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Diplomatic Witnesses

Diplomatic Witnesses is an oral history project, which aims to assemble a collection of interviews with retired Dutch diplomats. These oral histories will be made available in a purpose-built online environment in both text-based an audiovisual format. We aim to create a new primary source collection that will provide researchers with unique insights into the formation and execution of Dutch foreign policy, as told by eye-witnesses and participants.

Our primary focus will be on collecting oral histories connected to key historical events in the last thirty years, a period that saw the Netherlands engage in repeated moments of soul-searching

The sharp ideological contrasts that defined the international landscape of the Cold War, and anchored Dutch foreign policy within it, faded after the fall of the Berlin Wall. European integration accelerated with the conclusion of the Maastricht Treaty (1992) and the formation of the Euro, but did not always evolve in a direction the Netherlands might have wished – as evinced by the referendum that rejected the European constitution in 2005. Atlantic cooperation remained the pivot of Dutch security policy, but the nature of the Dutch-American came under close political scrutiny in the leadup to the invasion of Iraq. New international issues, from terrorism and ‘failed states’ to climate change and migration, came to define the political agenda.

These developments also profoundly affected the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The internationalisation of an ever-greater range of policy questions broadened and complicated its remit of responsibilities. At the same time, the ministry’s position within the Dutch government was called into question, leading to consistent calls the Dutch diplomatic service to be ‘modernised’ and brought into line with contemporary ideas on public governance.

By collecting the oral histories of those directly involved in these events, this project will generate new openings for the study of Dutch foreign policy, and of the Dutch diplomatic service as an institution. To enhance the accessibility of these interviews, the department for Digital Data Management and Digital Infrastructure (DI) will support the project by developing automatic processes for the recognition of named entities, such as people and places. DI will also develop the online environment in which users will be able to study and listen to the oral histories.

Diplomatic Witnesses is funded by the Dutch Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and runs from October 2021 until October 2023.