Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Kennan, George F. (George Frost) (1904-2005)
George F. Kennan Papers
Public Policy Papers
Permanent URL:
1861-2014 (mostly 1950-2000)
338 boxes
Storage Note:
  • This is stored in multiple locations.
  • ReCAP (scarcpph): Boxes 1-53; 298-311
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Boxes 54-297; 312-334; 86A; 150A; 150B; 200A


George F. Kennan (1904-2005) was a diplomat and a historian, noted especially for his influence on United States policy towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War and for his scholarly expertise in the areas of Russian history and foreign policy. Kennan's papers document his career as a scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study and his time in the Foreign Service, and include his correspondence files, published and unpublished writings, and personal files.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

Kennan's papers document his career as a scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study and his time in the Foreign Service, and include his correspondence files, published and unpublished writings, and personal files. Many of the papers are related to his study of Russian history and foreign policy or his critical analysis of American foreign policy.


The Kennan Papers were processed in 2008 to integrate a small section of papers (approximately 16 linear feet) that had been open since the 1970s with over 100 linear feet of previously-restricted materials. Wherever possible, Kennan's original organization of both groups of papers was maintained. In most instances, the restricted materials continued the sections established in the open papers. However, correspondence from the open papers was integrated into the Chronological Correspondence and Miscellaneous Correspondence at the item level. A chart that indicates where to find materials from the section that has been open since the 1970s in the new arrangement is available upon request. Another accession (Box 312-326) was integrated into the papers in 2009. The materials that comprise Series 5 (Boxes 327-333) are arranged within the series by document type.

Collection Creator Biography:


George F. Kennan (1904-2005) was a diplomat and a historian, noted especially for his influence on United States policy towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War and for his scholarly expertise in the areas of Russian history and foreign policy. While with the Foreign Service, Kennan advocated a policy of "containment" that influenced United States relations with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War and served in various positions in European embassies, as well as ambassador to the Soviet Union. His career as a historian was spent at the Institute for Advanced Study, where he continued to analyze the history of Russia, Soviet Union and United States foreign policies, and foreign affairs.

Kennan was educated at St. John's Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin and earned his B.A. degree at Princeton University in 1925, where he studied history with an emphasis on modern European diplomacy. Following graduation, he entered the Foreign Service. His first post was as vice consul in Geneva, and in the next year he was transferred to Hamburg, Germany. In 1928, Kennan entered a training program though the Foreign Service, studying Russian language, history and culture at Berlin University. The United States did not yet have diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, and so Kennan was assigned to "listening posts" around the U.S.S.R. in Tallinn, Estonia (1927) and in Riga, Latvia and Kaunas, Lithuania (1931-1933).

His first assignment in Moscow came in 1933 under William C. Bullitt, the first United States ambassador to the Soviet Union, aiding in the establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and the Kremlin for the first time since 1917. He held positions as third secretary from 1933 to 1934, second secretary from 1935 to 1936, and from 1944 to 1946, minister-counselor (the second highest rank at the embassy), first under W. Averell Harriman and then under General Walter Bedell Smith. During this period, he was also appointed to positions in Vienna (1935), Prague (1938), Berlin (1939), Lisbon (1942), and London (1944). Kennan was detained in Berlin for five months after United States' entry into World War II.

Kennan rose to prominence in February 1946 when he wrote what became known as the "Long Telegram." Written in response to an inquiry from the U.S. Treasury regarding Moscow's refusal to support the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the telegram outlined Kennan's assessment of the psychology of the leaders of the Soviet Union and provided principles on which the United States should base policies towards the Soviet Union. Kennan wrote that Stalin was "impervious to the logic of reason but highly sensitive to the logic of force," by which he meant primarily diplomatic and economic force more so than military. The telegram resonated in Washington, D.C.--although the interpretation of the Soviet threat became predominantly described as a military one--and Kennan became an influential figure in the State Department on Soviet affairs. Kennan further developed his views in "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" published under the pseudonym X in Foreign Affairs in July 1947. In this article, he used the term "containment" to describe his philosophy for dealing with the spread of Soviet power and influence. Again, this was interpreted by others in Washington as a military strategy, although Kennan intended it to be primarily achieved through diplomacy, economic sanctions, and covert action--anything short of war. Containment became one of the primary rationales for United States' Cold War policies, including the Marshall Plan, the founding of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1949, the commitment of American forces in Southeast Asia in 1965, and the Reagan administration arms buildup during the 1980s.

In April 1946, Kennan returned to Washington, D.C., where he taught at the National War College, and in 1947, he was appointed director of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department. In this capacity, he was a principle architect of the Marshall Plan, which sent billions of dollars of aid to help rebuild Western Europe following World War II. When Dean Acheson became Secretary of State in 1949, Kennan remained in the State Department as one of his principal advisors. However, during this period Kennan became increasingly critical of United States policy, especially the military interpretation of containment and the entry of UN troops into North Korea, and so in 1950 Kennan took a leave of absence to devote himself to research and scholarship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Kennan returned to the State Department in March 1952 when President Harry S. Truman appointed him Ambassador to the U.S.S.R. The assignment was short-lived, however. Kept under heavy surveillance by the Soviets, in October 1952 he compared conditions to those he suffered under his Nazi internment during World War II, and the Soviet government declared him persona non grata, which forced his return to the United States. Because of policy differences between Kennan and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (who found containment too passive), Dulles employed a technicality to force Kennan's retirement from the State Department in 1953.

He returned to the Institute for Advanced Study, where he became a professor in the School of Historical Studies in 1956. Kennan became a prolific and respected diplomatic historian, studying modern European and Russian history, international relations, and American foreign policy and diplomacy. He also remained an important, often critical, voice in the ongoing debate about American foreign policy, advocating the use of diplomacy rather than military force and for foreign policy that was "very modest and restrained." Kennan was critical of the buildup of conventional and nuclear weapons during the arms race, which many argued for in the name of containment. He also advocated against military involvement in Vietnam, indicating that it was not an area of the world critical to American security. Later in his career, Kennan became a supporter of Russian and Soviet studies in the United States, identifying scholarship as a productive means to establish favorable relations with Moscow.

Over the course of his career, Kennan wrote numerous influential and critically acclaimed books, including American Diplomacy 1900-1950 (1951), Russia Leaves the War (1956), Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin (1961), two volumes of memoirs (1967, 1972), The Decline of Bismarck's European Order (1979), The Nuclear Delusion (1982), and Around the Cragged Hill (1993). He won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for Russia Leaves the War and the other for the first volume of his memoirs. Though he remained at the Institute for Advanced Study until his retirement in 1974, Kennan did return to government service briefly on two occasions, as ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1961 until 1963 for President John F. Kennedy and traveling to Switzerland in 1967 as a representative for the State Department to help convince Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Josef Stalin, to immigrate to the United States.

George Frost Kennan was born on February 16, 1904 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Kossuth Kent Kennan, a lawyer, and Florence (James) Kennan. He met Annelise Sorensen of Norway while studying in Berlin and they married in 1931. The Kennans had four children: Grace Kennan Warnecke, Joan Kennan, Wendy Kennan, and Christopher J. Kennan. Through the course of his career, Kennan was the recipient of many honors for his work in the field of international affairs, including the Albert Einstein Peace Prize (1981), the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (1982), the Gold Medal in History of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1984), the FDR Freedom from Fear Award (1987), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1989, the highest civilian honor in the United States). George Kennan died on March 17, 2005 in Princeton, New Jersey at the age of 101.

Collection History


This collection was donated by George Kennan in 1968 , 1974 and 1989 , with additional materials received from the Kennan family in September 2006 (Accession ML.2006.011) and from Christopher Kennan in August 2009 (Accession ML.2009.013). Additional small donations were received from many other individuals, including Kent Kennan in March 1983 , January 1985 and December 1987 , Edward L. Burke in January 2004 (Accession ML.2004.001), Andrew J. Cosentino in March 2004 (Accession ML.2004.005), Allen H. Kassof in March 2004 (Accession ML.2004.04), Richard Ullman in April 2004 (Accession ML.2004.009), Douglas C. James in December 2005 (ML.2005.017), and Shirley Kessler in April 2006 (ML.2005.005). Kennan's Foreign Service certificate was purchased from Stuart Lutz in August 2005 (ML.2005.006). John Summers donated a 1965 photograph of Svetlana Stalin at Kennan's farm in January 2011 (ML.2011.004). The materials that comprise Series 5 were donated by Joan Kennan in 2014 . The accession number associated with this donation is ML.2014.006. A letter from George Kennan to the children of Charles D. James was donated by Douglas C. James in 2014. The accession number associated with this donation is ML.2014.045. George Kennan's insurance policy dated October 1934 was donated by Terrie Bramley in 2015. The accession number associated with this donation is ML.2015.015.

Custodial History

The Kennan Papers were originally on deposit at the Firestone Library of Princeton University.


Duplicate writings and correspondence and routine medical records have been separated from this collection. Widely available published materials were separated from Series 5.


These papers were processed with the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Adriane Hanson, with assistance from Clelia Douyon, Grace Haaland, and Jamie LaMontagne in 2008. Finding aid written by Adriane Hanson in January 2009. Series 5 added by Rachel Van Unen in 2014.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, any copyright vested in the donor has passed to The Trustees of Princeton University and researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of donor-created materials within the collection. For materials in the collection not created by the donor, or where the material is not an original, the copyright is likely not held by the University. In these instances, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

VHS tapes and audio cassette tapes of Kennan interviews, conference presentations, and television programs about Kennan are located in Series 3: Personal Files (Box 170-172 and Box 317). Series 5 of this collection contains images in TIFF and JPEG formats acquired from a CD. Researchers are responsible for meeting the technical requirements needed to access these materials, including any and all hardware and software.

Credit this material:

George F. Kennan Papers; Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • This is stored in multiple locations.
  • ReCAP (scarcpph): Boxes 1-53; 298-311
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Boxes 54-297; 312-334; 86A; 150A; 150B; 200A

Find More

Existence and Location of Copies

FOR DIGITIZED CONTENT: Subseries 1A, Permanent Correspondence and Subseries 4G, Unpublished Works, have been digitized. Correspondence may be viewed or downloaded through this finding aid. To view materials, navigate to a specific person's name, rather than an entire series or subseries.

Related Materials

The Mudd Manuscript Library has numerous collections related to the Cold War and to United States diplomacy which can be located by selecting the subject "Cold War" or "Diplomacy" on the Princeton University Finding Aids Website. Collections of particular relevance to the George F. Kennan Papers are the papers of Hamilton Fish Armstrong, John Foster Dulles and James V. Forrestal, and the records of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Collections at other institutions of relevance to the George F. Kennan Papers are the records of the Department of State Policy Planning Staff at the National Archives and papers of George Kennan (1845-1924) at the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.


Kennan's diaries were published as Sketches from a Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1989. Correspondence between Kennan and John Lukacs were published as George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment, 1944-1946. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.

The following sources were consulted during the preparation of the biographical note: "George F. Kennan Dies at 101; Leading Strategist of Cold War" by Tim Weiner and Barbara Crossette. The New York Times, March 18, 2005. Obituary from Current Biography. H.W. Wilson Company, 2005. Obituary of George Kennan by Harold Jackson. The Guardian, March 19, 2005. "Outsider Forged Cold War Strategy" by J.Y. Smith. The Washington Post, March 19, 2005. Profile of George Frost Kennan. Marquis Who's Who on the Web. Accessed January 2009.

Subject Terms:
Ambassadors -- United States.
Arms control.
Cold War.
Communism -- Soviet Union.
Diplomatic and consular service, American -- Soviet Union.
Economic assistance, American -- Europe.
History -- Study and teaching -- United States.
International relations.
Nuclear nonproliferation.
United States -- Foreign relations -- Soviet Union.
Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- United States.
World politics -- 20th century.
Genre Terms:
Born digital.
Photographs, Original.
Council on foreign relations
United States. Foreign Service
Kennan Institute
Institute for advanced study Princeton, N.J.
Kennan, George F. (George Frost) (1904-2005)
Europe -- Politics and government -- 1945-
Russia -- History.
Soviet Union -- Foreign relations.
Soviet Union -- Politics and government.
United States -- Foreign relations.
United States -- Foreign relations -- Yugoslavia.
United States -- Politics and government -- 20th century.