An extensive repository that collects declassified archival records from all over the world, the Wilson Center's Digital Archive: International History Declassified is an essential resource for scholars, educators, and students interested in international history. The archive serves as a database for primary sources collected as part of three major Wilson Center initiatives—the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP), the North Korea International Documentation Project (NKIDP), and Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP)—with the aim of making international history more accessible and fostering wider engagement with public policy, international diplomacy, and historical education.

The ever-growing collection of primary sources features a combination of original scans and translated copies of government records, high-level diplomatic correspondence, documentation from international organisations, and transcripts among others. Those using the site are given a variety of options to discover archive’s valuable holdings. In the ‘Browse’ section, visitors can look for documents by location or year. Alternately, they can view sets of documents compiled on the basis of topic, region, or event in ‘Collections’. The ‘Themes’ segment of the archive is perhaps the most comprehensive, providing a complete suite of resources including topic overviews, timelines, images, and educational resources for six topics: the foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China; inter-Korean relations; nuclear history; Cold War history; the prominent Lebanese politician Emir Farid Chehab; and modern Korean history. Researchers can also explore the archive’s voluminous records through the website’s search function which has a stripped-down basic keyword search as well as advanced filter options. Zooming in to the level of individual documents, each primary source is well-catalogued with a document summary provided alongside the names of the item’s creators, the subjects discussed, locations discussed, the collections it appears in, and the provenance of the item.

Instructors can use the Wilson Center Digital Archive in two main ways. Those teaching the Cold War, nuclear history, or the histories of the People’s Republic of China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, and Lebanon can incorporate the materials provided in the ‘Themes’ section into their lessons almost wholesale as each theme provides copious background and context alongside links to selected primary sources. Alternately, they can use the site to augment their assessment tasks, either setting particular documents as subjects of primary source analysis or in more advanced settings, getting students to explore the archive on their own as part of a term paper or research essay assignment.

Although the archive is a helpful and convenient resource, there is one issue posed by using it as a teaching tool for history. As the Wilson Center’s mission for the digital archive is to support the CWIHP, NKIDP, and NPIHP, the documents collected fall primarily within the scope of those projects and thus does not represent a complete record of the primary sources available on broader topics of potential interest. Yet, this can itself serve as a valuable point of discussion, particularly in terms of problematising and critically analysing the archive as a site of knowledge collection, production, and dissemination.

Overall, the Wilson Center Digital Archive plays an important role in making declassified archival material on from governments and international organisations on Cold War history, nuclear history, and the history of East Asia available to researchers, students, and the wider public. The Wilson Center’s commitment to continuously expanding the archive’s holdings has become all the more important in light of the travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has posed significant challenges to researchers unable to physically access research materials held in hardcopy in far-flung archives.

Reviewed by Bernard Z. Keo, Monash University
How to Cite This Source
Bernard Z. Keo, Digital Archive: International History Declassified in World History Commons,