National History Day Resources
Welcome! Explore our rich collection of primary sources by America’s diplomats that can inspire and support a variety of projects. Before diving directly into research, take time to familiarize yourself with what we do.
“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
Check out our Moments in Diplomatic History, Fascinating Figures and Oral History transcripts and podcasts! These are great resources for educators and students from middle school through university level. A “Fascinating Figure” is an article on a person who has influenced diplomatic history. “Moments” highlight specific events drawing on recollections of the diplomats who were there at the time. Oral Histories and podcasts are the verbatim memories of the diplomats and family members who represented America abroad. Each photo is linked directly to the article and by clicking “here” in any of the descriptions you will be taken to a list of resources related to that topic.
For Teachers: Lesson Plans and Student Projects
We’ve prepared sample lesson plans, suggested student projects, and a source evaluation worksheet especially for educators.
For Everyone: Moments in Diplomatic History
1) The Vietnam War
The Vietnam War remains one of the most contentious foreign policy issues in American history. U.S. military involvement was initially justified in view of the domino theory, the widely held belief that a failure to prevent the spread of Communism in Vietnam would ultimately to Communist victories in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and the rest of Southeast Asia.
Read more about the Vietnam War HERE.
2) The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962
The United States noticed a large influx of weapons being transported from the Soviet Union to Cuba. Based on aerial surveillance, Washington realized these were nuclear missiles, capable of reaching much of U.S. territory. President Kennedy addressed the nation on October 22 as the world feared it was on the brink of a nuclear war.
Read more about the Cuban Missile Crisis HERE.
3) The Korean War
With the end of World War II, there was still no consensus on Korea’s fate among Allied leaders. Many Koreans on the peninsula wanted independence and rejected re-occupation by foreign forces. Per the agreement at Yalta, the USSR entered the fight against Japan and invaded Manchuria and northern Korea. On August 10, 1945 two young officers worked to define an American occupation zone. Working on extremely short notice and without consulting any experts on Korea, they used a National Geographic map to decide on the 38th parallel. On August 15, 1945, Japan’s last Governor-General handed over power, marking Korea’s Victory over Japan. The Republic of Korea was established exactly three years later.
Read more about the Korean War HERE.
4) Mexico Immigration Talks
Illegal immigration remains a hotly contested issue within the United States, as evidenced by the subject’s repeated appearance in American political discourse over the years. Formulating effective policy to reform America’s immigration system has been a major struggle for both parties in the United States. However, the implementation of any policy has also created significant challenges for the hundreds of Foreign Service officers stationed in Mexico who review and process visa applications. Especially in a country where thousands seek to enter America every year.
Read more about Mexico HERE.
1) Secretary of State James A. Baker III
James A. Baker served as the Secretary of State during the Presidency of George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1992, a period that included such events as the collapse of the Soviet Union, the First Gulf War, and renewed Arab-Israeli peace talks.
Baker also served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Ronald Reagan and White House Chief of Staff under both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Remembered as a skilled diplomat and negotiator, Secretary Baker was given the Ralph Bunche Award for Diplomatic Excellence for his many contributions to foreign policy at ADST’s biennial gala dinner in May 2014.
Read more about James A. Baker III HERE.
2) Ambassador Clifton Wharton
Clifton Reginald Wharton, Sr. was the first African-American Foreign Service Officer to rise to the rank of ambassador without a political appointment. In four decades in the Foreign Service, Wharton held positions in various posts worldwide including in Liberia, the Canary Islands, Madagascar, Portugal, France, and Romania.
He was appointed by President Kennedy as U.S. Ambassador to Norway, and served there from 1961 to his retirement in 1964. A colleague from his time in Norway recalled that Wharton “is proof that you can’t keep talent from rising. He got to the top by sheer talent in spite of all of the problems of being a black in the Foreign Service in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.”
Read more about African-Americans in the State Department HERE.
3) Ambassador Elinor Constable
Elinor Constable had an illustrious career in the State Department from 1955 until 1993, serving not only as Ambassador to Kenya from 1986 to 1989 but also as the first woman Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Economic Bureau and as Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES). She was in many ways a pioneer on women’s issues, dating from the late 1950s when she refused to resign from the Foreign Service when she got married, as was the expectation – not the law – at the time.
Read more about women in the Foreign Service HERE.
Oral Histories and Podcasts
1) Diego Asencio, Ambassador to Colombia
Diego Asencio joined the Foreign Service in 1957, and went on to serve as ambassador to Colombia and Brazil, and as Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs.
In his oral history, Ambassador Asencio recalled, “essentially, when I was ambassador to Colombia, as you know, I was captured and held hostage for about 61 days. It had been the tradition in the Foreign Service, up until that time–I think one could verify this historically–that ambassadors or officers who got caught up in situations like this invariably suffered in their career. They either were retired or shuffled off to stack paperclips or in some other way taken out of the mainstream.”
Read more about Ambassador Asencio HERE.
2) Betty Allan, Codebreaker during WWII
Arlington Hall, now part of the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, was pressed into service in World War II as a center for code-breaking. Many of the code-breakers were young women, like Betty Allan who abandoned plans to be a math teacher to serve in the war effort.
“From July 1944 until the Japanese surrender in August 1945, my job at the headquarters at the Army Signal Corps at Arlington Hall in Virginia was code breaking, attempting to decipher the military communications of the Japanese Armed Forces in the Far East. We worked in low temporary barracks-like, non air conditioned buildings on three shifts. And after that I stayed on another five plus years at Arlington Hall, working on Soviet Union communications in the Cold War.”
Read more about Betty Allan HERE.
3) Marc Baas, Ambassador to Ethiopia
“One of the great successes of United States government at this time was the Fourth of July party of 1991. This was what, five weeks after the government had changed. Nobody knew anybody. But we put together this tremendous reception and everybody came. Five or six times at the reception I heard people saying, Ethiopians saying to Ethiopians, “Oh, I’ve never met you but I know who you are.” Or something of that nature. They knew each other by name but they had never met before. We had various ministers who didn’t really know each other sitting there talking to each other. It was a terrific event. We were certainly making our concerns known that it had to be a process leading to democracy, that the transitional government and process should be all inclusive, that everybody should have a shot at power and so on.”
Read more about Marc Baas HERE.
Videos: America’s Diplomats
Diplomacy is America’s first line of defense, but do you really know what U.S. diplomats do to advance America’s interests overseas? America’s Diplomats is a documentary by the Foreign Policy Association that provides a great introduction here:
Please cite our materials as follows: Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Arlington, VA, www.adst.org.