Ten Sentences That Defined a Nation: On the Gettysburg Address
From the History of Literature Podcast with Jacke Wilson
For tens of thousands of years, human beings have been using fictional devices to shape their worlds and communicate with one another. Four thousand years ago they began writing down these stories, and a great flourishing of human achievement began. We know it today as literature, a term broad enough to encompass everything from ancient epic poetry to contemporary novels. How did literature develop? What forms has it taken? And what can we learn from engaging with these works today? Hosted by Jacke Wilson, an amateur scholar with a lifelong passion for literature, The History of Literature takes a fresh look at some of the most compelling examples of creative genius the world has ever known.
In November of 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln boarded a train for Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His heart was heavy with the cost of two years of a bitter civil war, his body fatigued and feverish from what was likely the onset of smallpox. In the midst of personal grief and political turmoil, he drafted and delivered one of the greatest political speeches ever written. In roughly 270 words, the Gettysburg Address (or “America’s Gospel,” as Tom Brokaw called it) managed to pay tribute to fallen soldiers, dedicate a cemetery in their honor, and crystallize the central dilemma at the heart of the American experiment. In this episode, Jacke looks at ten sentences that defined a nation and asked it to look deeply into its past, its future, and its soul.