Historian David McCullough received the Medal of Freedom from SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015.
President and Mrs. George W. Bush presented the award to the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, often called “America’s greatest historian,” during an event held at the home of Kelli and Gerald J. Ford. The evening’s highlights included a featured conversation between McCullough and his longtime friend, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY).
McCullough also spoke to the SMU campus community at a question-and-answer session earlier in the day moderated by Tower Center Scholar Sara Jendrusch in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Theater.
The award is given by the Tower Center every two years to an individual or individuals who have contributed to the advancement of democratic ideals and to the security, prosperity and welfare of humanity.
McCullough, who said he had “always been impressed with SMU,” quizzed his audience of SMU students, faculty and staff and expressed approval that taking history is an SMU graduation requirement. “I was stunned to learn that something like 80 percent of colleges these days don’t require it,” he said.
The historian said he has about 25 more book ideas he’d like to see in print. He credited much of his success to the editing skills of his wife, Rosalee, “my editor-in-chief for 50 years.” He spoke lovingly about the craft of writing and confessed that he still composes his work using technology now consigned to history for most people – a 1960s typewriter.
And history, McCullough said, is how you make life matter.
“It’s not a series of chronological events. It’s human,” McCullough said. “That’s why Jefferson wrote, ‘When in the course of human events…” in the Declaration of Independence.”