Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has a new leader.
June 8 was the first day on the job for Christina Shutt, a Missouri native who most recently led the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, which celebrates African American history and culture.
Shutt’s interest in education is rooted in her family’s values. “Education was and is the way in which we’ve not only bettered ourselves, but helped better our community,” Shutt said. “My grandmother Freda Wright … integrated her university. She did that because she wanted those opportunities for herself, for her community, and ultimately for her family that would come along later.”
While Shutt faced fewer barriers to education than her groundbreaking grandmother, she didn’t always feel connected to the history taught in school – until a teacher told her class to toss out their textbooks and create their own.
“It helped me understand that history is not just some faraway, foreign place that we visit, but that history is alive (and) something that we can be engaged in,” Shutt said. “Understanding our history helps us to understand the world in which we live now, and helps us make informed choices about the world we want to live in.”
The ALPLM is both a research library for scholars and an educational institution open to the public. Putting the 16th President in the context of our current world is part of Shutt’s vision for the popular institution, “not just who he was at the time, but who he is for us today. What do Lincoln’s words mean to us today? How have we tried to embody things like understanding our better angels? How do we think about Lincoln, and how do we think about the impact that he had?”
Recent years have been a little bumpy for the ALPLM, with the departure of a state historian and executive director, and debates over the authenticity of a high-profile artifact, a stove-pipe hat. Shutt says she took over the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center after years that saw rapid-fire changes in leadership and understands some of the challenges of moving forward after tumult.
“I think one of the things the (ALPLM) staff have really shown, particularly over the pandemic … is their willingness to work together, their energy and excitement to move forward. Even in the middle of the pandemic they were creating exhibits,” she said.
As the first Black executive director of the ALPLM, Shutt says she’s looking forward to bringing all her identities to the job – as an African American, a woman, an academic, someone influenced by her ancestors. But she also recognizes the significance of taking this job.
“Growing up in a situation where I didn’t see myself represented in museums … it’s always encouraged me and inspired me to look around and see – what stories aren’t being told? What history hasn’t been shared? And how can we bring that into our institution?” Shutt said.