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David McCullough

“History shows us how to behave. History teaches, reinforces what we believe in, what we stand for… History is — or should be — the bedrock of patriotism. Not the chest-pounding kind of patriotism, but the real thing: love of country.

At their core, the lessons of history are largely lessons in appreciation. Everything we have, all our great institutions, hospitals, universities, libraries, this city, our laws, our music, art, poetry, our freedoms, everything is because somebody went before us and did the hard work, provided the creative energy, provided the money, provided the belief. Do we disregard that?

Indifference to history isn’t just ignorant, it’s rude. It’s a form of ingratitude.

I’m convinced that history encourages, as nothing else does, a sense of proportion about life, and gives us a sense of the relative scale of our own time on earth and how valuable it is.

What history teaches it teaches mainly by example. It inspires courage and tolerance. It encourages a sense of humor. It is an aid to navigation in perilous times… Think how tough our predecessors were. Think what they had been through. There’s no one in this room who hasn’t an ancestor who went through some form of hell. Churchill in his great speech in the darkest hours of the Second World War, when he crossed the Atlantic, reminded us, ‘We haven’t journeyed this far because we are made of sugar candy.'[…]

But, I think, what it really comes down to is that history is an extension of life. It both enlarges and intensifies the experience of being alive. It’s like poetry and art. Or music. And it’s ours, to enjoy. If we deny our children that enjoyment, that adventure in the larger part of the human experience, we’re cheating them out of a full life.

There’s no secret to making history come alive. Barbara Tuchman said it perfectly: ‘Tell stories.’ The pull, the appeal is irresistible, because history is about two of the greatest of all mysteries — time and human nature.

How lucky we are. How lucky we are to enjoy in our work and in our lives, the possibilities, the precision and reach, the glories of the English language. How lucky we are, how very lucky we are, to live in this great country, to be Americans — Americans all.”

__________

David McCullough, speaking at the 1995 National Book Awards.

Although in the three weeks since my last post this site’s been been mentioned by Buzzfeed and my generous pals at TheDish, I’m in the process of winding down for the summer. I had planned to write a few words to explain this move, but the simple reason for it is that I’ve been short on time. I’m not sure when I’ll be back to writing on here more frequently, but it will probably be a matter of months, so keep your eyes out.

David McCullough