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ADST’s Oral History Collection

We are proud to have the worlds largest collection of U.S. diplomatic history – and it’s growing every day!
Because diplomacy matters…

“The oral histories that your organization has collected over the years are a national treasure .”

Senator  Sam Nunn
D-Georgia (retired)

“I had never thought of diplomats as a source until I met you. Thank you for opening my eyes to a whole other resource!”

Anne Walker
MEd Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
Benton Middle School, Manassas, VA


The Collection

Since 1986, the Foreign Affairs Oral History Program of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) has recorded more than 2500 interviews with former participants in the U.S. foreign affairs process. Collectively, these oral histories span over 80 years. About 60 new interviews are added annually. The series also contains some significant oral histories dealing with American diplomacy, which were provided by universities and presidential libraries.

The oral history collection has become one of the largest in the country on any subject and the most significant collection on foreign affairs.

The Oral History Collection is a part of the Library of Congress American Memory collection. It is unclassified and available to the public and can be found at Library’s Front Line Diplomacy website. It is also available on ADST’s site under Oral History Interviews.

In order to honor the diversity of the Foreign Service, we have also compiled a legacy collection of the oral histories of African American ambassadors.

Inside the Collection

The foreign affairs oral histories capture for public use the knowledge, direct experience and perspectives of many whose stories are otherwise not recorded. Their stories offer detailed accounts of foreign policy creation and implementation, the context in which it occurred, and the personalities involved in the process. The interviews give insights and provide information not often found in official documents or in memoirs and histories published elsewhere.

The collection is quite extensive. It spans nearly eight decades, with material describing events as early as the 1920s as well as the recent past. It covers the world, as U.S. relations with almost every country across the globe are mentioned in some fashion. Subjects range from the great events of history to the tedium of everyday struggles to achieve American objectives.

Yet the interviews also present a picture of specialized activities abroad, for example the work of labor officers, economic development and assistance (AID series), public diplomacy (USIA) and consular activities. This last field contains personal views of the U.S. consular officials who assist U.S. citizens abroad and deal with problems of immigration. In addition the collection highlights women’s voices with the Women Ambassadors Series; this series was developed from a sociological perspective. About 150 spouse histories are also available. These spouse interviews offer a unique glimpse into the important role wives played in the “old” Foreign Service (prior to the 1970s).

Country Readers Series

Interested in a particular country or region? Go beyond the experiences of simply one diplomat with Country Readers.

These Readers consist of relevant excerpts from individual oral history interviews arranged in approximate chronological order. They are designed to give a user an overview of American relations with a country, as seen by those who served there or dealt with it from Washington. While the Readers do not necessarily provide full chronological continuity, they do offer unique insights over decades that often provide a unique perspective on U.S. relations and the formation of foreign policy.