President Lincoln’s Cottage, the presidential summer retreat just a few miles north of the US Capitol, recently opened an exhibit in their visitor education center the compares immigration issues in the 19th century to the present day. Titled, “American by Belief,” the introductory label reads:
The United States of America is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants. Abraham Lincoln recognized immigrants as one of America’s greatest resources and its best hope for the future. He believed America, in return, owed immigrants the full realization of its founding promises and a fair chance to succeed.
Our world is different than Lincoln’s. But what continues to bring immigrants here would look familiar to him: an opportunity to rise higher, improve themselves, live safely under the rule of law, become citizens, and count themselves as American by right of belief.
This is a small temporary exhibit, perhaps 200 square feet at most, and primarily consists of panels featuring text and images (no historic objects). In the center of the room is a map of the world made of pegs, which visitors can use to link places associated with them using colored rubber bands (this looks cool but I’m not sure it’ll have much impact on visitors). One wall is one of the most aesthetically pleasing “talk-back” boards I’ve ever seen, but it’ll require a ladder to maintain and read. Thankfully, they’ve also developed an associated online exhibit of visitor comments on Tumblr.
The Cottage’s previous exhibit explored modern-day human trafficking and now immigration; these are bold interpretive moves for a small historic site. This exhibit will be open until October 2017—I wonder what will be next?