Skip to main content

William Yale papers

Call Number: MS 658

Scope and Contents

To a large degree the William Yale Papers consist ofcopies of miscellaneous documents (official, semi-official and private; American as well as French, British and Middle Eastern in provenance) pertaining to the break-up and reorganization of certain segments of the old Ottoman Empire during the years 1917-1919. The bulk of the material deals with Syrian, Palestinian, Arab and Zionist affairs.* As Yale himself explained (in a letter sent to Charles Seymour in 1928, when Yale made the gift of his papers to the Yale University Library): "Some of these documents are [also to be found] in the Hoover Collection at Stanford, some are at Princeton, and most of them [are] in the files of the Department of State or the War Department. However, some of them are not in any collection." A few additional items were incorporated at a more recent date: these include Yale's report on Henry Morgenthau's secret mission to Constantinople in 1917; a letter from Jamal Husseini (written in 1962) describing a meeting organized in 1921 between Weizmann and a group of prominent Arabs to discuss Zionist demands in Palestine; and a letter addressed to Yale by the legendary T. E. Lawrence, describing in vivid detail the Arab occupation of Damascus.

* Most of the items in the collection are in English, although a good many of them are copies-in-translation of Arab or Hebrew originals.

The William Yale Papers, comprising roughly 160 folders, are divided into seven series:

I. General Correspondence (1 box)

(very limited number of items)

II. Wartime Intellegence Reports, 1917-1918 (1 box)

This series is subdivided as follows:

(a) Reports Nos. 1-34 [including covering letters from Yale to Leland Harrison]; plus three preliminary reports [1917], one diary excerpt, and a Résumé of Nos. 1-34.

(b) Reports sent to U. S. Military Attaché, London [incomplete set; arranged chronologically]

(c) Miscellaneous official communications with Department of State, 1917 June 30 - 1918 July 19

III. Miscellaneous Materials on Palestine (1 box)

(arranged chronologically)

IV. Miscellaneous Materials on Syria (1 box)

(arranged chronologically)

V. Miscellaneous Materials on Arabs and Arabia (1 box)

(arranged chronologically)

VI. Miscellaneous Paris Peace Conference Materials (1 box)

(arranged chronologically)

VII. Miscellaneous Items (1 box)


  • 1915-1919


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of William Yale, 1928.


Arranged in seven series: I. General Correspondence. II. Wartime Intelligence Reports. III. Miscellaneous Materials on Palestine. IV. Miscellaneous Materials on Syria. V. Miscellaneous Materials on Arabs and Arabia. VI. Miscellaneous Paris Peace Conference Materials. VII. Miscellaneous Items.


2 Linear Feet (7 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence, intelligence reports, and other papers of William Yale, author, diplomat and professor. The papers relate primarily to problems in the Near East during and immediately after World War I. Included are reports and agreements concerning Palestine and Syria and various reports by special commissions on Turkey, Arabia, and Zionism. There is also material relating to the Paris Peace Conference.

Biographical / Historical

William Yale (a collateral descendant of Elihu Yale) was born in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., on August 6, 1887. He attended the Lawrenceville School and received his Ph.B. degree from Yale as a member of the class of 1910-S. For the next five years Yale worked in various administrative capacities for the Standard Oil Company of New York, particularly in the Near East. He eventually became SOCONY'S chief representative in Jerusalem, where he resided continuously from June 1915 to March 1917 and where he acquired a speaking knowledge of Arabic and a thorough knowledge of French. He left Palestine in early March 1917 and proceeded to Constantinople, for the most part traveling over the Bagdad Railroad and passing through Damascus, Aleppo, Tarsus, Koniah and Eschi Seher. He returned to the United States soon after America's entry into the First World War.

For a short while afterward, Yale worked with the American Field Service in Washington, D.C. Then, in August 1917, he received an appointment as a Special Agent of the Department of State with instructions to proceed to Egypt. Yale stopped first in London, where he held consultations with William H. Buckler (Colonel House's special liaison man at the American Embassy), with members of the British Military and Admiralty Intelligence Offices, as well as with the heads of the various Middle Eastern Relief Committees. He also visited Paris, where he conferred with many Zionist and Arab leaders (including Boghos Nubar Pasha). Finally, traveling via Rome, Taranto and Malta, he arrived in Alexandria on October 19, 1917.

Yale outlined the purpose of his mission (and the peculiarities of his position in Egypt) in the very first report, which he addressed to Leland Harrison (his immediate chief at the Department of State):

"On my arrival at Cairo I presented myself to Mr. Knabenshue, Vice-Consul in charge of the Diplomatic Agency, and explained to him my presence here and mission. After a lengthy conference with Mr. Knabenshue, in which we throughly discussed my position here, we both came to the Conclusion that the only course to pursue was that he should present me to the [British] High Commissioner, Sir Reginald Wingate, as a special agent of the Department of State, sent to Egypt to keep the United States Government informed of the events of importance occuring east of Suez, in Syria, Palestine, Arabia and the Hedjaz. It was after careful consideration of the question that we came to this decision for the following reasons.

My presence in Egypt as a Special Agent of the Department of State was known to the British Authorities, as I was travelling under a special diplomatic passport defining my position. My work here necessitates my meeting and interviewing the leaders of the groups interested in Palestine and Syria, viz: Zionists and Anti-Zionists, Moslem Arabs and the various sects of Christian Arabs and all other interests. Such activities on my part would have been carefully watched and followed by the British, whose secret agents are everywhere. My comings and goings would have been fully reported upon, and it is very probable that even my conversations would at times have been reported verbatim to the British Authorities. Not only would the British have known the nature of my work, but they might have surmised and imputed other motives to my presence in Egypt. Not only would I personally have been under suspicion and my activities hindered and curtailed but suspicion would have been thrown upon the American [Diplomatic] Agency, which would have resulted in placing both Mr. Knabenshue and myself in a most unpleasant and disadvantageous light."

Yale sent weekly reports to Washington during the period October 1917 - July 1918, paying special attention to Syrian and Palestinian questions.

On June 20, 1918, Yale received an appointment as captain in the U. S. Army through the auspices of the Department of State. This "promotion" was obviously meant to facilitate his movements in and out of Egypt. In fact, soon thereafter Yale was also informed by the office of the U. S. military attaché in London that General Allenby, Commander in Chief of British Forces in Palestine, had agreed to receive him at his headquarters as an official American military observer. Yale jumped at this opportunity, though wondering whether henceforth the Department of State or the War Department would be at the receiving end of his intelligence reports. In any event, Yale was elated: "Although as military observer my activities will in some ways be restricted," he wrote to Harrison, "they will on the other hand be extended by my being able to go to Palestine and later to Akabah and the Hedjaz, and if necessary to Mesopotamia. In so doing I shall be able to get into touch with the leading Arabs in the various parts of the Arab world, and will in the end secure first-hand information of what is going on." In fact, Yale was thus able to observe from close quarters Allenby's brilliant final campaign (September 19 to November 11, 1918), and in his reports he commented at length upon these operations, as well as upon the varied and complicated political ramifications.

After the signing of the armistice, Yale was ordered to proceed to Paris, where he was attached to the staff of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace as an expert on Syrian and Arabian affairs. He remained in France until May 1919, when he was sent back to the Levant as technical advisor to the American section of the International Commission on Mandates in Turkey. He returned to Paris at the end of the summer, spent some more time in London in the fall, and was finally demobilized in December 1919. For a few years after his return to the United States Yale worked for a number of American firms at home and abroad. Then, in 1928, he began teaching modern European history at the University of New Hampshire, and he remained there for the better part of the next twenty-five years of his life. During World War II, Yale was employed by the Department of State as a special consultant on Middle Eastern affairs. Before his retirement Yale also taught history at Boston University. He is the author of The Near East: A Modern History (1958; revised edition 1968). Yale died in 1975.

Guide to the William Yale Papers
Under Revision
compiled by N. X. Rizopoulos with the assistance of Anne Willard
July 1973
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Yale University Library
P.O. Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520-8240 US
(203) 432-1735
(203) 432-7441 (Fax)


Sterling Memorial Library
Room 147
120 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours