Richard Norton Smith, the TV commentator, writer of presidential histories, ex-CEO of several presidential libraries, has been nominated by the governor of Illinois to head the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
The glaring question is whether the head of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum needs to know much about Lincoln. Smith has written many books, but none on Lincoln (to my knowledge). Now, if he is no good at administration, he will need a shadow administrator. If he is no good at fund raising, he will need a shadow fundraiser. If he is weak on Lincoln matters, he will need a shadow scholar. It could be that Smith is an expert administrator and a fine fund raiser as well as being completely up to date on Lincoln studies. In that case the governor has done well.
The previous governor tried to address the scholarship requirement in a creative and appropriate way, by tying the Library and Museum to the University of Illinois at Springfield where a new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Center for Governmental Studies was created. The school's experts would provide the Lincoln bona fides, while the head of the Library and Museum could be just a public face trading on celebrity for the good of the institution. "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Mac Neil." This way, you could have a publicity hound at the helm and scholarship would still be served. You could even have a worthless political hack at the helm of the Library and Museum and real Lincoln work would be done.
The current governor has overturned these arrangements in addition to nominating Smith thus underlining the Library and Museum's function as a tourist mecca, an engine of economic growth, rather than a center of scholarship.
We can admire the governor's acuity in seeing the connection between pop history and tourism. Just as artists are political pawns when acting as shock troops of urban gentrification, so historians often provide the siren voices luring visitors to sites designated "engines of economic growth."
Who says libraries and museums have to be centers of scholarship anyway?