High honor for contributors to 40 years of Basque publishing, preserving culture and history

University’s Center for Basque Studies and library renamed to recognize William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao.

William A. Douglass, left, recently gave his newest book, Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean, to Basque President Inigo Urkullu right after they each gave the two closing addresses to the 6th World Congress of Basque Collectivities in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Araba, Oct. 9, 2015. The University has renamed the Center for Basque Studies in honor of Douglass.

11/3/2015 | By: John Trent and Natalie Savidge  |

William A. (Bill) Douglass and the late Jon Bilbao collaborated on many projects together, including co-founding the University of Nevada, Reno's Basque Studies Program, which is now the Center for Basque Studies. On Tuesday, Nov. 3, their contributions to the Center and to the Basque community were recognized during a special ceremony. The University announced the renaming of the Center as the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies, and the naming of the library, the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.

"William A. Douglass: Mr. Basque"

Douglass' influence on the University, and on the community, has been profound.

In addition to being recognized as one of the leading scholars of Basque studies in the world, Douglass is a member of the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. He began his leadership role in Basque studies nearly 50 years ago, when he was asked by the legendary Nevada writer Robert Laxalt to direct what was then known as the Basque Studies Program and envisioned as a joint venture between the University and the Desert Research Institute.

Douglass recalled in 2012, "Bob didn't think of himself as a Basque scholar, even though he was Basque and wrote about his Basque heritage. So, he asked me if I would do it."

At the time, Douglass had majored in Spanish as an undergraduate at the University. His interest in the Basque Country took off while he was studying anthropology while doing doctoral work at the University of Chicago. He had traveled to the Basque Country and done research for his dissertation there. It was during a visit to the Pyrenees in 1967 that Laxalt made Douglass the offer of directing the fledgling Basque Studies Program at the University. Douglass accepted Laxalt's offer, and though believing his time would probably amount to "only a few years," stayed in the position for 33 years.

Douglass noted in an interview in 2012, "I'm amazed that they paid me a salary to do it. I have had to do very little that I didn't want to do. It was a great privilege, and probably key to that was the writing. Even as an undergraduate, I knew I wanted to write."

His writing has included "Amerikanauk: Basques in the New World" (1975, with Jon Bilbao); oral histories "Beltran, Basque Sheepman of the American West" (1979), and "Tap Dancing on Ice: The Life and Times of a Nevada Gaming Pioneer" (1996). "Tap Dancing on Ice" was an exceptionally personal book for Douglass, as it dealt with his father, Jack, one of the founding partners of Reno's Club Cal Nevada and the Comstock Hotel-Casino. Jack Douglass, who passed away in 2002 at age 91, held the oldest active casino license in Nevada for many years and is considered one of Reno's most influential gaming figures.

Douglass' research has resulted in publication of more than 20 books and numerous articles on topics such as peasant society, ethnic groups and ethnicity maintenance, Basque society, Mediterranean social structure, and family history.

Douglass, an extremely humble and thoughtful man, said the Center's growth is not so much a reflection of his vision as it has been the accumulation of a multitude of talents and personalities of the people who have worked at the Center or supported it over the years.

"The Center is way bigger than any one person," he said in 2012. "It is the result of efforts of hundreds of people. So many people contributed to what it is. I feel I was a facilitator."

His tenure as director of the Center saw the development of a library collection, instruction of college courses and eventual establishment of a Basque Ph.D. program, publication of a semi-annual newsletter, publication of a book series in English on the Basques, and organization of a summer school in the Basque Country which later developed into the University Studies Abroad Consortium.

Douglass' influence on the Basque world has been so extensive that in 2012 was the subject of a biography by Miel A. Elustondo, "William A. Douglass: Mr. Basque."

Throughout his career, Douglass has been dedicated to meeting the Center's major goal of bringing information about the Basques to the general public. He has received many honors from Basque people and institutions - an Honorary Doctorate awarded in 1984 by the University of the Basque Country, his naming in 1998 as one of the 20 corresponding members of the Basque Language Academy, and the 1999 Lagun Onari Award for distinguished service to the Basque people given by the Basque government. The University has awarded Douglass two of its highest honors, the Distinguished Faculty Award, presented to faculty members whose careers have been influential and whose time at the University have helped the institution become a better place, as well as the Outstanding Researcher Award for exemplary record of research and creative activity.

Douglass' writing career continues to be productive and noteworthy. One of the world's finest fly fisherman, he wrote about his love of angling in the book, "Casting About in the Reel World: A Life on the Fly."

Without writing, which he does each day, he said, "I would probably go crazy if I didn't do it."


Also in honor of Bilbao, "The Jon Bilbao Research Fellowship on the Basque Diaspora" was created by the Etxepare Basque Institute and the Nevada System of Higher Education's Board of Regents. The Fellowship was announced on March 6, 2014, which would have been the historian and bibliographer's 100th birthday.

Bilboa's son, Jon, was in attendance at the Library's dedication event, as were Nevada dignitaries including John Echeverria, who served as the first chairman of the Center's Advisory Board, Dale Erquiaga, the chief strategy officer in the governor's office, and Governor Brian Sandoval. Sandra Ott, current co-director of the Center, emceed the event and introduced University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson.

The Center, which has been publishing Basque books for 40 years, also just announced that the Spanish version of That Old Bilbao Moon, a memoir written by the Center's Co-Director and Basque Studies Professor Joseba Zulaika, has won the most prestigious Basque literary award, the Euskadi Prize in the Essay category. The book has received positive reviews in the United States as well. Most recently, the Midwestern Book Review said "Joseba Zulaika has produced an intensely informed and informative work that is an inherently fascinating read. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City is extraordinarily well written, organized and presented, making it very highly recommended reading." The book is available for purchase through the Center's online bookstore.

For more information about the Center for Basque Studies, go to basque.unr.edu.


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