Consider how many thousands of books there are about President Abraham Lincoln. Consider how the people who study him continue to write new books, and provide ever more analysis and findings about the man and his Presidency. Then consider how all these discussions and conclusions are based on a finite amount of source material that has largely been the same set of information that historians have been limited to in their research for over a hundred years. There’s really nothing ever new about Lincoln except for new interpretations from that old material. It’s a testament to the popularity of Lincoln that even with the static set of information about him, people continue to try to eke out every bit of understanding that they can from that pool of material.
Now imagine the euphoria that a person who studies Lincoln would feel if some new source material were discovered during their lifetime. It would be incredible.
For me, I have a better situation. The person I have been studying the last year, Ryan A. Conklin (of MTV’s The Real World: Brooklyn), is alive and still doing stuff. I wouldn’t call it euphoria, because it happens enough on regular basis, but as new material and information is presented it’s still a basis for some excitement. All new information provides the possibility for another piece of the puzzle to be put in place and to see what the big picture of the man looks like.
Unfortunately, there’s also some frustration from having a living subject of study. A Lincoln historian has to accept that he can never ask Abe about his relationship with William Herndon or about the composition of the Gettysburg Address or any other important unsettled questions. I, on the other hand, could theoretically get information from Mr. Conklin about events and thoughts from his life story that require clarification. The bad thing is that in reality I can get the same amount of information from Mr. Lincoln who is lying in his tomb as I can get from Mr. Conklin who is ambling around Gettysburg.
To be honest and fair, I don’t actually try to ask any substantive questions of Mr. Conklin, so it’s not a case of any request being declined. It’s really just a matter of observing his public responses to other fans and to my own questions and seeing that his selection of what to respond to is fairly random and the subjects addressed are fairly trifling. It seems unlikely that more serious questions would receive sufficiently detailed responses.
As an offset, the publication of his book. An Angel From Hell, is a real boon for study, because it increases the amount of source information by a huge percentage in one fell swoop. Sadly though, having read the book, my desire to better understand the events and thoughts included in the book have likewise increased the amount of unanswered questions in my mind.
In the epilogue of the book, Ryan Conklin states that after his return home from his first deployment in Iraq that people weren’t as interested in seeing his scrapbooks of the war as he was willing to show them. I wish I could have been there. I want to learn and understand about it all.