March 16, 2005
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – Saint John’s University will present the 12th annual Colman J. Barry Award for Distinguished Contributions to Religion and Society to Librarian of Congress James Hadley Billington, for his love and devotion to books, history and cultural preservation. The award will be presented in conjunction with Saint John’s Day activities on Saturday, April 9, at The Historic Depot in Minneapolis. The program will feature the performance of an original musical composition by internationally renowned composer Libby Larson, in honor of Billington. The award presentation will also coincide with the opening of The Saint John’s Bible exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. The Saint John’s Day event is by invitation only.
Billington was sworn in as the Librarian of Congress on Sept. 14, 1987 and is the 13th person to hold the position since the Library was established in 1800.
Billington has championed the Library’s American Memory National Digital Library (NDL) Program, which makes more than 8.5 million American historical items from the collections of the Library and other research institutions freely available online. These unique American Memory materials and the Library’s other Internet services, which include THOMAS (a congressional database), the online "card catalog," exhibitions, information from the U.S. Copyright Office and a Web site for children and families called America’s Library, handled more than 2.6 billion transactions last year.
Billington created the Library’s first national private-sector advisory group, the James Madison Council, whose members have supported the NDL Program, many other Library outreach programs and acquisitions for the Library’s collections. In 2000, the Library’s bicentennial year, Madison Council Chairman John W. Kluge made the largest monetary donation in the Library’s history: $60 million to create within the Library a center for advanced scholars and a Nobel-level prize for lifetime achievement in the humanities or social sciences.
Born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., on June 1, 1929, Billington was educated in the public schools of the Philadelphia area. He was class valedictorian at both Lower Merion High School and Princeton University, where he graduated with highest honors in 1950. Three years later, he earned his doctorate from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College. Following service with the U.S. Army and in the Office of National Estimates, he taught history at Harvard University from 1957 to 1962 and subsequently at Princeton University, where he was a professor of history from 1964 to 1974.
From 1973 to 1987, Billington was director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the nation’s official memorial in Washington to America’s 28th president. As director, he founded the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Center and seven other new programs as well as the Wilson Quarterly.
Billington is the author of “Mikhailovsky and Russian Populism (1956),” “The Icon and the Axe (1966),” “Fire in the Minds of Men (1980),” “Russia Transformed: Breakthrough to Hope, August 1991 (1992)” and “The Face of Russia (1998),” the companion book to the three-part television series of the same name, which he wrote and narrated for the Public Broadcasting Service. “The Icon and the Axe,” “Fire in the Minds of Men” and “The Face of Russia” have been translated and published in a variety of languages. Billington has accompanied 10 congressional delegations to Russia and the former Soviet Union. In June 1988, he accompanied President and Mrs. Reagan to the Soviet Summit in Moscow. He is the founder of the Open World Program and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Open World Leadership Center. The Open World Program is a nonpartisan initiative of the U.S. Congress that has brought more than 8,800 emerging young Russian political leaders to communities throughout America.
Billington has received 33 honorary degrees, as well as the Woodrow Wilson Award from Princeton University (1992), the UCLA Medal (1999) and the Pushkin Medal of the International Association of the Teachers of Russian Language and Culture (2000). Most recently, he was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Tbilisi in Georgia (1999) and the Moscow State University for the Humanities (2001). He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford in November 2002.
Billington is an elected member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and has been decorated as Chevalier and again as a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters of France, as Commander of the National Order of the Southern Cross of Brazil, awarded the Order of Merit of Italy and a Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit by the Federal Republic of Germany. He has also been awarded the Gwanghwa Medal by the Republic of Korea and the Chingiz Aitmatov Gold Medal by the Kyrgyz Republic.
Billington was a longtime member of the editorial advisory boards of Foreign Affairs and of Theology Today and a member of the Board of Foreign Scholarships (1971-76; Chairman, 1973-1975), which has executive responsibility for academic exchanges worldwide under the Fulbright-Hays Act. He is on the Board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is a member of the American Philosophical Society and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The Colman Barry Award for Distinguished Contributions to Religion and Society recognizes the contributions that the Rev. Barry, a Benedictine monk of Saint John’s Abbey and former president of SJU, made during his life of scholarship and teaching. The author of several books, including his three-volume “Readings in Church History and Worship and Work,” the Rev. Barry began his teaching career at Saint John’s in 1952. He died in 1994.
The Rev. Barry was responsible for the creation of the Jay Phillips Chair in Jewish Studies in 1969, the first such chair at an American catholic college and the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (f.k.a. the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library) in 1964. His creative leadership set the roots on the SJU campus for Minnesota Public Radio in 1967, which has grown to become one of the top public radio networks in the nation.
The Colman Barry Award for Distinguished Contributions to Religion and Society is given annually to those who believe and demonstrate that service to others, in its expansion of human understanding and extension of social justice, comprises the best in human achievement.