Williams, Robert C. 1938- (Robert Chadwell Williams)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Williams, Robert C. 1938- (Robert Chadwell Williams)

PERSONAL:

Born October 14, 1938, in Boston, MA; son of Charles Regan (a public health official) and Dorothy Williams; married Ann Kingman (a biology assistant), August 27, 1960; children: Peter, Margaret, Katharine. Education: Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT), B.A., 1960; Harvard University, A.M., 1962, Ph.D., 1966.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Washington University, History Department, St. Louis, MO 63130.

CAREER:

Writer, historian, and educator. Williams College, Williamstown, MA, assistant professor of history, 1965-70, assistant to the provost, 1968-70; Washington University, St. Louis, MO, 1970—, began as associate professor, became professor of history and dean.

MEMBER:

American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (president, Central Slavic Conference, 1970-71), Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1960; Kennan fellow, 1976-77.

WRITINGS:

Culture in Exile: Russian Emigres in Germany, 1881-1941, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1972.

Artists in Revolution: Portraits of the Russian Avant-garde, 1905-1925, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1977.

The Culture Exchange: Russian Art and American Money, 1900-1940, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1980.

(With Philip L. Cantelon) Crisis Contained: The Department of Energy at Three Mile Island, Southern Illinois University Press, U.S. Department of Energy, Assistant Secretary for Environment, Office of Environmental Compliance and Overview (Washington, DC), 1980.

(With Robert C. Williams) The American Atom: A Documentary History of Nuclear Policies from the Discovery of Fission to the Present, 1939-1984, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1984, 2nd edition, 1991.

(Advisory editor) Russia in Transition (microform): The Diplomatic Papers of David R. Francis, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, 1916-1918, edited by Robert Lester, University Publications of America (Frederick, MD), 1986.

The Other Bolsheviks: Lenin and His Critics, 1904-1914, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1986.

Klaus Fuchs, Atom Spy, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1987.

Russia Imagined: Art, Culture, and National Identity, 1840-1995, P. Lang (New York, NY), 1997.

Ruling Russian Eurasia: Khans, Clans, and Tsars, Krieger (Malabar, FL), 2000.

The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History, M.E. Sharpe (Armonk, NY), 2003.

Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom, New York University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including Yale Review, Slavic Review, Wilson Quarterly, and the Journal of History of Ideas. Editor of Berkshire Review, 1967-70, and Kritika, 1968.

SIDELIGHTS:

Though he is the author of a member of studies of Russian society, writer and historian Robert C. Williams's The Culture Exchange: Russian Art andAmerican Money, 1900-1940 has received particular attention from critics for its revealing portrayal of the strange relationship between Soviet government officials and wealthy American art collectors that existed in the first half of the twentieth century. "Drawn from both Russian and American sources," wrote James R. Mellow in the New York Times Book Review, "and from well-publicized tax trials and less accessible Government records that reveal the shadier aspects of the subject, [The Culture Exchange is a detailed, scholarly account of the once-secret transactions by which the treasures of the Romanovs (imperial porcelains, Russian silver, Faberge jewelry, from the collection of Csar Nicholas II) and some of the greatest masterpieces in the history of art (Rembrandts, Raphaels, Titians, and Van Eycks stripped from the walls of Russian museums) became the property of American millionaires." These transactions occurred, according to Mellow, because "Following the Revolution of 1917, much of Russia's artistic patrimony … had its price. From Lenin and Trotsky to Stalin and his Five-Year Plans, the Soviet effort to sell valuable paintings and sculptures, the nationalized wealth of the Russian nobility—to ‘turn diamonds into tractors,’ as one Russian official put it—became standard practice in the financing of the new regime and its technological programs."

Among the wealthy Americans who took advantage of the Russian need for foreign currency were Andrew Mellon and Armand Hammer. The former was responsible for the largest of these exchanges of art for cash in 1930-31, when, according to Norman Stone in the Times Literary Supplement, he "acquired twenty-one masterpieces of European art from the Hermitage collection. He paid 6,654,053 dollars for a set which included Rembrandt's ‘Polish Nobleman’ and ‘Woman Holding a Pink,’ Veronese's ‘Finding of Moses,’ [and] Velazquez's ‘Innocent X.’ The Mellon sale alone made up one third of the value of Soviet exports to America in that year. Soviet sales of works of art, to finance the country's industrialization, brought in 4,600,000 rubles in 1929, 6,300,000 in 1930, 2,700,000 in 1931, 1,900,000 in 1932." Stone concluded: "This is the depressing story which Robert Williams has told. He does not draw a moral from his tale, but he tells it with conviction."

Russia Imagined: Art, Culture, and National Identity, 1840-1995 contains a collection of essays written by Williams over a span of thirty years. These essays address themes and subjects concerned with Russian national identity and associated topics. "Although the eighteen essays were written for a range of publications in several fields, the material is filtered through a consistent frame of reference: Williams's fascination with the ways in which ideas of the spiritual affected both artistic and political movements," commented Alison Hilton in the Journal of Modern History.

In the book, Williams reflects "on the cultural phenomena that he believes were responsible for the sometimes paradoxical tendencies in the evolution of nationhood in Russia and the Soviet Union," Hilton noted. The first part of the book, "Russian Soul, Revolutionary Spirit," contains four essays. The first looks at Russian and German contributions to the development of Russian national identity. The second chronicles Russophobia in pre-World-War-I Germany. The final two essays in the section assess the meshing of Russian and foreign perspectives in the interpretation of form and meaning in visual art and theater. The book's second section analyzes social, cultural, and political aspects of Bolshevism, Stalinism, and Leninism. The section titled "From the Other Shore" looks at experiences of Russians abroad, particularly in Berlin and Nazi Germany. "The Russian National Treasure" considers ways in which Russian artistic and political concerns intermingle, while "Apocalypse Now and Then" considers the large-scale, cosmic, mystic, and even apocalyptic imaginings of Russian revolutionary thought. Hilton concluded that "the book seems to achieve Williams's purpose in bringing together this group of writings on the aspects of Russian culture that occupied his attention over the years. The juxtaposition of topics gives readers a chance to consider subjects and ideas that are not often drawn together."

The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History provides a concise introduction to historical research, methods of conducting historical study, and the intricate details that students and researchers will encounter in their interactions with history. Williams discusses techniques for reading, analyzing, researching, and writing about history, while also discussing the unique aspects of historical research, proof, causation, and more. Geared toward history students, the book covers the intellectual processes and procedures of historical research as well as the techniques used to synthesize and present disciplined conclusions and findings in historical topics. "Well-written with delightful and enticing anecdotes, adept at explaining themes and concerns of history, and with an enthusiasm only made greater by the author's forty years of engagement with the discipline, The Historian'sToolbox easily could supplant many … dreary supplements," commented Milton Ready in Teaching History: A Journal of Methods.

Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom is a comprehensive biography of Greeley, a prominent newspaper editor and advocate for social reform, personal improvement, economic equality, and other liberal-leaning causes in the mid to late 1800s. Greeley's was a moral outlook rooted in Christianity, noted Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor. He was against slavery and supported freedom for all, and in the process supported American westward expansion (the phrase "Go West, young man!" is often, perhaps apocryphally, attributed to Greeley). Greeley was the founding editor of the influential newspaper New York Tribune and expended the majority of his energies in running that enterprise. The paper, which employed journalists such as Samuel Clemens and boasted Karl Marx as a foreign correspondent, became the most trusted newspaper in the United States during the period of the Civil War. Greeley's political life became embroiled in conflicts with the Republican party, which Greeley had helped found, when he became convinced that the party had become corrupt. Following an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1872 against Ulysses S. Grant, his former Republican colleagues turned bitterly against him. Shortly thereafter, Greeley died, his death accelerated, Williams suspects, by the stress of the presidential campaign and its aftermath.

"Williams captures Greeley not only as the white-haired, badly dressed odd duck, but also as a formidable presence" in nineteenth-century culture and politics, remarked James Boylan in the Columbia Journalism Review. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews named Williams's biography a "powerful portrait of a publisher who became the voice of Middle America during the nation's deepest crisis." Library Journal reviewer Theresa McDevitt noted that "this accessible study by a seasoned historian is based on an impressive collection of primary resources." Taylor concluded that those readers interested in the vital details of Greeley's life, career, and philosophy "have got it all in Williams' solid presentation."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, June 1, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom, p. 31.

Columbia Journalism Review, May-June, 2006, James Boylan, review of Horace Greeley, p. 69.

Harper's Magazine, July, 2006, John Leonard, "New Books," review of Horace Greeley, p. 81.

History Today, May, 2003, "General History," review of The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History, p. 90.

Journal of Modern History, June, 2000, Alison Hilton, review of Russia Imagined: Art, Culture, and National Identity, 1840-1995, p. 575.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2006, review of Horace Greeley, p. 451.

Library Journal, May 1, 2006, Theresa McDevitt, review of Horace Greeley, p. 96.

New York Times Book Review, March 9, 1980, James R. Mellow, review of The Culture Exchange: Russian Art and American Money, 1900-1940, p. 6.

Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, spring, 2005, Milton Ready, review of The Historian's Toolbox, p. 43.

Times Literary Supplement, March 28, 1980, review of The Culture Exchange p. 348.