Public Plenary: Andrew Ferguson, author of Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America
(Scroll down for a full video posting of Ferguson's talk.)
Having not realized this session started at 7:30 instead of 8:00, I unfortunately was only able to sit in on the last portion of the plenary. However, some poignant points were addressed: such as the important role great historical figures have on the presentation of history to the public and how to present history to the public. The first point was captured wonderfully with his example of a visitor laying a flower on Lincoln’s tomb. The man was from the former Czechoslovakia who learned of Lincoln as a child and then spent time in a concentration camp during WWII where a vision of Lincoln came to him stating “All men are created equal…” and that he just needed to remember this and he knew if he did, he would be all right. His visit to Lincoln’s grave was a thank you for this vision for it gave him the strength needed to survive. The history of this one man, Lincoln, impacted another man so greatly, he felt he owed a thank you to him in person. Which then brings up the second point, how to interpret these extraordinary people to the public in an effective way. Ferguson pointed out that most of history taught today focuses around movements and not the specific people behind them and felt that “history as presented to the public has to give itself over to the dramatic, the incident filled…that hooks people”. This now gets into the possible idea of Disnefying history-making the experience just as important as the message-a topic of many discussions in public history and museums for some time. So I pose the question can less be more-or is more really more? And how do you effectively evaluate the difference?