History Buzz January 20, 2013: David McCullough: Gerald Ford among greatest presidents, famed historian says as Obama inauguration nears

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Gerald Ford among greatest presidents, famed historian says as Obama inauguration nears

Source: MLive, 1-20-13

gerald r. ford.JPGGerald R. Ford announcing the pardon of Richard M Nixon from the Oval Office Sept. 8, 1974. The pardon has led one historian to deem Ford one of the greatest presidents. AP File Photo

The decision by Grand Rapids native and former President Gerald R. Ford to pardon his disgraced predecessor after the Watergate scandal has put him in the pantheon of great presidents.

That’s according to noted historian David McCullough, speaking to CBS News’s Barry Petersen, who cited Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon as “one of the bravest decisions ever” as reason for his claim….READ MORE

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History Buzz January 20, 2013: David McCullough: Leading the Way: Presidential Leadership & History

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Leading the way: Presidential leadership

Source: CBS News, This Morning, 1-20-13

LEADING THE WAY is what we expect of our presidents. How successful any individual president has actually BEEN is a matter of debate historically, as is the entire question of what constitutes great leadership in the first place. 

We laugh with them, we cry with them . . . and with Hollywood’s help from movies like “The American President,” we heap on them our greatest expectations.

Presidential leadership is Colorado College professor Thomas Cronin’s specialty, and he is struck by America’s perhaps too-perfect wish list for a president.

“It seems like an amalgam of wanting Mother Teresa, Mandela, Rambo, the Terminator and Spider-Man all wrapped into one,” he said. “It’s a pretty outlandish job description.”

David McCullough has written extensively on our greatest presidents, among them, John Adams….READ MORE

History Buzz February 28, 2012: David McCullough, Gordon Wood: Students need more uniform teaching of US Constitution, Historians say at panel “The Teaching of Constitutional History in the 21st Century University”

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Students need more uniform teaching of Constitution, historians say

Source: The Oklahoma U Daily 2-28-12

Instructors need to teach the U.S. Constitution to all students in a stimulating way to create well-educated citizens who are aware of their responsibilities, according to seven panelists in a discussion Tuesday.

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Photo by Astrud Reed

Panelist Akhil Reed Amar, Yale Law and Political Science Professor, responds to a question from Diane Rehm, NPR radio program host and event moderator, at Monday’s “The Teaching of Constitutional History in the 21st Century University.”

Students, faculty and visitors crowded into Catlett Music Center to hear noted historians share perspectives on teaching America’s founding in a panel titled, “The Teaching of Constitutional History in the 21st-century University.”

National Public Radio host Diane Rehm moderated the panel, which was part of OU’s inaugural “Teach-In: A Day with Some of the Greatest Teachers in America.”

The U.S. needs leaders and teachers who can make the Constitution relevant to students of all ages and backgrounds, Pulitzer-prize winning historian David McCullough said.

“There is nothing wrong with the younger generation,” he said. “The younger generation is terrific, and any problems they have, any failings they have, and what they know and don’t know is not their fault — it’s our fault.”

Teachers are the most important people in the society, and they should not be blamed for these failings either, McCullough said.

“I think that history, the love of history and the understanding of history begins truly, literally at home,” McCullough said.

In today’s education system students are not trained enough to ask questions, and this is a serious issue, he said.

Some students get all the way to college and have very little knowledge about the Constitution, said Kyle Harper, director of the OU Institute for American Constitutional Heritage.

“One of the exciting things about teaching in college is that you are teaching adults, and you are teaching kids who are becoming adults,” Harper said.

Harper aims to create situations for debate in classrooms to make college students realize that the facts on a page influence their political lives, he said.

In most graduate schools Constitutional history is always there, but undergraduate schools simply neglect it, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Gordon Wood said. Even in graduate training, issues of race and women have preoccupied graduate training and the writing of history….READ MORE

History Interviews October 10, 2011: David McCullough 4 lessons “We are what we read”

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“We are what we read”: 4 lessons from David McCullough

Source: CS Monitor, 10-10-11

 

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David McCullough, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author – most recently – of “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” imparted words of wisdom to a sold-out crowd at Boston’s Symphony Hall last week. Here are four pieces of advice from McCullough.


1.”Understand the past.”

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The language of Shakespeare and Cervantes helped to shape the way that we speak today, 400 years later.

“Nothing of consequence is ever accomplished alone. America is a joint effort,” insisted the author of “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” “1776,”John Adams,” and seven other books. “There’s no such thing as a self-made man or self-made woman.”

Parents, teachers, friends, enemies, and even people we never knew affect our everyday lives, successes, and failures. The writers of the books we read particularly influence us. McCullough pointed out how truisms promulgated by Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes some 400 years ago inhabit our everyday language today.

“We are what we read,” McCullough said. “We get our ideas from what we read. So it’s extremely important when we try to understand the past, and the characters of the past, to not only read what they wrote, but to read what they read.”

2.“Keep a diary.”

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McCullough has used the personal hand-written artifacts of abolitionist and former US Senator Charles Sumner, among many others, as part of his research.

“Nobody writes letters anymore, and very few people keep diaries,” lamented McCullough, though then he joked, “And people in the public life wouldn’t dare keep dairies. They’d be subpoenaed.”

The historian used the personal hand-written artifacts of Charles Sumner, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Roosevelt, and countless others to research his books. Perhaps he’s just old-fashioned – McCullough still uses a manual typewriter to pen his books – but a lot of his work really doesn’t involve technology such as the Internet, he said. Many of the original letters and journals by our nation’s early founders and thinkers aren’t available from a home computer, rather, they’ve been scanned on microfilm and housed in libraries.

“If any of you are interested in immortality, start keeping a diary,” McCullough quipped. Then, when you feel your days are numbered, donate it to your favorite library. “It will be quoted for hundreds of years by future historians, because it will be the only diary [of our era].”

3.Remember: “Nothing ever happened in the past. It happened in the present.”

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McCullough says that Abigail Adams’ letters help to remind us that “there were no simpler times.”

The master historian reminds us that there is no limit to what we can learn from studying our past, but, he said, it’s important to remember a few principles when studying the subject:

“Nothing ever happened in the past. It happened in the present. Somebody else’s present.” McCullough used an example to illustrate his point: “I’m always annoyed when I hear people talking about the past and they say, ‘Well, that was a simpler time.’ Nonsense, there were no simpler times.”

In fact, our ancestors most likely had is much worse than us. “Abigail Adams wrote that future generations will scarcely be able to imagine the suffering and hardships of their forbearers,” quoted McCullough.

4.Read these books.

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McCullough mentioned Michael Shaara’s outstanding Civil War novel “The Killer Angels” as a book everyone should read.

When an audience member asked McCullough to list “three books everyone should read,” the author hesitated. “It’s an impossible question.”

After a moment of deliberation, he declared Michael Shaara’s Gettysburg story “The Killer Angels,” “a good biography of George Washington” (perhaps Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life” or “His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph Ellis would fit the bill), and “Tender Is The Night” by F. Scott Fitzgerald as his impromptu top three.

The books reflect “important people and times to know about,” said the author. Of course, he added, everyone should read his books too.

History Interviews David McCullough: Author & historian has Americans reading U.S. history

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JACQUELYN MARTIN / Associated Press

Author David McCullough, in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., said one finds the purest forms of history in art.

Source: Sacremento Bee, 10-10-11

Few authors have done more to popularize American history than David McCullough. Not only has the historian-lecturer made it more accessible than ever, he has made it sing.

Take his bestselling 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning “John Adams,” for instance. The biography of the prickly founding father had a first printing of 350,000, a staggering number for a history book and a tribute to McCullough’s stature. In 2008, the HBO miniseries “John Adams” took home a load of awards, including three Golden Globes.

“The pre-eminent master of narrative history,” as he is known, has cast an unusual eye on the American landscape for his subjects: the youth of Theodore Roosevelt (“Mornings on Horseback”), the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge (“The Great Bridge”), the marvel of the Panama Canal (“The Path Between the Seas”), the dam failure that destroyed a town (“The Johnstown Flood”). More mainstream were “Truman,” “1776” and “John Adams.”

Along the way, McCullough has collected two National Book Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and two Francis Parkman Prizes from the American Society of Historians.

Now comes “The Greater Journey” (Simon & Schuster, $37.50, 576 pages), chronicling how life in Paris helped shape the achievements of hundreds of Americans who lived there between 1830 and 1900.

“His books are wonderful contributions to the public discourse, and they bring a lot of people into thinking about areas of history they might not otherwise have,” said Eric Rauchway. He is both a history professor at the University of California, Davis, and the author of five books, including “The Great Depression and the New Deal” (Oxford University Press, $11.95, 160 pages).

“McCullough benefits tremendously from academic history, and in turn he gives a lot back by putting forth bold theses that academics sometimes must reckon with. Such as whether building the Panama Canal was a good idea,” Rauchway said. “Beyond that, he serves a valuable role in terms of talking to the public sphere about the uses of history.”

I caught up with McCullough, 78, by phone at his Boston home. He and his wife, Rosalee, have five children and 18 grandchildren.

Where did the idea for “The Greater Journey” originate?

When Gene Kelly starred in “An American in Paris,” that really got to me. I imagined myself as a painter in Paris (McCullough is a part-time artist.), with all the beautiful girls interested in me.

Many years later in Paris, I wanted to show that history is much more than just politics and the military. The idea that I could concentrate on painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, medicine and the world of ideas was more of a draw than just the setting.

Why was Paris a magnet to Americans of that era?

It was the cultural capital of the world, with a high standard of education you could not get here. If you wanted to be better than you were, Paris was the place to go.

Who are two of the Americans you write about?

Samuel F.B. Morse went to Paris to perfect himself as a painter but got the idea for the telegraph. Another was Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., a poet and essayist. He decided to become a physician and was so affected by (his teachers in Paris) that he came back and taught at the Harvard Medical School.

Are we Americans losing touch with our own history?

Yes, we are, because we’re doing a grossly inadequate job of teaching history to our children and grandchildren. I’ve lectured at more than 100 universities and have seen (an ignorance of history) everywhere. What (students) don’t know is sometimes almost humorous. It’s not their fault, it’s ours. We need to do a better job of teaching the teachers.

Your best advice to students?

Read everything, and try to read a little above what you think is your level. Read the classics, they’re damn good.

Do you watch the History Channel?

I don’t have time for TV, though once in awhile I’ll watch “The American Experience” on PBS (which he hosted for 12 years). My spirit plummets when I read that the average daily time spent watching TV in American households is seven hours.

Don’t history-related TV shows give the subject some exposure?

Sure, they’re better than the drivel that’s on. But the way to get people involved in history is to get them reading original letters, diaries and autobiographies. There’s a wonderful literature of history, too, (including) “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara, about the Battle of Gettysburg. And the World War II novels by Herman Wouk are superb (“The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance”).

It’s said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I’m not sure that’s true. Harry Truman said the only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know. I think that’s a better quote.

It’s also said that history is written by the victors.

That’s a vast oversimplification, but, yes, history does change in perspective as time goes on. All history is revisionist history because we know what followed. Otherwise, why write it?

Where do we find the purest forms of history?

Architecture is a very pure one, and so are painting and music. For some civilizations, all we have of their histories is their art.

History is the human experience. It’s about people, not just facts and figures. One of the most effective history teachers I had in college would not hold us (students) accountable for any (historic) dates. He said, “That’s what books are for, you can look them up.” It was as if he had told me I could put on a pair of wings and fly. It released me to really start to enjoy history.

As a writer, which is more satisfying – the research or the writing?

The writing is what I take more to heart because it’s the part that’s all up to me. The research is like being on a detective case.

When I write, it’s as if I go into this other time and place, as if I’m under a spell. In many ways, the (research subjects) become more real to me than the people I know in life, because I know so much more about them. In real life, you don’t get to read other people’s mail.

If you could time-travel back to historical era?

I would love to come back here to Boston in the years just before the Civil War, the late 1850s. I would like to see the abolitionist movement in full gear, and some of the intellectual life that was going on. I would love to meet people like (poet Henry Wadsworth) Longfellow and (poet-essayist Ralph Waldo) Emerson. And hang out in a good bar and soak up some of the stories the Irish were bringing in.

What will history have to say about you?

I hope it will say, “He tried his hardest.”

David McCullough: Textbooks “so politically correct as to be comic”

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Source: WSJ, 6-18-11

‘We’re raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate,” David McCullough tells me on a recent afternoon in a quiet meeting room at the Boston Public Library. Having lectured at more than 100 colleges and universities over the past 25 years, he says, “I know how much these young people—even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning—don’t know.” Slowly, he shakes his head in dismay. “It’s shocking.”

He’s right. This week, the Department of Education released the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found that only 12% of high-school seniors have a firm grasp of our nation’s history. And consider: Just 2% of those students understand the significance of Brown v. Board of Education….

The 77-year-old author has been doing his part—he’s written nine books over the last four decades, including his most recent, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” a story of young Americans who studied in a culturally dominant France in the 19th century to perfect their talents. He’s won two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

“History is a source of strength,” he says. “It sets higher standards for all of us.” But helping to ensure that the next generation measures up, he says, will be a daunting task….READ MORE

David McCullough: Master Historian Relishing Life in Historic Hub

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Source: Boston Globe, 5-31-11

David McCullough was taking his customary morning stroll through the Public Garden one day last week when a woman asked for a word with him. Spotting the eminent historian was easy enough. With his mane of snow-white hair and stately, professorial mien, McCullough, 77, is as recognizable as any working — or walking — American author alive today.

David McCullough walked in the Boston Public Garden discussing Boston and his new book.

The woman praised his book “1776’’ for its humanizing of Revolutionary War-era history. McCullough, who moved from Martha’s Vineyard into a Back Bay apartment two months ago, graciously heard her out. Then, with little prompting, he told her how much he’s enjoying living in the city — “one of the two or three top destinations in the country for history, a center of civilization,’’ filled with great statuary, architecture, museums, and libraries.

The woman reacted as if she’d just gotten an impromptu cello lesson from Yo-Yo Ma.

If McCullough had an extra spring in his step that morning, it wasn’t solely due to his chance encounter with a fan. Last week also marked publication of his latest book, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,’’ a sprawling narrative centered on a large contingent of artists, writers, physicians, and politicians who migrated to Paris in the 19th century, to lasting effect on their lives and careers. Spanning seven decades, McCullough’s story weaves memorable portraits of Samuel Morse, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Sumner, Mary Cassatt, and John Singer Sargent, among others.

The book draws heavily upon personal correspondence and diary entries, a hallmark of McCullough’s previous books, which have earned him dozens of honors, including two Pulitzer Prizes and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Boston-Paris connection in “Greater Journey’’ is a strong one, McCullough said while making his way south from the George Washington statue, near Arlington Street, to the park’s Boylston Street border.

“George Healy, for instance, is a great American story,’’ McCullough said as he walked along at a brisk pace, pointing out treats like a chestnut tree in full bloom. “An Irish boy from the streets of Boston with no connections or money and not much education. Yet he goes off on his own and becomes the premier American portrait painter of his time.’’ Pause. “He’s like Forrest Gump. He keeps showing up at important moments.’’…READ MORE

David McCullough: JAHA honors Johnstown flood author McCullough

‘Where it all began’ JAHA honors flood author McCullough

Source: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Democrat, 5-1-11

— Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough returned to Johnstown on Saturday, more than 40 years after he wrote his 1968 classic, “The Johnstown Flood.”

McCullough traced the story of the earthen dam that burst in 1889, unleashing a thunderous wall of water that killed more than 2,000 people.

The book launched McCullough’s career as an author and historian.

It was life-changing, he said.

“It made my career. It made my profession. It was my beginning,” McCullough, 77, said in an interview at the Holiday Inn in downtown Johnstown.

“So every time I come back here, I feel I’m back where it all began,” he said. “I’m extremely grateful for this subject, for this city, for this story.”

The Pittsburgh native received the Outstanding Achievement Award at Johnstown Area Heritage Association’s Heritage Preservation Awards banquet at the Pasquerilla Conference Center….READ MORE

New David McCullough book based on Christmas show

David McCullough AP – FILE – In this March 3, 2008 file photo, author David McCullough arrives at the HBO premiere of ‘John …

By HILLEL ITALIE, AP, 10-25-10

David McCullough’s latest book project did not begin with a president or a great war. It started with his friendship with Larry H. Miller, the late owner of the Utah Jazz basketball team.

“He was a phenomenal success in business and a success at almost everything he touched. Here’s a fellow who had little education, who fairly late in life became interested in American history and interested in how teaching could be improved, a subject close to my heart,” McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian, said during a recent telephone interview from his home in Maine.

“I helped him set up a summer seminar program for history teachers in Utah, whereby it was made possible to spend several weeks brushing up on history in general. I was invited to lecture at several of the universities in Utah. One thing led to another. Larry became quite ill with diabetes and one of his last wishes to me was to take part in the Christmas concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra.”

Miller died in February 2009. In December, McCullough was among the guests at the annual Mormon Tabernacle performance on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, where he discussed two Christmas songs, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and their ties to a Christmas Eve ceremony at the White House in 1941, less than three weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt spoke briefly from the White House balcony about celebrating a holiday during wartime, then introduced a surprise guest, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had secretly crossed the Atlantic Ocean to appear with Roosevelt.

“He wasn’t even mentioned in the program,” McCullough said of Churchill. “He risked his life to be there.”

McCullough’s talk has just come out in book form, the 56-page “In the Dark Streets Shineth,” released by the Salt Lake-based Shadow Mountain Publishing. “Dark Streets” includes a DVD of McCullough’s reading with the choir, photographs from the 1941 White House gathering and pictures of World War II soldiers….READ MORE

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