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Today’s post is written by David LangbartThis is the fourth (and last) 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. Please visit Part I, Part II, and Part III.

To assist with preparing for a research visit and orient you to the records, the National Archives has prepared a set of web pages. There, you will find an explanation of the records of the Department of State and related foreign affairs agencies, including those of a temporary nature established during World War I and World War II and the more permanent agencies created during the Cold War.  You will also find links to filing manuals and other finding aids to the records, more detailed reference papers, and other information, as well as links to web pages describing agencies and records outside the foreign affairs community.

The foreign affairs pages are arranged as follows:

  • Department of State
    • Central Files
    • Decentralized Files
    • Foreign Service Posts
    • Specialized Files
      • International Conferences, Commissions, and Expositions
      • Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations
      • Interdepartmental and Intradepartmental Committees
  • World War I Special Agencies
    • Committee on Public Information
    • War Trade Board
    • American Commission to Negotiate Peace
  • World War II and Aftermath Records
    • Foreign Economic Administration
    • Office of War Information
    • Office of Inter-American Affairs
    • American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Historic Monuments in War Areas
    • Philippine War Damage Commission
    • Displaced Persons Commission
  • Cold War Agencies
    • Agency for International Development
    • U.S. Information Agency
    • U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
    • Overseas Private Investment Corporation
    • U.S. High Commissioner for Germany
    • U.S. Foreign Assistance Agencies, 1947-1961
    • Trade and Development Agency
    • Peace Corps
  • Genealogical Records
  • Department of State Publications and Websites
  • Other Agencies Relating to Foreign Affairs

Today’s post is written by David LangbartThis is the third 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. Please visit Part I and Part II.

Here are some very basic hints on how to approach undertaking research in the records of the foreign affairs agencies.  This guidance should be most helpful to novice researchers but can also help those with more experience undertaking new avenues of research or working with different records for the first time.  More information on the records described below is found on the web pages found here.

For most topics relating to U.S. foreign policy since 1861, research should begin with a review of the pertinent volumes of the publication Foreign Relations of the United States issued by the Department of State and commonly referred to as “FRUS”.  In addition to providing the text of the most important documents on U.S. foreign policy, FRUS also includes source citations and in this way serves as a finding aid to the records on U.S. foreign policy.

Be sure to record the sources cited in FRUS, note them in your correspondence with the National Archives, and bring them with you when you visit the National Archives.  Please remember that given the mandate of the series, it does not include documents on every topic in the records and thus it is likely that there are records on more topics than in the publication.

While the subject of your research will dictate the records of most use in your research, for most topics involving U.S. policies and actions, the most important files of the Department of State are those that constitute the central files.  The central files are the most inclusive and authoritative repository of reporting by American diplomatic and consular posts overseas and include much additional documentation on policy-making and implementation.  There is at least some documentation in the Department’s central files on almost all topics relating to U.S. foreign policy and relations with other countries.  The arrangement of the central files has changed over time.  It is important to understand those changes in order to use the records effectively.

The documents in the central files (and the markings on them) will indicate the bureaus and offices in the Department that dealt with the pertinent issues and which Foreign Service posts and other agencies in the Government were involved, thus suggesting other avenues of research.  After exhausting the sources found in the central files, you can expand your research to the decentralized files of the Department (often referred to as “Lot Files”) indicated by the central files documentation, the records of Foreign Service Posts involved with the issue, and to other specialized files from the Department.

For many topics, the records of the various specialized foreign affairs agencies established during World War I, World War II, and the Cold War will include more details about policymaking and activities at the operational level for the specialized programs those agencies handled.  In some cases, those operational records can be the focus of in-depth research.  Most of those agencies did not have centralized recordkeeping, so you will have to familiarize yourself with the organization of the agency in question and the functions and responsibilities of each office in order to determine where to focus your research.

Many other agencies have a role in U.S. foreign and national security affairs.  These include organizations in the Executive Office of the President, other civilian agencies, and military agencies.  Most notable among them are the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Commerce.  You should not ignore the records of those agencies if they are relevant to your research

Tomorrow: The foreign affairs web pages.

Today’s blog is written by David LangbartThis is the second 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 recommendations herein are applicable to other records, too. The first part is here.

National Archives Reference Staff are committed to doing their best to get you to the records that you want to see.  It is just as frustrating for NARA staff not to be able to help you as it is for you not to see the records you want.  They need your help, however, in order to best assist you.

While the reference staff cannot undertake your research for you, they can do some preliminary work in order to identify the file categories in the Department of State’s (or other agency’s) central files likely to contain documentation of interest or locate other series with pertinent records.  Doing that work takes time, however.  It cannot be done effectively while you are waiting in the Research Room.

To assist you, the National Archives has developed this FAQ on how to make your research visit to the National Archives more successful.

As noted in the FAQ, while writing to the National Archives before visiting is not required, communicating with the Reference Staff at the National Archives before you visit is likely to improve the results of your research experience.  And remember to do so at least 3-4 weeks before a planned visit to allow enough time for NARA staff to respond.  While contacting the National Archives before a visit is especially useful in the following instances, it can also help in other circumstances too:

    • (1) if the records are dated from the 1960s and later
    • (2) if you are dealing with agencies involved with foreign affairs, intelligence, and law enforcement
    • (3) if you do not have precise file number citations to the files of various agencies or National Archives record group and entry numbers
    • (4) or if you are unsure that records exist.

Reference staff is available in the Archives II Research Room from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, except government holidays.  For those wanting a more in-depth explanation of the records or with difficult or advanced research projects, a specialist in foreign affairs records is available for consultation.  The specialist is in the Archives II Textual Research Room every Tuesday morning from 9AM to 10AM and can answer questions about the organization and content of the records and help you plan a research strategy.

The foreign affairs web pages are here.

Tomorrow: Research Hints

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

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

In 1912 David C. Preyer wrote in his book The Art of the Berlin Galleries that the then Royal National Gallery did not until 1896 make any effort to add foreign works to its collection.  In taking the reader through a tour of Gallery V of the museum, which contained principally the work of French Impressionists, he pointed out one work by Edouard Manet, titled “In the Conservatory.”  He wrote that it showed a man and a woman, M. and Mme. Guillemet, “friends of the artist, whom he posed on the veranda of his studio in the Rue d’Amsterdam before a group of exotic plants.”  “It is,” he observed, “a beautiful painting, of vibrating colour, rich, pure paint, simple composition, with the whole picture based upon two or three values.”[1]  This painting, also known as “The Greenhouse” and “Wintergarden,” had been given to Berlin’s National-Galerie as a gift by the Berlin Friends of Art in 1896.[2]  After the Nazis took over Germany, there were some who apparently considered selling French Impressionist works, including Manet’s work, from German museums.[3]

National Archives Identifier 575184

In The Washington Post this past week was a photograph of American soldiers in the mine at Merkers, Germany, looking at the Manet painting.  The caption read: “U.S. soldiers examine the painting Wintergarden by French Impressionist Edouard Manet, stolen by the Nazi regime and hidden in a salt mine in Merkers, Germany.” Actually this piece of art work, as all others stored and recovered at Merkers, were German-owned, not looted.

Yet, newspapers, articles, and other published sources for decades have labeled the painting as looted.  They did so based on an erroneous caption on the Signal Corps photograph at the National Archives.  But it does not take much effort to know that the paintings evacuated from Berlin’s museums to Merkers in March 1945, were not looted.  There are numerous articles and books that explain what art works were taken to Merkers and what happened to them. See for example my article “Nazi Gold: The Merkers Mine Treasure,” in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, Vol. 31 No. 1 (Spring 1999).

The art works recovered at Merkers in mid-April 1945 were moved by the U.S. Army to the Reichsbank in Frankfurt.  In late August they were moved to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, a repository primarily for German-owned property.

At Wiesbaden Manet’s Wintergarden (like the other German-owned art works) were recorded on Property Cards, documenting accessions and transfers.  The Manet work was assigned the accession identification WIE 0/199, with the presumed owner being listed as Berlin’s National-Galerie. The cards erroneously indicate that the painting had been deposited at Merkers in March 1944, when it was actually in March 1945. The cards show the painting arriving at the Wiesbaden Collecting Point during August-September 1945 and leaving in November 1945, with the location on August 31, 1946, being Washington.  Manet’s work was sent in November 1945, along with some 200 other German-owned art works, to be exhibited at the National Gallery of Art and other museums.  The catalogue for the exhibit very carefully listed how the German museums received the art works, to dispel any belief that any of the works had been looted. The property card for its accessioning shows that it returned to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point on May 5, 1949 and left again on May 31, 1949. The latter date was when the work was returned to the German Government.   It is on display today at the Alte Nationalgalerie.

The property cards are part of the series Records Relating to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point Property Accessions, 1945–1949 (NAID 2431627) and Records Relating to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point Property Transfers, 1945–1948 (NAID 2431631), Record Group 260, and are available on rolls 102 and 114 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1947.


[1] David C. Preyer, The Art of the Berlin Galleries: Giving a History of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum with a Critical Description of the Paintings therein contained, together with a Brief Account of the National Gallery of XIX Century Art (Boston: L. C. Page & Company, 1912), pp. 259, 265.

[2] Masterpieces from the Berlin Museums Exhibited in Cooperation with the Department of the Army of the United States of America 1948-1949 (Cleveland: The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1948), p. 63.

[3] Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., 1995), p. 33.