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Monday, January 10, 2022

Focused on Ordinary Readers


“My favorite book is the last one printed, which is always better than those that were published earlier.” – Stephen Ambrose

Born on this date in 1936, Ambrose chose to present his writings of history in “popular” style so that they would attract more readers. 

He focused on how ordinary readers would best like to see it  -  not necessarily "scholarly," but "palatable.”  It worked.  A longtime professor of history at the University of New Orleans, he authored many best selling volumes of American popular history.    At the time of his death (in 2002), the New York Times 
    credited him with reaching "an important lay audience without endorsing its every prejudice or sacrificing the profession's standards of scholarship.”

In addition to his dozens of books and hundreds of articles, Ambrose championed (and often funded) efforts to collect oral histories – particularly from veterans of both World War II and the Korean War.  He utilized many of those histories in his own writing and also consulted on such major film efforts as “The World At War,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers,” and “Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery.”

In recognition of his efforts, the Rutgers University Living History Society awards the annual Stephen E. Ambrose Oral History Award to "an author or artist who has made significant use of oral history." 
“You don’t hate history,” he once said.  “What you hate is how it’s been taught to you.”   

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