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David McCullough On The American Love Affair With Paris13:30

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Café De Flore in Paris, France (AP)
Café De Flore in Paris, France (AP)

As historian David McCullough puts it, America in 1830 was still a rough and ready upstart of a nation, not much outgrown of the rebellious spirit of its birth.

Call it a moody teenager, disdainful of the old ways (read: Britain), but so desperate to be graceful and grown up (read: France). Not surprising then, that so many celebrated figures of 19th century American history went to Paris to immerse themselves in the culture and creative thinking found in the City of Light.

But in a uniquely American turn of play, these great thinkers returned home, reinvented their Parisian lessons in an American context and transformed the country.

Charles Sumner studied at the Sorbonne alongside black students. He later became an eloquent champion of abolition in the U.S. Senate. And Oliver Wendell Holmes was introduced to new medical techniques, and brought back new techniques of surgery and hospital care that transformed medicine.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens went to Paris with no money and just one suitcase. A decade later, he became the most celebrated American sculptor of his time. Saint-Gaudens's memorial to Robert Gould Shaw helped shape Boston's memory of the Civil War. But ironically, Saint-Gaudens remarked that it took his many years in Paris to "find out how much of an American I am."

But what was it about Paris that so enlivened the American imagination?

Je ne sais quoi.

But David McCullough does.

Listen as he walks us through this unique period in American history.


  • David McCullough, Pulitzer prize winning author of many books on American history including "1776", "John Adams" and "Truman". His latest book is "The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris"

This program aired on June 22, 2011.

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