February 12, 2009, marked the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. In anticipation of this event, the annual U.S. Embassy Teacher Academy, hosted by the U.S. Embassy, Berlin, from October 2 to 5, 2008 in Potsdam, explored the implications of his presidency on the United States and the world in terms of nation building, democratic development, race relations and civil rights.
The life of Abraham Lincoln coincided with dramatic societal transformations that shaped the future of the United States. In the center of these developments stood the question whether that nation could continue to grow with the system of slavery or not. Inherently linked to an issue that almost dissolved the nation was the problem of racism and the future of race relations after emancipation. To examine Lincoln’s attitudes on slavery and race opens a window for us to look at his own struggles concerning these issues, but at the same time at the political and cultural contentions at large of a nation that he helped to save as President during the American Civil War. His legacy as the Great Emancipator, liberating over four million slaves, has generated a controversial debate on Lincoln’s position towards race and racism.
Evangelical religion and evangelical democracy reinforced each other in nineteenth-century America. The spread of evangelical Christianity and democracy across a continent justified the wars against Native Americans and Mexico, and provided the moral framework for the fight against slavery which many Americans came to see as incompatible with Protestant Christianity and democratic government. The problem with mixing religion and politics in this manner was that political issues became moral issues and, therefore, more difficult to deal with in the political process.
Abraham Lincoln’s image in American school books has reflected the shifting political and social landscape of American society. Following Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, textbooks for the next half century portrayed him as a martyr for a mostly evangelical Protestant nation and as a role model for African Americans. The centennial of Lincoln’s birth in 1909 and the massive immigration during the first two decades of the twentieth century broadened the image of Lincoln in textbooks as a common man and an inspiration for American diversity.
Even after more than 140 years the American Civil War continues to serve as a major source of inspiration for a plethora of literature in various genres. While only amounting to a brief period in American history in terms of years, this war has proved to be one of the central moments for defining the American nation since the second half of the nineteenth century. The facets of the Civil War, its protagonists, places, events, and political, social and cultural underpinnings seem to hold an ongoing fascination for both academic studies and fictional representations. Thus, it has been considered by many the most written-about war in the United States.
Abraham Lincoln has constantly moved among and stirred Americans in the common, shifting ground of their popular, visual, and digital imagination. Nowadays, Lincoln is larger than the sum of his parts. This is due partly to his own prismatic personality, partly to his political genius, partly to the special needs of the American nation and its people. If Lincoln did not exist, someone, somehow, would have tried to construct a representative figure who came close to the mark of what the Civil War, the fight for the Union, the failure of Secession, the liberty of the slaves and the material-spiritual expansion of America meant. But Lincoln existed. Lincoln hit the target. Here was witness, cause, martyr and lodestone all packed into one.
This essay offers an overview of adaptation, an initiation for the educated reader who is not a communications or film specialist. It will reference “The Social and Cultural Construction of Abraham Lincoln in U.S. Movies and on U.S. TV”—but mainly with an eye to the larger issue of cinematographic adaptation itself.
An end product is the result of a process. The design, construction, and use of books and movies depend each upon the particular dynamics of how they come into existence. Here is an outline of how they are made.
If one wishes to understand the causes of the Civil War and the development that led to the Emancipation Proclamation, it is imperative to understand the role of slavery in the nineteenth-century United States. One possible way of preparing students for this episode in American history is by viewing a movie that deals with the topic of slavery both from an emotional and a legal point of view. The movie Amistad includes both aspects.
Apart from encouraging an innumerable quantity of scholarly works and projects, the subject matter of Lincoln’s Legacy has also produced an increasing amount of online ventures and digital resource collections. The Lincoln Pathfinder aims to provide a quick guide to these Web sites and to initiate a debate, likely to take place in the EFL classroom. Divided into five categories—general, primary, secondary, visual, and teaching resources—the Lincoln Pathfinder may function as a helpful research tool and a basis of discussion.