Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Why Teach People History When You Can Sell It

There’s nothing like the latest technology and scholarly research method for creating a public repository of knowledge of national historical significance.  The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is just that, and the impact of forcing contemporary media upon the Abraham Lincoln mythology at the research center is quite overwhelming.  Especially since, as in the case of the Ghosts of the Library segment and the Union Theater presentation on the iconic nature of Lincoln, often times the over abundance of media was not so subtly used to shield the viewer from the lack of substance in the presentation.  Shocking as it may seem, there appeared greater profit motive in erecting this museum than public education motive.

            The holographic effects in the Library segment went to great dramatic effort in trying to rally the crowd to the importance of historical study.  While the use of media to advance the cause of history certainly seemed good to a double major in history and digital media such as my self, the scholarly side of me could not help but notice the abundance of flaws in the continuity of the script the actor recited.  Perhaps his purgatory was the historical library, because he had not yet mastered the basic things he must haunt. The choice to sensationalize Mary Todd Lincoln’s tragic life after the White House also seemed a tad unethical, somewhat disrespectful, and a bit unnecessary.  The spooky wax figure of her in the darkened alcove seemed like it was going to turn and cackle madly at any moment.  The only thing left out was a chance to go through the haunted White House and visit Lincoln's ghost in the Lincoln bedroom.  Maybe they do that for Halloween.

            The most damaging blow was watching the Union Theater presentation about how Lincoln has been mythologized in our history due to the overt iconic usage of his image to stand for ideals in United States hegemony.  This was quite eye-opening, and it did stand out as an actual attempt to separate man from myth.  However, the entire presentation was an ironic waste.  It ended with a collage of Lincoln images coming at you like the light tunnel at the beginning of the IMAX, and after we watched the show we had no choice but to leave the museum through the gift shop.  Surely a world-class example of everything you need to own to fully understand the 16th President, it offered everything from Abraham Lincoln chocolate, to talking action figures, to every sort of book – even Lincoln chess sets have been crafted.

It is quite time we realize that there are indeed some things which should be held somewhat sacred and with honor.  We do ourselves a disservice as a people when we consent to be marketed toward at every turn, even by our supposed educators.  Not necessarily history for history’s sake, but certainly not for petty profit, and certainly not at the expense of recognizing a man for a man instead of as an icon, good leader or no.