Letters to the Editor 5/11/17
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PROGRESS ON THE PAPERS
In the April 13 Illinois Times, Alan Lowe, the recently hired director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, said this of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln scholarly editing project: “[T]here has been no product for 17 years.”
As a professional historian who spent 20 years at the Papers, the last seven as assistant director, I can tell you that Mr. Lowe’s comment is not merely false, but outrageous. It is a lie and a slander against the work that my colleagues and I conducted at the project during those 17 years. It is shocking that Mr. Lowe has the audacity to suggest that the editors of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln spent 17 years twiddling their thumbs, that 17 project editors with Ph.Ds in history and 16 with MAs in history did “nothing” since 2000. Mr. Lowe is either engaged in some revisionist history that better suits his own agenda for the Papers or he is grossly misinformed about the success and achievements of the Papers over the past 17 years.
For what reason does Mr. Lowe discount a 2,000-page, four-volume book edition, published by the University of Virginia Press and honored as an Illinois State Historical Society’s Book of the Year? What about two mini-selective editions the project published during that time period? What about the exceptional curriculum magazine on Lincoln’s law practice, the edited book of essays written by staff and published by the University of Illinois Press, and 59 quarterly issues of The Lincoln Editor that were jam-packed with historical content, document transcriptions and annotation? Does Mr. Lowe believe that the online publication of the very popular “The Lincoln Log,” the online publication of The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln, Second Edition, and the digitization and online publication of the Sangamo Journal from the Lincoln era are not worthy accomplishments during his alleged 17-year nadir? And does Mr. Lowe really define the online publication of high-resolution digital images of the more than 80,000 documents that project editors located and scanned at the Library of Congress and the National Archives in the last 10 years as “nothing?”
Does Mr. Lowe seriously believe that the National Endowment for the Humanities would have awarded the Papers of Abraham Lincoln $1.3 million in grants if the staff was sitting around doing nothing all those years? Or that the National Historical Publications and Records Commission would have awarded their own $1.3 million in grants if project editors did not meet annual performance goals they promised in their peer-reviewed grant proposals? Did the Abraham Lincoln Association, the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, Amazon Web Services, the Cromwell Foundation, the Illinois Bar Foundation, the Illinois State Library, the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, the University of Illinois Springfield, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and many others waste their money funding the Papers during that time when the project published “nothing?”
Mr. Lowe’s statement that the Papers produced “nothing” and his assertion that the project failed to protect and promote the legacy of Abraham Lincoln is insulting to all of the professional historians and editors at the Papers from 2000 to today. It is insulting to all of the federal and private funders who supported the Papers during that time. It is insulting to the truth. While Mr. Lowe may see himself as arriving in Springfield on a white horse to save the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, the Papers did not need saving by him or by anyone else. On the contrary, from 2000 up until Mr. Lowe’s unjustified removal of the project director and myself in November 2016, the Papers was a productive and successful scholarly editing project. It published an impressive amount of scholarly work, rivaling, and in many instances surpassing, the pace of other editing projects. It built long-running support of federal and private funders, Civil War historians, Lincoln scholars, the Archivist of the United States, and the general public. During those 17 years, the Papers was a “path-breaking,” preeminent editing project. And no one, not even Alan Lowe and his hostile revision of the history of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln can change the truth.
Please consider this a formal request to the Illinois Times for a published retraction of Mr. Lowe’s demonstrably false and defamatory comments about the exceptional contributions that I and many other dedicated historians have made to the Papers of Abraham Lincoln since 2000. If only the damage he and his ilk are doing to Lincoln’s legacy could be so easily retracted.
Dr. Stacy Pratt McDermott
Historian, author, editor