Isaiah Berlin was born on 6 June 1909. A number of celebrations of various kinds in different parts of the world were stimulated by his centenary on 6 June 2009. This page lists events known to the webmaster.
Two books were published to coincide with the centenary: the second volume of Berlin’s letters, Enlightening: Letters 1946–1960, and a collection of personal testimony, some previously published, some newly commissioned: The Book of Isaiah: Personal Impressions of Isaiah Berlin.
Reviews of one or both of these books have so far appeared in the following publications:
- Academic Questions
- amazon.com (a customer review)
- CAUT Bulletin
- Daily Telegraph
- The Economist
- Independent (a mention in a column)
- Irish Times
- Jewish Quarterly
- Literary Review
- London Review of Books
- New Humanist
- New Statesman, and contribution by Vernon Bogdanor to ‘Books of the Year’
- New Criterion
- Oldie, September 2009, 67
- Omnivore (an overview of other reviews)
- Oxford Times
- Salisbury Review
- Sunday Telegraph (contribution by Justin Cartwright to ‘Books of the Year’)
- Sunday Times
- The Times Literary Supplement (comments may be found in the online version), picked up in a column in The Times; see also letters published on 24 July, 31 July and 7 August, and contribution by Richard Davenport-Hines to ‘Books of the Year’
- Washington Times
There are also these articles on Berlin:
- Chronicle of Higher Education
- Nicholas D. Kristof, ‘On Isaiah Berlin: Explorer’, New York Review of Books, 25 February 2010
- Charles Rosen, ‘On Isaiah Berlin: Gossip’, New York Review of Books, 25 February 2010
- NYR Blog
- ‘Diary’ (as told to Craig Brown), Private Eye, 26 June–9 July 2009, 25
- David Aberbach, ‘Talk is Golden’, The Times Literary Supplement, 5 June 2009, 14–15; see also letters, 12 June 2009, 6
And one of the letters from Enlightening has appeared in the New York Review of Books for 16 July 2009.
A booklet on Berlin’s Wolfson years, Isaiah Berlin & Wolfson College, is available from Wolfson College.
On 22 September 2008, the University of Toronto’s Centre for Ethics held a ‘public roundtable’. The poster for the event announced: ‘This event provides the opportunity to elaborate and evaluate critically the multiple contributions of one of the most important political thinkers of the last century. Panellists will focus on Isaiah Berlin’s contribution to the history of political thought and to theories of ethics in the twentieth century and reflect on the relevance of his thought for contemporary events. The roundtable will highlight his views on liberalism, value pluralism, the Counter-Enlightenment and Judaism.’
The ‘la Caixa’ Foundation and the publishing house Arcàdia co-hosted a series of lectures in Barcelona and Madrid in January and February 2009 on Berlin’s ideas and intellectual legacy. Speakers included Ramin Jahanbegloo, Mark Lilla and Avishai Margalit.
Design for the blue plaque erected at Headington House
A conference was held on 4 March 2009 in Aveiro, Portugal. The speakers were João Carlos Espada, João Pereira Coutinho and José Tomaz Castello Branco.
A seminar on Berlin’s thought was held on 3 June at All Souls College. The speakers were Ian Carter, Joseph Raz, Tim Scanlon, Quentin Skinner, Hillel Steiner and David Wiggins. The chairmen were Myles Burnyeat and G. A. Cohen.
An afternoon was devoted to the centenary at Wolfson College, Oxford, on 6 June itself. The programme included the College’s annual Isaiah Berlin Lecture (amalgamated for this special occasion with the British Academy’s equivalent lecture), delivered by the Librarian of Congress, Dr James H. Billington; and a piano recital by Murray Perahia. Two exhibitions were opened at the College, to run until 17 June: ‘Images of Isaiah’, comprising photographs, drawings, documents and more; and ‘Portraits by Leonid Pasternak’, whose subjects included Chaliapin, Einstein, Lenin, Boris Pasternak, Rachmaninov, Tolstoy and Weizmann.
The ‘Images of Isaiah’ exhibition, curated by Henry Hardy, included eleven panels of captioned photos and reproductions, posted here in PDF form. Note that the files are (sometimes very) large, so that for some users downloading may be preferable to online viewing.
- Riga and Petrograd
- Childhood in England
- Guest from the Future
- The Wolfson Years
- A Huge Unsorted Heap
- Intellectual Archaeology
- Portraits and Caricatures
On 7 June a plaque was unveiled at Berlin’s former home, Headington House, to commemorate his four decades’ residence there.
On 7 June Pushkin House in London, in association with the All-Russia State Library For Foreign Literature, hosted ‘Guest from the Future: Isaiah Berlin Centenary’. The panel included Larissa Haskell, Evgeny Pasternak, Alexander Piatigorsky and Roman Timenchik.
2a Albert Street, Riga
The centenary was marked in the Latvian capital, Riga – Berlin’s birthplace – with a week of events (1–6 June) examining and celebrating Berlin’s life and work, with particular attention to his political thought, his Jewish identity, his Russian-Jewish cultural heritage, and his early family life in the Riga of 1909–15. There is a special ‘Berlin in Riga’ website devoted to this celebration.
The first of two centenary events in Jerusalem, held at Mishkenot Sha’ananim on 17 June, was entitled ‘Liberty, Identity and Zionism in the Thought of Sir Isaiah Berlin’. Contributors included Shlomo Avineri, Arie M. Dubnov, Joseph Mali, Avishai Margalit, Fania Oz-Salzberger, Yael Tamir and Gadi Taub.
The second of two centenary events in Jerusalem was a special session of the Fifteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies (held in Jerusalem 2–6 August 2009), entitled ‘What is Jewish (if anything) in Isaiah Berlin’s philosophy?’. The speakers examined the Jewish context of Berlin’s thought and discussed the way in which this context influenced his liberalism. Lectures included ‘Judaism, Jewishness and Liberalism in Isaiah Berlin’s Political Thought’ by Joshua L. Cherniss; ‘ “The need to belong” and Jewish Normalisation Discourse: Isaiah Berlin as a Diaspora Zionist Thinker’ by Arie M. Dubnov; ‘Isaiah Berlin versus Hannah Arendt: Their Political Ideas through the Prism of Their Jewish Identity’ by Dikla Sher; and ‘Reading Israel: Philosophy, Hermeneutics and Galut in Isaiah Berlin and Leo Strauss’ by James Chappel.
Two panels on Berlin were included in the annual convention of the American Political Science Association in Toronto (3–6 September): one on ‘The Political Thought of Isaiah Berlin: Neglected Dimensions and Continuing Legacies’ (featuring James Bourke, Joshua Cherniss, George Crowder, Alan Ryan and Carla Yumantle); the other on ‘Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts of Liberty” after 50 Years’ (featuring Bruce Baum, John Christman, Diana Coole, Maria Dimova-Cookson, Carol Gould and Eric MacGilvray).
Two panels on Berlin’s thought were included in the ‘open session’ of the 5th General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research, held at Potsdam University, 10–12 September.
A conference was held at Harvard University on 25–6 September. Participants included Malachi Hacohen, Janos Kis, Pratap Mehta, Martha Nussbaum, Alan Ryan, Amartya Sen, Michael Walzer and Bernard Yack. A poster is here. For more information contact Joshua Cherniss.
At the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center, CUNY, on 7 October: ‘Nationalism, Liberalism and Zionism: A Discussion Commemorating the Centennial Year of the Birth of Sir Isaiah Berlin’. Participants: Ian Buruma, Robert Cottrell, Mark Lilla, Helena Rosenblatt. Moderator: Joel Rosenthal. Opening comments: Chase Robinson.
An exhibition of Isaiah Berlin’s life and work was opened on 28 October at Eafit University in Medellin, Colombia, as part of a centenary celebration in Medellin which also included a seminar entitled ‘Isaiah Berlin after One Hundred Years’, held on 11–13 November. A video of the proceedings may be viewed online.
At the University of Seville, 12–13 November: ‘Pluralismo y Libertades en la Encrucijada del Siglo XXI: Jornadas Hispano–Italianas en el Centenario de Isaiah Berlin’. Participants: Joaquín Abellán, Pablo Badillo, Giuseppe Cacciatore, Juan Bosco Diaz-Urmeneta, Elena García Guitián, Mario Ricciardi, José Manuel Sevilla, Fulvio Tessitore.
At the University of Beira, Covilhã, Portugal, 4–5 December: ‘Jornada de Celebração do Centenário de Isaiah Berlin: Em Busca de Isaiah Berlin’.