About Thematic Materials

In his years before the presidency Lincoln migrated westward, helped settle the frontier, worked the land, served in an Indian War, raised a family, and pondered religion, leaving a record that touches on main themes in American historical interpretation. While Lincoln biographers have ably documented these events, scholarship addressing these themes can place Lincoln's experiences in a wider historical context. Likewise, Lincoln's compelling story can help to make interpretations discussed in scholarly monographs come alive for a public audience.

In order to examine Lincoln's experiences in light of the literature of American history the Lincoln Project has set two goals. First, project staff members have worked to assemble a large database of primary source materials that extend beyond Abraham Lincoln's immediate experiences to include broader social, cultural and political events in Illinois and, in many cases, the nation. An example can help illustrate this initiative. As a young man Abraham Lincoln served in the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Instead of merely documenting Lincoln's few activities during this conflict, Lincoln/Net presents a larger, more detailed set of documents, maps, and other primary source materials that will allow site users to explore the conflict and its origins for themselves. These materials include first-person accounts of battles, but they also extend to public officials’ letters describing the political pressures and concerns behind the decision to call up the militia and prosecute the war to its end.

The presentation of primary source materials and Lincoln/Net's indexing and search technology can help users to probe the context in which Lincoln lived. But outside of a classroom environment, many site users may struggle to formulate historical questions and hypotheses to test in the databases, and be left asking "What should I search for?" Lincoln/Net brings historians’ findings and debates to the web in order to help its users answer this question. In addition to concise, chronologically oriented descriptions of Lincoln’s life before the presidency, Lincoln/Net also presents eight sets of thematic interpretive materials examining some of the major topics in American historical scholarship. These materials include discussions of African American history and American racial attitudes; economic development and labor; frontier settlement; law and society; Native American relations; political development; religion and culture; and women and gender roles.

All we have of the past that lies beyond individuals’ memories are the texts and other artifacts making up the historical record. We each interpret them for ourselves.

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