History in a Democratic Age

By Chairman, Neh; Cole, Bruce | Humanities, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

History in a Democratic Age


Chairman, Neh, Cole, Bruce, Humanities


HISTORIAN JOHN LUKACS TALKS WITH NEH CHAIRMAN BRUCE COLE ABOUT HISTORY AND ITS HEROES. LUKACS HAS WRITTEN A DOZEN BOOKS, AMONG THEM HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS, THE PASSING OF THE MODERN AGE, AND FIVE DAYS IN LONDON, MAY 1940. HIS MOST RECENT IS CHURCHILL: VISIONARY. STATESMAN. HISTORIAN.

BRUCE COLE: You've written about a variety of subjects: the intellectual history of the past five hundred years, the history of the Cold War, the city of Budapest, the rise and fall of Europe, the history of the United States. What draws you to a given topic?

JOHN LUKACS: There's a simple answer to this: whatever interests me. Professionally, sometimes, this is a handicap. Other historians may say, "What is he doing on my turf?" Yet I can only say: whatever interests me. If something really interests me, then I'm writing not for money, not for reputation-but because I can't help it.

COLE: While you're researching one topic, does that spark off ideas on another that leads to a book, maybe not immediately, but somewhere down the road a bit?

LUKACS: It often does spark an interest. During research, you often find what you're looking for, but very often you find other things too that, for the reason of economy, you don't want to include in the same book.

COLE: Yes. Right.

LUKACS: It may just lie fallow. It might result in an article. Who knows, it might even lead to another book.

COLE: You've observed that you cannot separate history from the historian. How did you become a historian?

LUKACS: This goes back to a very different world, and to a very different time. As you know, I was born in Hungary. I was interested in history, but it was not until I entered the university that I decided that I was going to get a degree in history, a degree not quite the equivalent to an American Ph.D., but by and large similar. That's how I became a historian.

COLE: As a child you were interested in history?

LUKACS: The other day I was just thinking about this. I started to read novels and literature, I would say, in my early teens. When I look back, I was always interested in the kind of literature that has much history in it-- not the historical novel as such, but novels that described a time, a place, and people, how they were, what they were thinking, how they and their places were at a particular time.

COLE: I understand. Besides your writing, you've had a long career as a college professor. Is there a relationship between your teaching and your research and writing?

LUKACS: Absolutely. I always wanted to write. Frankly, when I got my first teaching position, I said, "All right. This will enable me to write." I think that I was a responsible and a reliable teacher, but my teaching ambitions were secondary. I was not interested in moving from college to college to college up the academic ladder.

Then, halfway through my teaching career which has almost covered half a century, I discovered that my teaching had very much helped my writing and even that I have been especially fortunate to teach in a good little undergraduate college. If I had been appointed to a large university and taught graduate students, I don't think I would be as good a writer. I had to talk to undergraduates about complicated things simply but not superficially. It taught me a great deal about economy of expression.

COLE: Well, that's certainly characteristic of your books: you make complicated events and situations crystal clear. So you find that when you're in the classroom, you need to get to the essence of what you're talking about and present it in a way that is fathomable to an undergraduate?

LUKACS: Yes. I have to use my words carefully, and this is what writing is all about. I have shocked many of my historian colleagues by saying that history consists of words, that the words are not just the packaging of the facts. In our minds the facts do not exist apart from the words with which we express them. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

History in a Democratic Age
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.