Researching & Writing Lincoln

Written by Dale Ogden, chief curator of cultural history at the Indiana State Museum

With the portion of the spectacular Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection that is to be housed at Indiana State Museum (finally) home, we’ve dramatically shifted gears. After being consumed by the effort to acquire the collection for 16 months, we can now dive into the artifacts and get our hands dirty … metaphorically, of course. Yes Jane/Cindy, I wear my white gloves, religiously. I am not a Philistine.

Thousands of prints, engravings, framed artworks, sheet music, sculpture and 3-D artifacts have been unpacked and temporarily re-stored. Jeana, Meredith and others in Collections Management have been cataloging items for the February exhibition and Conservation has been looking for condition issues. I am, however, the one who gets to have all the fun.

We have about half the time I’d like to have to put the exhibit together, so I’m writing furiously. I enjoy writing, so it’s not a chore, but exhibit labels have their own challenges. Unlike a book, or even an article, you don’t have the luxury of wandering. Limited to 25 to 200 word snippets, you’re pretty much restricted to “Just The Facts, Ma’am.” It’s still fun, though. So far, I’m up to about 6,500 words worth of snippets.

The Internet has made secondary research much simpler — if more dangerous. There are a lot of “experts” out there, and if you’re not careful you can end up with some pretty creative historical interpretations. I think I may have come to the conclusion that Lincoln shot JFK. You also need to avoid having a search for Gettysburg lead to an article on General Lee, that moves you to hit a site on Ambrose Burnside that leads to an entry on sideburns, that calls up an interesting piece on the popularity of barbershop quartets in Iran, that reminds you that you always wondered why …

Shoot, I was going to say something about all the local news promos we’ve been doing lately, and about how my kids think I’m a hero — “yeah, my dad says he’s getting tired of being on TV all the time,” and about how it’s good to be famous, and about … except I’m 150 words over my limit. Maybe next time.

Editor’s Note: Watch one of Dale’s TV spots – this one with FOX59!

The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection was given to the State of Indiana in December 2008 by the Lincoln Financial Foundation. The Indiana State Museum is home to the historic objects and art while most of the books, documents and photographs reside at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne.

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