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McCullough describes history as being about life, people and the key to leadership

 

Acclaimed writer and historian David McCullough discusses the critical role of history in education, life and citizenship at Auburn University on Oct. 15.

Acclaimed writer and historian David McCullough discusses the critical role of history in education, life and citizenship at Auburn University on Oct. 15.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough shared his message about the role of history in education, life and citizenship with a crowd of more than 2,000 people at Auburn University on Tuesday.

"History is about life. It's not about boring textbooks. It shouldn't be taught with boring textbooks. It isn't just about dates and quotations from obscure treaties and the like; it's about people," McCullough said.

"History is human when in the course of human events – our great founding document begins, "When in the Course of human events," – and it shouldn't be understood or retaught, in my opinion, as it's all about politics and the military and social issues. Yes, a great deal of it is about politics and the military and social issues, but you can't leave out music or art, or finance or medicine, or money or love, or tragedy or evil, or opportunity or freedom or the path to the truth."

McCullough shared stories about Harry Truman and a series of letters between Truman and his sister Mary Jane. McCullough received his first Pulitzer in 1993 for "Truman," a biography of the 33rd president.

McCullough is welcomed by Auburn University President Jay Gogue.

McCullough is welcomed by Auburn University President Jay Gogue.

He also spoke of the critical role of books and reading in the lives of John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt and how Americans should appreciate the opportunities we have to study history.

"Leadership calls on, not just the reading of anything, but history," he said. "There's no better training facility, no better major, if you will, for leadership in any field than history. Why? First of all, it is about people, and any leader has to deal with people. It's about cause and effect. … Whatever we do, there are going to be consequences. Also, if you are a student of history, you learn to love history, you take history as part of the experience of being alive, which it is; why should we limit our time on earth, as it were, to our own rather brief biological span when we can be involved in the whole realm, experience, of the human being on earth all the way back as far as history goes? History also injects the realization that it isn't just behind us, it's right now and it's going to be tomorrow, and that we are going to be judged by history. … How will we measure up?"

"Today's lecture by David McCullough was riveting and inspiring," said Jay Lamar, director of special programs for the associate provost for undergraduate studies. "He touched on so many topics – what makes good teaching, libraries as the gateway to learning and how history informs leadership. He addressed the young people in the audience with advice that all of us can appreciate: 'follow your heart about what interests you,' he said, 'and stay curious.' One audience member said afterward, 'That is the kind of message that can change lives.'"

McCullough spoke to a crowd of about 2,000 people at Auburn Arena.

McCullough spoke to a crowd of more than 2,000 people at Auburn Arena.

McCullough is a 2006 winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His books also include the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography "John Adams," which was published in 2001 and is one of the most praised and widely read American biographies of all time. He has written histories of the Johnstown flood, the Panama Canal and the Brooklyn Bridge. His "1776," which covers a year in the life of George Washington and the American Revolution, is a classic.

"Mr. McCullough is a legend, of course," Lamar said, "but he was so warm and funny – though it was a large crowd, I think every one of us felt he was talking directly to us."

McCullough's talk was made possible by the support of Merchant Capital LLC of Montgomery and is sponsored by the Auburn University Office of the Provost and Office of Undergraduate Studies, in partnership with the Littleton-Franklin Lectures.

By Carol Nelson, Office of Communications & Marketing

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Last Updated: Oct. 15, 2013

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