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Conversations with History in Our Time

More than 40 Interviews with Distinguished Visitors are Available on the Web

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted October 7, 1998

Famous men and women have visited Berkeley in droves over the decades - giving lectures, meeting with students and faculty, occasionally staying on as visiting professors.

Since 1982, Harry Kreisler, executive director of the Institute of International Studies, has captured the thoughts and experiences of over 150 of them in personal interviews now being mounted on the web.

Called "Conversations with History," his unedited conversations with Kofi Annan, Anson Chan, Norman Cousins, Sadako Ogata, Robert Wise, Linus Pauling and Wole Soyinka, among others, can be perused at

More than 40 interviews with photos have been posted so far and video clips are being added.

In his interview, Sir Brian Urquhart, former UN Under-Secretary-General, talks about his harrowing experience as one of the first Allied soldiers to reach Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Movie director Oliver Stone supplied personal photos for his online conversation, including one of him as a soldier in Vietnam.

San Francisco U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson discusses his experiences as the first black Justice Department lawyer in the South in the 1960's.

His interview has been included in an on-line civil rights curriculum developed by IIS for its "Connecting Students to the World" project, in which inner city high school students have the opportunity to chat online with famous visitors to Berkeley. These chat sessions are also posted on the web.

"We want to maximize the gain from the university's distinguished visitors," says Kreisler. "It's very important to create materials that are usable by a broader public."

"Research galleries" ( on the IIS site allows viewers to see excerpts from several interviews on one subject. "Recalling the Vietnam War," for example, includes portions of interviews with Stone, Robert McNamara, Daniel Ellsberg, and John Kenneth Galbraith, along with journalists Neil Sheehan and Tom Wicker, and military strategist Harry Summers.

When Albie Sachs, human rights activist and judge of the South African Constitutional Court, returned home he met several people who had read his IIS interview on the web. "You guys have globalized me!" he wrote back.

This spring Kreisler will be interviewing Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi, former president of the European Commission Jacques Delors, and Chris Patten, the last governor general of Hong Kong. This will be Patten's second interview in the series. "We're starting to do follow-up interviews of interesting people at different points in their careers," says Kreisler.

He has also begun interviewing distinguished faculty for "Conversations with History." The first two are Laura d'Andrea Tyson and Chancellor Berdahl.


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