Since 2004, I have used various document sets from the National Security Archive (NSA) to teach students about modern Latin American history at Georgia College and State University, a medium-sized public liberal arts university in central Georgia. The NSA has the largest non-governmental online collection of US national security government documents in the world. Its research staff compiles, introduces, contextualizes, analyzes, and sifts through thousands of declassified materials. These include inter-agency memos, embassy communications, executive directives, confidential correspondence, and other once-classified materials.
This essay will critically examine the NSA as a way of teaching the histories of US imperialism and intervention, state suppression of popular dissent, militarism, human rights abuses, and counterinsurgency tactics and training in Latin America from the beginning of the Cold War until today. First, I will provide an explanation of the assignments that I use. These consist mostly of document analysis exercises and larger research papers. I will also share which topics students tend to explore, while noting several potential methodological pitfalls in using the NSA documents. Secondly, I will share testimony on how students' views on US foreign policy have changed. The general consensus at the beginning of the semester is that one of the principal aims of US foreign policy is to promote democracy above all other values. After examining the NSA documents, however, students seriously re-examine this idea. Indeed, introducing students to the `raw material' provided by the NSA is a powerful pedagogical tool for delivering and teaching radical history.