On June 10th 1963, President Kennedy gave the commencement address to the American University graduating class. Although it was an exciting event for those present, it was largely ignored by the domestic media. Little did they know that the real audience for the speech was Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev. Kennedy spoke of the need for peace, a reduction in Cold War tensions, and most importantly, his willingness to sign a limited nuclear test ban treaty. This last point was a veiled signal to Khrushchev – the two governments had been working covertly for years to get such an agreement.
This AU Commencement Address was the catalyst that led to the signing of the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty – the first successful treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union since the start of the Cold War, and the last Soviet treaty Kennedy would sign before he was killed.
With the 50th anniversary approaching next year, now would be an excellent time to create a digital exhibit of this material. The AU archives maintains a small online presence of the event with some photos and short summary. However, their site is directed mainly towards an AU student audience, and tells little of the greater significance of this event.
Using Omeka, it would be possible to consolidate AU’s display into a much more elaborate exhibit of photographs, as well as incorporate primary documents and historical analysis to explore not just why this event was important to AU, but why it was important in a larger Cold War context. Given the approaching anniversary, done right, this could garner some attention from a larger audience than the AU archives’ site currently draws.