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George F. Kennan-John Lukacs Correspondence

Identifier: MSN/MN 5018

Scope and Contents

The present collection includes more than 400 manuscripts, some 360 of which are letters exchanged by Kennan and Lukacs over more than 50 years. The number of letters written by each of the correspondents is roughly equal, as is the total number of pages. There are 38 letters written by other parties, most commonly Kennan's secretaries. There are also 23 enclosures, many of them typescripts of writings or speeches sent by Kennan to Lukacs. The collection was preserved by Lukacs; the letters written by him are copies retained for his records, mostly in the form of carbons or photocopies. The Kennan letters are the originals received by Lukacs. Lukacs's retained copies show edit marks in his hand, as do photocopies he made of his letters from Kennan (which are present and filed with the originals). This editing was done ca. 2008-09, in preparation for the publication of about 200 of the letters in Through the History of the Cold War. The letters as published are abridged or excerpted, as Lukacs says in the book's introduction, ". . . in order to concentrate on the main subjects of our correspondence: the cold war, and history, and—perhaps—philosophy from time to time."

Lukacs first wrote Kennan (3 September 1952) as a relatively unknown diplomatic historian with an interest in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; Kennan was just ending his short stay as U.S. ambassador to Moscow. The two men found common intellectual ground, and continued the occasional exchange of letters on their respective writings and on contemporaneous events through the 1950s and 60s. With each passing decade the correspondence grew; by ca. 1980 the two men were close friends, writing, phoning one another, and meeting as circumstances allowed. The later letters include much personal content, but the correspondence remained very much dedicated to the exchange of ideas, even as the Cold War passed into history. Kennan and Lukacs sometimes read and critiqued drafts of one another's writings. As Lukacs says in the introduction to Through the History of the Cold War, ". . . his last letters to me (not included in this volume) were models of clarity as late as the spring of 2003, into the one-hundredth year of his life."


  • Creation: 1952-2004


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

George Frost Kennan was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 16 February 1904. After graduating from Princeton University in 1925 he entered the U.S. Foreign Service, and continued his education by embarking on a course of graduate study at the University of Berlin's Oriental Institute (1928-30). By the mid-30s Kennan was among a core of professionally trained specialists at the newly opened U.S. embassy in Moscow. Following World War II Kennan returned to the Soviet Union, as deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Moscow. On 22 February 1946 he sent his famous long telegram to Secretary of State James Byrnes, outlining a new, and ultimately influential, diplomatic policy of "containment" of the Soviet Union. After being recalled to Washington Kennan published "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" (Foreign Affairs, July 1947), advocating ". . . a long-term, patient, but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies . . . ." Though Kennan would come to disagree with the American implementation of containment, especially in its military aspects, there is little doubt that his ideas were a foundation stone of U.S. cold war policy. Kennan reached the height of his political influence under George C. Marshall in 1947-48; as head of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff he was an architect of the Marshall Plan, which directed economic aid to Western Europe and Japan as a bulwark against communist infiltration and influence. Under new Secretary of State Dean Acheson the Soviet Union was increasingly regarded as an overt military threat to the West, and Kennan lost influence. He did serve briefly as U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union (May-September 1952), and as ambassador to Yugoslavia under Kennedy (1961-63), but he increasingly abandoned government service for academe. In 1956 he joined the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Studies' School of Historical Studies, at Princeton. During his long tenure there he published more than 15 books and numerous articles, on diplomacy, diplomatic history, and international relations; he also wrote several volumes of memoirs. Through his writings Kennan emerged as an important realist critic of idealist (or Wilsonian) American foreign policy. Kennan died at his home at Princeton on 17 March 2005, at the age of 101.

John Lukacs (János Albert Lukács) was born in Budapest on 31 January 1924, the son of a Roman Catholic father and Jewish mother. He survived the German occupation of Hungary (1944-45) but left the country for the United States with the installation of the communist regime. From 1947 to 1994 Lukacs was professor of history at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. He is the author of numerous works of history, most notably on Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, and World War II in Europe, as well as several works of historical philosophy. He also published on the Cold War, including three works inspired by his friendship with George Kennan: George Kennan: A Study of Character (Yale University Press, 2007); George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment 1944-1946 (University of Missouri Press, 1997); and Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010). The first of these books is a biographical study of Kennan, which does not reference Kennan and Lukacs's extensive personal correspondence. The second publishes six letters discussing Kennan's idea of containment, written between Kennan and Lukacs from 20 December 1994 to 28 April 1995. The third is a published edition, edited by Lukacs, of some of the 360-odd letters written between the two men from 1952 to 2004.


1 Cubic foot

Language of Materials



The manuscript correspondence of U.S. diplomat, State Department official, and historian George F. Kennan and Hungarian-born American historian John Lukacs, ranging from 1952 to 2004. The collection includes some 360 letters.


The collection consists of one series; materials are arranged chronologically, multiple items per folder.

Related Materials

The bulk of Kennan's personal papers, including his correspondence files, are in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University (George F. Kennan Papers, MC076).

George F. Kennan-John Lukacs Correspondence
Lauren Golden
December 2013
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556