In the latter part of the twentieth century biographers and historians increasingly use evidence from interviews with their subjects as part of the rich multimedia of sources available for presenting history.(1) Scholars use testimonies from interviews to fill gaps in the narrative and archival record as well as to provide crucial sources of information concerning new evidence and varying viewpoints. Unknown aspects of personalities, as well as the hidden color of everyday lives and events, which can often be lost or considered unimportant by the subject, can be obtained through interviewing. Extensive banks of recorded interviews, significant sums of funds and numerous professional reputations have become part of the practice of oral history.(2) The promise of actuality and immediacy created through hearing and seeing those directly involved as witnesses to historical events seems to bring historians and biographers closer to the goal of accurate historical reconstruction. The subject allows the historian to see one particular view of history from a privileged vantage point of a witness. Historians of the historically dispossessed, those without access to official histories or social narratives, appear to view oral history as a powerful instrument for the popular liberation of those without a voice and, therefore, provides another source of historical memory for a society.
Oral history has the potential to make accessible viewpoints of lives and careers which are not included in historical and collective memories, written histories, or official sources.(3) This was the case in my biography of Professor Robert Richardson Bowie which emphasized the significance of the second echelon of officials as authors and critics of America's foreign policy during the Cold War. Biographies of presidents and cabinet officers such as secretaries of state and histories of presidential administrations often appear to lose this group of officials in the narratives of political and administrative history. This second echelon of government officials included those who moved from private practice into public service when they considered their talents would be of use to, or requested by, senior members of various administrations. This group, the "in-and-outers," did not seek long-term, professional careers in government, but were motivated by notions of public service and a sense of duty to the American community.
As a Harvard Law professor, senior State Department adviser and Harvard University International Relations professor, Robert Richardson Bowie served with the Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, and Carter administrations during the Cold War years. He graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School with highest honors in 1934, turned down several offers to work as a corporate lawyer with New York's major law firms, and returned to Baltimore to work in his father's law firm, Bowie and Burke. In 1942, Bowie joined the United States Army as a commissioned officer and served in the Pentagon and Occupied Germany from 1945 until 1946 when he resigned as a lieutenant-colonel. He was the youngest professor appointed to the prestigious Law School at Harvard University in 1946 and was a trusted confidant to John J. McCloy, unofficial chairman of the American establishment. On leave from Harvard, Bowie worked for McCloy as one of his legal advisers in Germany from 1950 until 1952.
In 1953, Bowie was appointed as the Director of Policy Planning and later Assistant Secretary of State for Planning and the State Department's member of the National Security Council's Planning Board, a post in which he spent four crucial years as a close adviser to John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State to President Eisenhower during the tumultuous years of the 1950s. He resigned from the State Department in 1957 and was appointed Dillon Professor of International Relations and founding director of Harvard University's Center for International Affairs. Again on leave, he returned to the State Department as Counselor from 1966 to 1968. Bowie returned to Washington as a Deputy Director for Intelligence under President Carter's CIA Director, Stansfield Turner from 1977 to 1979. He retired from the University in 1980. Since 1981, Robert Bowie has written on United States foreign policy and diplomatic history and recently co-authored with Professor Richard Immerman, Waging Peace: How Eisenhower Shaped an Enduring Cold War Strategy.(4)
Robert Bowie's contribution to United States national security policies and higher education had not been comprehensively described and I sought to use testimony from interviews as one approach to writing his life story. He was a man who had worked behind the scenes, avoided the limelight of publicity, and quietly advocated policy. In numerous histories, biographies, and memoirs of America's decision-makers of United States foreign policy and international relations during the Cold War, Robert Bowie appears only occasionally. Therefore, the testimony from my interviews with him was seen as crucial to the success of this project.
This article is an account of how I approached my interviews with Robert Bowie and what conclusions I reached about the use of testimony when I wrote this biography. It is based on the premise that memory and history are interdependent rather than opposed to each other. Historians recover the narratives people forget; and through such techniques as oral history, the memories which historians forget are salvaged.(5) It is a review of the literature on oral history which I used for my research, and particularly references to the use of hermeneutics in the processes of interviews. Contemporary theories about hermeneutics describe this process as an inquiry, theory, or study of the methods of interpretation as part of the broader theory of knowledge. Hermeneutics could be considered as the study of the principles of how certain forms of knowledge are interpreted and obtained. Paul Ricoeur distinguishes between the hermeneutics of tradition and suspicion and argues that the former "aims to listen intently to what is communicated in order to gain insight from, or become aware of, a message hidden under the surface." Hermeneutics is a dialogical process in which the understanding of a text is initiated through the development of agreed interpretation between the author of the text and the historian.(6)
This article will then conclude with an assessment of how the testimonies synthesized with my research of the primary sources as I wrote Bowie's life story. Testimony is the result of two processes. The first process is the retrieval of memories by the subject which are blended then into the responses to each question in the interview. …