Today, November 19, is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. It’s a famously short speech and a famously ambiguous one. No one’s quite sure how many words, exactly, Lincoln said at that cemetery in Pennsylvania.
However many he said, they were few enough that they could be hand-written. While many historians dispute the legend that the president finished the speech on the back of an envelope, the idea of spontaneity remains.
The speech is knotted into countless forms of media. We carve the speech out of marble; we emboss it onto metal; we print it in postcards, textbooks, parchment. We interact with its little body of words countless ways before we read it, aloud, as Lincoln did.
President Obama didn’t go to Gettysburg today, which some critics, well, criticized him for. But, this evening, he did release a little, hand-written essay about the address. The speech’s solemn nature, its multiplicity of forms, seemed to demand something more than an electronic press release from him. It demanded hand-writing, which, in a digital age, underlines the sincerity of a message.
In an age of pretty fonts and easy publishing, the image of hand-writing gets about as close to speech as a text can get.