Remembering David McCullough: America’s Historian

By John Hendrickson

This week the nation lost a treasure with the passing of David McCullough. David McCullough was America’s historian and he brought history alive through his many books. McCullough was a gifted storyteller both in his writing and his narration of American Experience documentaries such as Ken Burns, The Civil War.

Some of his work included biographies of Presidents John Adams and Harry S. Truman and numerous works on the American Revolution and Founding. He also wrote fascinating histories of the Johnstown Flood and the Wright Brothers, among others. “McCullough didn’t just recall history. In a sense he revived history and our interest in it,” wrote columnist Cal Thomas.

McCullough was a passionate advocate for history education. His books can be read by anyone interested in learning more about our great history. McCullough believed that we have a responsibility to understand our rich history and to be respectful of our history. “History isn’t just something that ought to be taught, read, or encouraged only because it will make us better citizens. It will make us a better citizen and it will make us more thoughtful and understanding human beings,” stated  McCullough himself.

Further, he argued that “we’ve got to teach history and nurture history and encourage history because it’s an antidote to the hubris of the present—the idea that everything we have and everything we do and everything we think is the ultimate, the best.”

Our nation is suffering a crisis as a consequence of historical ignorance and outright attacks upon America’s great heritage.  McCullough understood that America’s story is filled with flaws because humans are flawed. To illustrate this point, he used the Founders as an example:

“Now those who wrote the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia that fateful summer of 1776 were not superhuman by any means. Every single one had his flaws, his failings, his weaknesses. Some of them ardently disliked others of them. Every one of them did things in his life he regretted. But the fact that they could rise to the occasion as they did, these imperfect human beings, and do what they did is also, of course, a testimony to their humanity. We are not just known by our failings, by our weaknesses, by our sins. We are known by being capable of rising to the occasion and exhibiting not just a sense of direction, but strength.”

David McCullough, America’s historian will be greatly missed, and his work will continue to be a lasting legacy. As a nation, we need his passion and respect for our great history.