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July, 2019

CUA Celebrates Lincoln’s 200th Birthday With a Semester of Courses

By Maggie Master

Some of the students in the spring semester courses on Lincoln will visit his recently restored summer residence near CUA.

For President Lincoln’s 200th birthday, which America will be celebrating over the course of the next calendar year, CUA is planning more than just a birthday cake.

The university’s School of Arts and Sciences will commemorate the anniversary of the American hero’s birth with a multidisciplinary “Lincoln semester” that will offer students insight into the mind, accomplishments and legacy of the 16th president through the spectrum of graphic arts, history, literature, political science and film.

Five coordinated courses will examine Lincoln in history, politics and culture:

  • Abraham Lincoln in History and Memory, a history course;
  • Lincoln in Literature and Film, a media and English course;
  • The Legacy of Lincoln: American Art and Culture From 1809 to 1930, an art history course;
  • Lincoln and Political Leadership, a politics course; and
  • Lincoln’s Eloquence, a rhetoric course offered by the media studies department.

All five courses were developed especially for this themed semester by CUA professors, most of whom are experts on Lincoln, the Civil War, the Reconstruction or classic rhetoric. The courses are meant to work together, adding up to a depth of perspective on the 16th president. They are scheduled at different times so that students can enroll in more than one, or even take all five.

In addition to using Lincoln’s own speeches and writings, award-winning biographies about the president, and paintings, sculptures, photographs and films, the students will utilize the capital as their extended classroom. Nearly every course will rely heavily on field trips to local museums and monuments, including President Lincoln’s recently restored cottage on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Northwest Washington, D.C., located within walking distance of CUA’s campus. During his presidency, Lincoln and his family would spend their summers in that cottage to escape the heat and political wrangling of downtown D.C.

“We plan to make use of the greatest audiovisual aid that we have,” said L.R. Poos, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, referring to the classroom that is D.C. “Using the city as a major part of the students’ academic experience will be a theme of the Lincoln semester. This focused semester has offered our school the chance to not only be creative with the curriculum, but also best utilize our academic experts in the relevant fields, many of whom are also experts on our capital city. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for the students.”

The Courses at a Glance:
Glen Johnson, associate dean of undergraduate studies and a professor of English and media studies, will teach the course Lincoln in Literature and Film, and will start off the semester by examining Walt Whitman's poetry, particularly one of his elegies for Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd.” Students will read the poem in conjunction with biographical materials about Lincoln and Whitman and historical accounts of such events as the journey of the Lincoln funeral train. They will also study films including D.W. Griffith's “Abraham Lincoln” and some sections of his “Birth of a Nation,” as well as more-recent movies that explore Lincoln’s presidency.

Lincoln and Political Leadership, the course designed by Associate Professor and politics department chair Philip Henderson, will focus on Lincoln’s development as a leader, examining his days as a state legislator in Springfield, Ill., his term in Congress, and his campaigns for the U.S. Senate and presidency, with detailed attention given to his time as president. Readings for the course will include Harvard historian David Donald’s award-winning biography Lincoln, and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Stephen McKenna, associate professor and chair of the media studies department, says that Lincoln’s Eloquence, a course which will survey Lincoln’s accomplishments as a writer and public speaker, is timely even beyond this bicentennial year. “It's almost startling to think that in an era of mass electronic media and 24-hour news, people still turn to speeches, of all antiquated things, to get a grasp on their political world,” McKenna says. “Lincoln gets cited as often as any other candidate or president as being exceptionally gifted in his use of well-timed and well-tuned words, not just to get things done but to take the measure of historical moments in the canniest of ways.”

The course will revisit the president’s career as a writer and speaker, in part simply to savor his rhetorical brilliance, but also to try to understand what it can teach students about the relation between eloquence and leadership even in today’s political climate.
 
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art History Lisa Lipinski’s course, The Legacy of Lincoln: American Art and Culture From 1809 to 1930, will offer an in-depth exploration of American art and culture beginning with the year of Lincoln’s birth and culminating with the flowering of African-American art and literature during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. The course will focus on the visual arts but will also cover American music as it developed during and after the Civil War.

Associate Professor of History Stephen West created his course, Abraham Lincoln in History and Memory, as an outgrowth of an existing course on Civil War-era America. The new course will explore Lincoln’s life and presidency, but also the public memory of who he was and what he did. By reading historians’ accounts as well as the words of Lincoln and his contemporaries, students will examine his multiple roles as lawyer and politician; as wartime executive and commander in chief; and as public orator and man of ideas. Students will also study how successive generations have commemorated his presidency and made him such a potent symbol for the meaning and promise of America.



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