Lincoln Review: Devin Hunter

A Lincoln statue, on Lincoln Avenue, in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, in the Land of Lincoln. (Flickr/Brad Heird)

In this five-part series, Lakefront Historian contributors respond to the critically acclaimed blockbuster Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis.

Lincoln as Challenge and Opportunity for Public Historians

Like all texts, Steven  Spielberg’s Lincoln should be critiqued on several levels. Film scholars will analyze the script and cinematography, while popular press movie critics will judge the work as both a creative and commercial product. Being a historical film, Lincoln has also attracted the attention of academic scholars. But what about Lincoln as a piece of public history? And what are its implications for public historians? These are no easy questions–and their answers can easily morph into an unwieldy meta-narrative of aesthetics, commercial production, and speculation on reception. Here, I offer a just an introduction to the public history context of Lincoln and encourage any expansion or complications of these impressions in comments below.

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Lincoln Review: Will Ippen

In this five-part series, Lakefront Historian contributors respond to the critically acclaimed blockbuster Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis.

Lincoln: Public History in Hollywood

Once again a heavyweight filmmaker and a well-selected ensemble cast tackle a defining subject in American history. Once again a blockbuster forces me to reconcile the critical eye of historical training with the evangelical impulses inherent to public history. Hollywood historical fiction is a mixed blessing for public historians in an era when most Americans engage the past through popular entertainment rather than monographs or museums and tend to trust the judgment of respected filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg. Historical blockbusters expose large crowds to important historical subjects, but their biographical and narrative-driven format imposes interpretive choices that all too often minimize the film’s utility as public history. The substantial shortcomings in Lincoln, which my fellow reviewers discuss aptly, result from the genre’s conventions. My main objections include the surprising lack of African American perspectives and agency and the perpetuation of history as emanating from the words and deeds of elites.

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Lincoln Review: Rachel Boyle

In this five-part series, Lakefront Historian contributors respond to the critically acclaimed blockbuster Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis.

Spielberg’s Lincoln

The opening shots were so promising.  A pan of Civil War carnage preceded any mention of Abraham Lincoln.  African American soldiers stood before The Great Emancipator and called him to task on the problem of wage inequality.  Then Lincoln subdued them with a charming anecdote, thus setting the tone of the rest of the film.  In the subsequent two and half hours, a thoroughly endearing Abe ambled through a world of rhetorical and ethical dilemmas, mesmerizing everyone with his storytelling and lawyering skills.  Indeed, Spielberg’s Lincoln succeeded as a comedic drama of white politicians debating slavery while effectively silencing other nineteenth century voices.

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Lincoln Review: Courtney M. Baxter

In this five-part series, Lakefront Historian contributors respond to the critically acclaimed blockbuster Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis.

Memory and Reimagining in Lincoln

As I walked into the movie theater to see Steven Spielberg’s newest movie Lincoln, I was struck by the audience in the packed theater. An audience of silver-haired White people filled nearly every seat. It came as a shock to me considering my location in a Chicagoland suburb where the residents are mostly Black and Latino Americans.  Eventually, along with my family and me, a few Black people trickled in (also of an older crowd).  It was a stark sight to see and I considered the topic of Lincoln and the memory of the man. Who was Abraham Lincoln to this audience?  I cannot presume to fully know.

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Around the Web (October 2012)

Periodically, a Lakefront Historian contributor surveys recent public history-related content that emerges on the Internet.  In this installment, Anne E. Cullen shares pop cultural videos, Facebook happenings, and a recent public radio controversy raising significant questions about oral history practice. Follow  The Lakefront Historian on Twitter (@LakefrontHist) for news updates as they happen.

  • Did you see the Lincoln Unite trailer that premiered during the latest Presidential Debate on October 3, 2012? What did you think of the trailer and the choice to air it during a presidential debate?
  • On the quirky design tumblr Branding the Presidents of the United States, the creator captures the character of each president with historic photographs and fonts.
  • If you’re a new public historian in the Chicago area, make sure to join the Facebook group “Chicago Emerging Museum Professionals” by clicking here.

teddy roosevelt

  • Have you heard about the recent controversy surrounding the interview of Eng Yang, a Hmong immigrant living in Minnesota,  by Robert Krulwich, RadioLab co-host? The Minnesota Public Radio News blog provides some thoughtful commentary in addition to sharing both a clip of the interview and the entire segment that aired on RadioLab on September 24, 2012.  The incident forces us to think about the politics of power, popular memory, and the relationship between interviewer and intervewee that lie at the heart of oral history theory and methodology.  Read Kao Kalia Yang’s response to the incident (the niece of Eng Yang who also served as translator of the interview in question) by clicking here.
  • PERIODS. is a critically acclaimed comedy film series that, among other things, reimagines the past in a variety of hilarious ways.

The Rachels Review “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (Part I – Rachel Lewis)

Rachel Lewis and Rachel Boyle share the same first name and many courses at Loyola University Chicago.  Rarely do they share the same perspective on historical topics.  In this installment, the Rachels provide two distinct reviews of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as a work of cinematic public history.

Spoiler Alert: Some plot points are discussed in this review. If you want to be surprised by the movie, read no further.

When I first saw the previews for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter I was, in fact, excited. How could I not be? It has our 16th president, explosions, and vampire blood being splattered about. As a rule, I try to avoid historical movies; they are just too upsetting for me as a historian. For this movie, however, I was willing to ignore my rule about “historical” movies. I really wanted to enjoy this one.

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The Rachels Review “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (Part II – Rachel Boyle)

Rachel Lewis and Rachel Boyle share the same first name and many courses at Loyola University Chicago.  Rarely do they share the same perspective on historical topics.  In this installment, the Rachels provide two distinct reviews of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as a work of cinematic public history.

“History prefers legends to men” – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that I have very limited knowledge of vampire mythology.  I am still unclear about how to kill a vampire.  Do you shoot them in the heart with a silver bullet? Cut off their head? Nervously bite your lip until they succumb to your wiles?  Judging from the way Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter treats the historical record, I suspect the film plays fast and loose with the rules of vampire hunting as well.  Therefore, I will not be evaluating Abraham Lincoln in terms of adherence to the rules of vampirology or historical accuracy.  I am most interested in dissecting the internal logic of this film and the implications for the public’s memory of Abraham Lincoln and nineteenth century United States history.

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Around the Web (May 2012)

Periodically, a Lakefront Historian contributor surveys recent public history-related news that emerges on the Internet. In this installment of “Around the Web,” Rachel Boyle highlights new columns, blogs, and posts that exemplify public history online.  She also anticipates the opening of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Follow The Lakefront Historian on Twitter (@LakefrontHist) for news updates as they happen.

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