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Curator of Public Policy Papers
June 25, 1999
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Sends Letter to Princeton Opening John Foster Dulles Microfilm
PRINCETON, N.J. -- Princeton archivists unveiled the secrets of the past on Friday, when the John Foster Dulles State Department Microfilm opened to the public.
At a reception at Princeton's Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Records and Management Frank M. Machak delivered a letter from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Princeton President Harold T. Shapiro that declassified virtually all of this material. Machak noted that Dulles, who served as Secretary of State under President Dwight Eisenhower from 1953 to 1959, had wanted the historical record of his service accessible to historians and that the State Department had enabled several scholars to use the classified version of the microfilm during the last decade. "Now these records will be available to researchers from around the globe," Machak added.
President Shapiro thanked Machak for the State Department's commitment to open these records. "The Mudd Library is increasingly a central resource for students of the Cold War era, and this new resource can only serve to strengthen this library," Shapiro said. University Librarian Karin A. Trainer noted that the State Department had been aggressive in its program to open these records, and that those documents still withheld are only awaiting declassification approvals from other federal departments and countries.
Scholars who have used these records while still classified have described them as "an extraordinary source for students of U.S. foreign policy." Marc B. Trachtenberg, Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that these documents "are of fundamental importance and are often not available elsewhere .The material I saw fundamentally changed my own understanding of certain key issues." China specialist Bruce Elleman of Texas Christian University found the papers, "especially useful for the study of American foreign policy in Asia." [A full text of statements from historians who have used the Dulles microfilm is attached.]
The Dulles materials now open (192 reels of microfilm totaling 131,000 frames) contain thousands of documents from State Department files during the 1950s, many of which Dulles helped to select. Of special interest are selections from conferences and negotiations attended by Dulles, his memoranda of conversation, top-secret daily intelligence summaries, and minutes of the two high-level daily staff meetings at the State Department. In the 1950s Princeton prepared a log for all documents and a card catalog to provide an index to subjects.
The opening of the Dulles microfilm is one of the highlights of the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) which is meeting this week in Princeton.
Further information on the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library can be obtained at http://www.princeton.edu/mudd, and on the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations at http://www.ohiou.edu/shafr/shafr.htm. The news release issued by the Department of State regarding this event can be found at http://secretary.state.gov/www/briefings/statements/1999/ps990623b.html.
Comments on the Dulles Classified Microfilm by Researchers
Marc B. Trachtenberg
Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania:
"The Dulles State Papers at the Mudd Library at Princeton are an extraordinary source for students of U. S. foreign policy -- and indeed U.S. national security policy -- during the Eisenhower period. There is nothing else quite like it. The 192 reels of microfilm in this collection contain tens of thousands of documents from the State Department files for this period, many of which are of fundamental importance and are often unavailable elsewhere. The filming project was begun at the State Department in the mid-1950s when John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State, and Dulles himself played a key role in the selection of the documents that were to be filmed. Much of this material was originally very highly classified. Now, practically all of it has been made available to researchers.
"The material in the Dulles State Papers is of absolutely fundamental importance. I worked in this collection in the early 1990s when you still had to first get a security clearance just to use this source. Documents then had to be selected out and sent down to Washington for declassification; in my case, it took two years before the documents I had asked for were released. But it was certainly worth going through this whole lengthy process. The material I saw fundamentally changed my own understanding of certain key issues -- issues relating to NATO nuclear strategy, for example, and more generally, to U.S. policy toward Europe during the Eisenhower period.
"But now this collection can be seen by anyone who shows up at the Mudd Library. And I should add that the Library is an exceptionally pleasant place to do research. I have worked in many archives in America and in Europe, and the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library is in my experience the most researcher-friendly of them all."
Assistant Professor of History, Texas Christian University:
"The Dulles State Papers at the Mudd Library at Princeton University are especially useful for the study of American foreign policy in Asia -- arguably the region that was destined to be the hottest' area of conflict during the Cold War -- because the top secret daily and weekly reports are subdivided by region, with the heading Far East' including all relevant reports and decisions concerning Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, and the countries of Southeast Asia. This makes locating information on Asia extremely easy, which is not always the case with other archives and collections.
"Once a researcher begins to make use of the Dulles State Papers' reports on Asia, then a second important characteristic becomes evident: in addition to summarizing the various reports that came into the State Department from all over Asia, the original reports themselves are referenced by geographical origin, report number, and date. This makes it easy and convenient for the researcher to backtrack in order to use the original, and presumably much more detailed, report from the field. As a result, I would highly recommend to any researcher interested in studying American foreign policy in Asia that they begin their research with the Dulles State Papers, and then use the wealth of references present in this series in order to expand and broaden their research."
1993 Ph.D., Vanderbilt University:
"The State Department Microfilm Series was a valuable resource for my study of the Eisenhower administration and the United Nations. I found the Summary of Major Decisions, the Afternoon Summaries, and the Staff Meeting Notes to be of particular interest. Although I discovered little wholly new information, the material was useful in three ways. It contained a brief to-the-point summary of the views of Dulles and other key figures. Dulles's position on a given issue was thus very clear. Secondly, the frequency of the meetings allowed me to trace shifts in position over days or weeks. Finally, the meetings' format -- in which the entire range of the most pressing foreign policy issues was frankly discussed -- helped me to get an accurate sense of the importance of UN-related concerns."