“The United States of America is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants.” This is the first line of the “American by Belief” exhibit which opened to the public last week at President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C. and will remain open for two years. Through a series of colorful and descriptive panels, visitors are encouraged to draw connections between Lincoln’s largely unexamined history on immigrants and immigration and contemporary issues in U.S. immigration. President Lincoln’s Cottage consulted with the American Immigration Council on the current immigration policies contextualized in the exhibit.
Historian Jason Silverman’s book Lincoln and the Immigrant, provided much of the fascinating historical background for the exhibit. Notably, his book is the first in over 6,000 Lincoln biographies to recognize the important role immigrants had in shaping Lincoln’s personal and political beliefs, including his signing into law the 1864 Act to Encourage Immigration. Professor Silverman also discussed Lincoln’s immigration policy and the formation of his beliefs with the American Immigration Council’s Executive Director Benjamin Johnson who provided insight on current policies at a recently hosted event at the Cottage.
As the exhibit highlights, “Lincoln recognized immigrants as one of America’s greatest resources and its best hope for the future. He believed America offered immigrants the full realization of its founding promises and a fair chance to succeed.” One-hundred and fifty years later, many people are still arriving for those same promises and what unites us may be these indelible beliefs.
If you live in the Washington, D.C. area or are coming for a visit, we encourage you to see this special exhibit. Highly engaging, visitors of all ages can write their immigration stories, no matter how recent or distant, and visually display their journey on an interactive map. For those who can’t make it in person, you can also participate by downloading a copy of the “Tell Your Immigration Story” lesson plan which is built upon our “Crossing Borders with Digital Storytelling” lesson plan, featured in the President Lincoln’s Cottage School Programs brochure.
· Read Patrick Young’s review “New Book Examines Lincoln’s Personal Relationships with Immigrants” on Professor Silverman’s seminal book Lincoln and the Immigrant, which “at just over a hundred pages…will leave you thinking for weeks.”
· Read our article “Teach Empathy with Digital Immigration Stories” published on Edutopia which details the connections and opportunities for student engagement and inter-cultural understandings when sharing immigration stories in the classroom.
The American Immigration Council offers free lesson plans, resources, book/film reviews, and grants to teach immigration. We also welcome teacher and student book reviews and contributions to our blog. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration #teachimmigration. You can also follow the exhibit and President Lincoln’s Cottage @LincolnsCottage #AmericanbyBelief.