University hosts talk on Abraham Lincoln’s appearance, stature

By The Daily Illini staff report

The Center for Historical Interpretation will kick off its bicentennial lecture series with an in-depth discussion about the impact of President Lincoln’s body — in regards to his gawky appearance, tall stature and the ease in which he himself made fun of his looks — had on the way the public perceived the late president.  

The lecture, entitled “Taking the Measure of Lincoln’s Body, in Death and Life,” will be led by Richard Fox, history professor at the University of Southern California.

In 2015, Fox wrote the book “Lincoln’s Body: A Cultural History,” in which he delved deeper into the unique notion of the effects of Lincoln’s physical appearance.

Fox is the author of several other research-based, well-received works, including “Jesus in America and Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography.”

“We knew we wanted to feature Lincoln in our programming in some way,”said Robert Morrissey, associate professor in LAS, in an email. “Our history department has a long tradition of Lincoln scholars and expertise on the Civil War, and this lecture is a chance to call some attention to this period of history within our programming.”

Morrissey said he believes people live in a culture saturated with images. The talk will discuss the unusual and distinctive look of Lincoln and how it was deployed through time.

He believes students will be able to relate to the familiar story of Lincoln told in a new way.

“Because his life and career intersected with the invention of photography, many Americans knew what he looked like. In his time and afterwards people have attached a lot of meaning to his physical body and deployed his image to make arguments and to define causes,” Morrissey said.

He said students should attend Fox’s lecture because we should all know more about Lincoln.

“In our very visual age of selfies and Instagram, it’s interesting to think about how Lincoln deployed his own image and ‘look’ for political ends, and how others did that too,” he said.

The University will offer free admission to all those interested in the event, which will take place on Oct. 4 in the Knight Auditorium of Spurlock Museum.

“The lecture will be a very interesting and perhaps surprising way to look at Illinois’ most famous son,” he said.  

Richard Fox was unable to comment at the time of publication.

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