The Author’s Corner with Martha Hodes

Martha Hodes is Professor of History at New York University. This interview is based on her new book, Mourning Lincoln (Yale University Press, February 2015).

JF: What led you to write Mourning Lincoln?

MH: I was in New York City on 9/11–it was the first day of NYU’s Fall semester, and I saw the second plane hit the tower on my way to class. I also have childhood memories of Kennedy’s assassination. I’ve been teaching the Civil War for nearly 25 years, and I wanted to know how people responded to Lincoln’s assassination on the level of everyday life. I wanted to know what those responses could tell us about the meaning of the Civil War and its aftermath.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Mourning Lincoln?

MH: Mourning Lincoln is a story about clashing visions of the nation’s future in the immediate aftermath of Union victory and Confederate defeat. In the end, African American mourners and their allies reached for the martyred Lincoln in order to uphold the most radical political outcome of the Civil War.

JF: Why do we need to read Mourning Lincoln?

MH: The story of Lincoln’s assassination has been told many times, but Mourning Lincoln tells that story in a new way–through hundreds of diaries, letters, and other personal writings. The book thus complicates the idea of a static “nation in mourning” and illuminates a key moment of intense conflict in the war’s aftermath.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

I was a double Religion and Political Theory major at Bowdoin College. While I was earning an MA in Religion at Harvard, I had a work-study job at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library for the History of Women. That changed my mind: I wanted to study and write about people’s lives, rather than dwell only in the realm of ideas.

JF: What is your next project?

MH: I have lunch, dinner, and coffee appointments with a series of writer-and-scholar friends to trade ideas on this very question.

JF: Can’t wait to hear what you all come up with! Thanks Martha!
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner