A new project from American Diplomacy—
By MICHAEL HUNT & HENRY MATTOX
Here are some practical pointers, in addition to those set forth above, that first-time interviewers might find helpful:
First, rather than reinvent the wheel, check out the guides to doing oral history. Edward D. Ives, The Tape-Recorded Interview: A Manual for Fieldworkers in Folklore and Oral History, 2nd ed. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995), offers down-to-earth, nuts-and-bolts coverage. The Voice of the Past, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) by Paul Thompson, a long-time British practitioner, is another handy overview.
NOTE: Thanks to Dr. James Leloudis of UNC for recommending these works, which come from a lengthy recommended reading list maintained by the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Program also offers useful guidelines and release forms. This material can be found at http://www.unc.edu/depts/sohp.
Second, some one thousand interviews with former U.S. ambassadors and other Foreign Service personnel have already been gathered under the auspices of the Foreign Affairs Oral History Project and its director, Chas. Stuart Kennedy. See an account of this resource in American Diplomacy, Vol. III, No. 1 (Jan.-Mar. 1998). Even where interviews in this collection may not address a researcher’s specific question, they can provide background information essential to conducting a more focused interview. Copies of the finished transcripts are available at the Foreign Affairs Oral History Program, Association for Diplomatic Studies & Training, 4000 Arlington Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22204, telephone (703) 302-6990. They are also filed in Special Collections at the Lauinger Library, Georgetown University, Washington, DC. The transcripts do not circulate, but plans are afoot to make them available on a CD-ROM with a search function.
NOTE: Interviews relevant to the Foreign Service can also be found in the Association of Foreign Service Women’s Oral History Collection, 5125 MacArthur Blvd., Suite 36, Washington, DC 20016-3300, and in presidential libraries. For more on the latter, see Regina Greenwell, “The Oral History collections of the Presidential Libraries,” Journal of American History 84 (September 1997): 596-603.
Third, for background on U. S. Foreign Service contacts, the interviewer can find no source more useful than The Biographic Register published by the Department of State for decades annually through 1974. The Foreign Service “Stud Book,” as it is called, holds in abbreviated form comprehensive information on assignments, promotions, educational and professional background, military service, etc., on all members of the Foreign Service establishment in a given year. A complication arises, however: After 1974, the Department of State abruptly ceased publication of the series for security reasons. The Stud Book volumes thus fall increasingly out of date with the passage of time.
Fourth, appropriate volumes of the serial publication Facts on File, which covers the years 1946 virtually to the present, rewards study in advance of the first interview. While only a summary of events country by country, in many instances Facts on File lists and briefly expounds on the key events that took place during an individual’s tour at a particular post abroad.
Finally, it is instructive to look at recently published studies to see how oral history has been indispensable to constructing the social history of the U.S. Foreign Service (in contrast to policy histories where oral sources are but one part of the documentary puzzle and seldom the most important). Interviews can chart such salient issues as the changing background and values of the Foreign Service, the recruitment and promotion process, and the conditions of work in a way that even the best collections of formal documents cannot.
NOTE: For examples of this sort of non-policy oral history, see three recent works on changing gender roles: Jewell Fenzi with Carl L. Nelson, Married to the Foreign Service: An Oral History of the American Diplomatic Spouse (New York: Twayne, 1994); Ann Miller Morin, Her Excellency: An Oral History of American Women Ambassadors (New York: Twayne, 1995); and Nancy E. McGlen and Meredith Reid Sarkees, Women in Foreign Policy: The Insiders (New York: Routledge, 1993), featuring the extended interview.