by Brenda Brown Schoonover. Ambassador (Ret.)
President of the Board of Directors, American Diplomacy Publishers
On September 18, 1996, the inaugural edition of American Diplomacy (AD), Volume One, Number One was published. It was the launching of an electronic journal on commentary, analysis and research on foreign policy and its practice—available only on line.
My guess is that at the time, the founders of American Diplomacy did not envision the publication would still be going strong twenty years later. But it is—thanks to lot of hard work from a solid cadre of volunteer board members, talented, knowledgeable contributing authors and a combination of loyal and new readership. I should also mention the generous financial support from our board of directors and a grant from the Nelson B. Delavan Foundation.
Visits to the AD website total almost 400,000 a year. Subscribers receiving notices about new material are located in more than 50 countries. Among the prestigious institutions recognizing the journal as an educational resource are Harvard, Columbia and Georgetown Universities as well as the research collection of the Library of Congress.
Some followers may have already heard the story of how American Diplomacy was conceived in the home of a retired Foreign Service Officer in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A handful of Foreign Service retirees formulated the idea over a shared lunch of ordered-in-pizza.
The irony of this account is that historically the State Department has been behind the curve on computer technology. We in the Department have never been known for our computer savvy—certainly not back in 1996. Thus, making it even more remarkable that twenty years ago, a small group of retired U.S. diplomats in Chapel Hill, NC could come up with the unique concept of an online journal devoted to international affairs. These were folks who had spent most of their career years using a typewriter not a desktop computer.
I recommend the AD article, “Technology and Foreign Affairs: the Case of the Typewriter” by Henry E. Mattox in the October to December 1997 edition, which chronicles the span of 100 years of the use of the typewriter in State Department and Foreign Service—and, the initial resistance to the typewriter versus handwritten pen-and-ink communications.
Speaking of outdated, I still like to turn real pages from time to time; so, I was delighted to recently learn of the existence a spiral-bound printed version of the first edition- plus printed copies up until the winter of 2000.
Perhaps the founders maintained copies in print in the early years because they did not have complete faith in the internet as means of ensuring the preservation of historical documents.
The founding editor was Henry Ellis Mattox, PhD a retired Foreign Service Officer. Before he and his wife Shelley “retired” to Chapel Hill. Dr. Mattox had served in seven overseas posts plus a year as a Fulbright professor in Nigeria. He went on to obtain his doctorate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and then to teach for fifteen years at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Along the way, he authored four books. Dr. Mattox would hold the position of AD editor for eleven years (1996 to 2007), transition to contributing editor and later to emeritus status until his death on February 24, 2016.
Henry leaves an impressive legacy as the steadfast core of the magazine. He recruited, persuaded and cajoled board members and countless writers to ensure the magazine’s success and longevity, plus retaining outstanding editorial and web expertise which we continue to enjoy today.
In his book, Present at the Footnote (2010), Henry explains the project, American Diplomacy, was a group endeavor, a brand new experience for nearly all involved, stating, “The objectives… were then and remain now to support and bolster the Institution of the Foreign Service and its people and to advance the knowledge and understanding of foreign affairs and diplomacy among our readers—no small challenge”. Dr. Mattox singles out the journal’s longtime webmaster, Sandy Johnson, for her invaluable assistance, especially “her good work in establishing an archival research system that even I could follow”.
Another key founding player was the first publisher, retired Ambassador T. Frank Crigler, a resident of Durham. NC. Ambassador Crigler has had a long and distinguished diplomatic career of thirty years including U.S Ambassador to Rwanda (1976-1979) and Ambassador to Somalia (1987-1990). Once retired from the State Department in 1990, Frank taught International Affairs for two years at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. He and his wife Bettie moved to Durham, NC in 1996, the same year he co-founded American Diplomacy. Among Frank’s many activities, he worked as a fellow with Duke University’s Center for International Development and Research in Durham, N.C. and was a long-time member of the Planning Committee for Carolina Friends of the Foreign Service.
At the inception of the journal, the Advisory Board of American Diplomacy Publishers (ADP) was mostly comprised of retired Foreign Service Officers. Its first members were: Carl R. Fritz, Curtis Jones, Roy Melbourne, Richard Bart Moon and John Edgar Williams and Ambssador Bill Dale; plus, Dr. Richard H. Kohn of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. At some point, this body was transformed into the Board of Directors as it is called today with a minimum of eight and maximum of twenty-five members It acquired the normal range of officers such as vice president, treasurer and secretary—many who stayed on several years. And, the organization gained valuable new board members from UNC and Duke plus members beyond the confines of the North Carolina Research Triangle such as long-standing directors Ambassadors William C. Harrop and Edward Marks, the late Ronald Palmer.
To date, Henry Mattox has been the first and last North Carolina resident editor. His successors: J.R. Bullington, Dr. William Kiehl and Csaba Chikes have all edited from afar with great success.
From the onset, American Diplomacy Publishers had a cooperate arrangement with the Triangle Institute of Strategic Studies (TISS), University of North Carolina. The University of North Carolina provides website hosting.
The Purpose and the Content
In the inaugural edition, there is a short piece entitled, “Editor’s Lament“. Here Henry Mattox apologies for the lateness of the journal’s first edition. He speaks of the ravages of Hurricane Fran, the Hurricane of Hurricanes that caused tremendous destruction, electrical power outages, flooding and loss of property unprecedented in the area. Fran had obviously played a factor in the delay of the journal’s first publication target date, an internal goal set by the founders unbeknownst to the first-time readers, who probably had no clue the date had slipped. Nevertheless, this delay was not in Henry Mattox’s plan and he promised there would be no such slippage in the future.
For more than fifteen years, I had the privilege of knowing the late Henry Mattox, diplomat, scholar and true Southern gentleman. I have been a member of the ADP Board of Directors for more than a decade and board president for the half that time. My long time affiliation is in part due to the irresistible persuasion of Henry Mattox. Over the years, I have worked on journal issues with many of the founding members as well as other dedicated directors. So, naturally I have a built-in positive bias when it comes to the publication, but I am hoping other readers will agree that the first edition of American Diplomacy is most endearing. The tone is informal, almost chatty, sophisticated, but not stodgy, informative but not formal. The writers convey a sense the pride and quiet enthusiasm about their accomplishment, the creation of an on-line journal focusing on international issues, quite a new concept at the time.
The first edition has an array of articles addressing topics such as:
- American diplomatic practices redefined; Failed states, the challenge of “ungovernability”; The future of Palestine;
- Public opinion human rights and foreign policy; The Cold War; and an assessment; U.S. Presidents with military service;
- A personal account from a former U.S. consular officer.
The journal was meant to be a scholarly publication to attract accomplished researchers, faculty, students and individual interested in foreign policy and issues. It was also intended to offer a place for authentic points of view from those who had served in the diplomatic milieu and other services abroad—those who walk the talk. That includes employees as well as Foreign Service family members. From the beginning there was a section labeled, “Life in the Foreign Service“, which held a prominent place in the journal, the human side of representing one’s country abroad from the perspective of the employee and/or family member. Over the years, many of the memoirs and vignettes in this section have been quite poignant, and sometimes humble. A host of individuals have related, often in a self-effacing humorous manner, the challenges and frustrations, the trials and errors of attempting to understand and navigate in other cultures.
In explaining their new creation, journal founders and staff outline expectations of providing intellectual content relevant to scholars, citizens and decision makers. The identify a set of goals and focus points such as to:
- Air a range of policy related questions;
- Provide an outlet for comparatively succinct scholarly studies;
- Focus on foreign policy, diplomatic history, military affairs, military history and issue of national security broadly defined;
- And, to offer features, such anecdotal reminiscences by Foreign Service employees and family members, book reviews, research
American Diplomacy‘s first publication launched a rich and substantive beginning, establishing a high standard that has stood the test of time. The journal remains informative, relevant and thankfully often fun to read. We hope to expand our outreach and readership and continue to offer a valuable publication and resource to a range of audiences.
If you are not already, become a subscriber and if you are thank you for your support. If you are not, consider being a contributing author, sharing your opinions, expertise and interest in relevant subject matter or your own experiences. And, if you are, keep up the good work. Please share your comments..
Long-term and new readers and subscribers, please join me in wishing American Diplomacy Publishers a Happy 20th Anniversary. May there be many more.
Also, please join me in congratulating the wise and imaginative Founding Members who have left an enduring gift, American Diplomacy.
American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.