Churchill Library and Center Opens at GW

Research center will showcase legendary statesman’s life, legacy and enduring relevance.

October 31, 2016

Image of ribbon cutting

Laurence Geller, Geneva Henry, Steven Knapp, National Churchill Museum Chairman Jean-Paul Montupet and Randolph Churchill participated in Saturday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. (William Atkins/GW Today)

By Ruth Steinhardt

Washington, D.C., gained its first research center dedicated to Winston Churchill with the opening of the National Churchill Library and Center (NCLC) at the George Washington University this weekend.

“Today we formally conjoin the names of two astonishing leaders as we celebrate the opening of the National Churchill Library and Center at the George Washington University,” George Washington President Steven Knapp said at the center’s opening ceremony Saturday. “This library and center will be a crucial resource not only for our students and faculty, but also for scholars and interested citizens around the world.”

The opening coincided with the International Churchill Conference presented by the International Churchill Society, the educational organization that donated funds to GW for construction of the center. During the conference, Dr. Knapp also received the Winston Churchill National Leadership Award, which was presented to him at the State Department.

Dr. Knapp received the Winston Churchill National Leadership Award at the State Department Friday night. (Eddie Arrossi) 

International Churchill Society chairman Laurence Geller spoke at the NCLC's ribbon-cutting ceremony, as did members of Churchill’s own family.

“The opening of Churchill’s permanent home in your nation’s capital is truly a thrilling moment,” said Randolph Churchill, great-grandson of Winston Churchill. “I am more confident than ever that Churchill’s legacy will now be secure in the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The bright, welcoming space on the first floor of the Estelle and Marvin Gelman Library will host a variety of programming on leadership through the lens of Winston Churchill. One wall is dominated by three large interactive touchscreens, based on a 2012 exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York City, where visitors can explore Churchill’s youth, his experience in war and conflict and his political career.

The unexpectedly touching personal materials showcased in the exhibit include letters, sketches and even mournful handwritten notes from the childhood boarding school at which Churchill said he spent “not only the least agreeable, but also the only barren and unhappy period of my life."

The center’s primary focus, however, will be on engaging both GW and the larger community in scholarly discussions about global issues and GW's core values—many of which have parallels to the challenges Churchill faced as a leader in the first half of the 20th century.

“[Churchill] embodied the values of leadership, global citizenry, collaboration and perhaps most importantly curiosity and a willingness to take risks,” said Geneva Henry, dean of libraries and academic innovation. “These are the values that must guide us in the world today as we confront daunting challenges in our quest for world peace.”

Staff members have their own favorite parts of the collection. For historian Michael F. Bishop, inaugural director of the NCLC and new executive director of the International Churchill Society, the 30 cards from Churchill’s wartime engagement diary are some of the most fascinating. Even the handwriting, he said, gives a sense of the man behind the symbol.

“It’s an absolutely remarkable contemporary record of the prime minister’s meetings and movements during World War II,” he said. “To have primary source material is exceptionally compelling. It really takes you back to what was going on when Churchill had the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

The center is open for student study at all times that Gelman is open. It will be open to the public Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment with the director.