Thursday, April 15, 2010

Harold Holzer speaks in North Carolina

Got a chance to go and hear renown Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer at Appalachian State University a couple of nights ago. Holzer was originally scheduled to speak back in February, and one of our numerous winter snow storms kept him off the mountain. Holzer did a really good job, and spoke to a crowd of about 150 students, faculty, and a few community members (like me).

The title of Holzer’s talk was “Why Lincoln Matters—To History, To Our Presidents, and To Us.” Most of the talk centered around the “To Our Presidents” portion of the title. Holzer started out talking about how Ronald Reagan once misquoted Lincoln during a speech at a convention. Funny, he did not bring up how Obama did the same thing the other day. Oh well, the talk was good and lasted about an hour. Then came the follow-up questions, including one about the claims of some regarding North Carolina as the birthplace of Lincoln, and Holzer’s views of the recent “debate” regarding the Virginia governor’s Confederate History Month proclamation, which Holzer supports.

Then it was my turn (and I was the last question asker of the evening). My question: last year, C-Span, during the celebration of Lincoln’s birth, announced that there were 14,000 books on Lincoln: the short question is why, and the longer question, as a writer, as a historian, how do you sift through 14,000 books? Holzer, who has penned at least six Lincoln books himself, said he never really consulted anything after 1909.

Hmmm…. I’ll let you ponder that response.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Outstanding post and glad to hear that you were able to attend. My friend, while I am here in Texas I am sure missing out on some great meetings...

On to Lincoln. Exactly, 14,000 biographies? On the other hand, First Lady Mary Todd's cousin, John C. Breckinridge (later misspelled and even changed by many to Breckenridge), was a former Vice President, presidential candidate (ran against Lincoln), and prominent Confederate general, but has been honored with just one full-length work.

If one read just one Lincoln book per day, it would take more than 38 years to read them all (any takers?). Besides sifting through the glitter and glamour, what else is there to write about so-called "Honest" Abe? Obviously there is a demand and a wanting audience.

In the survey with the historians, from the C-Span interview that you mention, Lincoln easily was voted as our nation's "Greatest President," while George Washington, by a slight margin, snagged a distant second.

The victor enjoys elevating the Victor and slamming, for the most, the Defeated. Every war that our nation has fought has had that same historical mindset. I so enjoy reading both sides in order to grasp, as best as possible, balance, fairness and objectivity in each and every subject.

Matt Parker

Michael Hardy said...

Thanks for the post. I wonder if other Lincoln writers all have this “mentality?” i.e., I’m going to write about some aspect of Lincoln regardless of what has already been done. Why? Not because more needs to be done, but because Lincoln sells. I’ve heard this pasted around about Gettysburg – how much more needs to be written about that battle? I’m not sure, but it pales in comparison to the material about Lincoln. Interesting that Lincoln has 14,000 biographies. Robert E. Lee, on the other hand, has but 81 (and I have 54 of these). Also interesting is that I have an idea for a book on Lincoln that I believe that no one has ever done. Of course, not having all 14,000 volumes (I only have six), how could I be sure? No, I’ll probably never get to this idea.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hey Michael - The fact he stated he doesn't consult any sources after 1909 is quite intriguing - particularly since I hear so much admonition from academics to consult "more recent scholarship" when it comes to the study of Lee, Jackson, et al. Hmmm...

Glad to hear Holzer supports McDonnell's proclamation though. Somehow the news media missed that one. Do you have an exact (or close) quote on that?

Michael Hardy said...

Richard – thanks for the post. I don’t think I want to try and go as far as to “quote” Holzer. I did not really take any notes that evening. It just surprised me that he believed that his comments would be more supportive of McDonnell’s proclamation than that of his peers. We’ll see if that is the way it comes across when the magazine comes out.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I missed something Michael. What magazine are you referring to?

Michael Hardy said...

Upcoming issue of Civil War Times…