Remembering Lincoln Progress Report: Project Planning Meeting

Note: As we proceed with our “Remembering Lincoln” online project, we’re going to post project updates here. One of our goals for this project is to make it a model for such projects in the future, and to be as transparent as we can about the planning process. So over the next year, we will blog about the project as it progresses. Many of our posts will highlight specific items, ways that different people can use the site, and periodic “progress reports,” like this below.

The week before Thanksgiving, we held a major planning meeting for our Remembering Lincoln online project. Over the course of two activity-filled days, we discussed the project with a group of advisors and partners, including:

Program Partners

Tobi Voigt, Chief Curatorial Officer, Detroit Historical Society

Kim Zablud, Special Collections Manager, DC Public Library

Lauren Algee, Librarian for Digital Projects, DC Public Library

Anne McDonough, Collections Manager, Historical Society of Washington, DC

Jason Crabill, Manager, Curatorial Services, Ohio Historical Society

Dr. Sharon Dean, Director of Museum and Library Services, Ohio Historical Society

Dr. Ed Pershey, Vice President, Collections and Exhibits, Western Reserve Historical Society

Advisors

Kim Fortney, Deputy Director, National History Day

Dr. David Goldfield, Robert Lee Bailey Professor of History, University of North Carolina-Charlotte

Dr. Martha Hodes, Professor of History, New York University and author of Mourning Lincoln: Personal Grief and the Meaning of the American Civil War (Yale UP: 2015)

Dr. Lorraine McConaghy, Public Historian, Seattle Museum of History and Industry, and curator of the Washington State Historical Society exhibition, Civil War Pathways

Dr. Robert Nelson, Professor of American Studies and Director, Digital Scholarship Lab, University of Richmond

Dr. Matthew Pinsker, Associate Professor of History, Dickinson College and Project Director of the House Divided Project

Jennifer Rosenfeld, Associate Director for Educational Projects, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University

Dr. Daniel Stowell, Director and Editor, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Jon Voss, Strategic Partnerships Director, HistoryPin

Consultants

Conny Graft, Audience Evaluation Consultant Gwydion Suilebhan, Digital Strategist

The purpose of these meetings was to set the project’s direction and get feedback on topics as broad as historical scope, audience engagement and web platform choice from a diverse group of advisors and partners. This range of professions and perspectives was intentional—we are seeking to create an online project that holds genuine appeal for a variety of audiences, as well as offering authentic historical value.

One of the big things that we decided was the historical scope of the project. As you can imagine, a project called Remembering Lincoln could be broad—really broad. A lot of people have remembered Lincoln in many ways in the nearly century and a half since his assassination.

Interior of Ford's Theatre following the Lincoln assassination (1865). Matthew Brady image courtesy National Park Service/ Ford's Theatre National Historic Site.

So that raised the question: Do we want to focus on the immediate aftermath of the assassination, or how Lincoln’s legacy has been created—and changed—through the decades? In the end, after some discussion, we chose to stick with the project’s original scope:  Collecting responses to the assassination from the 13 months after President Lincoln’s death. That way, the collection will cover the immediate impact, as well as seeing how people reacted on the first anniversary. This site will allow you to see how Lincoln’s legacy was formed in the early days after his death.

We’re intentionally keeping the type of item broad—we’d love diaries, letters, commemorative ribbons, newspaper articles, photographs—anything that shows how people responded to the assassination at that time.

We also decided that we want Remembering Lincoln to be broad both geographically and ethnically. Remembering Lincoln will be most useful if you can use the site to learn how diverse people in different places responded to the assassination. We’ll showcase some of these different reactions in future posts here.

Building a wide-ranging collection reflecting diverse voices doesn’t happen organically, though; it takes a real effort. So over the next few months, we are making efforts to reach out to potential partner historical organizations in different places, and those that represent different ethnic groups. We have received suggestions from our partners and advisors, and would like suggestions from all of you, as well!

Another one of our main questions was about audiences: Whom should this site aim to serve? In the end, we chose five main audiences:

Students, both K-12 and college Teachers, both K-12 and college Enthusiasts Scholars “General public”

Does this mean that if you don’t fall into these groups, you can’t use the site? Absolutely not. This is a common strategy in planning—to think about your audiences and how people might use what you produce. Doing this will make sure that the site is useful for many different people.

Design Phases

We also came to a consensus on the phases this project will take. Phase 1—the current phase—is for planning the site. Phase 2—beginning next October—is for building an online archive with exhibit and educational components. Phase 3—2015 – 2016—is for building very dynamic educational components.

Many decisions are still pending, and we look forward to working further with our advisors and partners to come to well-reasoned, thoughtful conclusions. After this meeting, we are very confident in the project’s success, thanks to the phenomenal people who have joined us on this adventure!

So, we’d like to thank all of our partners and advisors who made the trek here—some from their offices a few blocks away, some from the west coast. The discussions were provocative and fruitful.

I’ll look forward to sharing more of our progress as we move through this project. Questions and thoughts? Please don’t hesitate to contact me at rememberinglincoln@fords.org.

David McKenzie is Digital Projects Manager at Ford’s Theatre, coordinating the Remembering Lincoln online project.