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Awards & Honors: 2006 National Humanities Medalist

The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University

"This place has always been about freedom," says John Raisian, director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. "It's about the idea of promoting a free society."

As a library and public policy research center, the Hoover Institution supports the study of politics, economics, and international affairs, focusing on the role of individual liberty safeguarded from government intrusion. It was founded by Herbert Hoover after the outbreak of World War I.

"Hoover was interested in gathering materials during times of war and revolution in order to find a way to promote peace," says Raisian. "He thought that scholars could work on these documents and look for solutions that could lead to peaceful coexistence."

Raisian has led the Hoover Institution for the past seventeen years and has seen the number of scholars using its collections grow to seven thousand last year. The collaboration of researchers has led to the creation of journals, research projects, and roles for advising governments. About one thousand opinion pieces are written yearly by Hoover scholars from forty countries, published by newspapers around the world such as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.

Among Hoover alumni are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State George Schultz, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, and Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives.

"If you're looking at the community of think tanks, Hoover is unusual in at least one important respect, our vast archival collections," says Raisian. Twenty-five miles of shelf space hold decades of materials on war, revolution, and peace. The content of the library's one million volumes—including sixty million documents and one hundred thousand political posters-spans continents and details political and economic history from China to the United States to Russia.

"There are some real treasures," says Raisian, pointing out a collection of Soviet archives obtained shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. "This is the record of a long run of communism, from rise to fall. We wondered what was going to happen to all that documentation. Over time, we were able to get more than twelve million copies of documents out of the former Soviet archives." This immense collection helps scholars understand the politics and economics of the former Soviet Union. One volume illuminates early Soviet leadership during President Hoover's era.

"There's a document just beyond the turn of the Russian Revolution where a bureaucrat had written something about what do with this offer by Herbert Hoover for food relief in Russia," says Raisian. "Trotsky, Stalin, and Lenin all responded in some different way. These were handwritten, marginal comments on the very same document.

"We have to work hard at preserving what we have," says Raisian. "Revolutionaries didn't print on high quality paper." In 1990, a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities supported the cataloging and preservation of almost one hundred thousand Russian émigré diplomatic, military, and political documents.

"We need to figure out a way to make this material more accessible so more people can get at it," says Raisian. "We're looking at least at putting it on the Internet so that it can be available to the broader group of scholars."

The ability of these scholars to collaborate, Raisian says, is essential to continuing the Hoover Institution's mission.

"One of the things I've enjoyed is to have the community of scholars. I try to find ways for us to work together toward a common interest," says Raisian. "What's great is figuring out ways that we can come together and work together with the principle that the total output of the group is greater than the sum of the individual parts."

By Sarah Klilff