The Global Lincoln

July 3, 2009

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS CONFERENCE IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RHODES SCHOLARS.

You are invited to attend the "Global Lincoln" conference, which will assemble leading scholars from around the globe, as well as a keynote speaker from the world of international statesmanship. For more information, including how to register for the conference, please visit www.rai.ox.ac.uk/lincoln

After his death Abraham Lincoln became a global figure who spoke - and continues to speak - to peoples across the world. As the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George put it, Lincoln 'lost his nationality in death.' His political principles, his record of successful executive leadership in wartime, his role as the 'Great Emancipator', his resolute defence of popular government, and the perception of him as an exemplar of human brotherhood made him an international cult figure. Karl Marx judged him 'the single-minded son of the working class'; Cuban rebels invoked his name in support of their struggle for emancipation and self-government; Tolstoy reported his fame in the Caucasus; Tomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, drew strength as 'the Lincoln of Central Europe'; racially-mixed, republican 'Lincoln brigades' fought in the Spanish Civil War; more recently, Gordon Brown and Pervez Musharaf invoked Lincoln in support of their respective domestic agendas.

By 1900, works on Lincoln had been published in (sequentially) German, French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Spanish, Danish, Welsh, Hebrew, Russian, Norwegian, Finnish, Turkish, Swedish, and Japanese; and over the next twenty-five years or so the list had extended to embrace lives in Polish, Chinese, Czech, Arabic, Hungarian, Persian, Slovak, Armenian and Korean. After the Second World War, Lincoln continued to enjoy an international reputation, winning admirers among statesmen and ordinary people across Asia, Africa and Latin America. During and after the collapse of communism, he provided a democratic model for the Poles, the Baltic states, and others in eastern Europe.

The traction that Lincoln has had in these disparate regions, nations and contexts reveals that the story of his legacy is a global one. Lincoln's own intellectual and political horizons stretched across the nineteenth-century world. His conception of the Union as the 'last, best hope of earth' revealed his belief that the American Civil War constituted something larger than simply an American problem. The story of 'the Global Lincoln,' however, is more than just an examination of his views on international questions.

At its heart this project will explore what made Lincoln such a significant figure in these differing nations, contexts and eras. Papers delivered by leading intellectuals and public figures will examine the meanings which individuals and groups drew from Lincoln. The presenters also will consider the political exploitation of Lincoln's image and legacy in the specific contexts in which they were invoked. These themes will be explored in a variety of ways: through biographies of Lincoln written in other languages; analysis of the views individuals and political groupings held of Lincoln; examination of the creation of memorials, societies and other tributes to Lincoln.

The case studies will be specific to the time and place being assessed. However, they will be connected in a number of ways. First, interpretations of Lincoln crossed geographic and chronological boundaries. The conference and book will be thematically structured around the predominant images of Lincoln: the emancipator and liberator; the nationalist unifier and modernizer; and, the progressive and democrat. Second, Lincoln's international legacy is also the story of how an American was perceived not only as an embodiment of particular values and political principles, but also as a representative of a nation emerging as a world power. It is significant that Lincoln's popularity overseas coincided with the United States' emergence as a global power. Though Lincoln is not a central figure in the statecraft of American expansionism (indeed, his views on foreign policy are most notable for his opposition to the territorial expansion of the nation), his legacy nonetheless is crucial in understanding the United States' international history after 1865.