Louise Stevenson is Professor of History and American Studies at Franklin & Marshall College. This interview is based on her new book, Lincoln in the Atlantic World (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
JF: What led you to write Lincoln in the Atlantic World?
LS: After reading Ellen Fitzpatrick's collection of responses to President John Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Letters to Jackie (2010), I began to wonder how people had reacted to Lincoln's death in 1865. I knew that Merrill D. Peterson had investigated responses from the U.S. to his assassination; so I turned to responses from abroad. Checking first with the Library of Congress, its librarians reported that they had nothing besides a letter from Queen Victoria to Mary Todd Lincoln. Next I called the curator of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. He responded enthusiastically and said that he had been waiting for years to be asked that question. The wonderful documents in Springfield provided a springboard for research. The more I looked the more I discovered. Lincoln had responded to prompts from around the globe to shape his political positions and policies and more astoundingly his personal appearance.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Lincoln in the Atlantic World?
LS: The book argues that our understanding of Lincoln as a man, a politician, and president remains incomplete until we understand how he situated himself within the Atlantic world of republicanism. Understanding him as a transnational thinker, politician, and national leader sheds new light on his support for gradual and compensated emancipation as well as his administration's immigration policies.
JF: Why do we need to read Lincoln in the Atlantic World?
LS: Currently we appreciate Lincoln as a brilliant politician, careful thinker, and national leader. The book adds another dimension to our understanding. As it constructs a more globally minded and cosmopolitan Lincoln, we encounter revisionist interpretations of his policies. Who knew that he enjoyed "Our American Cousin," the play during which he was shot, because of its criticism of the British aristocracy and praise of the American "common man."
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American Historian?
LS: Before I was an American historian in college, I was a European historian. History seemed like an ideal field for creative thinkers because it allowed one to consider all sorts of fascinating evidence: texts, statistics, visuals, and material culture. This Lincoln book consults many of these sources. For me, history is intellectually challenging and that challenge is fun.
JF: What is your next project?
LS: Currently, I am preparing to give some Lincoln lectures this year, including one at the Lincoln Presidential Library on his birthday. Additionally, I am starting to extend my understanding of Lincoln's influence to other portions of the globe.
JF: Thanks, Louise!
And thanks to Abby Blakeney for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner