Foreign Relations of the United States, commonly referred to as FRUS, is a Department of State publication, dating back to 1861, that presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity. It does not include documents on every topic covered in NARA’s holdings; there are records on more topics than featured in the publication, which makes FRUS a good place to start research on foreign affairs.
In the 1860s, the publication was an annual review. It highlighted the important policy documents, decisions, and discussions of the previous year. Later, as classification issues became more apparent, the publications took longer to review. The publications are now printed approximately 30 years after the events occur, allowing sufficient time to pass for reasonable declassification.
The volumes draw upon a wide variety of sources across the U.S. Government to create an accurate and reliable historical record for everyday citizens, historians, scholars, and anyone interested in U.S. foreign policy. In recent volumes, you can expect to find documents culled from records created by the Department of State, as well as the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the White House (held at Presidential Libraries), and other agencies involved in policy making.
FRUS is an exciting resource for researchers for a variety of reasons. First, the FRUS editors curate collections of documents on a particular subject, allowing researchers to identify pertinent records on viable topics. Second, the footnotes and citations provided in FRUS include the file numbers to the documents selected, which will lead a researcher to a wide variety of other records on the same subject that were not included in the volume. Third, FRUS provides open access to recently declassified records.
Archivists at the National Archives recommend starting your research on U.S. foreign policy by consulting Foreign Relations of the United States, and if further research is required, contacting the National Archives with the sources cited in FRUS. Volumes are available online at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/.