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Gettysburg Address Inspires National Project, New Ken Burns Film

Movie stars and politicians join video upload project; new Ken Burns film shows how Gettysburg Address builds confidence for students with learning difficulties

Silhouette of Abraham Lincoln and draft of the Gettysburg Address

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Silhouette of Abraham Lincoln and draft of the Gettysburg Address

On November 19th, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, shortly after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.

In just over two minutes, Lincoln reiterated the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence and proclaimed the Civil War as a struggle for the preservation of the Union sundered by the secession crisis, with “a new birth of freedom,” that would bring true equality to all its citizens.

Lincoln’s speech has come down in history as one of the most America’s most inspirational pieces of oratory: The Gettysburg Address.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, a national initiative is challenging Americans to learn about and video record themselves reading or reciting the Address and upload it to the Web.

Learn the Address is using social media and videos from public figures, political leaders, entertainers, and Lincoln historians reading the Gettysburg Address to encourage people to submit their own videos to its website.

Among those submitting videos are Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Other well-known figures who have or are recording videos include Senators Marco Rubio, Charles Schumer, and Jay Rockefeller; Warren Buffet, Carol Burnett, Louis CK, and Stephen Colbert; Conan O’Brien, Bill O’Reilly, Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart, Taylor Swift, Usher, and Uma Thurman.

Aligned with the effort is an extensive social media campaign to bring attention to the film and the initiative through Twitter using @TheAddressPBS and #TheAddressPBS. The Learn the Address initiative is sponsored by PBS, WETA, and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

Lincoln’s Words Motivate Students

The Learn the Address campaign was inspired by the subject by Ken Burns’ latest film, The Address, which tells the story of a Vermont school where students are encouraged to memorize, practice, and recite the Gettysburg Address.

At the tiny Greenwood School in the small town of Putney, boys ages of 11 to 17 are challenged each year to present a public recitation of the Gettysburg Address. This would be a daunting assignment for any student, but the students at Greenwood all face a range of learning differences that have made their personal, academic, and social progress extremely challenging.

The Address interweaves this contemporary story with the history, context, and importance of the Address. In the end, memorizing the Address is the seemingly simple exercise from which the students learn, grow, and aspire.

“In his address, President Lincoln said, ‘The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,’ and yet 150 years later, the students of the Greenwood School are using his momentous words to overcome adversity,” said Burns, the film’s producer-director.

“We want to tell this story to inspire everyone across the nation, especially school children, to learn the rich history of American freedom and sacrifice embedded in one of the most important declarations ever made.”

The initiative will run through April 15, 2014, when The Address will be broadcast nationally on PBS. WTIU will air the film at 9 p.m.

For more on the Gettysburg Address, watch Lincoln@Gettysburg, a new documentary airing on WTIU on November 19, 2013, that tells the story of how President Lincoln used the Internet of the 19th century—the telegraph—to wield personal control across distant battlefields and connect him to the country in new ways. Learn more here.

Indiana Public Media is a producer and distributor of public media from WFIU Public Radio and WTIU Public Television at Indiana University including your favorite programming from NPR and PBS.

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