“Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me”:
Quantifying Kissinger

A Computational Analysis of the DNSA's Kissinger Memcons and Telcons

By Micki Kaufman,
doctoral student in US History
at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Interactive Visualizations of the DNSA's Kissinger Telcons and Memcons

Force Directed Graph: Memcons Topic Model to Documents to Individuals

This is a force-directed diagram that shows the relationship of documents to topics, in addition, it shows the relationship of individuals and organizations named in the DNSA metadata to the documents. Note the close proximity of associated individuals to their respective geopolitical topics (eg Le Duc Tho, Andrei Gromyko, Rabin, Assad, Meir and others), a fairly striking visualization of the apparent compatibilities between the machine-generated topic model and the human-generated library metadata.

The grey dots/lines represent individuals mentioned in the memcons, blue dots/lines represent documents with ‘Top Secret’ classification status, the yellow dots are ‘Secret,’ the pink dots are ‘Unclassified’ and the 40 topics of the topic model are displayed as purple circles with text. Documents sharing similar topic weightings are clustered together, and placed at a relative distance from those topics. The placement of documents and topics related to matters of high military or national security significance among the bluish upper left region is unsurprising, as is the placement of ‘laughter’ so far on the other side of the graph. The placement of the ‘Cambodia’ topic outside that military arc, much closer to ‘Laughter’ than, say, ‘Vietnam’ or ‘Soviet,’ suggests strongly that the archive may contain only those documents of a less contentious or generic nature compared to those other topics.

The presence of 'Laughter' as a topic, based on the predominance in certain documents of a transcribed phrase as indication of 'laughter' in the room, is a very useful indicator of the tone of certain meeting and their related topics. Does the placement of 'Laughter' so close to the 'South Africa' topic indicate that those meetings were marked by a more jovial set of interactions? At the very least, its placement within a body of largely 'Secret' or 'Unclassified' documents (as opposed to 'Top Secret') suggests a different tone in those documents' topics than in more serious military/national security meetings.

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