Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, Public Diplomacy, 1917–1972
In 2007, historians at the Office of the Historian proposed a retrospective Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume designed to augment the series’ coverage of U.S. public diplomacy. While the series began to document the subject in a sustained and concerted way starting with the second administration of President Richard M. Nixon, previous FRUS coverage of U.S. public diplomacy efforts have been far less consistent. This retrospective volume will fill that gap, which stretches from the First World War to the early 1970s. Resource constraints and the statutory requirement to publish Foreign Relations volumes 30 years after the events that they cover mean that compilations in this volume have been researched and compiled piecemeal over a longer period of time than the typical FRUS volume. Fortunately, progress is being made, as evidenced by this compilation, which covers the U.S. Government’s public diplomacy efforts from 1917 to 1919. Subsequent compilations, which will document up to the end of the first Nixon administration, will be published as they are completed.
This compilation focuses on the creation and overseas work of the Committee on Public Information (CPI). While the U.S. Government had engaged in public diplomacy before (such as with the publication of diplomatic correspondence during the Civil War), the CPI’s overseas work constituted a sustained effort to educate a foreign public about the United States, and, in particular, its role in the war effort. Representatives of the CPI were sent around the globe to establish reading rooms, distribute translated copies of President Woodrow Wilson’s speeches, work with local journalists to publish news stories, and show films demonstrating the United States’ readiness to fight. This compilation documents all of these activities. While few planning documents from the time exist, this compilation includes numerous examples of how the CPI executed its work in the field, particularly in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. The chapter also includes examples of the types of information distributed by the CPI. The inclusion of these multimedia items is a new milestone in the publication history of the Foreign Relations series. Despite the CPI’s extensive activity, the war’s conclusion led the U.S. Government to shut down the Committee. However, future U.S. public diplomacy efforts could call upon the CPI as an example, even though it left no sustained bureaucratic legacy.