Project Reviews

Created and maintained by Drew E. VandeCreek and the Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University

Lincoln/Net aims to "examine Lincoln's experiences and context in detail, using the findings of professional historians to amplify Lincoln's story and shed light upon his social and political context." (About Scholarship) The audience for this project is the general public and especially students, groups underserved by academic historians in the view of the project's director, Drew VandeCreek. The website, a product of the Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project at Northern Illinois University, provides thousands of pages of fully searchable primary documents as well as interpretive material (text, narrated slideshows, and video) and lesson plans for teachers. It does not, however, advance a unique thesis or cite specific evidence to support an argument, placing it distinctly outside the traditional realm of historical scholarship.

Users can approach the information in several ways. A biography of Lincoln as well as thematic essays provide a basic narrative history including ones on African American history and race relations, labor and economic development, frontier settlement, law and society, relations with Native Americans, political development, religion and culture; and women and gender roles. These are helpful for those coming to the site with little background knowledge or direction. This interpretive work is not, however, presented in the typical scholarly format; it does not cite specific sources. Instead, the authors provide brief bibliographies of secondary sources from which, one presumes, the essays are derived. Under separate menu links, the user can find selected primary sources from the site's collection which relate to the essay topics, but these are not explicitly cited or connected to the narrative.

Likewise, the authors have selected some images from the collection to accompany the writing on each theme. These are also found under a separate link and are not directly connected to the text. Each image does come with a one paragraph explanation which is visible after an individual picture is selected from the thumbnail gallery. Additional images are available through the search option. A slideshow of images accompanied by an audio recording of each essay is also available, a potentially useful feature for presentation in grade 6-12 classrooms. Video recordings (most from 2 to 4 minutes in length) of scholars talking about the historical themes presented on this website are also included, adding information and interpretation that is not included in the text.

Those who arrive at the site with a specific question or topic in mind can skip the interpretive material and head straight for the search form. The Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project has collected and digitized over 4,300 documents relating to Illinois' early years of statehood (1818-1829) and to Lincoln's years in Illinois (1830-1861). Text items - which, unfortunately, are nearly all only transcriptions without a corresponding page image - can be accessed through a full-text search tool which allows the user to select between full concordance, keyword in context, or similarity options. Users can also employ bibliographic search criteria to limit results with predictable categories such as title and author but also fields such as gender, theme, or archival source which offer more unique options. The variety of search strategies available allows innovative approaches to the material.

Site layout and design are easily understandable and usable with menu options located in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. This remains consistent only until the user performs a search of the texts or selects a text document to view, at which point the user is transported to a "Northern Illinois University Libraries Digitization Projects" page displaying the search results. These library pages are also straightforward and easy to use, but standardizing the user interface throughout would add to the overall usability and clarity of the project.

Lincoln/Net offers a wealth of information and resources for teachers and students. The project has developed 15 lesson plans which make good use of the primary documents and other resources on the website. Links to the appropriate text documents or video segments are provided. In addition, pre-field trip resources are provided for Illinois teachers who are taking their classes to visit Springfield and/or New Salem. Students will find the site invaluable for research projects or general browsing. A quick sampling of the readability of the interpretive text shows Flesh-Kincaid readability scores primarily in the high school (9-12) range.

A link: search appears to confirm that this site is being used by its intended audience. The vast majority of results are links from within the library database of primary documents but the remainder, as one might expect from a website targeted to students and the general public, are from the websites of Lincoln enthusiasts or lists of history resources for students and teachers.

This reviewer agrees with the website's claim that "Lincoln's compelling story can help to make the interpretations discussed in scholarly monographs come alive for a public audience." (About Historical Narratives) Lincoln/Net is a great resource for teachers, students, and the general public interested in Lincoln or early Illinois history. The interpretive material provided is well-written and informative, but it does not go beyond the level of a general overview. The primary documents made available through this project are a potentially useful feature for professional historians, especially with the aid of the powerful search tool. This project could be strengthened greatly by using these artifacts to advance new arguments which might further our understanding of how Lincoln's worldview was shaped by his years in Illinois. This website does not, in its present form, advance the body of scholarship regarding either Abraham Lincoln or the state of Illinois, but it does make previous scholarship more accessible for the amateur historian.

Dustin Kipp
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: December 2009