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?
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?
MH: 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.