Analysis: Obituary

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For this week's analysis, I used a Nov. 4 obituary written by Bruce Weber for the New York Times. The headline is: "Richard N. Current, Civil War Historian, Dies at 100."

This obituary starts out in the standard obituary lead: It names him, sums up his greatest life accomplishments ("...whose award-winning scholarship helped demythologize Abraham Lincoln and raise Lincoln studies to a professional level of scholarly inquiry..."), and says he died on Oct. 26. It then has a short sentence to say how old he was.

This obituary certainly differs from a resume in the respect that it goes beyond listing his accomplishments and tracing the timeline of his career. It paints a picture of his life and develops the context of his work without idealizing his character. It relies on the words of people who knew him to develop this timeline, although all of the quotes used are not all as personal as I would have liked.

After reading this, I do feel as though I know a lot about Current's career accomplishments and very little about his character. I actually feel like I know as much about the history of biographies on Lincoln as I do about Current's life. As he was a scholar, it makes sense that the main focus of the article is his work, but I would have liked a bit more information about his life outside of books on Lincoln. This is much more about Current's work than his life; this is confirmed by the quotes the author chose to include -- they are all comments on Current's work. I found it peculiar that even though it was clear that the author talked to his wife because he writes that she said the cause of his death was complications due to Parkinson's disease, there was no quote from her or any other family member about his life outside of work.

The only quote I felt was helpful in developing a picture about who he was is the very last one, in which Professor Neely calls him a "very tough critic" and describes a memory that speaks to that.

All in all, this obituary felt a bit cold; it did not seem very personal or heart-warming. However, this may be the general tone desired by the family or just what the author thought was best given Current's life -- it's hard to know without having done the research myself!

1 Comment

A very thoughtful effort, Bronwyn! I wonder if it would have been helpful to look at a second obit on Mr. Current, just to see if others were more "warmly" handled.

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This page contains a single entry by mill3877 published on November 4, 2012 8:08 PM.

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