Pittsburgh native David McCullough has received two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards and has been granted a Presidential Medal of Honor. His work as a historian and author has earned him praise and acknowledgement worldwide, so much so that there is a bridge in Pittsburgh named after him.
McCullough was recently honored by Duquesne University and spoke at Shadyside Academy’s commencement ceremony.
To the advantage of McCullough, books about historical events are rising in popularity, which is encouraging and not surprising to McCullough. “So many people realize they didn’t get as much history as they should have in college or school,” said McCullough.
There is pushback from some students at universities who feel history is irrelevant to their degree and thus feel like required history classes are a waste of time.
“Students ought to be required to take [history] courses because they ought to understand, if they don’t already understand it, that in life some things are required, particularly if you want a liberal arts or solid education,” said McCullough.
Knowing the past, McCullough said, can help us handle the future. That’s why, when public figures pass off comparisons between modern and past troubles, McCullough is deeply troubled by the irresponsiblity of the excuse, ‘It was a simpler time.’
“There’s never been a simpler time, it isn’t a simpler time. It was a very different time,” said McCullough. “They could not foresee what was ahead. There’s no such thing as a foreseeable future.”
McCullough has written about the Wright brothers, John Adams, and historical events like the Johnstown flood, often spending two or more years on research. He writes books about what he would want to read about, and says he has eight ideas cooking right now, but he’s enthused to keep busy by writing and researching. He does make time to come home to Pittsburgh.
“This is an exciting place to be now, but it always has been. [Pittsburgh] is a story town.”
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