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COLLECTION Identifier: HUGFP 19.xx

Papers of William Leonard Langer


William Leonard Langer (1896-1977), historian, was the Archibald Cary Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard University from 1936 to 1964 (emeritus 1964-1977). His work focused on the study of diplomacy, international politics, and foreign policy. The Papers of William Leonard Langer document the academic and professional career of Langer chiefly from 1912 to 1977.


  • Creation: 1912 - 1991


Researcher Access

Open for research with the following exceptions: Personnel and student records are closed for 80 years. Specific restrictions are noted at the folder level. Requires review by archivist.


22.88 cubic feet (67 document boxes, 5 folders, 1 record carton)

The Papers of William Leonard Langer document the academic and professional career of Langer chiefly from 1912 to 1977. The collection is a valuable resource for international politics and diplomacy research. Langer was a prolific researcher, letter writer, and author, and thus much of the collection consists of his correspondence, research notes, published and unpublished articles, lectures, speeches, and course materials produced during his career. The collection also contains a limited amount of family material related to Langer, his wife Rowena, and his brothers Rudolph and Walter.

The collection documents Langer's interactions with noted historians and illustrates his association with professional organizations, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Association, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the American Historical Association. The collection's writings and correspondence document Langer's studies of diplomacy, international politics, and foreign policy. Research and teaching files document Langer's teaching activities at Harvard University. In addition, correspondence, news clippings, and speeches document Langer's association with the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of Strategic Services. The collection details Langer's participation at conferences on various topics related to modern European history, international politics, and diplomacy. The collection also contains four scrapbooks of news clippings compiled by Langer chronicling the events leading up to World War II.

Biographical note on William Leonard Langer

William Leonard Langer (1896-1977), historian, was the Archibald Cary Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard University from 1936 to 1964 (emeritus 1964-1977). His work focused on the study of diplomacy, international politics, and foreign policy.

Langer received his BA (1915), MA (1920), and PhD in history (1923) from Harvard University. He began his teaching career at Worcester Academy (1915-1917) and continued at Clark University as assistant professor of history (1923-1925) and later associate professor (1925-1927). Langer joined the Harvard faculty as assistant professor in 1927, and subsequently served as associate professor (1931-1936), and Coolidge Professor of History (1936-1964). At Harvard, Langer was the founder and director of the Harvard Russian Research Center (1954-1959) and the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies (1954-1956). He was also an advisor to the Harvard-Yenching Institute for Chinese and Far Eastern Studies and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research. In addition, Langer was visiting professor and lecturer at the University of Chicago (1926), Columbia University (1931), Yale University (1933), and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (1933-1934, 1936-1941).

During World War I, Langer served with the 1st Gas Regiment in France. In addition to his academic career, Langer served in the American intelligence community. He was a member of the Board of Analysts of the Office of Coordinator Information (1941-1942), Chief of the Research and Analysis Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (1942-1945), special assistant for intelligence analysis to the secretary of state (1946), and assistant director of the Central Intelligence Agency (1950-1952). After 1952, Langer served as a consultant to the CIA and the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1961-1969).

Langer wrote and edited works covering a wide range of topics related to diplomacy, international politics, and foreign affairs. Langer was one of the first historians to examine the system of alliances that contributed to the outbreak of World War I, investigate the diplomacy behind American involvement in World War II, and study European diplomacy and imperialism in Africa, Asia, and the Near East. Some of Langer's best- known works are: Our Vichy Gamble (1947), The Challenge to Isolation, 1937-1940 (1952), The Undeclared War, 1940-1941 (1953), European Alliances and Alignments, 1870-1890 (1931, 1950), and The Diplomacy of Imperialism, 1890-1902 (1935, 1951). He was also the editorAn Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Chronologically Arranged andThe Rise of Modern Europe series.

Langer's first marriage, in 1921, to Susanne Katharina Knauth ended in divorce. They had two sons, Leonard Charles Rudolph and Bertrand Walter. In 1943, Langer married Rowena Morse.


The collection is organized into six series:

  1. Correspondence files, 1920s-1991
  2. Research and teaching files, 1927-1977
  3. Writing and speeches, 1912-1977
  4. Central Intelligence Agency and Office of Strategic Services, 1941-1972
  5. Personal papers and memorabilia, 1944-1981
  6. Scrapbooks of clippings regarding events leading up to World War II, 1937 November 6-1938 September 12

Acquisition Information

Specific acquisition information, when available, is noted at the series level.

  1. Gift of William L. Langer, 1975 December 3; Accession 7769.
  2. Gift of William L. Langer, 1977 April 13; Accession 8095.
  3. Gift of Mrs. William L. Langer [Rowena Morse Langer], 1979 January 26; Accession 8571.
  4. Gift of Mrs. William L. Langer [Rowena Morse Langer], 1981 April 28; Accession 9169.
  5. Gift of Abbott Gleason, 1989 September 25; Accession 11839.
  6. Gift of Leonard Langer, 1992 April 6; Accession 12393.
  7. Received from the Harvard University Library Acquisitions Department, 1972 (HUGFP 19.45)

Related Material

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. William Leonard Langer writings and publications, 1920s-1970s: an inventory (HUGB L145.xx)
  2. A collection of news clippings and reprints by William Leonard Langer, 1926-1964 (HUH 512)
  3. William L. Langer self-published autobiography and reprint on infanticide, 1974-1975 (HUY 234)
  4. Photographs of William Leonard Langer are contained in the Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits, approximately 1852-approximately 2004 (HUP):
In the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study
  1. Papers of Rowena Morse Langer, 1914-1981: A Finding Aid (MC 566):
In the Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
  1. Susanne Langer papers, 1895-1985 (MS AM 3110):

Processing Information

This finding aid was created in September-October 2021 by Dominic P. Grandinetti.

Information for this finding aid was assembled from legacy paper inventories, reference sources, and container management data. The collection was not re-examined.

Arrangement details of each series are noted at the series level.

Dates and titles supplied by the archivist appear in brackets.

In all respects, the archivist attempted to retain and preserve the original arrangement and existing relationships of the documents, as established by William Leonard Langer.

Alma ID


Langer, William L. (William Leonard), 1896-1977. Papers of William Leonard Langer, 1912-1991: an inventory
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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