Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Bryn Mawr, Montgomery County
Dr. James H. Billington has received many awards for his books and accomplishments. He was appointed Librarian of Congress in 1987.
James H. Billington, from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, has devoted most of his life to his books. He has received many awards, not only for his books but for other accomplishments as well. He was appointed as Librarian of Congress in 1987. Billington currently lives in McLean, Virginia, with his wife, Marjorie Anne Brennan.
James H. Billington is a native of Pennsylvania but traveled elsewhere for educational purposes and professions. Billington was born June 1, 1929, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He attended public schools in the Philadelphia area and graduated from Lower Merion High School. Billington was the valedictorian of his high school class. He attended Princeton University and graduated as the class valedictorian in 1950. Billington attended Oxford University, and three years later he earned his doctorate. Billington was also a member of the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1956 and rose to the rank of first lieutenant. After his service in the army, he was an instructor at Harvard University from 1957 to 1958 and then became the assistant professor of history from 1958 to 1961. From 1961 to 1964 he was an associate professor, and in 1964 he became the professor of history at Princeton University until 1973.
As the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, he founded the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, along with seven other new programs. From 1973 to 1987 he was the director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, which was the nation's official memorial in Washington, DC, to the 28th president, Woodrow Wilson. On September 14, 1987, Billington was sworn in as the Librarian of Congress. The two main responsibilities of the Librarian of Congress are the overseeing of all library priorities and the management of the administrative operations of the office. The library holds almost 90 million books and papers and is the nation's largest public library. Billington created The James Madison Council, which was the library's first national private advisory group. The members of this group support the National Digital Library Program and other library programs. Since the library was established in 1800, he is the 13th person to hold the position.
Throughout his life, Billington has written many books. He is the author of Mikhailovsky and Russian Populism (1956), The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture (1966), Fire in the Minds of Men (1980), Russia Transformed: Breakthrough to Hope, August 1991 (1992), and The Face of Russia (1998). The Icon and the Axe, Fire in the Minds of Men and The Face of Russia were translated and published in many different languages.
His first book, Mikhailovsky and Russian Populism, is a biography of Nikolai Mikhailovsky, a critic and populist movement leader. This book covered all aspects of the history of Russia. E.M. Arden reviewed this book and said that there are very few works that cover "intellectual and political movements and prominent individuals of the latter half of the 19th century in Russia [that combine] scholarship and lucidity in such a readable fashion as Dr. Billington's."
His second book, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, showed that Billington was a dominant figure as a historian of Russia. The book covered more than a thousand years of history about Russian culture, politics, and Russian development. After The Icon and the Axe was released, Leonard Schapiro, a writer for the New Yorker, said Billington was, "a sensitive historian" and thought that this book was "a highly individual and personal reflection [of the Russian culture]."
Fire in the Minds of Men was not as popular with critics as the other histories were. Another writer for the New Yorker, Naomi Bliven, said, "Despite all his digging, he has uncovered very little that is of use to Americans in our present perplexities. We still need to learn...how people of different origins can live peacefully and equitably side by side." Billington wrote and narrated the book The Face of Russia, which was shown on Public Broadcasting Stations on June 1998. The Face of Russia was the third part of the three-part television series that showed the history of the people of Russia through their culture. This was not the first time that Billington was associated with the television business. He had also been seen as a host, commentator, and a consultant for various other network television programs.
Throughout his life he has received 33 honorary degrees. One of the most prominent awards that he has received is the Woodrow Wilson Award from Princeton University in 1992. He has also received the UCLA Medal in 1999 and the Pushkin Medal of the International Association of the Teachers of Russian Language and Culture in 2000. He has received awards from several universities, including honorary doctorates from theTbilisi State University in Georgia in 1999, the Moscow State University for the Humanities in 2001, and also from the University of Oxford in 2002.
Billington is very prominent in various countries across the world. He has become well known in Russia and other countries. He helped teach at schools and institutions in the USSR. Among these schools were the University of Leningrad and Moscow and also the Institute of History. Billington was chosen to be a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and has been both the Chevalier and the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters of France. He is also the Commander of the National Order of the Southern Cross of Brazil and a Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit by the Federal Republic in Germany. He has been awarded the Order of Merit of Italy, the Gwanghwa Medal from the Republic of Korea, and the Chingiz Aitmatov Gold Medal by the Kyrgyz Republic.
Currently, James Billington and his wife, Marjorie Anne Brennan, live in McLean, Virginia. He continues to improve the Library of Congress's outreach by raising funds and by creating the National Book Festival as a way to facilitate learning through literature. In 2011, Billington was named Washingtonian of the Year.
Billington retired in 2015.
Mikhailovsky and Russian Populism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956.
The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture. New York: Knopf, 1966.
Fire in the Minds of Men. New York: Basic Books, 1980.
Russia Transformed: Breakthrough to Hope, August 1991. New York: Free Press, 1992.
The Face of Russia. New York: TV Books, 1998.
Russia in Search of Itself. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2004.