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Harold Gordon Skilling fonds
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Harold Gordon Skilling fonds

  • UTA 1778
  • collection
  • 1828-2001

Personal records of Gordon Skilling, Professor of Political Science and a specialist in East European (especially Czechoslovak) studies. Fonds consists of 18 accessions:

B1983-0013: Records of conferences and meetings attended; drafts of and correspondence regarding articles written; correspondence relating to the writing of "Communism, National and International" and "Governments of Communist East Europe"; personal files (1961-1979) and correspondence (1974-1983); lecture notes as visiting professor, Columbia University, 1952 (9 boxes, 1952-1983).

B1984-0044: Lecture notes on international politics and international organization, University of Wisconsin and Dartmouth College (1941-1959); files for courses on Soviet politics at Dartmouth College and the University of Toronto; lecture notes for courses on Eastern Europe and comparative communism at the University of Toronto; lecture notes by Hazard at Columbia University (1949-1950). (20 boxes, 1941-1984).

B1985-0029: Addresses, radio scripts, correspondence, lecture notes; files on the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (1980-1981); files relating to the publication of "Interest Groups in Soviet Politics" (1971). (6 boxes, 1937-1982).

B1987-0064: Correspondence, articles, reports, and related material on East European studies at the University of Toronto and elsewhere, including a study of the U.S. Helsinki Watch project prepared by the Ford Foundation (4 boxes, 1977-1986)

B1987-0083: Addresses; correspondence with students, 1970-1986, and on the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto, 1980; course outlines in political science, 1960-1980 (2 boxes, 1958-1986).

B1988-0007: Records documenting Skilling's expertise relating to East European studies with particular emphasis on Czechoslovakia and his role in the the Centre for Russian and East European Studies. Contains addresses and speeches; manuscripts and publications including related correspondence and reviews (books included are "Czechoslovakia's Interruped Revolution", "Charter 77 and Human Rights in Czechoslovakia", and "The Czech Renaissance in the Nineteenth Century"); lecture notes; subject files, mainly of associations; sound recording, video and photographs; University of Toronto administrative files including the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, the Department of Polical Economy, Committee on International Studies as well as the Centre for International Studies (3 boxes, 1945-1986)

B1989-0030: Addresses, articles, correspondence, minutes of meetings and financial files documenting Gordon Skilling's activities as a specialist in East European studies, with particular emphasis on Czechoslovakia (4 boxes, 1965-1989).

B1989-0045: Bibliography on communism in Czechoslovakia and the history of the Czech Communist Party, 1918-1958; files pertaining to Gordon Skilling's publications, "Charter 77 Documents", "Socialist Opposition in Czechoslovakia" (proposed), and "Samidzat and Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe" (1988), including correspondence with Jan Kavan (5 boxes, ca. 1958-1988).

B1991-0037: Manuscripts, correspondence, addresses, lectures, conference files, subject files, greeting cards and index cards documenting Gordon Skilling's teaching and research interests in East European affairs, with particular reference to events in Czechoslovakia (6 boxes, 1949-1991).

B1993-0028: Diaries, notebooks, personal and research correspondence, manuscripts, articles, press clippings and photoprints relating to Dr. Skillings trips to Eastern Europe, his personal life and his research and writings. Included is research material for: "Samizdat and Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe" (20 boxes, 1934-1988).

B1994-0011: Correspondence, addresses, lecture notes, minutes of meetings, memoranda, reports, manuscripts, publications, notes and press clippings documenting Professor Skilling's interest in Eastern Europe, particularly Czechoslovakia, and his association with the Commission on Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Royal Society of Canada. Also includes consultant files, foreign language clippings and collected papers on Czechoslovak history and politics (7 boxes, 1927-1993).

B1999-0017: Personal records of Gordon Skilling, relating primarily to the Czech Republic, including professional and private correspondence with colleagues and friends, including Vilem Precan (1969-1996); drafts of his "Memoirs of a Canadian" and articles, with covering correspondence; addresses; conference papers, photographs (13 boxes, 1969-1997).

B2000-0027: Personal records of H.G. Skilling, relating primarily to his interest in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. Includes early correspondence with his wife Sally, correspondence with friends and associates in Czechoslovakia, grant applications, itineraries, subject files relating to human rights groups, publishers and the medal that he received from the Royal Society. The records also include a printout of Skilling's autobiography entitled "The Education of a Canadian: My Life as a Scholar and Activist" (5 boxes, 1936-1999).

B2001-0017: Records documenting the history of the family of Harold Gordon Skilling, including his wife, Sara (Sally) and his own life and career. Sous-fonds I: Skilling family. Documents Gordon's father, William Watt, his uncle, Ernest (a Shriner), and his brothers Donald and William, who fought in World War I (Donald was killed in action). Sous-fonds II: Sara (Sally) Bright Skilling. Her education in the United States, her travels with Gordon in eastern Europe in the 1960s and her skill in entertaining. Sous-fonds III: Harold Gordon Skilling. Focuses on his research and writing of books on T. G. Masaryk and Alice Masaryk, on his travels, especially in Eastern Europe, and on the seminars he held in his residence during the last years of his life. These records consist primarily of correpondence (personal and professional, including with Vilem Precan (1993-2000) and Vaclav Havel), diaries, drafts of books and articles, reviews, addresses, index cards, scrap books, and photo albums (64 boxes, 1828-2001).

B2002-0020: Bibliographic references and research notes on index cards, with some accompanying notes, compiled by Professor Gordon Skilling for his book, 'Czecholslovakia's Interrupted Revolution', along with three boxes of other notes and references relating to Samizdat and dissent, Charter '77, Czechoslovak history and Czech-German relations (14 boxes, n.d. - ca. 1985)

B2002-0024: Personal records of H. Gordon Skilling, consisting of: Masaryk medal awarded by the Czechoslovak Association of Canada, 1985; certificate, case and medallion relating to honorary degree awarded by Charles University, Prague, 1990; Komensky medal awarded by Komensky University, Bratislava, 1990; certificate and medal for the Order of the White Lion, Third Class, Czechoslovakia's highest honour for non-citizens, awarded by President Vaclav Havel on Professor Skilling's 80th birthday, 28 February 1992 (3 boxes and 1 folder, 1985-1992).

B2009-0032: Correspondence, research notes, manuscripts etc. of Prof. Gordon Skillling relating to his career as professor of political science. Includes files for Josef Pekar, Czech politics, etc. (1 box, 1985-1987).

B2012-0005: Further personal records of Gordon Skilling, Professor of Political Science and a specialist in East European (especially Czechoslovak) studies, consisting of research notes for and drafts of his doctoral thesis, 'The German-Czech national conflict in Bohemia, 1779-1873', with subsequent revisions; correspondence with scholars in East European studies, publishers, and editors. Also address books, 88th birthday greetings, slides and photographs, and medals. (12 boxes and medals, 1917-1997).

Skilling, H. Gordon (Harold Gordon)

Skilling 1984 accession

Lecture notes on international politics and international organization, University of Wisconsin and Dartmouth College (1941-1959); files for courses on Soviet politics at Dartmouth College and the University of Toronto; lecture notes for courses on Eastern Europe and comparative communism at the University of Toronto; lecture notes by Hazard at Columbia University (1949-1950)


This series consists of personal correspondence between Professor Skilling and his family, friends and colleagues. Most of it is from the last 20 years of his life and relates primarily to his interest in central and east European affairs. Some of the correspondence is arranged chronologically – especially the letters covering the years 1991-2001. Also arranged chronologically and grouped separately are postcards and greeting cards with extensive messages for the years 1939-2001 (a few of the latter have photoprints attached). There are a few letters from Skilling to his parents and Sally from the 1940s, also correspondence with Derek Paton, a former student, and especially with his old Czech friends, Jelka and Olga Haningerova and Vilem Precan. There are also small files of correspondence on the Jan Hus Fund and the issue of public lending rights.

Research files

Over the years, Professor Skilling assembled a large number of research files which contained a great variety of material, including notes, correspondence, press clippings (especially from Czechoslovak, other Eastern European newspapers, and Canadian newspapers written in Czech), photocopies of articles, pamphlets, and books.

A selection of these research files has been retained in this series; the material not kept was turned over to members of the Skilling Seminar for their use. The files are grouped into several subject areas, following Professor Skilling’s arrangement and, for the most part, his file descriptions. The emphasis in selection was on original notes, heavily annotated items, correspondence, memoranda, drafts of papers and addresses, and material from conferences and seminars.

The first research area is on Czechoslovakia generally (1966-2000), with its files on the country’s political culture and political reform, political activists, and conferences [box 031]. The latter include the International Political Science Association roundtable in Zagreb in 1985, ‘Ten years after’ conference in Prague (1999), and the Forum 2000 conference in the same city. There is also material on the breakup of Czechoslovakia. Accompanying these files are two boxes [036, 037] of index card notes – one on Czech politics and one a bibliography of Czech politics.

The second category of files [boxes 033-034] consists of material gathered by Professor Skilling for his numerous writings about Tomas Masaryk, including his T. G. Masaryk: Against the current, published in English and Czech in 1994. The first part consists primarily of general writings about Masaryk, along with accompanying notes, correspondence, etc. The arrangement in the latter portion is by subject areas, of which the principal ones are: ‘the Slovak questions’, ‘the Jewish question’, ‘religion’, ‘the women’s question’ and ‘foreign policy’. Accompanying these files is a index card box of entries on Masaryk generally, on his writings, on works about him and on searches to be carried out [box 038, 038a and 038b].

The final category [box 035] relates to Vaclav Havel. In it is correspondence between him and Professor Skilling and copies of letters to Vilem Precan, along with files of interviews, addresses, and honours bestowed; Havel’s visits abroad (including the University of Toronto in 1990); his writings (with notes by Skilling), and material documenting his involvement with Charter 77.

Oversized material has been removed from /034(10) and (12) to /003(04), and from box 034(27) to box 003(05).

A poster has been removed from /035(23) to folder .(02).

Photoprints have been removed from /032(04) and (05) to box 009P(12).

Skilling 2012 accession

The material consists of the personal records of Professor Skilling and focuses primarily of Skilling’s academic work, and includes research notes and drafts of his doctoral thesis, The German-Czech National Conflict in Bohemia, 1779-1873, as well as notes and drafts supporting the revision of this thesis, which Skilling worked on for several years. There is also some correspondence with other scholars in the field of Eastern European studies, as well as publishers and editors.

The accession also contains some of Professor Skilling’s personal belongings and awards, such as medals, honorary degrees, and photographs and slides of his personal and professional life.

Personal life

This series consists of personal items belonging to Professor Skilling, including address books, photographs and slides, an identification card, and his marriage certificate issued in Czechoslovakia (with corresponding Canadian documentation).

The photographs have been organized according to portraits, personal and family life, early school, professional life, and slides. The majority of the photographs are annotated and dated on the verso, and the slides are numbered and dated. Two photographs in “Professional life” [B2012-0005/001P(04)] that are not annotated or dated show Professor Skilling receiving an honorary degree (LL.D) from the University of Toronto in 1982. He is flanked by President James Ham and Chancellor George Ignatieff.

There are four newspaper clippings related to Professor Skilling. The first is a congratulatory message, possibly published in a newsletter issued by the West United Church, about Skilling having won The Gundy-Doran scholarship [dated between 1929-1934]. The second clipping is a photograph of Skilling and his Harbord Collegiate institute junior basketball team [ca. 1928-29]. The third clipping is an article entitled “Viet Nam situation called threat to unity” [1966]. Skilling is quoted and discussed at length in the article. The final clipping is a profile (in English) on H. Gordon Skilling, published in The Prague Post in 1994.

Sara [Sally] Bright Skilling sous-fonds

This sous-fonds documents various aspects of Sally Bright’s life, especially the period before she met and married Gordon Skilling and then her travels with him to Eastern Europe in the 1960s.

It begins with biographical information about Sally, the Bright family tree, and individual members of the family. There follows files documenting her education at George School (1927-1931) and Barnard College (1931-1935), and her immediate
activities, thereafter, including her marriage to Gordon Skilling. Also present are her passports; identity cards, ration books, stamps, tokens, and correspondence from World War II; later correspondence with Gordon and members of her family; files relating to social and political activities at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Dartmouth College, and at the University of Toronto.

Sally’s love of entertaining is documented in her ‘entertaining’ books, which document guests and the meals served them from August of 1962 to September of 1988 when she suffered a stroke. Photocopies of these books have been retained (the originals reside with the family).

The last portion of this sous-fonds contains Sally’s diaries and correspondence relating to her and Gordon’s trips to eastern Europe between 1962 and 1969, other correspondence with family and friends, letters and a selection of cards received on her 70th birthday in 1983, a diary from 1987, and four entertainment books Sally compiled between 1962 to 1989. In these she recorded the guests and menus for the many events that took place at their residence. She and Gordon loved entertaining, and the care and skill with which she prepared for groups of varying sizes is reflected in these volumes.

Skilling, Sara (Sally) Bright


This series covers the Gordon Skilling’s formal education from his attendance at Grace Street Public School through Harbord Collegiate, the University of Toronto (BA 1934), taking his Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford, and the writing of his doctoral thesis at the University of London. The files are arranged chronologically by degree.

For Grace Street Public School, the files include letters from his classmates at Grace Street Public School and certificates. At Harbord Collegiate, in addition to his studies and piano lessons from the Toronto Conservatory of Music, Skilling was very active in extra-curricular activities: he was president of the Literary Society, editor of the Harbord Review, battalion commander of the cadet corps, and played defence on the basketball team which won the city high school championship in 1928-1929. These activities are documented in the form of term papers, examinations, speeches, scholarship essays, and a scrapbook [box 011] that covers his activities at Harbord Collegiate and the University of Toronto, and documents his trip across North America in the summer of 1933 (see also Series I in this sous-fonds). The scrapbook contains correspondence, dance cards, maps, press clippings, programmes, announcements of student activities, pamphlets, and photographs.

At the University of Toronto, Skilling studied British and colonial history and some modern Canadian and American history, standing first in his class in all but his final year. He was very active in campus politics, including the University College Literary and Athletic Society (of which he was elected president), the Students’ Administrative Council. He helped reorganize the Fabius Club in the autumn of 1932 and a year later, following his momentous trip across North America, was a founder of the CCF Club. Other activities included serving as associate editor of the Varsity and as a member of the Hart House Debates Committee.

His academic activities are well documented in the form of term papers for each of his undergraduate years and in his BA thesis. These files and those on the CCF Club and the Hart House debates are of particular interest. They document his movement from an apolitical period in high school to an activist in the social and political ferment of the time and, soon, to accepting the socialist philosophies promoted by many of his professors at the U of T and, later, at Oxford.

In December 1933 Gordon was informed that he had been awarded a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University. He left for Christ Church, Oxford, in September of 1934, where he remained until 1936. While there, he studied under what he described as “outstanding dons, including Michael Foster and A. J. Ayers, in philosophy; Roy Harrod, in economics; Keith Feiling, in British history; and the Hon. Frank Pakenham in politics and international relations. He also, in the summer of 1935, visited Central Europe for the first time and in the autumn met Sally Bright, then a student at the London School of Economics. In the fall of 1936, having received a high second at Oxford, and having had his scholarship extended, Gordon went to London to complete his doctorate under R. W. Seton-Watson, under whom his growing interest in Czech culture and politics flourished, as did his relationship with Sally. At Easter in 1936 he and Sally spent five weeks in Chepstow in Monmouthshire, a time that is preserved in an album that he compiled (see Series XII, Appendix III). In 1940 Gordon successfully defended his thesis, ‘The German-Czech national conflict in Bohemia, 1879-1893’.

The files on his graduate work contain detailed notes on readings and tutorials, especially on political theory, social philosophy and social psychology. There are also exam questions for his courses at Oxford, correspondence relating to the degrees of BA and MA (Oxon.), and a copy of his doctoral dissertation. Accompanying these files is
a scrapbook, containing press clippings, programmes, photographs and memorabilia covering his years at Oxford and the University of London, with additional material for his visit to London in 1948 [see /012].

Skilling’s diploma from Harbord Collegiate is filed in /003(03).

Photographs relating to his basketball team at Harbord Collegiate have been removed from box 008 (08) to box 009P (01) – (03). Loose photographs relating to his activities at the University of Toronto have been removed from the Harbord Collegiate/ University of Toronto scrapbook [box 011] to box 009P(04) – (07).

Skilling’s University College ‘letter’ [badge] is filed as B2001-0017/008(26).

Manuscripts and publications

Professor Skilling began writing at an early age; his first attempt at publication, a short story 'Trapping in the Rockies’, was submitted to the Toronto Evening Telegram in 1923. While this series documents his prodigious output over a period of almost 80 years, the focus is on his youth and his early career (before 1960) and from the early 1980s until his death.

The series begins with a file of correspondence regarding offprints (1984-1985), followed by three files of book notices and reviews (1940-1999). Professor Skillings writings are arranged by the title of the manuscript or publication and are filed chronologically. The files contain drafts of manuscripts, sometimes with notes and often with covering correspondence, reviews and offprints. Much material relating to Skilling’s writings may be found in other accessions in this fonds.

The earliest entries were written while a public, high school and university student. Skilling managed one publication from his trip across the United States and Canada in 1933, an article in the local paper in The Danforth region of Toronto where he lived. What may be is his first ‘academic’ article, “The Marxian dips into the future”, was published in University College’s student periodical, The Undergraduate, in March 1933. At Oxford, he really began to find his footing. His reported in the New Statesman on the British Labour Party’s annual conference in 1936; this was followed shortly by a series of articles in the Canadian Forum (1937-1939), most of which discussed the evolving political situation in Czechoslovakia. During World War II, he wrote on a variety of topics, ranging from the political situation in the Balkans to Canadian-American relations.

After his retirement, Professor Skilling had more time to write. Some of his projects, including a selection of essays under the title, ‘The riddle of Communist politics’, and a proposed book on the Velvet Revolution, did not materialize. His observations of the changing political landscape in Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe, especially on Charter 77 and samizdat, rapidly found their way into print. In the late 1980s and the 1990s Skilling turned his attention to historical figures in Czech history, especially the Masaryks – Tomas, Charlotte, and Alice, and to his own memoirs. His book, T. G. Masaryk: Against the current [see box 042], appeared in English in 1994 and Czech in 1995. He prepared two long articles on Charlotte and Alice for Komas, and Gender Studies in Prague published his Mother and daughter: Charlotte and Alice Masaryk in 2001 [see box 044]. His translation of Alice’s correspondence with Josip Plecnik, the architect of Prague Castle [see boxes 045-047], appeared just before his death.

Professor Skilling’s memoirs, The education of a Canadian, appeared in English and Czech in 2001 [see boxes 047-049], a few weeks before he died. The numerous delays in publication, caused in part by the collapse of Carleton University Press, are well documented.

Oversized material has been removed from /040(25) to folder .(03).

Photoprints relating to Professor Skilling’s research on and writing about Charlotte Masaryk have been removed from /044(03) to /009P(13); from /044(04) to /009P(14), from /044(06) to /009P(15), and from /044(07) to /009P(16).

Slides of the portrait of Gordon Skilling by Maria Gabanhova have been removed from /048(07) to /009P(17).

Skilling 2001 accession

Records documenting the history of the family of Harold Gordon Skilling, including his father, William Watt Skilling; his uncle, Ernest John Skilling; his brothers, William John, Andrew Douglas and Edward Donald; and his wife, Sara (Sally) Bright Skilling.

Sous-fonds I: Skilling family. The emphasis is on William Watt, a shoemaker who emigrated from England to Canada in 1907; on Ernest, who was a very active member of the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine; on Donald, who was killed in action during World War I, and on his brother, William, who was wounded but survived.

Sous-fonds II: Sara (Sally) Bright Skilling. The records focus on Sally’s education in the United States, her travels with Gordon in Eastern Europe in the 1960s, and on her love of entertaining. They document the crucial support, intellectual and otherwise, that she provided to Gordon as he pursued his career.

Sous-fonds III: Harold Gordon Skilling. The documentation here is primarily on Gordon’s education and early career and his later years as an expert on Russian and East European politics and on Czechoslovakia, in particular. An extensive combination of correspondence, journals, lectures, writings and photographs reveal much about Skilling’s ideas and his relationships with the principal figures in recent Czech history.

Skilling family sous-fonds

This sous-fonds documents the activities of various members of the Skilling family, principally Gordon’s father, William Watt Skilling, and brothers, Andrew Douglas and Edward Donald Skilling; his uncle, Ernest John Skilling, and his (Ernest’s) mother, Emma Louise Skilling. Included is correspondence, biographical and other notes, programmes for wedding anniversaries, obituaries, a will, photographs, a photograph album, and a box of mementos of military service during World War I.

The photo album was assembled by Ernest John Skilling and begins with a trip he made to the western United States in 1926 to a Shriner’s convention. The trip back across Canada by train includes images of ‘Hindus [in] British Columbia’, of the Royal North West Mounted Police, Indian chiefs in regalia, the Rocky Mountains, the prairies, northern Ontario and Lake Superior. The album concludes with photos taken during a tour of Kentucky and Alabama and Tennessee by the 48th Highlanders; photos of the Canadian Expeditionary Force cemetery in France and Donald Skilling’s grave, taken on a family visit to the site in 1919; and of ‘natives in Africa’, showing domestic and hunting activities associated with the missionary work of Reverend Albert Wilkinson. Many of the photoprints in the album have detailed information written on the backs thereof.

The box of military service mementos belonged to Gordon’s brother, Private Edward Donald Skilling, #157689, 1st Battalion, Canadian Infantry, Canadian Expeditionary Force, who was killed on his first day in action at the front on 4 May, 1917. It contains the following items: a Queen’s Own Rifles pin (Donald spent 6 months with the QOR before the war as a bugler in its bugle band); his ‘dog tag’ (1st Battalion); a shoulder badge – ‘Canada’ [CEF]; two hat badges, one marked ‘Canada’ and the other ‘111, Canada’ [111th Battalion] (probably a souvenir); two brass buttons (tunic and cuff); a piece of soldier’s ration; a hollow candle of the type used in dugouts in the trenches; a .303 calibre bullet and a shell fragment; two medals – the British War Medal and the Victory Medal (Inter-Allied War Medal), each inscribed on the rim: ‘157689 Pte. E. D. Skilling 1-Can. Inf.’, and a silver cross presented to Donald’s parents in his memory by the Minister of Militia and Defence.

University of Toronto and the Living Room Seminar

The records in this series are divided into two sections. The first consists of a few files relating to Professor Skilling’s appointment to the University of Toronto and his activities as an administrator and professor in the Centre for Russian and East European Studies and as professor emeritus. Included are appointment files (1959, 1979-1994); correspondence, notes, and memoranda on various administrative issues, lecture notes (1968-1973), and correspondence with graduate students and other researchers (1985-2001). The files are grouped by type.

The second section contains correspondence files relating to the seminar variously known as the Living Room Seminar, the Flying Seminar, and the Czech Seminar. This seminar, which Skilling described in his autobiography as “the most exciting and stimulating development in my life” in his last years, was conducted informally in his living room, beginning in 1996. Meetings were held every month or so, initially with graduate students in Toronto working on Czech(oslovak) history and politics, but later
including other interested parties, and usually with a guest-speaker on a Czech subject. The seminar continues to take place and is now known as the Skilling Seminar. The files are arranged chronologically and by author.

Photoprints of the retirement party for the secretary of the Department of Political Science are filed as /009P(18).

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