Latter-day Saint Life

Here’s what historian David McCullough said to Latter-day Saints


Today we celebrate the life and legacy of author and historian David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and often referred to as the “master chronicler of American history.” McCullough passed away on August 7, 2022, in his home in Massachusetts at the age of 89.

As a beloved historian, McCullough had opportunities to address countless groups of people all over the world. Here are four instances when McCullough shared his remarks with Latter-day Saints.

In September 2005, McCullough gave a forum assembly address on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

In his address, McCullough outlined the imperfections and sacrifices of those early American patriots, the importance of character, and the need for us to study and learn from history.

“I hope very much that those of you who are studying history here will pursue it avidly, with diligence, with attention,” he said. “I hope you do this not just because it will make you a better citizen, and it will; not just because you will learn a great deal about human nature and about cause and effect in your own lives, as well as the life of the nation, which you will; but as a source of strength, as an example of how to conduct yourself in difficult times—and we live in very difficult times, very uncertain times. … And I hope when you read about the American Revolution and the reality of those people that you will never think of them again as just figures in a costume pageant or as gods. They were not perfect; they were imperfect—that’s what’s so miraculous.”

You can read and listen to McCullough’s full BYU forum address from 2005 on BYU Speeches.

In 2009, McCullough visited the soon-to-be-dedicated new Church History Library in Salt Lake City. According to Church Newsroom, McCullough praised the historians in attendance for providing a tremendous service to the country.

“You are truly doing the Lord’s work because it matters. And if we don’t do it we are not fulfilling our responsibility as citizens. Not just as members of the Church but as citizens.”

He also expressed appreciation for what he called the “epic” story of the Latter-day Saints.

“You are caring for a national treasure here. The story of the Latter-day Saints, of Joseph Smith, of Brigham Young, and that incredible migration here is a great American story.”

You can read more about McCullough’s visit and remarks on Church Newsroom.

Later that year, McCullough served as the guest narrator for The Tabernacle Choir’s annual Christmas concert. He shared the touching history of—and amazing World War II connections to—the classic Christmas songs, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

Of his experience with the Choir, he told Deseret News, “I’ve done nothing like that, with that wonderful choir behind me and all those people in front of me. The first time I stepped out there, I didn't know if I could do it. But it was a thrill, and I'll never forget it.”

He also praised the Choir for its contributions to America. “Your great … Tabernacle Choir is one of the high achievements of our nation,” he shared, as reported by Church News. “To me, it stands as a noble attainment, and we’ve had many of those in our story as a people. I like to think of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Marshall Plan, for example. I would include the … Tabernacle Choir as one of the proudest achievements of our country, an expression of the human spirit for all.”

You can watch his powerful narration from that concert in the player below.

Then just six months later in 2010, McCullough attended and spoke at the National Genealogical Society 2010 Family History Conference. The event, “A Celebration of Family History,” was organized by FamilySearch and served as the foundation for larger-scale conferences like the annual week-long event, RootsTech. According to Newsroom, McCullough focused his remarks on the nature of history and better understanding those who came before us.

“The more we know, the more we want to know. Curiosity is accelerative,” he said. “There really is no such thing as the past. No one really lived in the past. They lived in the present, their present.”

“The Pioneers” by David McCullough

Drawn in great part from a rare and all-but-unknown collection of diaries and letters by the key figures, The Pioneers is a uniquely American story of people whose ambition and courage led them to remarkable accomplishments. This is a revelatory and quintessentially American story, written with David McCullough’s signature narrative energy.

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