2015 Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities

By Audrey McMillion

David McCullough, a renowned author, historian, editor, and lecturer, received the Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities at Phi Beta Kappa’s 44th Triennial Council held in Denver this fall. The Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities includes a cash prize and a medal named for Mr. and Mrs. William B. Jaffe, whose gift enabled the creation of the award in 1970. Mr. Jaffe was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Union College. 

McCullough is widely regarded as a master of the art of narrative history. He has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians—receiving each award twice. He has also been honored with the Cornelius Ryan Award, the American Compass Best Book award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive in the United States. Additionally, McCullough has earned 52 honorary degrees from a myriad of universities, and he has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is one of a small number of civilians who has lectured before Congress. Not only has he received national acclaim at home, he is also an internationally renowned author; his books have been published in 17 languages, and he was recently named an Officer of the Legion of Honor by the President of France.

A graduate of Yale University with a degree in English literature, McCullough began his career as an assistant editor for Sports Illustrated, continuing on to work as an editor for the United States Information Agency before he settled in his current field of interest and expertise, American history. McCullough is the author of 11 books, none of which has ever been out of print. The Johnstown Flood, his first book, was published in 1968, and it relayed the tale of a flood that affected his hometown, Pittsburgh. The book’s success helped McCullough to pioneer his novel-writing career. Among his other works, John Adams (2001) and Truman (1992) both won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography. His publications include The Wright Brothers (2015), The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (2011), The Great Bridge (1972), Brave Companions (1991), The Path Between the Sea (1977), Mornings on Horseback (1981), which is a biography of Theodore Roosevelt, In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story (2010), and 1776 (2005). 

In addition to his contributions in the literary realm, McCullough has narrated many film pieces, including Ken Burns’ series on the Civil War and PBS’s American Experience series. McCullough also gave his voice to the Academy Award-nominated documentary Brooklyn Bridge, which was based on his book The Great Bridge. He won an Emmy for his contributions to public television. 

McCullough enjoys travel and painting, and has an avid interest in art and architecture. He and his wife, Rosalee Barnes McCullough, live in Massachusetts. They have five children and nineteen grandchildren.

L-R: ΦBK Secretary John Churchill, ΦBK Associate Secretary Ronnie Roha, awardee David McCullough, and ΦBK Awards Committee Chair Peter Quimby. 

Audrey McMillion is a senior at Hendrix College majoring in English. Hendrix College is home to the Beta of Arkansas Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.