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Foreign Office Files for the Middle East, 1971-1981

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American Reference Books Annual, June 2016

Foreign Office Files for the Middle East 1971-1974 brings together files from the UK Foreign Office, Prime Minister's Office, and the Ministry of Defence and makes them available through an enhanced online portal. The collection covers a pivotal time period in a volatile part of the world and can shed light on the “policies, economies, political relationships and significant events of every major Middle East power.” Major historical events such as the Arab-Israeli War, Qaddafi’s regime in Libya, the Iranian Revolution, and the economic situation in Kuwait are documented through diplomatic correspondence, meeting minutes, reports, political summaries, and economic analyses.

This review covers Module 1: Middle East, 1971-1974: The 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the Oil Crisis. (The full resource is split into three modules, and the remaining modules will be released over the course of the next two years.) Module 1 documents the political situation in the Middle East in the build-up to the Arab-Israeli War and the related political, social, military, and economic impacts of the conflict.

Given the source of the materials, the collection naturally has a UK perspective and reveals the country’s heavily vested interest in all facets of the Middle East during this time period. Not only was the UK involved in monitoring political and military activities, they also carefully assessed the economic impacts of Middle Eastern conflict, especially on oil prices. Additionally, they were influential in negotiating peace settlements. The military interventions and peace negotiations conducted by the United States and Russia are also represented.

Access to the collection is organized by tabs: Documents, Essays, Chronology, Popular Searches, and an Interactive World Map. The documents can be searched by simple or advanced keyword search, or they can also be browsed by date, collection, department, region/office. The Popular Searches option provides a starting point for users by providing the top 10 keywords most selected by users. The Interactive World map allows users to click a country and explore relevant content. The Chronology tab is an informative list of people and events through time. It can be searched by keyword, but it is not interactive in the sense that entries are linked to documents in the collection. This would be a nice feature. The Essays tab provides writings by leading scholars in the subject field. Helpfully, the essays are peppered with hyperlinks to relevant documents in the collection providing a nice demonstration of how the collection can be used. Users can save searches, documents, and images, and documents can also be downloaded as PDF files.

This resource is recommended for anyone interested in studying the development of the Middle East from the perspective of the people and offices that shaped and witnessed events first hand. It is a very unique primary resource tool that will be especially useful for serious scholars and teachers, but the enhancements and easy-to-use interface also make it suitable for novice students.

Kristin Kay Leeman
American Reference Books Annual, June 2016

CHOICE Connect, December 2016

[Visited Sep'16] This first module—focused on the Arab-Israeli war and the early 1970s, to be supplemented by two additional modules covering the Lebanese Civil War, Camp David Accords, the Iranian Revolution, and the Iran-Iraq War—forms part of the publisher's Archives Direct suite of digital collections. It is a compilation of British government documents on the region, containing diplomatic correspondence, reports, analyses, and other formerly confidential documents from the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the equivalent of the US State Department. While this accessible source of relevant primary documents will also prove valuable to specialists, it is aimed at advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and non-Middle East specialists who know neither Arabic or Hebrew. Helpful features include the Popular Searches section, which displays an extensive list of pre-selected searches on people, places, and topics. The lengthy introductory essay by Michael Gasper (Occidental College) gives an overview of the Middle East during the decade and links to relevant documents in the module. Although users can access the introductory essays for other collections and can see a faint view of particular documents in them if selected for searching or while using the time line Chronology section, for instance, they will not be able to access them unless their institution also licenses each component: Foreign Office Files for China, 1949-1980 (CH, Aug'10, 47-6624), The Nixon Years, 1969-1974 (CH, May'09, 46-4800), etc.

The functionality of the interface is on par with other digitized document archives, and the collection can easily be browsed and searched. Search results indicate the specific pages where one or more terms appear, allowing users to directly navigate only those pages. All of the individual pages of each document are displayed in thumbnail view, thus allowing easy selection of pages for viewing. Zoom and full-screen options are offered for viewing individual pages. Documents can also be downloaded in PDF, either as selected pages or in their entirety. Searching within individual documents is also supported. The Citation/Export feature easily generates document citations in any of several major formats, and allows citations to be exported to RefWorks.

The main drawback of this module is that its scope is narrow enough that most libraries will only want to purchase it if they can get the entire Foreign Office Files for the Middle East, 1971-1981 collection. It will be hard for smaller academic libraries—generalist-oriented ones in particular—to justify purchasing it in isolation. Libraries supporting professional, graduate, and advanced undergraduate teaching and research on British foreign policy, Israeli and Middle Eastern history, military and strategic studies, and international relations will want to consider acquiring the full collection when it is complete in 2017.

D. Durant, East Carolina University
CHOICE Connect, December 2016