Author and Historian David McCullough hosts lecture at FAU

Award winner David McCullough speaks on Harry Truman’s presidency as part of a symposium on presidency established by university.


David McCullough takes the podium and prepares himself to address the audience before beginning his lecture on Feb. 18th at The Carole and Barry Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium. Tim Murphy | Assistant Photo Editor

Ryan Lynch, Contributing Writer

Two time Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian David McCullough came to FAU to host a lecture on Harry Truman’s life and presidency at the Carole and Barry Kaye Auditorium on Feb. 18.

McCullough’s first Pulitzer was won for his 1992 book Truman, a biography on the president’s life.

The lecture, titled Truman’s Presidency and World War Two at 70, was part of the FAU Department of History Alan B. Larkin Symposium on the American Presidency. The symposium was started in 2004 by a $1 million donation by the Larkin family to promote the study of American presidents and honor Larkin’s love for the subject.

The Symposium has been hosted by FAU every year since 2007, and has attracted names like former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, political journalists Helen Thomas and David Halberstam, and civil rights activist Mary Frances to talk on various subjects ranging from Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and Civil War America to Security and Economics in the 21st century.

Veterans and spouses of veterans stand so they could be acknowledged for their services before the lecture began. Tim Murphy | Assistant Photo Editor
Veterans and spouses of veterans stand so they could be acknowledged for their services before the lecture began. Tim Murphy | Assistant Photo Editor

Gary Perry, the University Provost and vice president for academic affairs, was the first to speak. Perry welcomed the crowd to FAU and gave a brief intro to the subject. University President John Kelly was originally slated to introduce the symposium, but was unavailable due to a personal emergency.

Following Perry was Stephen Engel who took the mic and introduced McCullough. Engel is a Professor in Florida Atlantic’s Department of History, and is also director of the symposium series. He stressed the importance of historians in both reccounting and creating the history we know.

“In short, historians make history,” remarked Engel before introducing McCullough with round of applause from the crowd, most of whom were older history enthusiasts from the area as well as a couple of groups from local high schools.

“I want to thank you all for coming out on this marvelous day,” quipped McCullough on the sunny Florida weather. “I came from Boston, so I’m really thankful.” He acknowledged his spouse, who was in the crowd. “She’s my star to fly by,” said McCullough. “And the best dance partner I’ve ever had.”

McCullough then went on to speak about Harry Truman, the United States’ 33rd president. He started with Truman’s beginnings, coming from a humble home in Missouri, experiencing financial debt in his early life as well as later on as haberdashery owner, and his lack of a college education — the only president in the last two centuries not to have one.

“The fact that he [Truman] failed did him worlds of good,” remarked McCullough. “Lessons learned from the story of Truman are valuable.”

McCullough spoke of history being about the people involved, not just events. “History is not just politics or war, its about the human experience,” he said.

The historian painted Truman as a human with faults and successes. He recounted stories from Truman’s life, as well as things McCullough witnessed as a child growing up in Pittsburgh, PA under Truman’s presidency.

“There was nothing synthetic about him,” McCullough recounted of Truman. “You saw what you got.”

After finishing the lecture, McCullough was joined onstage by Historian Wilson D. Miscamble for a Q and A session with the crowd. Both historians gave their views on several subjects, including Truman’s relationship with his wife, McCullough’s writing process, as well as today’s politics.

Following the lecture, McCullough held a book signing for all those who wished to purchase a copy of his award-winning biographical works.

Former political science professor Frick Curry and his wife Joan attended the event, and enjoyed the lecture. “We went because we are big fans of McCullough and his work,” he said, “And we are fans of Truman, too. He [McCullough] made the presentation enjoyable to listen to and humanized Truman.”

McCullough’s works include biographies on American presidents like John Adams, the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and the creation of the Panama Canal. He is currently working on his next book, a piece on the origins and aviation success of Orville and Wilbur Wright, titled The Wright Brothers. The book is set to be released May 5.