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Abraham Lincoln and His Era – History 75200

This course explores the historical contexts of Abraham Lincoln, who is widely recognized as America’s greatest president and its central historical figure. Lincoln provides a unique inroad into understanding the United States, since he led the nation at the time of its greatest crisis and he absorbed social and cultural phenomena that had defined the nation from its inception. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, “He is the true history of the American people in his time…, the true representative of this continent…, [with] the pulse of twenty millions throbbing in his heart, the thought of their minds articulated by his tongue.” The course considers Lincoln as politician, commander in chief, orator, and popular icon. We read a broad array of his writings—speeches, debates, poems, letters—as well as contemporary observations of him by a variety of figures. We delve into the controversy over slavery waged by abolitionists, proslavery southerners, ethnographic scientists, and politicians and clergymen on both sides. Examining Lincoln and his contexts is an instructive exercise in cultural history, since he responded to a range of cultural currents and inspired revelatory commentary by an array of authors, including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Karl Marx, and Victor Hugo. The course also considers the perspectives of recent commentators on the Civil War era.


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