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How Scientists Preserve Lincoln's Original Gettysburg Address Manuscripts

•, By Mac Irvine
On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln uttered the 10 sentences that would come to be known as the Gettysburg Address. His two-minute speech was part of the Gettysburg Cemetery’s lengthy dedication ceremony, which included a two-hour oration, prayers, and performances. Though Lincoln suggests that “the world will take little note, nor long remember what we say here,” 150 years later the speech is not only remembered, but considered one of the greatest in American history.

Lincoln penned five known copies of his Gettysburg speech. In fact, it’s likely that the copy accepted by historians as the standard (and final written in Lincoln’s hand) differs from what he delivered at the dedication. Researchers still study the variations in these documents’ histories, content, and physical properties. But what’s the best way to preserve these frail papers? Cultural conservators at the Library of Congress, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM), Cornell University and the White House, where the documents are housed, investigate the risks the documents face. Using an interdisciplinary approach, they determine and employ the best preservation procedures to stabilize the documents for future study and display.

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