Mourning Lincoln announced as 2016 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize winner

Everyone remembers where they were when they heard about the September 11 attacks.

Almost forty years earlier, the same could be said for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

For Martha Hodes, Professor of History at New York University, public reactions to national tragedies like these made her question how people responded to the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.


“I was in New York City on September 11, 2001, and I remember the moment of Kennedy’s assassination from my childhood,” said Hodes. “As a historian of the Civil War era, and as someone who lived through those two transformative events, I wanted to know not only what happened when people heard the news of Lincoln’s death, but also what those responses meant—Union and Confederate, black and white, soldiers and civilians, men and women, rich and poor, the well-known and the unknown. “

Those questions led to years of in-depth research in Civil War era diaries, letters, and other personal writings. The result was Mourning Lincoln, a major book that brings to life the hours, days, and weeks after the assassination of a president whose legacy was still to be determined.

In recognition of her work’s accomplishments, Hodes has been selected as the winner of the 2016 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize. A ceremony will be held on April 21 in New York City, during which Hodes will be recognized and receive the $50,000 prize, in addition to a bronze replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' life-size bust “Lincoln the Man.”

“To get a telephone call from James Basker one January evening seemed like a dream,” recalled Hodes. “As someone who has studied and taught the Civil War for 25 years, the Lincoln Prize affirms the import of imparting that knowledge to students and readers.”

Gilder Lehrman Institute President James G. Basker is one of the six Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize Board members who decided this year’s winner. In addition to Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, principals of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York and co-creators of the Gilder Lehrman Collection, other board members include Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs ’77, and Trustees Emeritus David LeVan ’68 and H. Scott Higgins ’67.

Hodes was recommended to the board by a three-person jury, which consisted of Harold Holzer, Jonathan F. Fanton Director of The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York City; James Oakes, Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; and Susannah Ural, Charles W. Moorman Distinguished Alumni Professor of the Humanities and co-director of the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society in the history department at the University of Southern Mississippi. The jury read a total of 132 books submitted for the 2016 Prize.

In addition to citing Hodes’s book, the jury recommended six additional finalists, whose books will also be acknowledged at the April 21 Lincoln Prize award dinner.  They are: Michael Anderegg for Lincoln and Shakespeare (University of Kansas Press);  Eric Foner for Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (W. W. Norton); Richard Wightman Fox for Lincoln’s Body: A Cultural History (W. W. Norton); Earl J. Hess for Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Command, and Small-Unit Effectiveness (LSU Press); Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell for Lincoln and the Jews (St. Martin’s); and John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier for Picturing Frederick Douglass: An  Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American (W. W. Norton).


In their report to the board, Holzer, Oakes, and Ural wrote, “Mourning Lincoln is a stunning and enlightening work that underscores the rage that Lincoln’s assassination fueled, the outpouring of grief that resulted, and how the anger and confusion that boiled across the country that summer influenced the failures of Reconstruction.”

The thoughtful scholarship that the jury commended is one of the many aspects of the work that Riggs was quick to recognize, as well.

“Gettysburg College is once again honored to partner with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in recognizing a truly extraordinary piece of scholarship,” said Riggs. “Mourning Lincoln provides an intimate portrait of the immediate reactions of blacks and whites, northerners and southerners, to Lincoln’s assassination—reactions that ranged from grief to delight. Martha Hodes weaves together her thorough research into a fascinating read that illuminates this tumultuous time in America’s history.”

Likewise, Basker appreciates how Hodes’s narrative brings to life a defining moment in our nation’s history.

“It is books like Mourning Lincoln that make colossal historic events seem real, give them a human dimension with which we can all connect,” said Basker. “Professor Hodes writes beautifully, the many stories she tells are by turns illuminating, touching, and shocking, and the overall impact of her book is very powerful. It is a compelling read for specialists and general readers alike."

In the end, though, Hodes stresses that what readers can take away from her book extends beyond the immediate reaction to a national tragedy.

“Personal responses to Lincoln’s assassination tell a larger story about American history,” Hodes said. “The assassination provoked responses that were deeply intertwined with irreconcilable visions. Black freedom, the fate of former Confederates, and the future of the nation were at stake for all Americans, whether they grieved or rejoiced when they heard the news. Because the meaning of the Civil War remains unresolved, we continue to ponder Lincoln’s legacies into the 21st century.”

About Martha Hodes

Martha Hodes is Professor of History at New York University, and has taught as a Visiting Professor at Princeton University and a Fulbright Senior Lecturer in Germany. She holds degrees from Bowdoin College, Harvard University, and Princeton University.

In addition to Mourning Lincoln, Professor Hodes is the author of The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century (W.W. Norton, 2006), a finalist for the Lincoln Prize, and White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (Yale University Press, 1997), winner of the Allan Nevins Prize for Literary Distinction in the Writing of History. She is also the editor of a collection of essays, Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History. Her books have earned strong reviews, both in scholarly journals and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement.

Professor Hodes has been awarded numerous fellowships and has presented her scholarship across the United States, in Europe, and Australia. She serves as a consultant for documentary and feature films, television and radio shows, and museum exhibitions on many aspects of American history.

About the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize

The Lincoln Prize is awarded annually by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American history to a piece of work that enhances the general public’s understanding of the Civil War era.

The Prize was co-founded in 1990 by businessmen and philanthropists Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, co-chairmen of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York and co-creators of the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the largest private archives of documents and artifacts in the nation. The Institute is devoted to history education, supporting history theme schools, teacher training, digital archives, curriculum development, exhibitions and publications, and the national History Teacher of the Year Award program.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Kasey Varner, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6806

Posted: Fri, 12 Feb 2016

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