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Evalyn Clark Memorial Fellowship Report

By Will Weitzman

In January 2020 I ventured to the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland to explore the inner workings of the State Department in the aftermath of World War II. My thesis explores how key State Department officials’ excessive emotionality obscured their judgment and led them to play a vital role in the subsequent militarization of U.S. foreign policy. The documents available at the National Archives allowed me an intimate look into the minds of key figures within the Department to understand how it’s dominant culture influenced policymaking efforts.

I spent the majority of my time in the reading room hunched over folder after folder of primary documents. From 8:45 A.M. to 5:45 P.M. I read pertinent written materials, diving headfirst into the world that I was exploring. The work was mental and physical. My eyes glazed over from reading hundreds of pages a day and my back ached as I arched my body over the desk to get into the best position to scan the most important pages. While I cannot deny that the work was grueling, throughout my trip, I could not escape the magnitude of the moment. I held in my hands the very same briefing papers that President Harry Truman read and the actual memos that Dean Acheson wrote. I was continuously awestruck by the vital role that these particular pages played in our nation’s history. In between the monotony and the back pain, I took a few moments just to look around and appreciate where I was and what I was doing. These are the kind of moments that made me want to be a history major in the first place.

The documents proved a vital resource. They buttressed the online archive in the Foreign Relations of the United States series to give me the greatest possible understanding of the inner workings of the State Department in the immediate aftermath of World War II. The sheer breadth of documents allowed me to grasp the full extent of the dangerous departmental culture that developed and understand its impact on major policy decisions. With these men’s words buzzing around me all day, the larger picture seeped into my consciousness, and I was able to understand how the State Department operated on a visceral level.

I could not have completed my project without the documents available at the National Archives. To be able to work so closely with a treasure trove of primary documents that served as the meat of my senior thesis was an honor and a pleasure and truly representative of the type of education Vassar provides. Working at a major archive for the first time was a new experience, and while often challenging, gave me greater insight into the work of a true historian and the discipline necessary for high-level research. I am so grateful to the History Department and the Evalyn Clark Fellowship Committee for giving me the opportunity to engage so completely in the scholarly process.

Accounting:

Date

Expense

Amount

5-Jan

Tolls

$25.65

5-Jan

Gas

$33.03

5-Jan -- 7-Jan

Hotel Room

$235.61

7-Jan

Tolls

$43.59

12-Jan

Train Ticket

$159

12-Jan

Lyft

$15.46

12-Jan -- 14-Jan

Hotel Room

$261.04

12-Jan

Dinner

$16.96

13-Jan

Lunch

$5.25

13-Jan

Dinner

$16.96

14-Jan

Lunch

$13.77

14-Jan

Dinner

$14.84

14-Jan

Train Ticket

$98

14-Jan

Lyft

$17.11

$956.27

(note: On my first trip to the Archives, they closed due to inclement weather. Not knowing when they would re-open, I took advantage of a ride home and went back the following week via train.)