I am a qualitative scholar who is passionate about archival research. I use documents from national and international archives, as well as online archival databases. The following are some of the resources I regularly utilize for my own research.
U.S. National Archives – College Park, MA
The National Archives in College Park, MA holds the records of the U.S. Federal Government and is an excellent resource for not only those who are interested in U.S. foreign policy, but also for those who study other countries. For many scholars of International Relations and Comparative Politics, the State Department Central Files (also known as Record Group 59) will be the best place to begin research. RG 59 is the largest set of State Department files that includes cables from diplomatic posts, policy and intelligence memorandums, and many other valuable documents. See this page for further information on the organization of RG 59 and to access finding aids.
CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) – College Park, MA
CREST is an electronic database of declassified CIA records that is available for use at the National Archives in College Park, MA. Users can print documents free of charge from CREST computers located on the third floor of the National Archives. CREST is an excellent source for documents such as intelligence memorandums on wide-ranging topics, weekly intelligence bulletins of critical regions, and translated foreign propaganda materials. While the full CREST database can only be accessed in person at the National Archives, some of the documents are available online at the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Electronic Reading Room.
U.S. Presidential Libraries – Various locations around the U.S.
Presidential libraries are also an indispensable source for scholars interested in U.S. foreign policy. Presidential libraries differ from the National Archives in that they house the papers of the White House. While some of the holdings overlap with those in the National Archives, many are unique and can only be found at the presidential libraries. I have conducted research at the Truman, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan libraries. Out of these I have spent the most time at the Nixon Presidential Library. Some of the files I have found the most fascinating and relevant for my research at the Nixon Library include Henry Kissinger’s Office Files, which contain full transcripts of Kissinger’s meetings with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong, and Nixon’s personal papers, which contain handwritten notes that provide a window into the president’s thoughts.
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Diplomatic Archives 外務省外交史料館 – Tokyo, Japan
The Japanese MOFA Diplomatic Archives is an excellent resource for those who study Japanese foreign policy. Although a digital archive is available online, the database primarily contains pre-WWII documents. For those who are interested in post-WWII documents, an index of documents available at the Diplomatic Archives is published online in both English and Japanese. While the Japanese index includes the latest declassified documents, as of now, the English index only includes up to the 19th round of disclosed documents (released in 2005).
Republic of Korea Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Diplomatic Archives 외교부 외교사료관 – Seoul, South Korea
For those interested in South Korea’s foreign policy, the ROK MOFA Diplomatic Archives is a great resource for archival material. While documents are housed at the Diplomatic Archives in Seoul, South Korea, microfilm versions are also available in the U.S. at the Harvard-Yenching Library. An index of documents is available online (only in Korean). The search guide by country is a particularly useful tool for those who are interested in South Korea’s bilateral relations.
People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Diplomatic Archives 外交部档案馆 – Beijing, China
The PRC MFA Diplomatic Archives, to my knowledge, has been closed to the general public since 2014. According to staff answering the phone, the Diplomatic Archives is undergoing reorganization and will open in a few months. (This message, however, has been repeated in phone calls since last year). See this 2013 South China Morning Post article and dissertationreviews.org article on the decreasing availability of MFA documents, and user comments in the latter that corroborate the ongoing closure of the archives. In the meantime, those who seek primary documents on China’s foreign policy can consult official compilations such as 毛泽东外交文选 (Selected Works of Mao Zedong’s Diplomacy) and 周恩来年谱 (Zhou Enlai Chronicle). The Wilson Center Digital Archive is also an excellent source for both Chinese archival documents and documents from the archives of other states that shed light on Chinese foreign policy. (See below for more information on the Wilson Center Digital Archive).
Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) – online
FRUS is the official documentation of U.S. foreign policy compiled by the State Department’s Office of the Historian. FRUS volumes are broken down by administration and by topic, and include critical documents from the State Department, CIA, NSC, and presidential libraries, among other sources. FRUS can be accessed online here. All researchers interested in U.S. archival materials should begin their research with FRUS, and use the source citations to further identify relevant record groups and files to consult at various archives.
CIA FOIA Electronic Reading Room – online
As mentioned in the introduction to CREST above, the CIA FOIA Electronic Reading Room not only serves as an online finding aid for the full CREST database located at the National Archives, but also has select documents that are viewable online in both text and pdf form. This is a good place to start for those who are interested in intelligence memorandums and the like. You can access the online database here.
Wilson Center Digital Archive – online
The Wilson Center Digital Archive is an excellent source of archival materials collected from around the world and managed by the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. Most documents, such as diplomatic cables and meeting minutes, are translated into English and can be browsed by region, collection or theme.
Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) – online
The DNSA is an online archive administered by the National Security Archive, a non-profit research institute and library which is based at George Washington University. The DNSA contains declassified U.S. documents, organized by topical collections such as “China and the United States: From Hostility to Engagement, 1960-1998,” and “Terrorism and U.S Policy, 1968-2002.” Because many of these documents are obtained through FOIA requests, the DNSA contains surprisingly recent documents (relative to what you would typically find at presidential libraries and the National Archives). DNSA can be accessed via Proquest, which requires a personal or institutional subscription.