Brown is co-sponsoring an essay competition for local middle schoolers to write about Abraham Lincoln this year, part of its ongoing celebration of the 200th anniversary of the 16th president's birth.
The Hildene-Brown Lincoln Essay competition — open to all eighth-grade students in Providence — aims to promote critical learning skills in reading, writing and research.
Hildene, which is the house of Robert Todd Lincoln — the president's oldest son — and is currently run by the non-profit Lincoln historical organization Friends of the Hildene, also hopes to promote civics among younger students, said Seth Bongartz, Hildene's executive director.
"This is our way of at least backfilling a piece of what we wish was there," Bongartz said. "If you're learning about Lincoln, you're learning about civics."
Each competitor must read an 1862 letter written by abolitionist Horace Greeley to Lincoln, pressing Lincoln to abolish slavery, and the president's response to Greeley. Contestants will write a 500-word assessment of Lincoln's response.
"Lincoln has to toe a line that is very difficult to walk," said Holly Snyder, scholarly resources librarian at the John Hay Library, and the letter "has become such a focal point concerning Lincoln's views of slavery."
"The hope is that understanding the letters will help kids understand the underpinnings of the political and sociological process that Lincoln went through building up to the emancipation of the slaves," Bongartz said.
The top three winners of the competition will be awarded $1,000, $750 and $500 respectively, and will be invited to attend a luncheon in Providence in January.
"The competition looks to reinforce University commitment to do outreach with Providence," Snyder said. Together, Hildene and Brown will "push to digitize collections to make them more available to the general public," she said.
By opening up the University's expansive Lincoln collection to local students, Brown and Hildene hope to promote research skills and initiate "one step of many state-wide to promote education about Lincoln," Snyder said.
Next year, Brown and Hildene hope to open the essay competition to all Rhode Island students, she added.