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Curator of Public Policy Papers
Friday, June 25, 1999
Council on Foreign Relations Archives Deposited at Princeton University
PRINCETON, N.J. -- The records of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the most influential American foreign policy organization in the twentieth century, have been deposited for research at Princeton University's Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Formal announcement of the recent transfer came at a reception at the library attended by the nearly 500 members of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations meeting this week in Princeton.
Gideon Rose, Olin Fellow and Deputy Director, National Security Studies at the Council, formally presented these records to Princeton President Harold T. Shapiro. Rose noted that the Mudd library already documents much of the early history of the Council, housing the records of the first three editors of Foreign Affairs magazine: Archibald Cary Coolidge, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, and William P. Bundy. Rose said that "Princeton has done a spectacular job organizing, preserving and providing access to the many historic records already here. That care, and the renowned reference service provided by the Library's staff, convinced us of the wisdom of this decision." President Shapiro called the Council's archives "the most notable acquisition in this century for what is already the preeminent public policy papers collection in the country." University Librarian Karin A. Trainer observed that "Princeton's interest in these archives began with an exhibition in 1993 celebrating the 75-year heritage of the Council. That exhibition made us realize how strongly our existing holdings were linked to the Council's history."
The Council's records fill nearly 400 feet of shelving and include the minutes of the off-the-record meetings and study groups sponsored by the Council over the years. Records relating to the inner workings of the Council will also now be open for the first time, although in all cases records are closed for an initial 25-year period, and then open only under the Council's non-attribution rule. Historian Inderjeet Parmar of the University of Manchester called these records "a vital resource for scholars interested in the history, sociology, and politics of the U. S. foreign policy establishment." Historian Priscilla Roberts of the University of Hong Kong added, "the Council played an enormously important role, underpinning the development of an internationalist tradition in the twentieth-century United States." The records of study groups, according to historian Michael Wala of the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, "in many cases almost amount to a verbatim transcript of what was said during these off-the-record meetings."
The Council on Foreign Relations was founded in 1921 by businessmen, bankers, and lawyers determined to keep the United States engaged in the world. Today, the Council is composed of men and women from all walks of international life and from all parts of America, dedicated to the belief that the nation's peace and prosperity are firmly linked to that of the rest of the world. From this flows the Council's mission: to foster America's understanding of other nations -- their peoples, cultures, histories, hopes, quarrels, and ambitions -- and thus to serve our nation through study and debate, private and public. Its widely respected and influential research staff -- with backgrounds in government and scholarship in almost every international subject -- regularly meets with Council members and other leaders and thinkers. These exclusive sessions, known as study groups or roundtables, form the Council's intellectual core. The aim is to provide insights into international affairs and to develop new ideas for U.S. foreign policy, particularly national security and foreign economic policy. Council Fellows produce books, articles, manuscripts, and op-ed pieces and regularly contribute expert commentary on television and radio. The Council also publishes Foreign Affairs, the leading periodical in the field. This magazine has been host to the most important articles about world affairs in this century.
Further information on the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library can be obtained at http://www.princeton.edu/mudd, and on the Council on Foreign Relations at http://www.foreignrelations.org. Attached are statements from historians who have used this collection.
Comments on the Council on Foreign Relations Archives by Scholars Who Have Used Them Previously
Lecturer in Government, University of Manchester:
I have used the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) archives on many occasions over several years and have found the records of their study groups, meetings and conferences highly instructive as to the character, connections and status of the CFR within the US foreign policy establishment. Within the extensive and highly detailed memoranda, correspondence, digests of discussions, letters of applications for funds to philanthropic foundations, and many other types of unpublished records, lies a fascinating insight into the "mind-set" of east coast liberal internationalists, actively preparing the US government and people for globalism in the 1930s and 1940s. Of particular interest are the War and Peace Studies of the CFR, undertaken with the support and guidance of the State Department and President Roosevelt from 1940, which helped define American national interests in the post war era.
The CFR was also interested in mobilising public opinion, a notable example of which is contained within the records of the Conferences for University Men (1936-42), a programme for educating the brightest (and "best") students from Ivy League universities in the "practicalities" of US foreign policy.
From the point of view of diplomacy, the Council's records show that it was well-connected with its British counterpart, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, both of which singly and jointly discussed and studied some of the more contentious issues affecting Anglo-American relations in the pre-war, and post-war years, including naval relations in the 1920s, war debts, trade relations, international security, the character of postwar US-British economic and military collaboration, etc.
All in all, the records of the Council on Foreign Relations are a vital resource for scholars interested in the history, sociology, and politics of the US foreign policy establishment.
former Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs and author of Continuing the Inquiry: The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996:
As I think you will see when you get into them, the Council on Foreign Relations records are most useful for the 1920s, 30s and much of the 40s, a period when the Council was pre-eminent and virtually unique in the American foreign policy community, often the only setting for candid and well-informed discussions in the years before ubiquitous talk shows and the academic conference circuit. I consulted these records for all my early books, Israel in the Mind of America, Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles, and naturally, the 75th anniversary history monograph, Continuing the Inquiry. You don't look here for secret information of classified documents (the Council would never accept government classifications), more for the mood and concerns of busy, well-connected experts, talking not for public impact, but to each other.
Lecturer in History, University of Hong Kong:
Proving that life is stranger than fiction, your e-mail asking for my comments on the Council on Foreign Relations archives arrived just as I was beginning work on my SHAFR conference paper. This will deal with Paul D. Cravath, one of the founders and an early vice-president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Although Cravath's lengthy career comprised far more than the Council, from 1920 onwards it provided him with a sympathetic venue in which he could pursue what was for him a fairly new interest in international affairs, one generated largely by the experience of the First World War. My paper will make substantial use of materials from the early Council on Foreign Relations archives, as well as utilizing those of Hamilton Fish Armstrong, which you already have.
This is just one example of the way in which the Council played an enormously important role, underpinning the development of an internationalist tradition in the twentieth-century United States. For decades it has provided a forum in which government officials, businessmen, academics, and others, both Americans and prominent foreign figures, could meet together, exchange views in confidence, and, in the modern parlance, brainstorm. More than any other American institution, the Council represents the intersection of public and private diplomacy, a locus in which ideas and suggestions could be tried out and tested informally. Low-key and largely in the background, during the "American Century" it has nonetheless enjoyed a unique position.
The Council's papers are a most valuable resource for the study of American diplomacy. Having known the Mudd Library for many years and spent more summers than I care to remember researching in its holdings, I cannot imagine any better, more user-friendly, or more accessible home for them. I congratulate both the Council and the Mudd Library on this acquisition.
Professor of History, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg:
I organized a panel at the 1995 annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations in Annapolis, Maryland on "The Council on Foreign Relations: Subject and Source." This is part of what I said at that time:
"Let me conclude with a short note on the Council's archives, a very important source of information not only for the Council's own history, but also for almost all aspects of U.S. foreign relations since 1921. In December 1974 the Board of the Council voted to open all substantive records of the Council more than 25 years old for reference use, with the condition that no assertion of fact or opinion shall be attributed to any living individual without his or her prior consent. Since that time, all records of meetings, study and discussion groups, and conferences have been opened after 25 years. Records relating to the inner working of the Council, such as Corporate, Committee on Studies, Foreign Affairs, and membership committees, for the time being, remain closed to researchers.
"Particularly the Digests of Discussion of the study and discussion group are of considerable interest to scholars of foreign relations. Here you find, sometimes on as many as 20 single-spaced pages, what in many cases almost amounts to a verbatim transcript of what was said during these off-the-record meetings. Many of the participants were either connected with the American government, had been officials of the executive, or were going to serve with the government in the near future. In the Council documents you thus often find clarification of policies they were connected with or information to better understand their future activities and policies.
"Now there is some concern about the condition of the Council archives located at the Pratt House on 68th Street. There is a space problem -- a few years ago the beautiful library had to make way to meeting rooms -- and the preservation of the material is a problem. However, I am very hopeful that the Council will find ways to preserve its records, either through microfilming the files or by moving the archive to another site."
I am, in view of the above, particularly happy that the Council Archives are now part of the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library where access to this important collection will be guaranteed in the future. I am also pleased to learn that many of the administrative records previously closed to research will now be open after twenty-five years at this library.