History And Knowing Who We Are

Learning about history is an antidote to the hubris of the present, the idea that everything in our lives is the ultimate.

Former President Harry S. Truman once remarked that the history we don’t know is the only new thing in the world. Picking up on a related theme, the late Daniel Boorstin, an eminent historian, Librarian of Congress, and griend of mine, wrote that planning for the future without a sense of the past is similar to planting cut flowers and hoping for the best. Today, the new generation of young Americans are like a field of cut flowers, by-and-large historically illiterate. This does not bode well for our future. Read more »

“There Isn’t Any Such Thing As The Past”

DAVID McCULLOUGH tells why he thinks history is the most challenging, exhilarating, and immediate of subjects

 
 

“I think people are the most interesting subject of all, and I am thoroughly interested in those people who went before us,”

 
 
 
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“the Great Arrogance Of The Present Is To Forget The Intelligence Of The Past”

The maker of a fine new documentary on the Civil War tells how the medium of film can evoke the emotional reality of history

Ken Burns is no stranger to me. We first met in 1983 at a party that the historian David McCullough gave at the Yale Club to wish a happy hundredth birthday to the Brooklyn Bridge. If David had not introduced Ken to me as the maker of an acclaimed film about the bridge, I would have mistaken him for a high school student—perhaps the older brother of the infant he was holding in his arms. It was actually his daughter Sarah, and Burns was then thirty.Read more »

Traveling With A Sense Of History

From Fort Ticonderoga to the Plaza Hotel, from Appomattox Courthouse to Bugsy Siegel’s weird rose garden in Las Vegas, the present-day scene is enriched by knowledge of the American past

To grow up in New England is to grow up with an inescapable sense of history, a heritage that a New Englander carries with him wherever he goes. Read more »

Making History

AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID McCULLOUGH

David McCullough’s name will be familiar to long-time readers of this magazine, not only for his books, but because he was, for a time, one of its editors. He says, in fact, that what got him started “in the history business” was coming across a spectacular photograph of the official unveiling of the Statue of Liberty, showing it to the editors of AMERICAN HERITAGE , and being invited to write a short piece on the subject.Read more »

Samuel Eliot Morison Award 1978

David McCullough’s
THE PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS

It is very rarely that a book of history has an important impact on current events. That happy fate came to The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal , by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 1977), which American Heritage is pleased to announce is the winner of this year’s Samuel Eliot Morison Award.Read more »

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama!

The Big Ditch had so far been a colossal flop, and Teddy Roosevelt desperately needed an engineering genius who could take over the job and “make the dirt fly.” The answer was not the famous Goethals, but a man whom history has forgotten.

The Panama Canal was the biggest, most costly thing Americans had ever attempted beyond their borders, as was plain to everyone in the summer of 1905, and particularly to the man most responsible for the project, Theodore Roosevelt. But as Roosevelt also knew full well by then, and as the American people were beginning to suspect, the Canal was so far a colossal flop.Read more »

Epitaph For An American Landmark

In the name of progress one of New England’s most historic and unusual urban areas is being carved into parking lots

In the year 1807 in the town of Derryfield, New Hampshire, a gentleman by the name of Samuel Blodeet proclaimed: “For as the country increases in population, we must have manufactories, and here at my canal will be a manufacturing town— the Manchester of America! ” Blodget (right) built his canal around the Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River, and in 1810 Derryfield (population: 615) indeed took Manchester as its new name.Read more »