Monday, December 15, 2008

First Public Diplomacy Effort of the United States?

As we come to the end of 2008 and with the Obama Administration ready to lead the United States for at least the next four years my hope for an improved public diplomacy effort in the United States is high. To be sure, there will always be someone who wants to throw a shoe at the President.

This week I plan to focus my blog posts on international education and public diplomacy. To start off the week I'm posting a short historical piece about the public diplomacy efforts of the United States in 1936.

Perhaps the first public diplomacy effort[1] of the United States government was in Latin America during the 1930’s in an effort to combat the growing influence and infiltration of German and Nazi propaganda on the continent.[2] During the 1936 Pan American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace in Buenos Aires, the delegation from the United States proposed a Convention for the Promotion of Inter-American Cultural Relations which received unanimous approval from the other delegations.[3] The 1936 Buenos Aires Convention called for the exchange of peoples in an effort to strengthen intellectual cooperation and cultural relations between the United States and other Latin American countries and wanted these exchanges to include nongovernmental groups of people such as college faculty, youth groups, and representatives from social service organizations and labor unions.[4]

[1] Some may argue that the International Expositions/ World’s Fairs of the late 19th century and early 2oth century served this purpose.
[2] Cummins E. Speakman, Jr. International Exchange in Education, (New York: The Center for Applied Research in Education, Inc., 1966), 31-32.; Milton C. Cummings, Jr. Cultural Diplomacy and the United States Government: A Survey. (Washington, DC: Center for Arts and Culture, 2003), 1-2.
[3] Cummings Jr.,1.
[4] Kevin V. Mulcahy, “Cultural Diplomacy and the Exchange Programs: 1938-1978.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society 29, no. 1, (Spring 1999): 11.


  1. The efforts in Latin America under Nelson Rockefeller's leadership in the 1930s were certainly important in the history of American Public Diplomacy but they were hardly "the first public diplomacy effort." And public diplomacy is, of course, much larger than educational and cultural exchanges alone. In addition to international fairs and expositions, the Creel Commission had an extensive public diplomacy role in WWI. Perhaps we should really look to the work of Benjamin Franklin in Paris for the earliest example of public diplomacy by an official American representative or even to the promulgation of the American Declaration of Independence for an example of the first American Public Diplomacy campaign.

  2. @PDWorldwide ~ many thanks for taking the time to make a comment. Perhaps I should clarify that my post on the first public diplomacy effort was the first I had found documented with the exchange of citizens. I will look into the Creel Commission! I will also be posting in the near future on studying abroad during the Colonial period. Thanks again for your comments. Sincerely, David