Wilson Center Experts

James Blight


Affiliation:
CIGI Chair in Foreign Policy Development and Professor at BSIA

James Blight was born and grew up in Flint, Michigan, a city rendered ludicrous and infamous by Michael Moore in his first successful documentary film, Roger and Me. (Fortunately, when Jim was growing up, the city was expanding, its residents were optimistic, and its population roughly twice as large as today.)

Following a nasty and brutish, but mercifully short three-year career as a minor league baseball player (pitcher, Detroit Tigers organization), he got serious, went back to college, earned a trio of academic degrees and began a career as a cognitive psychologist. Finding psychology largely disconnected from important social issues of the day, especially the threat of nuclear war, he went back to school (yet again!) at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where he earned another degree, and where he remained for seven years as a researcher and director of Harvard's Project on Avoiding Nuclear War. While at Harvard, he developed a research method called critical oral history, which involves the simultaneous interaction of decision-makers, scholars and information in declassified documentation on targeted historical episodes.

The first episode he investigated was the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, in studies carried out at first while at the Kennedy School and, from 1990-2009, while based at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, often in collaboration with David Welch, and always in collaboration with janet Lang. While at Brown, Jim, janet and their many collaborators employed critical oral history to investigate the U.S. war in Vietnam, the collapse of U.S.-Soviet relations in the late 1970s, and several other seminal episodes in U.S. foreign policy. In addition to more traditional research and writing, Jim and janet have been heavily involved in the making of two recent, award-winning films: The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2004), and Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived (2008). A recent focus of their research is U.S.-Iran relations since the Islamic Revolution, undertaken with colleagues at MIT and George Washington University. Jim enjoys cooking (Italian, mainly, having married into a family of Italian-American foodies), playing golf, hiking and watching the Boston Celtics with his spouse and colleague, janet Lang.

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