Interview with Jacqueline Hogan - Author of Lincoln, Inc.
Abraham Lincoln is one of America's most iconic images. His image and life is used to teach to honesty and bravery. He is the image of freedom and steadfastness. He has become the biggest marketing ploy the nation has ever seen!
Never thought of it that way, have you? Well, Ms. Jacqueline Hogan has, and she has brought it to you in her book, Lincoln, Inc.
Ms. Hogan granted me an interview which I now share with you.
What brought your attention to how Abraham Lincoln's image was being used in the world today and how we have used it in the past?
All nations create stories and images that help bind citizens together--stories about our shared histories, stories about our values and virtues and achievements. I have been interested in such narratives of national belonging for many years. Perhaps this comes from the fact that I've lived in a number of different countries--the US, the UK, Japan and Australia--and I feel a sense of deep connection to each of them. So when I moved from Australia to Illinois a few years ago, I was immediately struck by the prominence of Lincoln's name and image here--on storefronts and public buildings, in advertisements and political speeches, at rallies and festivals. Lincoln was everywhere. As a sociologist, I started to ask myself why so many people use him in so many different ways. In the end, I concluded that the stories we tell ourselves about Lincoln are really stories about us--about who we think we are as a nation, and who we wish we could be.
Obviously, there was a lot of research you had to do. Where did you start?
I spent roughly three years researching the use of Lincoln's image in contemporary America. In the course of my research, I logged more than 8,000 miles visiting Lincoln sites, and spent countless hours exploring Lincoln museums, attending Lincoln events, interviewing Lincoln educators, analyzing Lincoln biographies, and delving into the wonderful world of Lincoln film and fiction. And yet I feel I have barely scratched the surface of the "Lincoln industry" in the US today.
Where did you find the most surprising information?
My most delightful surprise was in the fascinating realm of Lincoln film and fiction. Before I started this project, I had no clue that authors and film-makers were creating such wildly diverse Lincoln's--action hero Lincoln, heart-throb Lincoln, vampire hunter Lincoln, cyborg Lincoln, extraterrestrial Lincoln. Some people might see such representations as denigrating Lincoln's memory, but I'm inclined to see them as a reflection of our enduring respect and affection for him. He is so securely placed in our national esteem that we CAN play with his image in these ways.
What did you learn that really threw you for a loop?
I was more than a little shocked and disturbed to see how few women and African Americans feature in our stories of Lincoln. In biographies, in museums, in artworks, in classrooms, these groups receive very little coverage. It sometimes appears that Civil War era America was populated entirely by white military men and politicians. After seeing the numbers, I think we need to ask ourselves why such groups continue to be almost invisible in our national stories.
What is your goal now?
My work on Lincoln has led me to my new project, a book on the current "boom" in family history and genealogy. When I was a child, my grandmother traced our family tree and told me that we were related to Ann Rutledge (purported to have been Lincoln's first love). I haven't been able to find out yet whether that is true. But, like millions of Americans today, I feel compelled to trace my family roots. My current project asks why so many Americans have caught the genealogy "bug," and what we gain through the pursuit of our family roots.
What would you say to President Lincoln if could see him face to face now?
I think one of the reasons Lincoln has enjoyed such enduring popularity is that he died young, and without leaving us with a memoir or even a very detailed trail of writings documenting his unguarded thoughts and emotions. Because of that, people tend to project their own desires onto Lincoln, turning him into a kind of Rorschach tests for their fears and fantasies and agendas. So if I could talk with Lincoln today, I would ask him question after question to try to understand his position on some of the most pressing issues of his (and our) time--his views on race, on executive power, on civil rights, on religion, on war, on leadership, on justice. I think he would have a lot to say about the state of political discourse today, and about the way his name and image are used to legitimize positions and policies he never condoned. I can only smile when I think about the REAL Lincoln coming back to face all the imitation Lincolns that have been constructed over the years.
Thank You, Ms. Hogan
Thank you so much, Ms. Hogan. You have really helped me look at our 16th President in a different light and how we talk about him. He would be so surprised at what all his name is used for.
Check out my review of Lincoln, Inc.