The Office of the Historian recently launched an Oral History Program that will document the history of U.S. foreign relations and bring a historical perspective to current policy making. The goal of the program is to tape a series of interviews with U.S. diplomats and State Department officials to capture firsthand accounts of U.S. diplomacy in action. These recordings will provide a unique complement to textual records that document the history of the State Department and U.S. foreign relations. In the above video, Ambassador Edward Brynn speaks about the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series -- the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions. The series began in 1861 and now comprises more than 400 individual volumes.
Similar to FRUS, the Oral History Program represents an effort to inform the public about governmental decision-making. The Oral History Program includes a project on the Special Envoys and Representatives at the Department of State. The United States has used Special Envoys to negotiate bilateral agreements, mediate international disputes, demonstrate U.S. commitment to specific issues, and pursue public diplomacy goals. Presidents and Secretaries of State have valued Special Envoys for their flexibility, ability to overcome bureaucratic impediments, and for the unique talents and perspectives they can bring to foreign policy challenges. These interviews encourage the Special Envoys to talk about how their personal background prepared them for their public service. It will also provide the interviewees a forum in which to share valuable experience gained, explore lessons learned, and evaluate the successes and challenges they have faced.
The Office of the Historian is also planning to invite Chiefs of Mission who served in Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) posts during the "Arab Awakening" to participate in oral history interviews. These interviews will provide unparalleled insights into events as they occurred on the ground, from the vantage point of the senior U.S. officials tasked with shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East. The oral histories collected in this project will constitute a rich and valuable source of first-hand reporting on the "Arab Awakening" for future incoming NEA ambassadors and other senior officials. They will also enable future historians to compare U.S. policies across countries in the region.
Finally, the Office of the Historian has also collaborated with the Center for Army Lessons Learned and the Office of Provincial Affairs of Embassy Baghdad to capture the experiences of State Department officers working on the frontlines of expeditionary diplomacy at Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq.
The interviews and transcripts from each of these projects will become permanent records of the Department and will be retired at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In accordance with NARA's record retirement schedule, the digital recordings and transcripts will be made accessible to future researchers and the public.