Did you know that composers like Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich wrote music for the UN? Did you know that you can listen to classic UN radio programs online featuring legends of the silver screen such as Audrey Hepburn? Did you know that the oldest organization in today’s UN system is the ITU, which was founded in 1851 to regulate international telegraphy? These are just a few of the many facts that we learned while working on the United Nations History Project website.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declared in a speech about the UN Archives in December 2011 that “archives hold the key to our human story.” Yet too few scholars and teachers have used that key to unlock the history of international organizations. I certainly did not realize how much material existed on the history of the United Nations until I began work on a website to compile materials for teaching and researching the history of the UN and international organizations. The history of the UN continues to determine the international organizations, structures, and procedures that exist today, though we have only started in recent years to investigate how and why the UN developed as it did.

As my collaborators and I compiled material for the United Nations History Project website, we were constantly amazed by the wealth of digital materials that the UN has made available over the past few years. But that wealth can be overwhelming without an accessible overview. We realized that we had to organize these riches to open the door to new digital resources on the history of the United Nations as well as the many physical archives of international organizations.

You can use our website to start teaching and understanding the history of the United Nations. We’ve designed a thirteen-week course on the United Nations and its history to provide a useful starting point for university courses and Model UN initiatives such as the United Nations Foundation’s Global Classrooms®. For each theme, we’ve created annotated bibliographies, timelines, and featured sources. You can introduce students through our featured lectures to the ideas of leading scholars and UN personalities, including Gro Harlem Brundtland and Amartya Sen.

You can also use the UN History Project to start your own research on any aspect of the UN that interests you. We’ve compiled comprehensive guides to physical and online sources on the UN. In addition, leading scholars on the UN have written about their experiences working in UN archives across the world. It’s a great starting point for student projects as well as professional research.

We hope that this website will promote the importance of studying and teaching the history of the United Nations in order to understand our international past, present, and future. The website was made possible by the support of the United Nations Foundation and was completed in cooperation with the Harvard Asia Center and the Joint Center for History and Economics. For further information or to get involved, like our Facebook page or send an e-mail to unitednationshistory@gmail.com.