September 13, 1999
Volume 52, No. 4
'Lincoln Sermons' site online, preaching sad news from 1865
Three Emory offices have pooled their resources to offer a unique 21st century perspective on one of the most infamous events of the 19th century: "The Martyred President" is a new web site featuring 57 sermons delivered on the occasion of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
The project started last year when Pat Graham, director of Pitts Theology Library, and Jan Mohlhenrich, director of the University's Preservation Office, were discussing a collection Pitts had recently purchased of pamphlets containing the sermons. "They're in terrible shape," Mohlhenrich said. "They're very brittle, which means for anybody to use them, they'd really be damaging the material."
Normally fragile documents are preserved on microfilm for general use, but the two felt the content of these pamphlets was so unique that they deserved access more user-friendly than a headache-inducing microfilm reader. So they got together with Chuck Spornick, coordinator of the Beck Center for Electronic Collections and Services, and decided to create a web site.
"We probably have 100,000 embrittled items in our collection alone," Graham said. "It's very expensive to have these things microfilmed, so what we have to do is identify different groups of our materials along certain themes. With these sermons, you have a specific topic they're all dealing with, and the average length is about 25 pages. So this is a very manageable project."
The end result offers both scanned images of the actual pamphlet pages and searchable text files of the sermons themselves; the website is located at <http:// chaucer.library.emory.edu/ lincoln/>.
"It really was a true cross-campus partnership," Spornick said. "One of the things we're going to do on the site is give a description of how this was done because I think it's important to realize how many people were involved in a project like this."
Mohlhenrich said the site will be registered with Yahoo!, and Spornick added that the Beck Center, Pitts and the Preservation Office sites will all have a link to the new site.
Graham said he's already received numerous research requests for the material. "In the 18th and 19th centuries, sermons were a very popular genre; it's hard to imagine that in current circumstances, but back then there were hundreds and even thousands of these things printed," said Graham, adding that Pitts has more than 10,000 such sermons in its collection.
"They're often neglected by scholars, but these sermons are very interesting for a variety of different disciplines: interpretation of scripture, social history, gender studies, political events, social movements, etc.," he said.
Lincoln was shot on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, and died Saturday morning. Because newspapers were not published on Sundays, pastors would have been the first to deliver the news of Lincoln's death from the pulpit on Sunday morning. That means these sermons are the equivalent of "breaking news" for the mid-19th century.
"They're absolutely fascinating," Graham said. "For example, one was preached by a Unitarian missionary from Boston in South Carolina. There's also a sermon done by a woman, an extemporaneous address for a group of 3,000 in New York City."
"Pat and I looked at the original documents and said, 'This is a dissertation waiting to happen,'" Mohlhenrich said. "If only students could get a way to use it."
Now they have one.