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The Lincoln Memorial and American Life
Synopses & Reviews
Honoring perhaps the most celebrated and important president in history, the Lincoln Memorial is one of our most recognized national shrines. It seems impossible to envision the Mall in Washington, D.C. or national pageantry without it--yet the Lincoln Memorial was almost not built. From the project's inception, the memorial--a modified Greek temple designed by architect Henry Bacon--gave rise to charged cultural and aesthetic debate, including arguments about Modernism and Americanism. Christopher Thomas offers the first detailed analysis of Bacons design and the memorial as a system, including the statue of Lincoln by Daniel Chester French. Using extensive archival data, Thomas discusses just why the memorial looks as it does.
Because the idea of a memorial to Lincoln raised questions of race, the legacy of the Civil War, and lingering sectional animosities, the project sparked political debate between the legislative and executive branches of government and between political parties. Thomas traces the long and controversial path of the project, ranging from the immediate aftermath of the Civil War through the Progressive era, with its mix of novelty, racism, and imperialism. As he concentrates on the memorial's background, design, construction, reception, and uses--including the many public demonstrations for civil rights and justice that have taken place there--Thomas shows that the Lincoln Memorial is not a neutral symbol of America at all but a partisan and racially coded object, susceptible to appropriation and re-appropriation.
A valuable contribution to American studies, this book combines architecture and art history with American history and politics. It will appeal to scholars in these fields and to any general reader with an interest in Lincoln, the early twentieth century, and the monuments of our nation's capital.
"Using a detailed chronicling of historical events and a masterful writing style, Christopher Thomas has created a engaging reminder that architecture is a worldly art; one that is as much influenced by the complexities of the culture it serves as by the skills and talents of architects. Eschewing tiresome trends for narrowly focused, superficial, or purely theoretical examinations of our architectural icons, The Lincoln Memorial and American Life examines fifty-seven years of American life that influenced the creation of the Lincoln Memorial and the ensuing seventy-nine years during which the memorial has provided a site for transformative public rituals. The book gives the reader a rare but welcome glimpse of the politics, competitive intrigues, and self-interests that fused with altruism and the talents of architect Henry Bacon to give shape to one of our nation's most enduring memorials. Everyone interested in architecture and American culture will enjoy this book as much as I did."--James H. Boniface
"The Lincoln Memorial and American Life is engagingly written and is easy and fun to read. As the first synthetic study of one of the world's best known monuments, it is obviously an important contribution to American architectural and cultural history."--Kirk Savage, author of Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America
"Presenting abundant new information, this book places the Lincoln Memorial in accurate historical context. General readers as well as scholars will learn much from it, and will enjoy reading the author's clear, lively prose."--Carol Herselle Krinsky, New York University
Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.
About the Author
Christopher A. Thomas is Assistant Professor in the Department of History in Art at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: "Greatest American": A Memorial to Lincoln? 1
Chapter 2: 1902-1912: "What Shall the Lincoln Memorial Be?" 25
Chapter 3: Design: Tradition, Modernity, and Americanism 55
Chapter 4: Constructing the Memorial 100
Chapter 5: The Memorial in American Life 144
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