Over at Time, Olivia Waxman interviews author and historian David McCullough about his new book The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For. The book is an anthology of McCullough’s recent speeches.
In the course of the interview McCullough talks about the purpose of history, American exceptionalism, historical monuments, museums, and a bunch of other stuff.
Here is a small taste:
What name should historians give this period of history we’re living in?
It’s not my profession to judge things now. You’ve got to wait 50 years. But I’m sure they will wonder what in the world overcame us.
You were on the first board of scholars for the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, which opens this week. What are its most valuable artifacts in your opinion, the ones that people should make sure to see…
I don’t think the artifacts are the most important.
So what is important about the museum’s collection?
What’s so important about it is it’s the first museum on the subject of the American Revolution that we’ve ever had. And, underline this, we can never know enough about the American Revolution if we want to understand who we are, why we are the way we are, and why we’ve accomplished what we’ve been able to accomplish that no other country has.
What do you think future historians will think of the material that we’ll leave them from today?
We’re producing so much for future historians that they may be just overwhelmed, because so much of it is redundant and boring. There’s a record of everything, every day. Facebook, for God’s sake! It’s like a landslide, every day, of stuff.
So the fact that we’re not writing letters to each other won’t hurt them?
Oh, that’s a huge loss. Huge loss, because no one in public life would dare keep a diary anymore. It could be subpoenaed and used against you in court. And nobody writes letters. If you’re interested in immortality, start keeping a diary, and when you get to the point when you think maybe the curtain is going to come down on you, give it to the Library of Congress, and you’ll be quoted forever because it will be the only diary ever in existence.
Is there a particular biography you wish you had written or would like to see a historian write? Some figure who you think is ripe for exploration?
I think there’s a good biography to be written about Gerald Ford. He was a far more interesting figure of depth as a leader than he’s given credit for.
What’s your favorite historical monument or museum in the U.S. or abroad?
The Shaw Memorial in Boston. A powerful one, in the extreme, because it gives the black troops that served in the [Civil] War a chance to be seen as individuals and not just mechanical figures.
Read the entire piece here.