Distinguished Lecture

32nd Annual Mortenson Distinguished Lecture

“Immortalizing the Voiceless,” by Mike Thomson, BBC World Affairs Correspondent, Presenter and Author

21 September 2022 | 3:30-5:00 pm CT (Check for local time here: https://www.worldtimebuddy.com/)
School of Information Sciences building, Room 126, 501 E. Daniel St., Champaign AND online
(Refreshments to follow: 5:00-5:45 pm)

Moderated by Melita Garza, Associate Professor and Tom and June Netzel Sleeman Scholar in Business Journalism

ALSO join us for the BROWN BAG PANEL, 12:15-1:15 pm, 106 Main Library, 1408 W. Gregory Dr., Urbana. See details below.

These events celebrate Libraries for Peace (L4P) Day, in observation of International Day of Peace with the world community. The theme for the International Day of Peace in 2022 is “End racism. Build peace.” Join the UN to #FightRacism.

CO-SPONSORED BY: Center for Global Studies through support from the US Department of Education’s Title VI NRC Program | Department of Journalism | European Union Center | Mortenson Center for International Library Programs | School of Information Sciences | University of Illinois Library Urbana-Champaign

Postcard (front / back)  |  Banner  |  Screen Sign  Email Announcement  |  RECORDING


Enabling those affected by war and tyranny to tell their stories, giving voice to the voiceless, empowers us all. Not only is being heard cathartic for those who have lost so much, it also helps us all to truly engage with their plight, deepening our desire to help in whatever ways we can. We all know that hundreds of thousands of people are near starving in Yemen or being butchered in places like Syria and Ukraine, but knowing is rarely enough. We need to feel, to identify, to realise that this could be us or our loved ones. To be linked to the thread of humanity that connects us all, whatever our country, creed or culture.
Yet until recently people’s heartfelt stories told on the ephemeral media of radio and TV were soon forgotten, their often unretrievable words lost in the past. Now thanks to big advances in digital technology such precious voices live on online and in numerous digitised archives around the globe, helping to inspire as well as inform us. The BBC’s veteran International Correspondent, Mike Thomson trawls through his own expansive news archives, to reveal some extraordinary voices from distant and often troubled places.

BROWN BAG CONVERSATION ON “News, Stories and Information in the Peacebuilding Process”
21 September 2022 | 12:15-1:15 pm CT
106 Main Library, 1408 W. Gregory Dr., Urbana
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Join us for a Brown Bag panel on “News, Stories, and Information in the Peacebuilding Process” moderated by

  • Steve Witt, Director, Center for Global Studies and Head of the International and Area Studies Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in conversation with
Biography & Details

Mike Thomson is a multi-award-winning International correspondent for the BBC. Over the last couple of decades his work has taken him to many of the world’s most troubled places. These have included Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, North Korea, Darfur, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, North Sinai, Colombia and the Central African Republic. He has undertaken acclaimed undercover investigative assignments in places such as Libya, Zimbabwe and Myanmar and covered some of the world’s biggest news events. The latter range from the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and the devastating Haiti earthquake to the election of several US presidents, the fall of Gaddafi and the death of Nelson Mandela.

Mike’s many awards have included: Radio Story of the Year for his documentary (latter book) Syria’s Secret Library at the One World Media Awards (2017), News Journalist of the Year (2012) at the Sony Radio Academy Awards and War Correspondent of the Year (Radio/2008) at the international Prix Bayeux Calvados Awards in France. He has also won a record four Amnesty Media Awards, three of these in consecutive years (2008-2010), five Sony Radio Academy Awards and five Foreign Press Association Media Awards.

In addition to his reporting for the BBC Mike is the author of the highly acclaimed book Syria’s Secret Library, as well as Editor of The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from Islamic State. The latter book is about a young man’s day-to-day experience of living under the terrifying Islamic State group, followed his highly-revered series of broadcasts of the same name across BBC television, radio and internet.

Mike is based in London where he lives with his wife, Jane and two grown-up children. He was the 30th Annual Mortenson Distinguished Lecturer.

About Syria's Secret Library by Mike Thomson

About Syria’s Secret Library by Mike Thomson (from U.S. From Public Affairs)

Before writing and publishing Syria’s Secret Library: The True Story of How a Besieged Syrian Town Found Hope, Mike had two broadcasts on the BBC about it:

Syria’s Secret Library Radio 4 Crossing Continents

Broadcast August 1st 2016

Syria’s Secret Library BBC Online

Published July 28th 2016

Foreign Affairs Magazine SSL Review
Foreign Affairs Magazine SSL Review of Syria’s Secret Library

Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family’s Lust for Power Destroyed Syria  BY SAM DAGHER. Little, Brown, 2019, 592 pp.

Syria’s Secret Library: Reading and Redemption in a Town Under Siege

BY MIKE THOMSON. Public Affairs, 2019, 320 pp.

These two books offer wildly contrasting portrayals of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the hugely destruc­tive civil war that has raged in Syria since 2011. Dagher started reporting from Damascus for The Wall Street Journal in 2012. He interviewed key actors and dissidents, among them Manaf Tlass, once a close friend of the ruling Assad family. Manaf’s father was a regime stalwart, a longtime defense minister, and a key liaison between the Alawite Assads and the majority Sunni population of Syria. Manaf eventually defected from the regime after Assad brutally suppressed the largely Sunni opposition. Dagher tells a story of paranoia and unbridled violence. He is unequivocal in his condemnation of the Assad regime and catalogs the world’s acquiescence in the regime’s brutality, enabled in part by the focus on battling the Islamic State (or isis). Dagher interviewed some survivors of Assad’s torture centers, who afford hope for a better future, but otherwise, this book chronicles the triumph of evil.

Some of those torture survivors are the subject of Thomson’s moving chroni­cle of the four-year siege of Daraya, a suburb of Damascus that was once home to 90,000 people. Thomson, a BBC correspondent, learned that among those who remained in the suburb were a num­ber of young Darayans who collected books to establish a secret, underground library, sheltered from the barrel bombs, snipers, and tanks of Assad’s forces. The library became the embodiment of both resistance and the hope for a more humane future. Thomson never visited Daraya and knew his heroes only through Skype and WhatsApp. Still, he became fast friends with the insurgent librarians. Rebels in Daraya held out for four years, enduring famine and trauma. In the summer of 2016, they were evacuated by the regime to Idlib prov­ince, which itself is now under attack by Assad’s forces. Syrian troops unearthed and looted the secret library.

Bashar al-Assad in 2011. It takes some mental gymnastics to see how Hezbollah’s role in Syria either mounts resistance to Israel or defends the territory of Leba­non. Daher has spent years in the Bekaa Valley close to Hezbollah strongholds. Her portrayal of the organization is rather sympathetic. The book’s strongest feature is its analysis of the charismatic appeal of Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah. Daher’s superficial treatment of the organization’s finances— and the group’s consequent ability to eschew corruption and rent seeking—is less satisfying. The author refutes accusa­tions of terrorism leveled at Hezbollah, particularly the findings of the interna­tional tribunal that investigated the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. She challenges the evidence that Hezbollah was behind this killing and other violent incidents.


Past Lectures

Arcs of the Rainbow:
The Heritage of Knowledge and Contemporary Life

Edwin Thumboo
October 29, 1998