David McCullough on Books, History, Writing, and American Democracy: “You’ve got to marinate your head, in that time and culture. You’ve got to become them.”

(Note: David McCullough died on August 7, 2022. Here is a post regarding some reflecting on his passing.)

One of my favorite writers is David McCullough. David is an excellent writer and storyteller of the American past. He is also a watercolorist painting and sketching in his free time and once said that he “Paints with words” in his books and writings. The best advice I have taken from his interviews and writing is that when writing about a person or history “You’ve got to marinate you head, in that time and culture. You’ve got to become them“. This is in reference to biographical writing.

True to his words and advice McCullough would often travel to the locations where his subjects lived to feel and experience the places they called home or where they worked. He did this with his research on the John Adams and Harry S Truman biographies. He actually lived for a time near the Brooklyn Bridge when working on the history of the building of the bridge.

One exteme example of just how involved he was in his research, for the Truman biography, McCullough retraced and walked Harry Truman’s route through the U.S. Capitol to pace out the time it took to walk from Truman’s office as the Vice President and President of the Senate upon getting a call from Steve Early the Press Secretary at the White House summoming Truman to come “immediately” to the White House. Once at the White House he heard about the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt from Eleanor Roosevelt. Truman asked the First Lady “Is there anything I can do for you Mrs. Roosevelt ?” and Eleanor’s reply was “Harry is there anything we can do for you, for you’re the one in trouble now”.

Our ancestors did not live in a bubble and we should not be in one when researching and writing about their lives. We need to understand how they lived and “marinate” ourselves per McCullough in their time and put our focus and thoughts inside their minds and the age in which they lived. I have attempted to do this in my family history research. History and events happen and people that lived through their times often did not know how things would turnout.

I am fortunate to be living near many of the Daleidens and Schlicks homes and former properties. I still get chills when driving east on Mack Road near Warrenville Illinois toward the Winfield and Mack Road intersection and I drive pass the former Daleiden/Schlick farmstead property. When crossing the Mack Road bridge over the Dupage River West Branch I feel the spirit of my grandparent Frank and Mae Schlick and fill my lungs and breath with their spirit as I rush over the bridge and past the home site.

The Schlick Family at the Mack Road dairy farm homestead site near Warrenville Illinois.

Here are some of my favority quotes from David McCullough concerning writing, reading, books and the study of our nations history and past:

“You’ve got to marinate your head, in that time and culture. You’ve got to become them.”
(Speaking about researching, and reading, and immersing yourself in History)”
― David McCullough, John Adams

How can we know who we are and where we are going if we don’t know anything about where we have come from and what we have been through, the courage shown, the costs paid, to be where we are?”
― David McCulloughBrave Companions: Portraits in History

“No harm’s done to history by making it something someone would want to read.” (The Course of Human Events, NEH Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities 2003)”
― David McCullough

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study paintings, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”
― David McCulloughJohn Adams

“You can’t be a full participant in our democracy if you don’t know our history.”
― David McCullough

“If you get down about the state of American culture, just remember there are still more public libraries in this country than there are McDonalds.”
― David McCullough

“Any nation that expects to be ignorant and free,” Jefferson said, “expects what never was and never will be.” And if the gap between the educated and the uneducated in America continues to grow as it is in our time, as fast as or faster than the gap between the rich and the poor, the gap between the educated and the uneducated is going to be of greater consequence and the more serious threat to our way of life. We must not, by any means, misunderstand that.”
― David McCullough

“Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance, such infinite reward for time spent, as a good book.”
― David McCullough

“History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are. ” ― David McCullough

About Schlick Daleiden Families - DuPage and Kane Counties of Illinois

Kevin Davis is a retired Public Library Director. He is a Board member of the Winfield (IL) Historical Society. Davis has over 35 years experience working in public libraries. He is deeply interested in local Chicagoland, Dupage, and Kane County History. Davis earned a BA in History and an MA in Library Science from Dominican University. He is a volunteer researcher for the St. James Farm Forest Preserve part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in Illinois. His work includes extensive writing and research on the McCormick family line who were former owners of St. James Farm. He is an avid family historian / genealogist and has done extensive research on the Schlicks and Daleidens of DuPage and Kane County Illinois.
This entry was posted in Historical Writing Resources, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.