories correct, even if we don't like all of the details.

As you work on your digitization programs, please remember to tell the complete stories. Although you may not like some of the details, your users will thank you for your honestly.

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Mitch said...

I hadn't seen this plaque before, but I'm glad it's finally up because I've been telling people things like this for years. Thanks for posting the picture.

Anonymous said...

By all means be correct, but make sure it really is correct and not just a flawed revision based on a limited or uninformed view. Parts of a quote taken out of a letter cannot do justice to the great man and the struggles that he was faced with.

If you have not read Horace Greeley's editorial and Lincoln's full response to that, you will not understand the context of the quote. To understand the full context of his views, you must look at the almost 30 years of his statements on slavery, freedom, the Union, and the duties of the President.

It is very clear that Lincoln was actively against slavery. It is also very clear that the particular question before him was not slavery, but the preservation of the Union.

It is unfortunate that someone chose portions of a quote that seems to convey the opposite of what Lincoln believed and completely ignores the constitutional and legal questions that Lincoln was concerned with.

So be correct, but be complete.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Chris, the exhibit contained many quotes, but very little background information to put them into context. I knew context that the woman (who was becoming disheartened) did not know, which I was able to give to her. So the exhibit opens eyes, but could do a better job.

My point, though, is that we forget --or are not told -- the real context of his actions. We tell only part of the story. My hope is that -- as we build our digitization programs -- will will try to tell more of the story and build the context that people need.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the link to that page, I hadn't seen it before. I thought it gave a good view of Lincoln's feelings, though there are some quotes from Lincoln I would have added. My favorite is: "Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

I would have also added, that at that time there was a different understanding of states' rights and federal power than there is today, and that his views should be seen in this context. Too bad the exhibit could not have included more. I found the National Park Service website useful.

Thanks so much for your blog!