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Researching Foreign Affairs Records, Part I: Introduction

by on July 8, 2014


Today’s post is written by David Langbart. This is the first in a series of posts about conducting research in the records of agencies specifically responsible for U.S. foreign relations. It is derived from information on the NARA web pages devoted to that topic.

The United States has played a key role in world affairs since its founding. The Department of State is the senior cabinet-level department in the U.S. government and is the agency designated to lead in the overall direction, coordination, and supervision of American foreign policy and foreign relations. However, records relating to your topic might be found among the files of other agencies, too. Since World War II, a community of agencies has evolved to deal specifically with foreign policy issues. In addition, many other agencies have taken on important roles in American national security affairs. The subject and focus of your research will determine the most appropriate records for you to use.

Much policy development takes place in the White House and is documented in the files of the Presidents and their extended staffs. The records and files of all Presidents since Herbert Hoover are located in the Presidential Libraries operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. In addition to White House files, the Libraries hold the files of the National Security Council and its staff and other high-level organizations.

Congress also has a role in American foreign policy. The Senate provides advice and consent to all treaties, and many committees have oversight on issues relating to foreign affairs. Of most importance are the records of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The work of other committees also may touch on foreign relations matters and Congress has established numerous temporary committees and sub-committees to study special issues and matters relating to U.S. foreign affairs.

You may reach the web pages here.

Tomorrow: Getting Started


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