Last week I drove down Interstate 81 into the Cumberland Gap to give the annual Kincaid Lecture at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. I had never been to this part of Tennessee before and it was a beautiful day for driving. (I also had my satellite radio tuned to channel 20–E Street Radio!). The university is located adjacent to Cumberland Gap National Park.
I had never heard of Lincoln Memorial University before Tom Mackie, the Director of the Lincoln Library and Museum, invited me to visit. My lecture was titled “The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origins of Christian America.” It focused on the creation of the American Bible Society, the role of benevolent associations and Christian reform movements in antebellum America, and the American Bible Society’s attempt to supply a Bible to every American family and do it in two years (1829-1831).
Lincoln Memorial University has a fascinating history. As its website notes:
Lincoln Memorial University grew out of love and respect for Abraham Lincoln and today honors his name, values, and spirit. As the legend goes, in 1863 Lincoln suggested to General O. O. Howard, a Union Army officer, that when the Civil War ended he hoped General Howard would organize a great university for the people of this area.
Mackie runs a museum and library that contains the largest collection of Lincoln artifacts in the country and some important archival collections of prominent figures from the 19th-century. During my tour of the library I got to see Lincoln’s cane, English china that Lincoln purchased in 1858, a traveling exhibit on Lincoln and the Constitution, a piece of Lincoln’s hair, porcelain vases created to promote the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, every picture of Lincoln ever taken, and a bunch of ephemera commemorating Lincoln’s death and legacy. Mackie is completing a doctoral dissertation on this ephemera that situates Lincolnalia in the fields of memory, material culture, and dime store museums. It is going to make a great book.