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Council on Foreign Relations historical sound recordings now available online

Off-the-record remarks by heads of state and prominent diplomats can be heard in sound recordings of meetings held by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) that are now available to researchers online through the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. The digital audio from the meetings can be accessed via an electronic finding aid on the library’s website.

The records of the influential American foreign policy organization include more than 300 reel-to-reel tapes featuring speakers at their meeting programs. These recordings capture speeches given by international figures such as former U.S. President Harry Truman; former U.S. secretaries of state John Foster Dulles and Henry Kissinger; former heads of state Konrad Adenauer of West Germany, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel; and former U.S. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.

The meetings span 1953 to 1989 and open records are available immediately. (Records of CFR are closed for 25 years from the date of creation and audio files that currently are restricted will be opened on a yearly basis).

Given the off-the-record nature of the meetings, these recordings present insights into the opinions and ideas of these influential leaders. Although minutes for early meetings exist within the paper records of CFR, these audio recordings provide the only detailed record of meetings held after 1963. Until this digitization project was completed, the audio was inaccessible to researchers due to preservation concerns. Funding for the project was provided by more than 20 individual donors as well as the John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Fund.

The digitization, managed by project archivist Jennie Cole, began in December 2005. Mudd Library contracted with Safe Sound Archive in Philadelphia to transfer the audio from the reel-to-reel tapes onto digital copies. The copies are available through the Council on Foreign Relations Digital Sound Recordings Finding Aid, which contains information about each program, including the speaker(s), meeting title, date and length, along with links to audio of each available recording.

The Council on Foreign Relations was founded in 1921 by businessmen, bankers and lawyers who were determined to keep the United States engaged in the world. Today CFR members aim to provide insights into international affairs and to develop new ideas for U.S. foreign policy, particularly national security and foreign economic policy, through study groups, roundtables and publications. CFR publishes Foreign Affairs, which has printed some of the most important articles about world affairs over the past several decades.

The majority of CFR records were transferred to Mudd Library in 1998, a major acquisition for the University’s collection of public policy papers. Noncurrent records of CFR are deposited annually at Mudd Library. Currently, the collection totals more than 400 linear feet — or 800 boxes — and includes records related to the management of the institution as well as the minutes of meetings and study groups. A finding aid for all of CFR records also is available on the library’s website.

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