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Office of the Historian

Recent Events

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“The Past and Future of the Foreign Relations Series”

Washington History Seminar held in the Moynihan Boardroom (6th floor) at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
January 27, 2014, 4 p.m.

  • Stephen Randolph, U.S. Department of State
  • Richard H. Immerman, Temple University
  • Warren Kimball, Rutgers University
  • William Roger Louis, University of Texas at Austin

In this Washington History Seminar presentation, Stephen P. Randolph will discuss FRUS’s past as well as the many challenges facing the series today, not least technological developments that threaten the future of the bound volumes familiar to generations of diplomats and historians. What adjustments might be necessary to uphold the tradition of a thorough, accurate, and reliable record? Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation chair Richard Immerman and former chairs William Roger Louis and Warren Kimball will comment. The Washington History Seminar is a joint venture of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the National History Center of the American Historical Association. Seating is somewhat limited, and reservations are requested. If you’d like to attend, please contact mbarber@historians.org or 512-769-2858.


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“Historicizing the Debate about Responsible Transparency: The Past and Future of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series”

American Historical Association Annual Meeting
January 4, 2014

  • Chair
    • Stephen Randolph, U.S. Department of State
  • Panel
    • Steven Aftergood, Project on Government Secrecy, Federation of American Scientists
    • Brian Balogh, University of Virginia
    • Joshua Botts, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
    • Malcolm Byrne, National Security Archive, George Washington University
    • Richard H. Immerman, Temple University

On January 4, 2014, Office of the Historian staff members will participate in a roundtable discussion at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting on “historicizing the debate about responsible transparency: the past and future of the Foreign Relations series.” Informed by new historical research, this discussion will provide an opportunity to consider the value ascribed to openness in government alongside the efforts made to protect sensitive information. Participants Steven Aftergood, Brian Balogh, Joshua Botts, Malcolm Byrne, Richard Immerman, and Stephen Randolph will comment upon the ways in which the history of FRUS clarifies our understanding of the debate about transparency and secrecy and illuminates broader themes in American history. Following these comments, the roundtable will engage the audience in a wider discussion about the past and future of responsible transparency.


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“Security versus Transparency as Exemplified Through the History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series”

A panel at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Annual Meeting
June 21, 2013

  • Chair
    • William B. McAllister, Office of the Historian, Department of State & Georgetown University
  • Panel
    • Joshua Botts, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
    • Melvyn P. Leffler, University of Virginia
    • Robert E. Jervis, Columbia University
    • Mary L. Dudziak, Emory University School of Law
    • Robert McMahon, Ohio State University

On June 21, 2013, Mary Dudziak, Robert Jervis, Melvyn Leffler, and Robert McMahon provided William McAllister and Joshua Botts public comments on the draft FRUS history manuscript at a panel at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Annual Meeting. Their feedback helped guide final revisions to the manuscript in the summer and fall of 2013.

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“National Security Policy and SALT I, 1969-1972”

Second conference of the FRUS Special Conference Series
March 2-3, 2012

As part of an array of events designed to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the State Department’s Office of the Historian inaugurated the FRUS Special Conference Series to highlight recently-published FRUS volumes.

On March 2nd and 3rd, Williams College and the Office of the Historian hosted a conference focused on the FRUS volumes dealing with National Security Policy, 1969-1972 and SALT I, 1969-1972. The conference took place at Williams College in Williamstown, MA. The text of both National Security Policy, 1969-1972 and SALT I, 1969-1972 is available online.

Update: Video of the event is now available on YouTube: Deterrence in an Era of Parity Panel, Problems of Perception Panel, Compiler and Participant Perspectives Panel, Evolving Constraints Panel, and Jeremi Suri's Closing Keynote Address.


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Foreign Relations of the United States Series: SALT I, 1969–1972”

A panel discussion at the Wilson Center
February 2, 2012, 3:30-5 p.m.

The Nuclear Proliferation International History Project in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State's Office of the Historian presents a panel discussion on the latest volume in the Foreign Relations of the United States Series, 1969–1976, Volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972. Speakers will include: Erin Mahan, chief historian of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Michael Krepon, co-founder and senior associate at Stimson and Amb. Raymond L. Garthoff, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and former member of the SALT negotiating team.

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks produced a series of comprehensive arms control agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union that for the first time limited the deployment of ballistic missiles and anti-ballistic missile systems. Commonly referred to as “SALT I,” the agreements were signed by President Richard Nixon and the General Secretary of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev at the Moscow Summit in May 1972. This volume documents the negotiations leading up to the agreement, the internal deliberations among U.S. policy makers, and reveals the play of political and national security considerations that factored into U.S. negotiating positions and policy decisions.

Tim McDonnell, program associate in the Wilson Center's Nuclear Proliferation International History Project will chair the event.


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“Diplomatic Secrecy in the 19th Century”

A panel discussion at the Wilson Center
December 8, 2011, 4-5:30 p.m.

While the formal classification system used to keep sensitive government information secret was a 20th Century development, even in the 19th Century, new research shows, the Department of State had to balance the “public’s right to know” with protecting national interests. Foreign policy documents were often released soon after events took place, sometimes complicating diplomatic relations. In certain instances sensitive documents and information were withheld, usually in the name of national security, but occasionally for political advantage. Congress, the media, public audiences, and other governments all took an interest in this peculiarly American penchant for walking the tightrope between transparency of governmental operations and withholding information "not in the public interest."

“Diplomatic Secrecy in the 19th Century” will explore the earliest available examples of both America's open and secret diplomacy, as well as how the ad-hoc system used in the 19th Century formed the basis for the formalized system which was developed in later years.

Panel participants: Aaron Marrs, Peter Cozzens, and William B. McAllister.


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“Celebrating 150 Years of FRUS at Lincoln’s Cottage”

A presentation at President Lincoln’s Cottage
December 1, 2011, 6:30-7:30 p.m.

President Lincoln’s Cottage and the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State are hosting a public program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), the flagship publication of the Department’s Office of the Historian. Join Burrus Carnahan, noted Civil War and Lincoln author and scholar, as he interviews Dr. Aaron Marrs, Civil War researcher with the Office of the Historian, on Marrs’ new research that sheds light on foreign relations in the context of the Civil War.

Update: Video of the event is now available on YouTube: Part I and Part II.


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“A Weapon of Mass Instruction?: The Foreign Relations Series and the Politics of American Globalism”

A discussion at the Miller Center of Public Affairs
University of Virginia
November 7, 2011, 4 p.m.

Since 1861, the Foreign Relations of the United States (or FRUS) series has evolved to become the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy, produced according to scholarly best practices and under a Congressional mandate. As part of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the series, the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State launched a special research initiative to explore the history of FRUS. On November 7, come to the Miller Center to participate in a discussion with Office of the Historian staff members William McAllister and Joshua Botts as they share research into how the U.S. Government has historically struggled to balance security imperatives with its commitment to transparency and democratic accountability with University of Virginia faculty and students and the interested public.

Update: The Miller Center has posted audio and video of the event.


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“New Perspectives on Postcolonial History: A Workshop on Using FRUS in the 21st Century”

A presentation at the New York Public Library
October 12, 2011, 3 p.m.

This workshop on researching the postwar history of decolonization, nationalist struggles, and identity will demonstrate how to utilize the Foreign Relations of the United States series for non-diplomatic history topics. Office of the Historian staff will also provide an overview of NARA and other available on-line resources, address more traditional uses of FRUS, and demonstrate the research capabilities of history.state.gov. Participants will have access to computers and will be encouraged to search/browse the site and consult with Office of the Historian staff regarding their research interests.

“Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire”: A Conversation about Security and Transparency in the Cold War Era Foreign Relations Series”

A presentation at the New York Public Library
October 12, 2011, 6 p.m.

The Foreign Relations of the United States series, the official documentary record of United States foreign policy and diplomatic activity, has embodied the Department of State’s commitment to responsible transparency since 1861. The evolution of the series during the twentieth century, particularly debates in the 1950s surrounding the release of the 1945 Yalta Conference volume (and those covering other wartime conferences), illuminates historical debates within the United States Government over secrecy versus transparency in the realm of diplomacy and national security and tensions between Congress and the Executive Branch in conducting foreign policy. Dr. Josh Botts of the Department of State’s Office of the Historian and Susan Butler, distinguished historian and biographer, will discuss how the story of the Yalta FRUS volume reflected the interplay of partisan impulses, national security imperatives, and bureaucratic politics in the 1950s.

Update: An audio recording of this event is available from the NYPL homepage.


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“FRUS In The World, Part One: New Research on the Foreign Relations of the United States series, The Long Nineteenth Century”

A panel at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Annual Meeting
June 24, 2011

  • Chair
    • William B. McAllister, Ph.D., Special Projects Director, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
  • Presenters
    • Aaron Marrs, Ph.D., Research Historian, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
    • Peter Cozzens, Special Assistant to The Historian, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
  • Commentators
    • Howard Jones, Ph.D., University of Alabama
    • J.C.A Stagg, Ph.D, University of Virginia

As part of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the FRUS series, the Office of the Historian has launched a major research initiative to examine numerous questions about the series that have remained unexamined for 150 years. The most significant results of this research will be revealed in the two sessions we propose to present at the 2011 SHAFR annual meeting. Why was the series launched in 1861, and how was it shaped by previous public releases of foreign policy documents? Why did the series continue after its ostensible reason for publication, the Civil War, ended? What controversies surrounded the compilation and publication of the series in the later 19th century? This panel will shed important new light on multiple aspects of 19th century U.S. history and historiography, including relations between the legislative and executive branches, conceptions about “openness in government” in a nineteenth-century context, issues of professional expertise and politicization involved in producing FRUS volumes, and important foreign policy issues of the era. In order to explore this topic thoroughly, we anticipate that each presenter will speak for 30 minutes, followed by substantial remarks from the two commentators, with sufficient time reserved for the audience to participate in a larger discussion of the issues raised.

“Publicizing Foreign Relations in Time of War: The Foundation of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series”

Aaron W. Marrs

An examination of early Foreign Relations of the United States volumes gives us an opportunity to investigate how the federal government presented its foreign policy to the American people, and how the populace reacted to foreign policy. Using the volumes themselves, Department of State documents, and private papers, this paper will demonstrate that FRUS was composed for a domestic (not international) audience and constitutes an example of the federal balance of powers. This paper will shed light on FRUS’s early history, contrast the volumes with the ad hoc publications which preceded them, and explore the contemporary implications of its publication.

“Charming Volumes for Summer Outings”: FRUS and the Transformation of American Foreign Policy, 1870-1900

Peter Cozzens

This paper will examine the role the FRUS series played during the transformative years of American Foreign Policy from 1870-1900. It will place especial emphasis on Congressional, public, and foreign reception of the series and the series’ impact on American foreign policy and transparency in government. Also examined will be the quality and completeness of the volumes, particularly with respect to salient policy issues and crises. The paper will be based on research principally in government documents, private papers, and period newspapers.

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“FRUS In The World, Part Two: New Research on the Foreign Relations of the United States series, The Twentieth Century in Comparative Perspective”

A panel at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Annual Meeting
June 24, 2011

  • Chair
    • Michael Hogan, Ph.D., President of the University of Illinois
  • Presenters
    • Joshua Botts, Ph.D., Research Historian, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
    • Sacha Zala Ph.D., Director, Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland, Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Commentators
    • Richard Immerman, Ph.D., Temple University
    • Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, Ph.D., San Diego State University

As part of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the FRUS series, the Office of the Historian has launched a major research initiative to examine numerous questions about the series that have remained unexamined for 150 years. The most significant results of this research will be revealed in the two sessions we propose to present at the 2011 SHAFR annual meeting. This panel will shed important new light on multiple aspects of 20th century U.S. history, including the growing professionalization of both the historical profession and the Foreign Service, the tension between the rising status of the United States in world affairs and the desire to promote informed public debate through release of foreign policy documents, the international ramifications of revelations that impact other governments, and political factors that can shape the compilation and publication of FRUS volumes. This panel will also feature an important international comparative perspective by including the prominent Swiss scholar Sacha Zala, who has examined how several European governments have dealt with many of these same issues. In order to explore this topic thoroughly, we anticipate that each presenter will speak for 30 minutes, followed by substantial remarks from the two commentators, with sufficient time reserved for the audience to participate in a larger discussion of the issues raised.

“Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire”: The Politics of the Yalta FRUS

Joshua Botts

This paper examines the origins, compilation, reception, and consequences of the Yalta FRUS volume. The Yalta volume was notable for several reasons. It not only sparked intense public controversy upon its 1955 release, but it also represented the culmination of the professionalization of FRUS that began in the 1920s and introduced methodological changes that transformed the compilation and scope of the FRUS series during the postwar period. The paper uses Department of State and Congressional records, personal manuscript collections, and newspapers to examine issues of domestic and bureaucratic politics, diplomacy, and national security as FRUS entered the Cold War era.

“The War of Documents” and the Professionalization of the Editor’s Work: A Comparative View

Sacha Zala

This paper will place the FRUS series in comparative international perspective by examining similar issues that have arisen in European official publications of foreign policy documents. Topics will include how the FRUS series impacted, and was impacted by, the “War Guilt Controversy” of the 1920s; controversies surrounding the publication of FRUS volumes on the Paris Peace Conferences; the use of captured German records as a Cold War propaganda tool; and general observations about developing professional standards for historians and government employees surrounding the use and release of sensitive foreign policy documents.


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“Crisis and Change in the Foreign Relations of the United States Series, 1861-2011”

A panel at the Society for History in the Federal Government Annual Meeting
March 31, 2011

  • Chair
    • William B. McAllister, Ph.D. Special Projects Director, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
  • Presenters
    • Aaron Marrs, Ph.D., Research Historian, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
    • Peter Cozzens, Special Assistant to The Historian, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
    • Joshua Botts, Ph.D., Research Historian, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State

The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the official documentary record of U.S. foreign policy, enters its 150th year of continuous publication in 2011. The Department of State’s Office of the Historian, which publishes the FRUS series, is conducting significant new research about the historical development of the series. To commemorate the FRUS sesquicentennial, we propose to share the most significant early results of this research at the 2011 SHFG Annual Conference. This panel will shed important new light on multiple aspects of 18th through 20th century history and historiography, including pre-1861 releases of foreign policy documents, relations between the legislative and executive branches, conceptions about “openness in government” in a 19th century context, the growing professionalization of both historians and the Foreign Service, the tension between the rising status of the United States in world affairs and the desire to promote informed public debate through release of foreign policy documents, the international ramifications of revelations that have an impact on other governments, and evolving political factors that have shaped and continue to shape the compilation and publication of FRUS volumes. We also envision allotting sufficient time after the presentations to engage in question-and-answer and general discussion with the audience about issues of interest to them.


Cover of “Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976”

“Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976”

Inaugural conference of the FRUS Special Conference Series
March 31, 2011

As part of an array of events designed to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the State Department’s Office of the Historian is inaugurating the FRUS Special Conference Series to highlight recently-published FRUS volumes.

On March 7th, the Office of the Historian and the George Mason University School of Public Policy will host a half-day conference focused on the FRUS volume dealing with Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976. The conference will take place at the George Mason University School of Public Policy in Arlington, Virginia. The text of Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976 is available online.


Still image of AHA CSPAN Event

“Open Secrets: The Foreign Relations of the United States Series, Democracy’s ‘Need to Know,’ and National Security”

American Historical Association Annual Meeting
January 9, 2011

Two historians from the Office of the Historians participated in a panel at the American Historical Association (AHA) 2011 Annual Meeting, entitled “Open Secrets: The Foreign Relations of the United States Series, Democracy’s ‘Need to Know,’ and National Security”. Video of the event is available via CSPAN video and Youtube video.