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U.S. Federal Documents

Northwestern University Libraries have been a U.S. Federal Depository Library since 1876. Our collection includes materials in paper, microfiche, CD-ROM, DVD formats and online formats. This guide is based on a similar guide by Kelly Smith at UCSD.

Declassified Documents

As classified documents are released to the public, they may appear in any of several databases or web sites. As no single site or database provides complete coverage, you are advised to check each of these resources for a particular document or topic.  

National Archives & Records Administration

Many records and papers produced by agencies never get released. They are not actually "classified," but are considered internal departmental documents and are therefore not published. Records like these, as well as other published and classified documents, eventually end up at NARA.

Although NARA puts select material online, most material related to foreign relations will either be on microfilm or only available at the National Archives. There are two main tools to assist you in finding out where records of interest may be located.

Guide to Federal Records

This reference source provides general descriptions of the Record Group collections held by the National Archives. Knowing what record group and section your material is likely to be in will be helpful when visiting the archives or when trying to locate relevant microfilm. This guide also indicates which branch of the Archives holds the materials in specific record groups. The Guide is also available in a print edition.

Microfilm Catalog

This catalog allows you to search by keyword, record group and more to see if there are records in your area of interest that have been microfilmed. The catalog also often includes pdf guides to microfilm sets, allowing you to explore content more thoroughly. If you know what is contained in specific rolls, you can often request only a couple of microfilm rolls from a set rather than requesting the entire set.

You can request NARA microfilm through the Library's Interlibrary Loan Service (ILL). There are several ways to do this:

Center for Research Libraries catalog : because NU is a member of CRL, you can request any microfilm you find in the CRL catalog. Use the ILL form or email address linked below, and include a note in your request that CRL owns the film.

Online ILL form : include as much relevant information as you can. Use the "Book, Microfilm, etc." form and complete the information as completely as you can.

If you have trouble with any ILL actions, or need to include extensive special instructions, contacft the appropriate ILL department directly

Foreign Relations of the U.S.

The Foreign Relations of the United States series is the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions that have been declassified and edited for publication. The series, which is produced by the State Department's Office of the Historian, began in 1861 and now comprises more than 350 individual volumes. The volumes published over the last two decades increasingly contain declassified records from all the foreign affairs agencies.

FRUS volumes contain documents from Presidential libraries, Departments of State and Defense, National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency, Agency for International Development, and other foreign affairs agencies as well as the private papers of individuals involved in formulating U.S. foreign policy. In general, the editors choose documentation that illuminates policy formulation and major aspects and repercussions of its execution. Volumes published over the past few years have expanded the scope of the series in two important ways: first by including documents from a wider range of government agencies, particularly those involved with intelligence activity and covert actions, and second by including transcripts prepared from Presidential tape recordings.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries provide access to digitized editions of the FRUS volumes from 1861-1960, with browsing and searching options. See the State Department website for volumes covering the administrations of Presidents Truman (1945-1952), Eisenhower (1953-1960), Kennedy (1961-1963), Johnson (1964-1968),  Nixon (1969-1974), Ford (1974-1976),  Carter (1977-1980), Reagan (1981-1988), and George H.W. Bush (1989-1992).  Volumes for the Clinton Administration (1993-2000) are in development.  Volumes in the series since 1952 are organized chronologically according to Presidential administrations, and geographically and topically within each subseries.

In addition to the online volumes linked on this page, NUL has many print volumes which may be found via NUSearch.

Another series useful in foreign policy research is the American Foreign Policy Current Documents. The main difference between this set and FRUS is that it contains documents and information that were public knowledge at the time of publication.

These volumes consist largely of foreign policy related speeches and statements by the President and other members of the U.S. government, with some letters, U.N resolutions and other documents related to current foreign policy objectives. Each volume also contains a section on the current "principles and objectives” of American foreign policy.

This set has been published under a variety of different titles and covers the period 1941-1991.  American Foreign Policy Current Documents is available online to NU affiliated users via the Hein Online subscription database (navigate to the Foreign Relations of the U.S. -> Other Related Works).

Additional Foreign Relations Resources

Additional LibGuides