The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


October 8, 2008

Author: ‘We’re in the soup right now’

McCullough says lessons from history could help us today

LEWISBURG — A sense of history is realizing you are part of history and will be judged by history, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough said in a 60-minute talk in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts at Bucknell University on Tuesday night.

Part of the “Conversation with David McCullough” concentrated on the great leaders in American history, going back to the 18th century.

“They had that sense of history,” said McCullough, who has written best-selling books about John Adams and the year 1776. “Men like George Washington and John Adams, they knew that they were players on a great stage and that history would judge them. They were readers. They read the classics.”

Would that it were so today, he said.

McCullough suggested that all presidential candidates should be required to take a course in American history. “What our leaders don’t know can hurt us a lot,” he said.

“We’re in the soup right now,” he said. “But we’ll really be in the soup if we don’t know our own story, our own history.”

McCullough cited the Great Depression as an example. It’s important, particularly now, he said, “to know how it came to happen. History is important. History is life.”

He also chided today’s generation. “We are, unfortunately, raising a generation that is historically illiterate,” he said. “Most students today are eager to learn, but they don’t know the basic elements of our story, our own history.”

History, he went on, is about life. It helps us to understand human nature and “gives us examples to live by.”

McCullough’s talk was preceded by a ceremony in which the famed historian was named the 2008 Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters at Bucknell. He also received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

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