Inaugurals, the Smithsonian and President Lincoln at 200

By January 17, 2009General

President-elect Obama has been consciously evoking the history, wisdom and train travels of Abraham Lincoln, entirely fitting for any President but especially so for an elected official from Illinois. The symbolism carries even more weight this year as 2009 is the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History thus focuses even more than usual on  Lincoln’s place in American history this year, with two exhibitions opening last week.

We made a quick run through the Lincoln galleries Friday afternoon — not too crowded given the temperatures in the teens outside — and found the exhibitions well-done, definitely targeted at a mass audience but still informative enough (almost).

The museum, which reopened in November after a two-year renovation, is the best of the Smithsonians in presenting the history of American industry and manufacturing, and we’ll get back to that. For now, if you’re in Washington, D.C., the Lincoln exhibits are well worth seeing.

Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life
Opens January 16, 2009
The life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln is brought to light with a re-examination of the unique and unparalleled collection of Lincoln artifacts and memorabilia held by the National Museum of American History. Each highlighted object will be augmented with personal stories told by Lincoln and the people who knew him best. The exhibition will showcase more than 60 historical treasures associated with Lincoln’s life, from an iron wedge he used to split wood in the early 1830s in New Salem, Illinois, to his iconic top hat he wore the night he was shot at Ford’s Theatre. Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life will tell a new and very intimate story of the nation’s 16th president.
Preview the exhibition with curator Harry Rubenstein.  >> Video

America’s New Birth of Freedom: Documents from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Opens January 16, 2009
This exhibition features ten rare and important documents on loan from the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois. These documents have become the cornerstone of current thinking on Lincoln and his legacy and will include a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. Also on view are letters expressing Lincoln’s views on emancipation and the conclusion of the Civil War, including Lincoln’s letter to James C. Conkling in which he makes his forceful defense of the Emancipation Proclamation, and his letter to Francis Blair on his unwavering demands for peace.  Through April 2009.

Andrew Ferguson, a Lincoln…scholar? no, fan…wrote a provocative review of the newly renovated museum in a December Weekly Standard, expressing delight at the new architecture but unhappiness with the continued “social history stupor.” An interesting piece, “The Past Isn’t What it Used to Be.”

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