Abstract

In 1936, the great Lincoln historian J.G. Randall provocatively asked, "Has the Lincoln theme been exhausted?" At a moment when close to four thousand Lincoln titles were already in print, it seemed a sensible question, but Randall's answer was, counterintuitively, "no." An advocate of empirical, professional history, Randall lamented that the study of the sixteenth president had been dominated by amateurs. Lincoln, he argued, needed to be brought into the academy and subjected to rigorous research. Randall's summons did not go unheeded. Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, Lincoln attracted some of the most talented historians of the age, among them Richard Hofstadter, David Donald, Eric Foner, and James McPherson. The results were extraordinary. Donald produced what is still the best political biography of Lincoln to date. Foner situated Lincoln's Republican Party in a decades-long struggle over labor, slavery, and territorial expansion. And McPherson turned from finely grained histories of abolition to sweeping accounts of Lincoln's leadership in the first modern war. But as fine as post-Randall Lincoln scholarship was, it did not stanch the flow of new books. Although there is no accurate count, by best estimate about sixteen thousand titles have been published on the sixteenth president of the United States. For those strapped for time, the federally-funded Lincoln Bicentennial Commission compiled a list last year of 155 books that belong on the "essential Lincoln book shelf." Even if a mere 1 percent of the output on Lincoln is indispensable, it might be time, two hundred years after Lincoln's birth, to ask Randall's question again, but this time to answer it differently.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1946-0910
Print ISSN
0012-3846
Pages
pp. 107-110
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-07
Open Access
No
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