The Frank Gibney Papers

After more than a month of readjusting to archival work in the time of coronavirus, I’m happy to be back here on the PBI blog. One positive of the crisis has been the time it has afforded for tackling long-term processing projects. Foremost among these is the personal papers of PBI’s founder Frank Gibney.

By the time he founded the Pacific Basin Institute in 1979, Gibney (1924-2006) already enjoyed a distinguished career as a journalist and editor. Following his wartime service as a Japanese translator for naval intelligence, Gibney served during the American occupation of Japan as, in his words, “a small human bridge between General Douglas MacArthur's conquering army and a puzzled but receptive Japanese public.” All the while, Gibney gained greater fluency with Japanese language and culture. In 1947, he joined Time as a foreign correspondent and soon became the magazine’s Tokyo bureau chief. From this vantage, he wrote his first book, Five Gentlemen of Japan, a probing and pathbreaking study of Japanese culture for an American audience more accustomed to caricature.  

Gibney’s run of journalistic success continued through the 1950s, during which time he wrote and edited for Life and Newsweek. In 1966, his career gained greater stability when he became the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Japan. Under Gibney’s direction, Britannica published its first Japanese language edition in 1975. Gibney was also instrumental in the publication of Britannica’s first Chinese edition, the first non-Marxist reference book allowed in China.

Frank Gibney’s varied career in naval intelligence, foreign correspondence, and reference book publishing had a common thread. In everything he did, Gibney always sought to increase cross-cultural understanding between the United States and Asia. To that end, he created the Pacific Basin Institute in 1979 to promote research, film, and book projects focused on trans-Pacific dialogue and education. His career had given him a wide network of scholars, journalists, and politicians which he drew upon throughout his time as PBI’s president.

I’ll look forward to showcasing more aspects of Gibney’s life and career in the weeks and months ahead. I believe his papers will be of great value to scholars of twentieth century American journalism, media, trans-Pacific cultural diplomacy. I am excited to make them available for research use. For now, I wanted to showcase a couple of photographs from Gibney’s early days as a journalist. Though his career ultimately evolved beyond journalism, Gibney always remained a journalist at heart. To me, these early identification cards from his stint at Time-Life show a self-assured and restless writer who, through World War II and the U.S. occupation of Japan, had amassed a great deal of life experience at a young age.