“The excitement is the sense of the adventure of discovery,” said David McCullough, author of notable history books such as Truman and John Adams, of his love of research. McCullough was addressing a full house at the Granada Theater last Monday night for his lecture “History as a Source of Strength,” presented by UCSB’s Arts & Lectures.
McCullough had the crowd laughing when he related a question a college student recently asked him after one of his lectures. “Aside from Harry S. Truman and John Adams, how many other presidents have you interviewed,” the coed queried. “Despite what you see here on stage, I haven’t actually met any of the presidents I’ve written about,” McCullough joked. “I get to know these people more than ever, though, because I read their journals and letters.”
The coed comment was a jumping off point for a discussion about how little people know about history these days. “The young folks today are historically illiterate,” McCullough said. After one speaking engagement at a major college in the Midwest, he said, “a student told me that she never knew the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast. How did that student make it all the way to college without learning that?”
One solution to remedying the problem? Support teachers more. “No one in our society does more far-reaching, long lasting work than our teachers. “Teachers should be recognized and we should have statues in every town of teacher who have changed the lives of students,” McCullough said.
He told a story about a graduate teacher’s assistant he had for a history course while an undergraduate at Yale. “He changed my life when he told us not to worry about remembering quotes and dates.” McCullough went on to list what he thinks are the essential lessons of history.
·There’s no such thing as the past. It only happened in the present, somebody else’s present, true.
·There is no foreseeable future.
·Nothing of great accomplishment is done alone.
·Hard work and pride of work is what every society ought to strive for.
To get folks involved in learning history, we need to “bring back conversations about the books and history we love,” McCullough suggested. “History is about character,” he added. “History is like art or music, dance, theater. It’s part of the enjoyment of life. Why should we confine our interest to just the present?”
His point was well taken, and his passion and excitement about his work, this country, and life itself was palpable and inspiring.
David McCullough’s latest book, The Greater Journey, about Americans in Paris from 1830-1900, will be in stores Tuesday, May 24, and will be available at Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State St., 682-6787