tv Panel Discussion on Former Librarian of Congress James Billington CSPAN February 15, 2016 1:00pm-2:31pm EST
>> good afternoon. please take your seats. my understanding is we're -- [inaudible] behave yourselves. [laughter] welcome to valentine's day a bit early. i'm jane harman, the president and ceo of the wilson center, and i can't and we can't imagine what the wilson center would look like today if nobody had been smart enough to put jim billington in charge. [applause] we'd have no kennan institute, no wilson quarterly, two projects at the heart of what we do. who knows how many friends, how
the one and only president for sure trevor of the carnegie corporation. ishmael the director of the library in alexandria, and they are joining us to celebrate your service. we are also lucky to be joined by the latvian ambassadors to the united states committee acting librarian of congress david howell and jane mcauliffe the director of outreach and delegates to the board. grace mckenna and come i haven't seen her come there she is, whose family has done so much to shape this institution come and diana davis spencer who has been a great friend to our work. the gatherings like this remind me what a impact the center has around the globe including hundreds in russia and ukraine and even now we pick the best
scholars and the most brilliant staff to work on the most important issues and we learned that from you. you always scholarship at the heart of the work. no one who knows you would be surprised. some may already know this but jim and his daughter sitting right here were the first father daughter pair to win the rhodes scholarships. you can applaud for that. ". you have shown exceptional service that we all share knowledge in the public service. it is an honor to celebrate that today with so many extraordinary individuals including your own family right in the front row
for your amazing marjorie, tom, susan and others who were not able to join us here and i hope that you are as proud as we are off with the wilson center has been able to build on a foundation that you laid down for years of your friendship with me and my late husband sidney with so many in the room and congratulations on the example you set for us all.
please welcome home rojansky. >> at the director of the kennan institute it's set up to 25% of the time travel. it turns out russia and ukraine are pretty far away to want to put in the crowd for the room the quantity and quality. this is an incredible gathering and i'm inordinately privileged and intimidated to be sitting in the middle so if i slide under you will see why. one of the priority is that i had when i joined the institute
as the director is to meet with doctor billington. that was an experience i will always remember and i learned a tremendous out about the founding of the institute and the personalities. the main thing i took away from the description of the urgent need and the complex challenge of creating such a center for advanced studies in the nation's capital. in the general understanding about the then soviet russia as well as the development of experts grounded and abroad in the deep knowledge about the region the idea was to arrest and reverse the decline in the capacity to understand that part of the world.
that reminds me of the research i did recently while far away from washington, d.c. during the fellowship at nato this gave me the chance to research the original thinking and writing about the need for the capacity to understand russia and the united states and of course george kennan cofounded the institute with george billington and track star and he wrote in the telegram the united states government should see that they are educated to the realities of the russian situation and he cautioned us nothing as dangerous and terrifying as the unknown. doctor billington and the ambassador came in and starr founded the institute at the wilson center and i like to believe they are the values that we uphold to this day but i also think many of us are aware of the challenge in this moment, the precipitous decline in support for the scholarship now
and the resulting experts on the region particularly in policymaking circles however i think that it's especially timely for us to gather to celebrate a man who asked has the title suggests made a career of advancing not only knowledge, the knowledge and public service. i know that we at the institute of air care that legacy and the commission firmly in mind as the guiding star and i want to thank jim for taking the time to meet with the director that day a couple of years ago to show him what is possible eventually with one's career if one has the insight and the courage that jim has brought to bear. i want to thank the family come his wife, daughter susan &-and-sign and i want to thank grace kennan and the distinguished panel and will have the privilege of moderating today. with the panelists permission, i
will simply proceed in the order in which i have the biographies and offer a brief introduction. these are people whose backgrounds speak for themselves alexandria was inaugurated in 2002 as the board of board of directors for the affiliated research institute advises the egyptian minister and he's held many important international positions including the vice vice president and the world of the world bank and his h. here and member of the committees in the and the academic research and international institutions and has been involved in many important international organizations and has lost over 100 books and over 500 papers on a variety of topics. what isn't mentioned is the
library was first established entirely in the works. [laughter] >> she has hosted a cultural program on television in egypt and developed a scientific series in arabic and english and bachelor of science degree is from cairo and diversity and the masters and phd is from harvard and he's received 34 honorary doctorates which i understand also composed in the wall of the library. i'm delighted today to honor an amazing individual. james billington and to do so in the presence of his lovely wife and children as well as so many friends. how do you take the measure of a man, by his accomplishments and the love that he is generated.
to speak to these enormously productive careers we decided a few things that he did. i'm a lifelong bibliophile and i used to get nightmares and the idea with so many books published in this gentle into that launched the programming in 2001 which extended the lifespan of almost 4 million volumes and sheets and provided new collection facilities and opened that up in 2002 and 4 million items are available. during the tenure she doubled the size of the analog
collections to more than 160 million items in 2014 but also pioneered many of the programs and its international initiatives. and the increased funding all he did was preside over the 30% reduction in staff that he was a fundraiser extraordinaire with his creation of the council for the motion pictures as well as the legacy program and all of that is but a small part of the enormous legacy. he transformed the library of congress to the district age to the printer and i pray in the little much in terms of the number of acquisitions when maybe the british library may still have a slight edge but also in terms of its leadership
in the content and quality. it was the standard setter for the world by sharing the know-how with others and also by designing the new standards for the digital age so he ensured that the library of congress for example produced the source in 2010 for the digital age that we are all developing and starting in 2011 there was the model for the description to become the new standard for the whole world in the next year or two. she saw through the need to go beyond putting the material online and the need to look at the various parts that the whole is more than some of the parts.
he understood before anyone else but it wasn't just about the quantity of material that it can put out on the web that the material rather this will help in any way. what counted as how the institution like the library presents these materials in the public jim was the first to recognize this in the program and the first to take this into the partnership at the library program. i know many would think that he would be given his age and level of books that he had a profound understanding of the impacts in the revolution that so many are enamored into gadgets and the effects that ever more communications would bring so the [avenues for new communication for the common
humanity. he understood taking a person into final pictures would be useless for the understanding. they would get enamored by the type of the book but to the public isn't the location of the library and are the aspiration of the selectivity and the presentation where needed. as early as 1980, jim must first understand and bringing in the organized files and pictures to the person's hands. for each person on the internet that is something different. the creation is all about the selection, preservation.
it adds value to a future use. for the scientists, historians and scholars. it was also targeted from the covers from k-12 in the next generation than what was a collection of the data that became an enormously valuable learning tool. that is one of the signature programs which according to jim had to be understood. the program was not only a pioneering program but today it's put online for 20 million in the collection of the library and other research institutions.
there's the congressional database, the online card catalog, the copyright office, the website and all of that is used to. when i was vice president of the world bank and wanted to learn more about programming from that i was fascinated by the the intellectuals and the historian and the wisdom that he possessed. they were overwhelmed by the amount but the information when explained becomes knowledge but it means more than knowledge. we need wisdom. there are different qualities. it's not an attribute of use.
we we wouldn't attribute wisdom to them. we wouldn't say that young man is wise beyond his years because the quality comes from experience and reflection. it's the life worth living where the knowledge is admired. the digital library and the international summit is an ambitious program supported in and brought together 181 libraries from each country that focused on quality, not quantity and together creative material from all over the world governing manuscripts from pictures, and some pictures, and
some 112 languages presented the material in the languages and ensured the library provides the task under the leadership for the presentation of the materials in a manner for presenting the world. that was quite a small library that the entire library started with books and the jefferson collection. today there's 14,000 items in 600,000 images. nothing in comparison to what the internet provides. but there's still 4 million visitors a year. there's links from the internet and that is quality.
we will see the needs for things others signal. we mentioned the international summit of the buck. they celebrate the book and the cultural development is throughout all of the cultures of the world. in the summit a call to support it for the credit in 2012 and i had the privilege of opening the keynote address. i have that and i'm happy to give you a copy of this anti-keepsake, i'm happy to give it to you as a souvenir for inviting me to speak.
i participated in each of these events and next year it goes to ireland as the initiative lets on. as i said i've been privileged in the library of congress on these particular programs the world digital library in 2009 and the international summit in 2012. this last year i attended the meeting of both a meeting of both events in 2015 and just after jim retired. in those events they asked me to convey a special appreciation on their behalf and i have both of these documents here to deliver. [applause] >> but i need to read to you what the text says.
they assembled in alexandria november 62015. having learned of the retirement in the world digital library for the esteem of the x. every leadership and profound appreciation for the digital library a reality for the happy retirement knowing that the legacy lives on from strength. at the same time, back-to-back like we did at 2012 we have the international summit of the book at a bare is somewhat different. it says the intellectual book lovers of november sixth 2015 do celebrate the fourth international summit of the buck
carrying the torch of the summit and library of congress in 2012. forward in 2013 and 2014 and hereby recall the appreciation of the initiative and petition of james billington the initiator of the summit of the book with profound thanks from all of us and the untold millions of book lovers in the world for the book was is and buck was is and remains a primary for the communication transmission of knowledge and trust, space and time. ladies and gentlemen, not only the library of congress but also as the labor and for the world. the institutions and the leader of the legendary institution had a great library made greater the world enriched by the visions and advanced the people nurtured
a. we thank you for being the wonderful person that you are. [applause] thank you. that was truly moving and i would say worthy of the world library in scope for prosperity and particularly glad we have the cameras here. next it is my privilege to introduce the one and only 12 president of the carnegie
corporation of new york institution founded by andrew carnegie in 1911. served nine years as president of brown university and before that from 1981 to 1989 as president of the new york public library. he himself was born in tehran to the parents and received his elementary education and secondary education in lebanon. in 1956 he entered stanford university where he majored in the humanities and graduated with honors and was awarded a phd from 1964 in the top middle eastern history at stanford diversity of college la and texas and boston and joined the university of pennsylvania where he was appointed professor and was a founding dean and the cookie of arts and sciences at the university of pennsylvania and later became the 23rd
provost. he's the author of a great many books including the road to home my life and times in the emergence of modern afghanistan 1880 to 19461 might argue is still an emerging which is now being reissued in 2013 with a new introduction. i can see we have a competition brewing in 1998 president clinton. they were nowhere to the metal in 2004 president bush awarded him the medal of freedom in the highest civil war.
he serves on the great many boards including the institute for advanced study and the memorial museum. i am putting some notes to be able to recall here and say something meaningful because it is very comprehensive and very precise. the library of congress is the best in the nation in the world. also expanding library just putting things in the hole and
then taking care of. i remember they invited me years ago to visit the library is invited and i told this to jim what are we doing we are following the library of congress example two volumes of each book published in india and going into the reserve. why do we do, we send them to the basement, what happens afterwards, not my obligation. [laughter] so having the collection pauses historical obligation duties and how to preserve it because librarians are custodians not only on the buck but on heritage, the memory of mankind. of all of these accomplishments, all these cheerleaders and access permissions hence we need libraries not to have self-inflicted alzheimer's
disease as a nation. they are there to remind us i appreciate him for several reasons. i was part of a committee that wanted to lure the academic term jim will be willing to join the university of texas faculty. it didn't happen unfortunately. kept through the university presidents there is another move to lower him into the university and that also didn't happen but what happened was the institute
and that's what happened in the library of congress. i have to think about two things. many librarians dislike the fact that the nation's top positions go to librarians. that is a fact. the new york public library for most of it goes to historians and i propose the public library instead in order to repair the damage i would be happy to get the master of library science is and the unit in the move seeing these because it is natural and we must understand why historians are chosen for this position.
one is in the cultural perspective and one is to go beyond the specialization and one you are hiding also intellectual because it is in the qualifications of whose budweiser by the way. at the same time, he's a historian, lover of the book, doubles final, intellectual, curious about the cultures, not only the cultures but i was very impressed with myself that he told me one of the most unexploited, unused collections.
it's whenever that german immigrants came and i was -- asserted the foundation to exploit the german libraries and that was to study the collections in the library of congress. and the other thing that helped me in the new york public library to go acid-free. one of my first acts of the fall about all of the writers there were 100 to vouch that they will not allow any of the publications to be published on acid paper.
jim also appreciates historical universities not just the bicentennial of the greatest institutions in the library of congress but the fact also be established in the middle of the civil war established the public universities in the united states that's one of the forgotten in the middle of the civil war president lincoln started a. they started the match wreck for the measures. there were interests in the of the nation's future and that is what they were doing so jim helped us together with the
would like to read one paragraph there are the golden gate to the road of imagination and the coherence where things are put together rather than just taken apart. it's beautiful and i also believe that books are companions for life to choose it into any form they want. the entire greek literature i congratulated as you already know. from the age to another storage that's not what progress is.
it's to give the confused means with the ends. they have nothing to say. [laughter] so technology is great. that is what the real library of congress does because assuming on its own bath because the library of congress demanded it but as they do they are responsible for the welfare of all of the underlying libraries of the nation. for all of the small libraries is a great tribute. i don't want to take more time but i will tell you other things
about jim. he also is in charge in the administration and the government that's remarkable. they are necessary to make our democracy function. what we need anti-incompetent because because to me they are ignorant and indifferent and that's one of the things all institutions have to come from. librarians, heads of all of these institutions otherwise they will grow after the end the system comes more important than the message conveys. so, today we face, and this is why i'm singing this, every american can everybody in the
world for the first time in creation since history has their own library of alexandria. you don't have to be thorough anymore. you are already thorough. what you do with it and what you don't do with it is a crime of the century. if there is the fact you don't have your own library which is to build and preserve now you have to receive and read and think. don't blame the lack of teachers and books and institutions but the instinctive search for knowledge and wisdom. as he said, t.s. eliot summed up very well what is the formation and what is wisdom and knowledge
the library of congress is also international. in supporting the world of digital library and supporting the preservation and also sometimes serving the goal between getting the collection to the library of congress. and that we are making courageous -- but i think the destination of every major collection in the country has to be in the institution such as the library of congress because it guards the national heritage said it shouldn't come as a surprise that is but it is the largest library in the world. the library of congress is magnificent for one other thing. two thirds of its books and
content are international and its natural because that two thirds of the languages are collected with thomas jefferson and the small library so from the founder of thomas jefferson and john the library of congress has shown how it's not nationalist because the world is the main garden in order to cultivate and the last point i want to mention he also naturally and maybe i'm breaking confidence but he didn't tell me there are rules that congress can meet, contemplate, read ip private, that's wonderful service and the other is opening to all the children and others. i had a discussion with somebody and he is not parochial.
he told congress, not congress but the library of congress played the role of diplomatic neighborhoods in russia and more than that he also went to iran and he went to visit the national library and the government wouldn't pay on behalf of the united states to go and i'm glad that mr. carnegie said we will take care of the piece. jim therefore has multiple tasks and has done them well. there are critics in any major
organization but one thing we shouldn't forget is it has been called to serve the nation and the world to build bridges of understanding and to face all cultures as important, not minor or major and also to serve the cultures one of the last acts of jim billington was to help repatriate the memory. if you say that, what does it mean they have been destroyed and they have the heritage so. they send the hard drives to eight afghan universities to have the culture.
the previous library of congress did something wonderful because they couldn't do it without coming to the library of congress. you know why, because when america was filling the grain we could only be played to the co-pay and they couldn't be spent outside of the country's survey said we should by buy all of the periodicals so all of them now are guests of library of congress ready to be serving the nations. so, jim is a scholar, historian, intellectual, internationalists, but at the same time periods and culture. what a symbol to be delivered of
the book and see how you get this eminent through the latest technologies. it would be accomplished more because jim has great foundations in the institution. do not publish the publications thank you for afghanistan. thanks for being a good teacher and friend is as always all is always a weapon thank welcome thank you very much. [applause] it sounds like you just nominated jim and technically
saint patrick's sainthood is based on having saved knowledge on the civilization. it decreed on if they create a db for productive sainthood. from jim billington to the other gym in my life a the senior associate and diplomatic residence at the russian eurasia program at the carnegie and almond for small piece and the other upon which he looks down from the heavens he served as the u.s. ambassador to the federation from 1997 to 2001. before that appointment he was ambassador at large and special adviser to the secretary for the newly independent states and he served as the deputy chief deputy chief of mission in the affairs of the u.s. embassy in moscow from 1990 to 93 for those of you paying attention is between the ambassador matlock
and ambassador strauss. a few important things happened when he was in the position. in addition to the diplomatic postings he held positions at the embassy in jordan as the consulate general in the department of state and the white house in washington. he's been active on the board nonprofit organizations concerned with the foreign-policy. he also chairs the dialogue which is a 55-year-old u.s. soviet and now u.s. russian second track citizen who's been a tremendous voice of region debate could reason and i would add that he has taught me everything i know except i have a feeling he's about to turn around and say that jim
billington has taught him everything he knows. they went into harvard university for professor david coker and course in history and it was a rather young professor who taught the course. for both of us that got out of hand overtime. both of our careers in one way or another end up being associated with what has happened to part of the world that we can call the soviet union.
it was in the defining part of the world in many ways for the half of the 20th century are an approach to the world responsibility. it was about as good as you can get and it served me well through a career. but i want to talk about jim as the librarian and the policy developer, implementer and guide a lot has been said about the library that i would simply make a couple planes as someone who had a diplomatic career in the library. everywhere i went somebody had a ministry of culture.
in a peculiar way the library embodies the idea of the ministry of culture without being that. it is the repository to the american people about what they are, what they want to be and how they see their place in the world. all of the founders meant to be the people's place. the library in is an expression
of america as what it tries to be and what it has been and what it hopes the world will see as representing. both of us started a long time ago and a preoccupation with russian language at its history. being the head of the library of congress and having this role. we had the soviet union and that part of the world and its ideology and about how it was the other with enough of people.
>> when mr. gorbachev was beginning to question the whole basis for the soviet system. they are far greater than uncertainties. now in that kind of context, i'm here to w. i talk you i don't look to political scientists and i don't look to econ nests. if you look at historians and i think in that sense the country was extremely fortunate that jim at the library of congress was a historian probably just recognized historian in russia and its region and he was in a position to have a degree of influence with a lot of people who mattered in the way this
country approached and responded to changes that were coming and were taking place in the russian federation. >> i think there was a theme to the way that jim approached his development of how the americans from his point of view should begin to deal with this strange thing that was opening up and it was based in much of the historic study. in the work of the two mentors he worked with it was fundamentally an abiding belief that if you gave the russian people and the people in the former soviet union access to what was diverse and what was rich and what they had experienced in the three
quarters of a century that the communists had put them in a straitjacket we could have saved over time that they would come to a reasonable and sensible culturally relevant approach to deciding their future and one that would make them partners to coexist and live in peace. i think that was for the guiding idea. it is definitively in the list and what we did when i worked with him. it certainly throws the door
open and how we should just define an approach to making the relations with that work. i think the first thing i would single out is jim did have his bosses in the congress. there is a guide. it was traveling to russia and he led i don't know how many certainly a dozen or more over a period of several years and fundamentally what was important about that from the standpoint of a diplomat on the other end.
they came to the soviet union first and then the russian federation. they had an open mind to have some background for what it was they were encountering and most importantly they imported the idea that you need to listen. it's not just articulating or setting out the set of plaintiffs also listening to what the other side has to say. we gave the members of congress the sense of what they were dealing with in this rapidly changing world of the of people and it was immensely important.
there was in the same two make a major contribution and in the broadest expansion and taking the institutions, the libraries of the russian federation which had been straitjacketed for three quarters of a century and the most arcane access controls where it was parceled up by rank but it wasn't designed for people to read and explore. they were designed to provide the people who needed to know something with that information if it was a little suspicious.
jim brought one in particular that became a partner and in finding ways to open up the libraries, he pushed people like the american military to send books from the libraries that were closing in europe. he helped the russian libraries understand the sort of modern library techniques. he opened up an entirely new connections for these types of libraries where they never had any encounter and they developed relationships with libraries in the world like the failed debate cofield libraries and the
emerging pools of documents and so forth and they helped to preserve the past to organize and understand and to develop in a sense what i would say is the modern approach to libraries this was the place they looked and they looked to jim billington. third, when i was ambassador it was clear that one of the problems we had in the american government was that we had built a diplomatic representation that was designed to fight the cold war which more or less meant he left and -- lived in a vault and
there was suspicion from the other side so i thought we had to find a new way to engage the russian people without a broad base. so, i cooked up an idea with the support and encouragement of something we called an american corner. and again, it was libraries and the opening to the libraries and through people he knew that made this possible because what he did as we said we will give you a computer link and a printer and collection, which jim was responsible for collecting of books. if people give us room and make it open to anyone without a pass and without any quotations. we have some 20 of those and by the time the program was finally shut down, there was something over 40.
.. what it represented also was the kind of idea that jim kept pushing. that you need to give russians and get citizens of the former soviet space the opportunity to see alternatives, that it wasn't all simply the way they were told it had to be for most of their adult lives. and the final program he
developed, and this is really jim's alone, it and he got cooked up initially at my dining room table during the coup in 1991, 1999 jim billington managed to convince the congress and in particular senator stevens, that would be a good idea job a lot of russians come to the united states, even if for a short time, to see how we do things, to understand how americans live their daily lives, what they do day to day, how we deal with are issues. so that gave birth to what has become the open world program. that program has now brought about 24,000 individuals from the former soviet union and eastern europe. they come from every province of almost every country in the
former soviet union. and the idea has remained the same since the inception of the program, and it is constantly the one i think the body the ideas that jim had for this, this program, that you bring people who have not been there before, doesn't matter whether they speak english or not, give them a couple of days in washington to understand what our bureaucracy thinks they should, and then you send them out to some town or city in the united states and let them live with families or among families to see how we really do things at the local level. how we do the things they have to do. that program has been extremely successful, and i can tell you it is unique, and today is the biggest program that the united states government has in that part of the world for exchange
ease. so i simply would say that in the broadest sense of the world, when it came to america's policy abroad or the development of our relations with the rapidly changing and totally transforming part of the world, jim's ideas and the use of the library as an instrument to develop and conduct and conceptualize different approaches to bring people together and to bring our people and the russian people and the ukrainian people and so forth to understand a bit more about each other, there was no equal to that in the u.s. government. and i say that with a great deal of pride in having worked with jim over these years. so, jim, you have a legacy that goes well beyond the book.
it is sustained by the book that it is also sustained by a growing generation of people across a wide range of the world who had their first encounters with the united states because of what you have done. so thank you very much. [applause] >> last and certainly not least by the privilege of introducing my predecessor at the kenya institute and my boss, blair ruble is vice president for programs at the wilson center. he is a director of the centers are been policy laboratory answer for nearly a quarter-century as director of the canyon institute will also coordinate programming on compared of urban studies for two decades. he received his masters and ph.d in political science from university of toronto and his bachelors with highest honors in political science from
university of north carolina at chapel hill. he's added more than a dozen volumes and is the author of six monographs studying urban issues, russia and other related topics included mostly recently washington's u. street, a biography. and a connection i just have to relate that very recently when i had the opportunity on blair's guidance, advice and with his introduction, to take a rather high level of russian delegation for a tour of the other washington, of u. street, washington as a city and not a symbol. of course, we took them to bohemian caverns and african-american civil war museum which blew their minds by the way. the howard theatre, of course ben's chili bowl. i realize that this distinguished group of russian truly thought they understood washington from that moment understood you always have something new to learn. and in that spirit i give blair
the floor to talk about jim billington. >> thank you, matt. it's a pleasure to be a peer sharing the podium with the director of the kennan institute. very nice. i've been asked to speak about jim's scholarship, and to do so in about 10 minutes. if you've ever tried to pick up any of the books that jim has written, you understand how difficult that is. although it's good for your health because his books, particularly two books, the icon and acts, and fire in the eyes -- in the minds of in our monumental books anyway, including in their heft. so i decided what i wanted to try to do is just offer a few observations about how this working intellectual history has, in fact, shaped the
intellectual discourse of our times. part of that has to do with scholarship and the books themselves, and part of it has to do, as you just heard, is how jim esquea translated thought into action through the building of institutions which actually carry that thought further into the future. and as jane harman said in her opening remarks, we are an institution that comp it is impossible to understand what this institution would be if we don't take into account jim billington's remarkable role which really began with jim's remarkable scholarship and the way he thinks about the world. now, i want to go back to a comment that vartan me but i want to suggest that vartan is
never just a footnote in any gathering. [laughter] and i think we had evidence of that, but he spoke very eloquently about the power of the book. and what he's really talking about is the power of thought. and it's the power of thought that intellectual historians, like jim, really explore. and it's that question of what makes people's minds work that underscored the importance of his interpretive history of russia, the icon and the acts. this is a book which has defined how we think about russia and is widely regarded as one of the landmarks in russian history. not just american writing on russia, but writing by anyone on
russia. i never have told this story but jim came to speak at the university of north drilling when i was an undergraduate a couple years after the icon and acts occurred and we had to read, it was the hot new book in the field and we started out by reading that book which i'm not sure as a sophomore at university at the time photographs. but jim kane and lectured and that was the night i decided i really wanted to understand russia. so when we talk, we talk a lot about people influence other people there but it's often through private moments like that that the world is changed one decision at a time. and jim scholarship i think
really begins to capture the importance of that one thought at a time transforming the world. it is an approach that begins of course with history, and jim, like george kennan, understood we can speak about contemporary russian affairs with any wisdom or intelligence unless we carry within us -- we can't -- extensive knowledge of the russian past. not that we know facts, not that we know how to look something up with a search engine, but there's knowledge within us about russia that allows us to begin to try to think about the russian presence. and this perspective as matt rojansky reminds us, is what led jim and george kennan and fred
to establish the kennan institute within the wilson center shortly after jim's arrival here in washington. it's another example of how thought translator institutions takes on o on a life figures ben all of us. jim also became a model where many of us in the room i'm sure by continuing his scholarship even as he assumed larger and larger administrative responsibilities. this is a debacle remind us of the important link between scholarship and administrative posts -- this is a panel that can remind us -- these are in more ways than one tie together. thinking about what an institution should be, what a strategy is for an institution, it comes down how we think about the world and how we can translate our thoughts about the world into action.
so it was not only a scholar writing these big hefty profound books, but he was a human being who is translating that knowledge in those books through his visionary perspective into institutions and concrete action. and that you begin to look at the core of his scholarship, you begin to see that jim is writing about a world, inhabits a world in which culture and religious, or perhaps more concisely, moral thought, profoundly shapes how human beings live their lives. and moral thought shapes how societies and history develop. his monumental fire in the minds of men makes it very clear that ideas shape the world.
for jim the concept of liberty is essential tool for driving human actions. it may be actually one of the reasons why he has approached libraries as a democratic institution the way he has. but he tells the story in the book about important the french revolution was aimed at uniting these fires in the minds of men. because jim sees the french revolution as having shaped the world profoundly through a revolutionary slogan which, of course, is much more than a slogan. and as those ideas shape, they shape the world not the least reshaped russia. so to comprehend contemporary russia meet you can't just take a single dimension. vartan actually noted the
importance of not relying on a single entry point, but we have to begin to understand how doctors are all interwoven through the lenses of historic historical, cultural, and ideological understandings of what russia can be and what rush is, and what russia strives to be. and at the center of this quest for what it means to be russian, as jim argues in his later works such as the fish of russia and russia in search of itself, stands russian orthodox, thought and belief. that set of beliefs provides the moral underpinning to russian thought and action, and underpinning that is different from anglo-saxon sensibilities about the meaning of the moral life. as scottish travel and foreign correspondent donald mackenzie wallace wrote in the late 19th century, russian -- rush often
congress. it's interesting i think you trace it back a little bit. it's a perspective issues with some of the greatest thinkers on russia during the 20th century. including his own profession at oxford, isaiah berlin. these are thinkers who devoted their lives to trying to understand russia through the prism of that society's historical philosophical foundations. not surprisingly he studied with berlin just as berlin was developing what became his famous two concepts of liberty in which he argued that a single political concepts such as liberty can have a plurality of meetings, often contradicting one another. i looked at the date of when berlin was a seminal working out, and it must've been about the time you probably were discussing it in seminars. it's a really powerful from important ideas about the meaning of liberty but it also
is a powerful, important ideas about the importance of contradictions and consciousness. this is especially true when we approach russia where george kennan once quipped when fund with two contradictory statements about russia, assume they are both true. now, as jim collins noted in times of uncertainty we have to turn to historians to help us appreciate why it is that two contradictory phenomena can be part of a whole. and this is the role where historians a especially intellectual and cultural historians like jim billington come in. does this matter at all? if we stop to consider present-day debates about putin in today's russia, i think we can begin to understand how much jim's perspective can't inform a western world struggling to understand him, his goals and
his relationship with the russian people. he and his work should force us to step back and think a moment. what's interesting is washington within three miles of where we are sitting, there are scores of people who are ambitious and want to have the opportunity to do what george tenet did, which was to sit down and out in an right a long diplomatic cable which shapes the parameters of u.s. foreign policy for half a century. [laughter] what they fail to appreciate is that a george kennan, a berlin, a billington didn't just sit down and write a profound intellectual cable or article or book. they were able to write the way they have written because they had already devoted a portion of their souls engaging with russia. this engagement is the the the
wellspring of their insight, their knowledge and their wisdom. jim captures this as well as anyone in the opening of his book about his experiences bank in moscow in august 1991. russia transformed break through the whole. disappeared while events were unfolding, shortly after come in the months after the failed coup. there was a time of euphoria about russia's future in washington, if not in moscow. what's important to understand is that jim was clearly enjoying very nice dinners with jim collins dinnertable but is also getting out in the city, and that becomes very much reflective. he left the bunker and went out into russia. he was living through moscow and was living to a revolutionary moment. this is why with all his knowledge, together with that moment he was able to begin his book. the cold war ended with neither
a bang nor a whimper but with an spontaneous heroism of relatively small band of russians at the heart of the empirempire in moscow. these events provided an adrenaline shot of hope and self-confidence to the russian people. but soaring summer hopes predictably gave way to a winter discontent, for the event to start in motion a process of innovation and change in russian society that was bound to continue and conditions fraught with peril. democracy was an endangered species even at birth. he then continues, and again remember he's writing this in 1991 or 1992. the post-communist russian commitment to democracy in a market economy was not accompanied by being a real historical experience in russia or exposure to functioning foreign institutions.
better preparation for new path was inadequate and many zigzags still lie ahead. he then adds, to understand the intensity of the change that the august days brought to russia, one must recall the heavy legacy of russian history with its almost unrelated record of autocratic rule. what's important is that jim isn't saying there is no hope because he writes about the events of august 1991 as a breakthrough moment for the russian people. but that hope is tempered by his appreciation of everything that led up to those events and, therefore, his understand of the enormity of the transformation that lie ahead. and i think the legacy of jim's scholarship on russia for anyone concerned about russian society to russian culture and the russian people is to demonstrate to his own writings such an
appreciation is possible. thank you. [applause] >> well, blair, thank you so much. i cannot think this panel enough for providing the half, the depth, the soaring rhetoric and, of course, jim's insight in his very own words from such a wide range of the parts of human life that, jim, your work has touched. we are at time but i know that a lot of you gathered in this room as i said earlier a testament to the incredible esteem in which jim has helped in this town and in our country and globally might have thought that you want to add. i know of few people have mentioned it to the already. so what i would suggest is that in a relatively concise way, we
make a microphone, if we have microphones, yes, we do, available to anyone who will raise their hand now and let me know. will take a few minutes now to let you add your comments and thoughts to those of the panel. yes, wayne. >> hello. american foreign policy council. like to add just a word about dr. billington's attributes as a great teacher. because you is a great pedagogue installer and conductor of seminars. even had he never come to washington and all the great things he did here. i was fortunate enough to be one of his graduate student at another institution name for woodrow wilson of the road in princeton. what i took away from that seminar was an astonishing concept of the soviet union was not going to be around forever. and i remember vividly the discussion of his assertion that the great schism in the russian church was a more fundamental watershed for russia and was a
bolshevik revolution. all of us students regarded that, but by the end of the course and the end of my poster of "the icon and the axe," when i went in to the state department where i encountered this uniform view of the soviet union was the culmination of russian history, hence the cold war was permanent, i at least had this subversive notion that it wouldn't be the case. in my own assignment in moscow i can do deepening understanding of that. i certainly didn't expect to be around when it had its culmination at the end of the soviet union. but when it did and i was there, i cannot claim to have been psychologically prepared, but intellectually i was entirely comfortable, and i was entirely because of that seminar i had earlier with the great teacher. >> thank you, wayne. [applause]
>> okay, right here. >> thank you. my name is svetlana. imagine -- [inaudible] contemporary issues. a friend of mine brought me to your office in the library, and i asked you what language are she said it doesn't matter. english. [inaudible] everybody who is in this room, because this program gave me a lot of -- for two countries, for both russia and america. thank you very much. you are my best teacher. thank you. [applause] >> yes, right here. >> i just wanted to mention one on of which was not mentioned by
our esteemed panel speakers just introduce yourself. >> mark newman, i'm a friend of the wilson center and the billington's. >> i can't see anyone. >> and that is the owner public law 114 -- 113 am an act of congress signed by the president of united states, president obama which designates dr. billington as librarian of congress emeritus. only the second person of the third person in history of our country to be afforded that honor. so for all of you who don't think that speaker ryan and leaders pelosi and mcconnell and so forth and president obama, they can't agree on the extraordinary service of dr. billington. [applause] >> okay. i think that is a fittingly optimistic note in the macro sense of which to conclude, and
certainly very befitting of the service of the jim billington who once again i would ask everyone to just join in thanking him for joining us today, the billington family, this panel for doing such a thing honor to him. thank you all. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> here's a look at some upcoming book fairs and festivals happening around the country.
>> you are watching booktv. on saturday we were live on the ninth annual savannah book festival in georgia all day several authors discussed the books from the trinity united methodist church including war veteran and quadruple amputee travis mills, former bush white house press secretary dana perino and desolate author. we kicked off our coverage with rutgers university journalism professor david greenberg, author of "republic of spin: an inside history of the american presidency."
>> thank you, all of you. it's really encouraging to see such a good crowd this early on a saturday morning. i want to thank in particular ted and linda moore, my host this weekend who have been showing me around savannah and showing me a wonderful time. it's wonderful to be in this terrific city. i want to talk today first for a few minutes about what led me to write this book, "republic of spin." my first book was on richard nixon did it was a book called nixon's shadow, a history of an image. it was not so much a biography of nixon as a study of nixon in the american imagination. not a story of what he did so much as a sort of what nixon meant. and i came to see through the study of nixon how many