Walter R. Roberts Papers
Scope and Contents
The Walter R. Roberts papers are arranged in nine boxes. Boxes 1-6 contain papers originally in the possession of Walter Roberts and given by him to Bruce Gregory in 2006. Box 7 contains papers from the files of Bruce Gregory. They include copies of Roberts’ speeches and articles, and papers documenting activities of the Public Diplomacy Council, Public Diplomacy Institute, Walter R. Roberts Endowment, and US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy during the years Roberts played a leading role in these organizations. Boxes 8-9 contain German language scripts of Walter Roberts’ Voice of America broadcasts, 1948-1950, in the possession of Lawrence Roberts and made available for the collection in 2018.
- Creation: 1945-2016
- Roberts, Walter R., 1916-2014 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
To the extent that he/she owns copyright, the donor has assigned the copyright in her works to The George Washington University; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For activities that the researcher determines fall under fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Please contact Special Collections if the copyright status of the materials you wish to reuse is unclear. Staff will provide additional information. For re-use of materials in the collection not created by the donor, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights, determining if the intended re-use falls under fair use, and obtaining approval from the copyright holder if the intended use does not fall under fair use. For such materials, researchers do not need anything further from The George Washington University’s Special Collections Research Center.
Biographical / Historical
Walter R. Roberts (1916-2014) was a gifted diplomat, international broadcaster, teacher, and scholar known especially for his contributions to the practice and understanding of US public diplomacy in the 20th century. He was one of the first American diplomats to realize that diplomacy had fundamentally changed when diplomats and other foreign affairs practitioners began, as a matter of course, to communicate with people in other countries as well as their governments. For more than 70 years, he played a leading role in the debates and activities that shaped the institutionalization, professional practice, and scholarly study of diplomacy’s public dimension.
Roberts began his government service as a broadcaster with the Voice of America and then as a career diplomat, first in the Department of State and subsequently with the US Information Agency where he served in US embassies in Europe and senior headquarters positions in Washington, DC. After his retirement from the Foreign Service in 1973, he devoted more than four decades to a “second career” as a public diplomacy activist, teacher and scholar. He undertook leadership roles at Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, the privately funded Panel on International Information, Education and Cultural Relations, the Board for International Broadcasting, the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, the nonprofit Public Diplomacy Foundation, and its successor the Public Diplomacy Council.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he taught courses on public diplomacy at George Washington University and in 2000 became a founder with others of the University’s Public Diplomacy Institute, subsequently renamed the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, cosponsored by the School of Media and Public Affairs and Elliott School of International Affairs.
Born in Austria on August 26, 1916, Roberts was a graduate of the University of Vienna. Following his escape from Austria in 1938, the year of its annexation by Germany, he traveled to the United Kingdom where he earned his M.Litt, and later his PhD, at Cambridge University. In 1940, he immigrated to the United States and worked as a research assistant at Harvard University Law School until 1942. He then joined the US government’s Office of War Information serving as a researcher, analyst, writer, and German language broadcaster for the Voice of America from 1942-1950.
Roberts was assigned to the Department of State’s Austria desk in 1950. There he strongly supported the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, which had been created in 1947 to bring students and prominent scholars from across Europe and America together in a setting conducive to cultural and intellectual exchange. Now known as the Salzburg Global Seminar, it is a forum where more than 36,000 leaders from 170 countries have gathered in fulfillment of its mission to bridge divides, discuss global issues, and shape a better world. Roberts remained a lifelong champion of the Seminar, working to obtain funding from the Department and US Information Agency, serving on its Board of Directors from 1993-1997, and thereafter as a Salzburg Global Senior Fellow. In 2010, he was awarded the Salzburg Cup in recognition of his service to the Seminar and cross-cultural dialogue.
In 1953, he joined the newly created US Information Agency (USIA) as deputy area director for Europe. He was a member of the American delegation to the Austrian Treaty Talks in 1955 where he participated in negotiating the treaty that ended Austria’s occupation and restored its independence. In 1960, he was assigned as Counselor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Belgrade where he served under US Ambassador George Kennan. In Belgrade he began a lifelong friendship with the Embassy’s air attaché Brent Scowcroft, interacted with Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, and began the research that led to publication in 1973 of his acclaimed book Tito, Mihailovic and the Allies, 1941-1945. In 1966, he was USIA’s diplomat-in-residence at Brown University. In 1967 the Agency assigned him to Geneva as Counselor for Public Affairs at the US Mission to the United Nations. He returned to Washington in 1969 where he served first as Deputy Associate Director (Policy and Research) and in 1971 as Deputy Director (Policy and Plans), then the senior career position in USIA.
Following his retirement from diplomatic service in 1973, Roberts was appointed Director of Diplomatic Studies at Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). There, in collaboration with CSIS Chairman David Abshire, Dean of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service Peter Krogh, and former CBS President Frank Stanton, he played a leading role in creating the Panel on International Information, Educational, and Cultural Affairs – a privately funded non-government group (known as the “Stanton Panel”) – created by the US Advisory Commission on Information and US Advisory Commission on Educational and Cultural Affairs. Its purpose was to examine and make recommendations on the operations, structure, and future direction of US public diplomacy. Roberts served as the Panel’s Executive Director and primary author of its report, International Information, Education and Cultural Relations: Recommendations for the Future, issued in 1975.
The report, which gave early traction to the term public diplomacy, was radical in its qssumptions, original in its recommendations, and consequential in its influence – both for what it achieved and did not achieve. It sparked a decade of widespread debate among diplomacy practitioners and policymakers, strong public opposition from USIA Director James Keogh, and numerous Congressional hearings. It remains a pivotal document in the institutionalization of the US government’s public diplomacy in the 1970s and 1980s. Following release of the report, Roberts served from 1975-1985 as the Executive Director of the presidentially appointed Board for International Broadcasting, which had oversight responsibility for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.
In 1982, Roberts collaborated with Frank Stanton and George Washington University President Lloyd Elliott to create a Center for International Communication, which was housed for two years in the University’s Center for Sino-Soviet Studies in Gelman Library. In 1985, Roberts was appointed diplomat-in-residence by George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs where for the next ten years he taught courses on “Diplomacy in the Information Age.” In 1991, President George H. W. Bush appointed him to the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a bipartisan, presidentially appointed oversight panel legislated by Congress in 1948. President Bill Clinton re-appointed him to a second term in 1994. When his service ended in 1997, the Commission took the unprecedented step of continuing his participation as an informal advisor. Roberts was the first, and as of 2018, the only career diplomat to serve on the Commission. During these years and until the year of his death in 2014, he wrote numerous speeches, opinion columns, and scholarly articles on public diplomacy, international broadcasting, Austria, and the former Yugoslavia.
In 1997-1998, Roberts was a member of the CSIS Advisory Panel on Diplomacy in the information Age and participated in deliberations leading to publication of its report, “Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age.” He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, where in 2002 he participated in writing the Council’s Task Force Report, “Finding America’s Voice: A Strategy for Reinvigorating U.S. Public Diplomacy.” He was also a member of the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs. He received the Distinguished Honor Award from USIA in 1974, and in 2009 he received the Voice of America’s “Director’s Special Recognition Award.”
In 1996, Roberts joined the Public Diplomacy Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by retired diplomacy practitioners in 1988 (later renamed the Public Diplomacy Council) to support the advocacy, study, and practice of public diplomacy. In 2000, he was a co-founder of George Washington University’s Public Diplomacy Institute, (later renamed the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication). The Institute was co-sponsored by GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs, and the Public Diplomacy Council. In 2005, he created the Walter R. Roberts Endowment at George Washington University to advance excellence in the study and practice of public diplomacy through the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication. The Endowment supports annual Walter Roberts lectures, student awards, forums, and other Institute projects.
Walter Roberts and his wife Gisela were married in New York City on August 22, 1939. Four weeks later, the newlywed refugees, with Europe plunged into war, embarked on a US flagged ship for Southampton, so that Walter could begin his second year of graduate studies at Cambridge University. They had three sons, The Honorable Charles Roberts, Circuit Court Judge, Lawrence Roberts MD, and William M. Roberts MD MBA, Rear Admiral United States Navy (ret.). William Roberts and his wife Patricia serve as permanent members of George Washington University’s Walter Roberts Endowment Board.
Walter Roberts died on June 29, 2014 in Washington, DC. A remembrance “Celebrating the Life of Walter Roberts (1916-2014),” hosted by the Roberts family, the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, and the Walter Roberts Endowment Board, was held in the City View Room at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs on November 22, 2014.
History written by Bruce Gregory, 2018.
11.25 Linear Feet (9 Records Center Cartons)
Language of Materials
Dr. Walter R. Roberts (1916-2014) was a diplomat and a foreign policy and public affairs expert with a distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service and the former U.S. Information Agency. Dr. Roberts taught at George Washington University for over 10 years, and he was a co-founder of George Washington University’s Public Diplomacy Institute, (later renamed the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication). His collection contains materials from his diplomatic work, his time on Executive Director of the Panel on International Information, Education and Cultural Relations (“Stanton Panel”), and his work at GWU.
The materials are arranged into three main sections, which follows along with much of Professor Roberts' work. The arrangement was done by the donor, and has not been changed.
Materials are stored off-site, and will require additional retrieval time. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.
Other Finding Aids
A detailed finding aid that goes into more depth within the boxes and folders is available upon request. Please contact the Special Collections for access to this document.
Boxes 1-6 contain papers originally in the possession of Walter Roberts and given by him to Bruce Gregory in 2006. Box 7 contains papers from the files of Bruce Gregory. They include copies of Roberts’ speeches and articles, and papers documenting activities of the Public Diplomacy Council, Public Diplomacy Institute, Walter R. Roberts Endowment, and US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy during the years Roberts played a leading role in these organizations. Boxes 8-9 contain German language scripts of Walter Roberts’ Voice of America broadcasts, 1948-1950, in the possession of Lawrence Roberts and made available for the collection in 2018.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Materials in this collection were received from Bruce Gregory in 2019.
The collection was organized by the donor, Bruce Gregory, and the organization was kept as it was. The materials were placed into new records center cartons.
- Guide to the Walter R. Roberts Papers, 1945-2016
- Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English