Abraham Lincoln Gets a Second Life

Abraham Lincoln: The Great Emancipator and His Legacy, a virtual exhibit of the artwork of Dan Christoffel

The B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library at Long Island University’s (LIU) C.W. Post Campus received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for programs related to the exhibit “Lincoln: the Constitution and the Civil War,” a traveling exhibit organized by the National Constitution Center and the ALA Public Programs Office. In 2010, in celebration of African American History Month and the Lincoln Bicentennial, the library and its partners held two Lincoln-related programs: “Lincoln and Obama: Lessons,” a lecture with scholar Dr. Harold Holzer, co-chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and senior vice-president of external affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and “Abraham Lincoln: The Great Emancipator and His Legacy,” an exhibition consisting of Lincoln portraits and works inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s by eminent C.W. Post Campus artist in residence, Dan Christoffel, who has painted Lincoln portraits for the past thirty years.

Spurred by Dan’s enthusiasm (along with the expertise of colleagues in the fields of computer science and instructional development), “Abraham Lincoln: The Great Emancipator and His Legacy” was transformed into a Second Life (SL) exhibition that provides an anchor and a platform to link with resources and learning activities. Many excellent resources have already been included, and more are to follow. The exhibition can be viewed in the Recreation, Education, and Cultural Arts Center (RECA) on LIU’s Second Life Island. The island supports virtual classroom instruction, cultural and digital art exhibits, individual and small group collaborations, and research.

In choosing a setting for the SL representation of Lincoln’s exhibit, the approach was traditional. The exhibit is in a museum-like gallery with neutral, undecorated walls. Even though SL avatars can fly and teleport, the Lincoln portraits are displayed at eye level rather than in vertical spaces or in open air. This approach was more suitable for reaching both types of audiences: those used to seeing exhibits in traditional setting with little experience of virtual reality and three-dimensional spaces, and the more sophisticated viewers used to immersive spaces and non-linear modes of interacting with resources. For these viewers, interactive and multimedia resources such as video, podcasts, websites, and chat were included. The lecture by distinguished speaker Harold Holzer and an artist interview with Dan Christoffel were also available in SL. We encourage schools, institutions, and community members to use these educational resources.

In the years to follow, we will host both live and Second Life Lincoln events—synchronously and asynchronously. Partnering with several organizations, such as the Post Washington Library, the Hutton House Lectures, and several campus organizations, we had a successful attendance of more than 200 people at our live events. We were also able to launch the SL virtual site, and create awareness. We will use the same approach in the future and simultaneously promote and showcase our live and SL events. Websites, newspapers, and the local media will also play a role in advertising our events. Recently we participated in the ALA Virtual Conference “The Future Is Now: Libraries and Museums in Second Life.” It was a learning experience in how best to captivate an audience. Creative advertising with avatars, stunning banners, and posters all help with promotion. Our initial experience has been rewarding, and there is much more to learn along the way. We now need to reach the in-world audience by holding programs at our SL site from time to time, and by exploring in-world newspapers and publicity outlets. We do hope to reach a wider audience, particularly in schools, and create communities around subject areas and projects. We are open to partnerships and collaborations. Please visit the site and be a part of this co-creating.