Public Diplomacy’s Oral History Interviews
Donald M. Bishop
It’s a commonplace that most historical studies of U.S. public diplomacy have focused on Washington policies, themes, leaders, and decisions.
They have thus slighted how policies were implemented “in the field” — in other nations, regions, and societies. There’s not much written on how Public Diplomacy officers at U.S. embassies, consulates, and American centers presented the United States to the people of other societies or how they advanced U.S. policies.
Those who want to gain insight into Public Diplomacy as it is implemented overseas will find a valuable resource in the extensive oral history program of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. ASDT’s offices are on the Arlington campus of the George Schultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center. (In the State Department, the NFATC is usually called the Foreign Service Institute, FSI.)
As of this writing, more than 1,900 transcribed and edited interviews of retired diplomats can be located (and searched) via the ADST website. There’s foreign policy and Public Diplomacy, but much more. Stuart Kennedy, who led the interviews project and conducted many of the oral history sessions, was committed to including social history.
Here are just a few glimpses of Public Diplomacy found in the rich collections at ADST:
- How USIA legend Bernard Lavin helped Korea develop “democratic education” in the 1950s and 1960s. (pp. 5-11)
- Inside scoops on visits by the President, Secretary of State, and Vice-President – by Lloyd Neighbors. (pp. 75-79, 90-92, 130-133, 192-197)
- Public Diplomacy in the wake of 9/11 in Indonesia, by Greta Morris. (pp. 98-100)
- Janey Cole‘s first assignment – to Bangladesh. (pp. 24-33)
- Paul Blackburn on the reinvention of American Centers in Japan. (pp. 24-28)
- Chas Freeman’s take on USIS officers vs. State’s FSO’s. (pp. 92-93)
- Public Diplomacy officer, Consul General, and forensic dentist Steve Dachi’s big case. (pp. 100-105)
Philip Seib of the University of Southern California recently wrote that the Public Diplomacy officers of the Foreign Service are often “underrated.” To understand their work away from the Washington limelight, turn to the oral history interviews.