Past Exhibits & Programs

The United States Diplomacy Center offers first-hand stories of American diplomacy. Hear from diplomats, foreign policy experts, historians and other people from the ground in our Pavilion’s lower level. Past events included diplomats living in rural South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, a panel tracing the history of HIV/AIDs and the State Department’s response, and the story of the first African American Diplomats.

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Remembrance, Reflection, Resilience
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Remembrance, Reflection, Resilience

Twenty years ago on a summer morning, two U.S. embassies in Africa fell victim to coordinated and nearly simultaneous truck bombs – later linked to the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. Fifty-six U.S. government employees, contractors, and family members were killed. From the ashes, countless survivors pulled together and rebuilt strengthened and resilient communities.

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the attacks, the U.S. Diplomacy Center, working in collaboration with Ambassador Prudence Bushnell and Ambassador John Lange, hosted an event where survivors related their personal stories, acts of courage, and opportunities for leadership. Held in the Burns Auditorium at the Department of State, panelists included both ambassadors and 4 embassy employees who experienced the attacks firsthand in 1998 (2 from each embassy). They shared how they served their communities in the face of the ultimate tragedy. The discussion was moderated by Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, President of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). In conjunction with the commemoration, AFSA published personal accounts from several survivors from each embassy in their July/August 2018 edition of the Foreign Service Journal.

In opening remarks, Mrs. Susan Pompeo expressed the support of her husband – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. USAID Administrator Mark Green (who was U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania from 2007-2009) expressed the strength of the relationships we have today between the U.S. and Kenya and Tanzania. And Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy reiterated the themes of remembrance, reflection, and resilience as the countries look ahead to continuing the partnerships and bonds that have been strengthened despite the attacks.

Understanding Diplomacy through Data
Understanding Diplomacy through Data 150 150

In May, over one hundred students competed in the student-led hackathon, MakeSPP, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Samay Shamdasani, along with his co-organizers, Shashwat Punjani, Nathan Blumenfeld, Jonas Eaton, Thomas Narramore, Dan Ambrosio, Owen Kealey, and Tyler Greene organized the hackathon. Hackathons are collaborative, competitive events where computer programmers are provided raw data or project prompts from a variety of topics that they turn into usable prototypes in a limited amount of time. At the end of the event, judges determine a winning project based on technological and creative achievement. At MakeSPP, the United States Diplomacy Center submitted topics for the competitors that focused on the growth of American diplomatic relations. Five student groups selected the Diplomacy Center for their data visualization projects, with incredible results. In eight short hours, students applied their coding skills to State Department data to produce ventures ranging from creative analysis to Virtual Reality projects. Kelsey Cvach of the Diplomacy Center served as judge and selected three winners.

The first winner was Jeffrey Yu, who built a functional interactive that traced the exchange of diplomats over time. For the prototype, he focused on 1817, the first year the data was available, 1940, as World War II was beginning, and 2006, a year in modern time. Says Yu, “As someone just starting to learn about data visualization, I hope to continue developing programs that will help the world understand important data representing foreign affairs and become a citizen diplomat myself.”

The next winning team used the same exchange of data and applied the project not only to the United States diplomatic relationships but included the relationships other countries have with each other around the world. The team, consisting of Kashyap Murali, Jinal Shah, Aditya Patil, and Krishnan Ram, described their experience: “We were excited after reading the prompt, but we grew more passionate about the project after exploring the numerous opportunities for insights provided by the data. Both the people and the government can use these insights to better communicate and understand their diplomatic landscape.”

The final winning team, led by Abhinav Dusi, built a prototype of an interactive map that attempted to demonstrate the growth of U.S. missions since the United States founding. They used the State Department website to pinpoint and compile establishment of diplomatic relationship dates and produced a timeline interactive map which showed U.S. embassies appearing worldwide over time. They went above and beyond the project prompt, incorporating photos of embassies and descriptions from the State Department website.

The remarkable response demonstrates a passion and excitement from tech-inclined students to apply their talents to diplomacy and international insight. The United States Diplomacy Center has invited these distinguished students to participate in its first-ever hackathon, which will take place at the Diplomacy Center Pavilion and World Resources Institute offices September 21st and 22nd. Interested participants should register through ImpactHack.devpost.com. Those interesting in volunteering or sponsoring the Diplomacy Center’s hackathon should contact Kelsey Cvach directly at cvachkl@america.gov.

Citizen Diplomacy Challenge Photo Contest
Citizen Diplomacy Challenge Photo Contest 150 150

The United States Diplomacy Center is pleased to host an exhibit featuring the finalists of the 2017-2018 Citizen Diplomacy Challenge Photo Contest run by the Office of Alumni Affairs in the Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  Twenty top photos, submitted by Americans who took part in international exchange programs sponsored by the Department, will be on display May 21 to 24, 2018.  The photos showcase the value and impact of these people-to-people exchange programs. Each image tells a story about what it means to be a citizen diplomat, and how international exchanges touch lives and communities.

The Citizen Diplomacy Challenge was launched in 2015 as an opportunity for the network of more than 350,000 American citizen alumni to share their exchange impact stories and promote international awareness in their communities.  The grand prize winner Ian Knight will be in Washington, DC to tour the exhibition and participate in events that promote citizen diplomacy. On Thursday, May 24, Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, will honor Ian and meet exchange alumni who are now working at the State Department.

Speed Mentoring
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Speed Mentoring

In honor of International Women’s History Month, the Diplomacy Center organized a speed mentorship event for State Department interns, offering them a unique opportunity to network with Foreign Service and Civil Service female leaders at the State Department representing diverse ranks, cones, and backgrounds. The event was organized in cooperation with the Office of Student Programs and Fellowships, April 9, 2018. Enjoy photos below.

A Legacy Remembered: Perspectives of the Marshall Plan
A Legacy Remembered: Perspectives of the Marshall Plan 150 150

On April 3, in cooperation with the George C. Marshall Foundation, the United States Diplomacy Center held an event recognizing the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the European Recovery Program, more commonly known as the Marshall Plan.  125 guests attended, including Marshall Foundation and Diplomacy Center Foundation Board members, academics, and Department of State staff. Mary Kane, the Center’s director, welcomed guests and introduced Michelle Giuda, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, who previewed the event’s topic and guest speakers:  Dr. Alison Mann, Public Historian of the U.S. Diplomacy Center; Dr. Rob Havers, President of the Marshall Foundation; Dr. Daniel Hamilton, the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation Professor at School for Advanced International Studies; Dr. Benn Steil, Director of International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Marshall Plan:  Dawn of the Cold War; A. Wess Mitchell, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs; Ambassador Thomas Pickering (ret.); David O’Sullivan, European Union Ambassador to the United States; Hendrik Schuwer, Dutch Ambassador to the United States; and Peter Wittig, German Ambassador to the United States.

The first half of the program focused on the historic importance and lasting legacy of the Marshall Plan. Dr. Mann explained how the Diplomacy Center features aspects of the Plan on its social media platforms and outlined the Center’s future exhibit on the Plan, which will focus on its impact on Europe as well as the American economy and workforce.  Dr. Havers paid tribute to the character of George C. Marshall, calling him a visionary and strategic leader.  Dr. Hamilton noted the Plan’s influence on continuing Euro-American trade partnerships, and Dr. Steil discussed how the Plan exacerbated existing tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union, precipitating the Cold War.

In the second half of the program, American and European diplomats discussed the Plan’s enduring influence.  A. Wess Mitchell described the Plan as an “act of strategic foresight,” restoring Europe to order while strengthening America’s economy.  Ambassadors Wittig, Schuwer, and O’Sullivan spoke of the Plan’s impact on their respective countries, and all stressed a common point: the enduring American-European alliance had its roots in the Marshall Plan.  Ambassador Wittig noted that Germany remains grateful for America’s aid to a former adversary.  Ambassador Schuwer took the audience back to the dire situation in the Netherlands in 1947 with 70 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed by deliberate flooding by retreating Germans.  Within 10 days of the Plan’s signing, he continued, a ship filled with life-saving American-grown wheat from Galveston, Texas, arrived in Rotterdam to a 3:00 a.m. firework display.  Ambassador O’Sullivan brought a continental perspective, saying the Plan encouraged European cooperation,  paving the way for the creation of the European Union.  Fittingly, he reminded the audience that, with the exception of the Balkan Wars, the continent has enjoyed peace, freedom, and prosperity for the past 70 years. Ambassador Pickering stressed the importance of the critical transatlantic relationship and moderated a lively question and answer session.  Dr. Havers concluded the informative and engaging program.

50th Anniversary of the Tet Offensive
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To commemorate the recent 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the United States Diplomacy Center hosted a panel of eye witnesses — including retired diplomats and a former journalist — as well as a military historian to take us back to the night of the attack. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Michelle Giuda introduced our panelists: Dr. Erik Villard, Military Historian at the U.S. Army Center for Military History; retired Ambassador E. Allan Wendt, who was the duty officer the night of the attack; Don North, a former ABC journalist who witnessed and reported on the attack; retired Foreign Service Officer James Nach who served in Saigon in the early 1970s, and Eric Duyck, the Diplomacy Center’s Collections Manager.

Dr. Villard set the historic stage for the audience, contextualizing the Viet Cong offensive and explaining how the embassy building had been designed to withstand an attack. Ambassador Wendt spoke about his experiences as the duty officer during the attack, including relaying information back to Washington and carrying a wounded marine to safety. Don North spoke about his experience of being outside the embassy compound, lying flat on the sidewalk, witnessing the siege until the end, as well as about his efforts to try to interview embassy staff the next day. James Nach and Eric Duyck showed the audience two items that Nach donated to the Diplomacy Center, including a Vietnamese “Family Tree” that Nach drew on a large piece of paper to show the family relationships among Vietnam’s political leaders, and a piece of concrete he salvaged from the sidewalk outside the Embassy. To stay updated, follow our Facebook page. See pictures of the event here.

Panel: The First African American Diplomats
Panel: The First African American Diplomats 150 150

In commemoration of African American History Month, the Center hosted a program highlighting the little known diplomatic careers of Ebenezer Bassett and Frederick Douglass.  The program was held on February 14th in honor of the bicentennial of Douglass’s birth.  Both of these men served as U.S. Ministers — an early title equivalent to Ambassador — to Haiti in the late 19th century.  Bassett, appointed by President Grant, was the United States’s first African American diplomat, serving from 1869 to 1877.  Douglass, a well-known abolitionist, writer, activist and civil servant, was appointed by President Harrison and served from 1889 to 1891.

Dr. Alison Mann, the Center’s public historian, was joined by Bassett biographer and Foreign Service Officer Christopher Teal, and by the curator of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Dr. Ka’mal McLaurin.  Mr. Teal related how Bassett arrived in Haiti in the midst of a civil war and demonstrated extraordinary leadership and diplomatic skills as hundredsof refugees took shelter on his compound.  Screening portions of his upcoming documentary, Mr. Teal showed how Bassett negotiated the refugees’s safe passage to their homes, establishing himself as an early advocate for international human rights.  Dr. Mann then spoke about Douglass’s efforts to negotiate with the Haitian government for a lease of a coaling station for U.S. ships.  Dr. McLaurin then showcased several artifacts associated with Douglass during his time in the Caribbean: a Panama hat, a Bible given to him upon his departure for Haiti by the congregation of the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan AME Church, his diplomatic commission, and his passport.

One of our more popular events, the program attracted students, educators, Smithsonian Institution staff, area residents, retired ambassadors, and Department of State staff.  In addition, Bassett scholars from Connecticut and a descendant of Bassett’s attended.

See more photos of the event.

A Window into American Soft Power in Rural Vietnam
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The United States Diplomacy Center was pleased to host an event featuring up-close and personal stories of diplomacy on October 18: A Window into American Soft Power in Rural Vietnam, 1962-1964. We were joined by retired Foreign Service Officer Robert Warne, his spouse Susanna (Suzy), and retired United States Government official, Rufus Phillips. Phillips is the author of Why Vietnam Matters: An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learned and was featured in the first two episodes of the 2017 PBS documentary, The Vietnam War. Phillips spent 14 years working on Vietnam foreign policy issues after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and was considered in the early years of the Kennedy administration to be an expert advisor on how best to counter the communist influence of the Viet Cong army in South Vietnam. He conceived of the Rural Affairs Program—executed by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development –—to support counterinsurgency and rural development of “strategic hamlets” in the Mekong Delta. For staff, he recruited the best and the brightest in economic development. At the age of 23, Robert Warne had newly joined the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer, after serving in the U.S. Army as the commander of an artillery battery.

Robert and Suzy Warne faced many challenges during their two-year assignment to Vinh Long and Binh Dinh, two provinces in the Mekong Delta. Illustrating his talk with maps and personal photos of himself and Suzy working with local villagers, Warne spoke about his consultations with the provinces’ chiefs on rural economic practices and development, assisting locals to improve refugee conditions, access to water, and pig farming. Suzy Warne taught at the local school, and described in vivid detail what daily life was like for a young Foreign Service spouse with a 6-month old daughter. She half-jokingly said she thought her greatest problem in Vietnam would be to find a diaper service, but after arrival she realized the vulnerabilities and dangers posed by the presence of the Viet Cong. She said that “Rob” taught her how to fire a carbine, and she kept it within close reach in her bedroom wardrobe. Nevertheless, she said the two years in Vietnam were some of the best years of her life, as she enjoyed entertaining the locals and teaching the young villagers.

Following the panel, the collections manager spoke about Vietnam-related artifacts in the collection, including service medals, a chart made by a Foreign Service Officer depicting the familial connections between key Vietnamese officials, and a piece of concrete salvaged from outside the U.S. Embassy in Saigon near its wall damaged in the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Check out our Flickr album or Facebook page for more photos!

HIV/AIDs Panel: a Humanitarian and a National Security Issue
HIV/AIDs Panel: a Humanitarian and a National Security Issue 150 150

The United States Diplomacy Center was pleased to host a panel discussion that explored how U.S. Government has approached HIV/AIDS as both a humanitarian and a national security issue for more than 30 years. From the emergence of HIV/AIDS during the Reagan Administration to today, the three panelists surveyed the U.S. diplomatic response to the epidemic. Dr. Alexander Poster of the Office of the Historian is the editor of the recent “Foreign Relations of the United States” volume that focuses on the Reagan years. He has a particular interest in U.S. disaster relief. Dr. Angeli Achrekar of the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy has long experience in global public health and has been involved in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief for more than a decade. Kathryn Speckart is the Diplomacy Center’s associate curator. She leads efforts to collect and interpret artifacts of diplomatic history.

Dr. Poster took the audience back to the early 1980s when a mysterious and fatal new disease appeared in the United States. As the tragic disease and social concern spread, the Reagan Administration and the State Department had to also respond to it as a late Cold War foreign policy issue. Read his prepared remarks.

Dr. Achrekar then picked up the story, surveying the story of the U.S. Government’s mammoth effort to slow the epidemic, which was killing up to 1 in 3 villagers in some parts of Africa. HIV/AIDS was a humanitarian as well as national security issue for the United States as the disease devastated communities and threatened the political, social and economic stability of many countries. She focused in particular on the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which just observed its 15th anniversary.

Kathryn Speckart then showcased some of the HIV/AIDS objects in our collection. Please view them, or check out our other panel talks.

Guest Exhibit: Jazz Diplomacy
Guest Exhibit: Jazz Diplomacy 150 150

The United States Diplomacy Center is excited to feature the photography exhibit “Jam Session: America’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World” in the upper level of the Pavilion from February 14th to May 31th, 2018. This guest exhibit chronicles the international tours of legendary jazz musicians who were selected by the Department of State to serve as roving cultural “ambassadors” from the 1950s to the 1970s. Drawn from collections around the United States, the photographs capture memorable moments and show jazz’s ability to bridge cultural and political differences.

“Jam Session”  portrays the journeys of music greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, and Sarah Vaughan. These musicians shared their talents and interacted with enthusiastic audiences abroad in Eastern Europe, Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. The tours helped promote a positive view of the United States when Cold War tensions were at their height.

This exhibition was created by Meridian International Center.  The U.S. Department of State commissioned six copies of it, and many U.S. embassies have sponsored the exhibit in venues around the world.  Content for the exhibit was curated by  Dr. Curtis Sandberg, former Meridian Vice President for the Arts, and Professor Penny M. Von Eschen, an expert in the history of jazz diplomacy and author of Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War.

We look forward to the public viewing this exciting exhibit.  The public may visit the exhibit Monday through Fridays during normal business hours.  Visitors should present a government-issued ID and be prepared to go through security screening.  Be on the lookout for special programming and events in April to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month! For details on upcoming events, subscribe below.

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