Skilling H. Gordon Collection of the Czechoslovak Documentation Centre
Skilling H. Gordon (1912-2001) was a prominent Canadian historian, political scientist and Slavist. His life and work were closely linked to the dramatic fate of Czechoslovakia from the late 1930s to the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
Na Zátorách 6, 170 00 Praha 7 - Holešovice, Czech Republic
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Name of collection
Skilling H. Gordon
Provenance and cultural activities
The collection of H. Gordon Skilling was firstly collected by historian Vilém Prečan after his arrival in exile in 1976. This famous Canadian historian met Vilém Prečan with interest, in Prague in the autumn of 1968 when he handed him a copy of the just printed document of Seven Prague Days about the Soviet invasion in August 1968, the so-called "Black Book". Their close cooperation took place after Prečan's exile to West Germany. Since then, they have begun their long-term cooperation and lifelong friendship; one aspect of it was that they informed each other of what was new. Prečan received materials from home through built smuggling channels and Skilling repeatedly visited him in Czechoslovakia and met with dissidents. He also visited Vaclav Havel at Hrádeček in 1984. During the normalisation, Skilling wrote a series of studies on dissident activities and samizdat publishing. He tirelessly and systematically warned the outside world about the situation in Czechoslovakia. He wrote about the shocking consequences of the intellectual, spiritual and moral earthquake that devastated the country after the defeat of the "Prague Spring", and raised his voice many times to defend those who were persecuted. His most important books include the Czechoslovakian Disrupted Revolution as well as Charter 77 and Human Rights in Czechoslovakia. For his work in favour of the opposition, he was under permanent oversight of the State Security (StB) during its visits to Czechoslovakia. In October 1978, the State Security (StB) even detained him on the border as he travelled by bus from Bratislava to Vienna and took him back to Bratislava for a daylong interrogation before he could leave Czechoslovakia. Gordon Skilling gave an impetus to build a large collection of Czechoslovak Samizdat in the Toronto University Library and himself contributed to the documentation he gathered during his travels to Prague.
Gordon Skilling played an important role in setting up the archive, documentation and information centre, which Vilém Prečan had sought since his arrival in exile. In January 1986, the Washington NGO the National Endowment for Democracy provided a subsidy to the project of a documentation centre in exile. Gordon Skilling 's appeal of August 5th, 1985 to support the creation of the centre played a major role in the decision to award the grant. Gordon Skilling pointed out the unique importance of Vilém Precan, who served in recent years as the most important source of support for independent activities in Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovak Documentation Centre for Independent Literature (ČSDS) was founded in March 1986, and in the beginning of November 1986, it moved its base to Schwarzenberg, Bavaria's Scheinfeld, in the premises of Karel Schwarzenberg at his own expense. Prečan handed over all his collections to the newly-established centre. G. Skilling became Chairman of the Scientific Council of this centre.
In September 2000, the Documentation Centre and its collections moved to the Czech Republic. In 2003, ČSDS made a donation agreement with the National Museum in Prague. The ČSDS collections, including the Gordon Skilling Collection, were handed over to the National Museum.
Description of content
The Skilling H. Gordon collection documents the work of a prominent Canadian historian and political scientist in favour of Czechoslovak opposition and independent culture. The collection contains articles, studies, lectures and notes in which H. Gordon Skilling focuses on Czechoslovakia, especially Soviet occupation in August 1968, normalisation, Charter 77, Samizdat, Communism, Human Rights, and Masaryk and the First Republic. In addition, the handwritten versions of several of his books are stored in the collection. The collection also includes “Survey of H. G. Skilling”, from 1986 on an "independent society," to which the personalities of the Czechoslovak dissent responded.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 1000-
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 10-99
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- parts are closed to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Hanáková, Jitka
Skilling, H. Gordon: Československo - můj druhý domov : paměti Kanaďana. Praha, Prostor 2001. 607 s.
Hanáková, Jitka - Prečan, Vilém : H. Gordon Skilling : život a dílo : katalog k výstavě = life and work : an exhibition catalogue. Praha 2012. 103 s.
Skilling, H. Gordon: Československo - můj druhý domov : paměti Kanaďana. Praha, Prostor 2001. 607 s.H
anáková, Jitka - Prečan, Vilém : H. Gordon Skilling : život a dílo : katalog k výstavě = life and work : an exhibition catalogue. Praha 2012. 103 s.
Prečan, Vilém , interview by Hanáková, Jitka, September 28, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection