SOURCE: WSJ (4-19-11)
Yesterday, Eric Foner was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in History for his book “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.” Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, is the author of “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877,” among other books. “The Fiery Trial” focuses on Lincoln and his dealings with the issue of slavery. Speakeasy interviewed Foner via email shortly after his Pulitzer win was announced.
The Wall Street Journal: What will your Pulitzer Prize win mean for your career and future research?
Eric Foner: Of course it is a kind of public recognition that is very gratifying. I haven’t actually turned to my next project, and am not sure what it will be. I don’t think historians choose research projects with future prizes in mind.
There are so many books on Lincoln. What made you think you could write one that stood out from the pack?
Lincoln is a kind of touchstone of American identity. He seems to symbolize things we deem central to being American — the frontiersman, the man who rose from humble origins through hard work, the man who used political power for indisputably modern ends. So every generation seems to rediscover Lincoln in their own image and because he is so iconic every political tendency, from radical to conservative, civil rights advocate to segregationist, has claimed him as their own. Of course there are many fine works on Lincoln. I went into this project feeling that too much of the recent literature had become too self-referential — that is it focuses so intensely on Lincoln that the wider world slips from view. I wanted to put Lincoln back into the context of his era, and especially the broad antislavery movement and see how his views changed over time, as they did, often dramatically. I also wanted to get away from the teleology that views his career, as it were, backward, from emancipation, rather than forward, with the future always unknown....