Just after his death, Abraham Lincoln was hailed as a luminary, martyr, and divine messenger. We wondered if using digital tools to analyze a digitized collection of elegiac sermons might uncover patterns or new insights about his memorialization.Context
Nearly 150 years after his death, Abraham Lincoln’s presence in American culture still looms large. Lincoln’s bicentennial in 2009 generated scores of publications, debates, commemorative celebrations, and a federal commission. Current President Barack Obama is fond of quoting Lincoln in his speeches. Most recently, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation coincided with the release of Steven Spielberg’s biopic “Lincoln,” which earned $173 million in 2012 and was nominated for 12 Academy Awards.
Lincoln has become an everyman, called upon to represent freedom, equality, compromise, tenacity, and humanness. As historian Eric Foner has noted, political figures “from conservatives to communists, civil rights activists to segregationists, have claimed him as their own.” This project explores some of the earliest interpretations of the late President’s legacy using 57 sermons that were given after Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865.
We explored the power and possibility of four digital tools—MALLET, Voyant, Paper Machines, and Viewshare. MALLET, Paper Machines, and Voyant all examine text. They show how words are arranged in texts, their frequency, and their proximity. Voyant and Paper Machines also allow users to make visualizations of word patterns. Viewshare allows users to create timelines, maps, and charts of bodies of material. In this project, we wanted to experiment with understanding what these tools, which are in part created to reveal, could and could not show us in a small, but rich corpus. What we have produced is an exploration of the possibilities and the constraints of these tools as applied to this collection.
Explore the digital collection, The Martyred President: Sermons Given on the Assassination of President Lincoln.