Rockefeller Archive Center

Rockefeller Archive Center Research Reports are created by recipients of research travel stipends and by many others who have conducted research at the RAC. The reports demonstrate the breadth of the RAC's archival holdings, particularly in the study of philanthropy and its effects. Read more about the history of philanthropy at resource.rockarch.org. Also, see the RAC Bibliography of Scholarship, a comprehensive online database of publications citing RAC archival collections.
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Frederick Gates and Philanthropic Timeliness

April 8, 2024

An embrace of perpetuity is often assumed to be one of the founding principles of modern American philanthropy. Yet while some of the pioneering figures in the field, such as Andrew Carnegie, explicitly and unreservedly championed the cause of perpetuity, the views of many others toward time-based considerations in philanthropy were more fluid and complex. This was certainly the case with Frederick Gates, the Baptist minister who served as John D. Rockefeller's chief philanthropic advisor, holding leadership positions in many of the Rockefeller foundations in their early, formative years. He can arguably claim to be more responsible than any other individual for crafting the animating theories that came to define 20th century American philanthropy.

Frederick T. Gates Papers; John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Papers; Rockefeller Family; Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation’s Rural Health Program and the Oil Nationalization Crisis in Iran, 1949-1951

March 26, 2024

This research report examines the efforts of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) to build a rural health initiative in Iran from 1949 through 1951. It details the RF's progress in contributing toward improving Iranian public health during this period, and it analyzes the impact of the Iranian oil nationalization crisis that began in early 1951 on the Rockefeller Foundation's activities. Ultimately, this report argues that the oil nationalization crisis forced the RF to end its Iranian initiative in late summer 1951 without completing its work there, but these rural health initiatives nevertheless helped lay a foundation for Iran's later public health efforts and contributed to positive American-Iranian relations prior to the 1953 coup.

Agrarian and Rural; Medicine and Healthcare; Rockefeller Foundation

The Institute of International Education: From Prima Donna Idealism to Parastatal Behemoth and Neoliberal Broker (1919–2003)

March 14, 2024

The Institute of International Education (IIE) administers the most prestigious awards for international education such as the Fulbright awards. IIE has dominated international education from 1919 to the present as an intermediary between states and private organizations. The Institute's combination of private administration and capital with the brand of the US government has characterized the shift from massive public spending and bold liberal internationalism in the postwar era to the neoliberalism of the late-twentieth century. In my dissertation, I argue that Americans came to rely on international students as proxies to end global conflicts, fortify the United States' geopolitical standing, advance capitalist economic development in the Global South, and keep US colleges financially afloat. The Carnegie Endowment and Rockefeller Foundation sponsored IIE to be the vanguard of international educational exchanges in the early twentieth century. After World War II, with the federal government and the Ford Foundation as new IIE partners, Carnegie and Rockefeller became wary of how this unchecked growth and IIE's administrative weakness would threaten the core missions of international liberalism. The internal documents available at the Rockefeller Archive Center from IIE, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, and the Ford Foundation bely the optimism of IIE's published materials. The reports of students also depict the United States as a country aspiring to lead the postwar world but struggling with racial discrimination and a shifting national identity. 

Academic Research and Education; Commonwealth Fund; Institute of International Education; Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial; Rockefeller Foundation

Listening to Each Other? – Opportunities and Challenges in Music Exchanges between the United States and the People’s Republic of China in the Late Twentieth Century

March 4, 2024

Cultural exchanges between the United States and the People's Republic of China were formalized in the 1970s. With the ever-increasing interest in understanding each other's culture, American and Chinese governments and cultural institutions organized exchange trips in different fields. Music was among the first professions that was used to establish rapport. This essay introduces some of the early efforts to facilitate the musical exchanges, including by the Asian Cultural Program of the JDR 3rd Fund and the Center for United-States Arts Exchange founded by Chou Wen-Chung. It highlights how the American non-profit sector shaped the cultural dialogue through grantmaking from the 1970s to the 1990s. Despite the legacy of fostering interests in learning the cultural differences between the two countries, archival materials show a Euro-American-centric sentiment by expecting Chinese visitors to bring American knowledge back to their home, and that Americans have the expertise and knowledge to assist Asians to better understand their own cultural heritage. With mostly white Americans in control of the visitors they could bring in, who tended to be talented performers and artists of ancient or traditional art forms, they avoided more politicized contemporary works and discourses. Chinese immigrants in America were also limited in terms of their ability to participate in these cultural exchanges. Such a narrow approach to cultural exchange also limited Americans' understanding of China (and Asia, at-large) in the contemporary context.

Asia Society; Asian Cultural Council; Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Papers; International Relations; JDR 3rd Fund; Music; National Committee on United States-China Relations; Rockefeller Family

The Unusable Zoning Override Threat: Analyzing the State Urban Development Corporation’s Westchester Plans

February 15, 2024

This research report aims to explicate the tactics underpinning the State Urban Development Corporation's ill-fated efforts, between February 18, 1970 and 1973, to construct affordable housing in generally affluent, suburban Westchester County.  Designed to cut through federal and local municipal red tape that disincentivized private industry from entering the affordable housing field, Governor Nelson Rockefeller hoped that the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) could play a pivotal role in solving the state's housing crisis.  The UDC bore the unique power to override local zoning codes. It thus became immediately controversial, inducing the corporation's first president, the (in)famous Bostonian urban planner Edward Logue, to emphasize the UDC's ability to work with local municipal officials to construct much-needed housing, often through a locally-managed subsidiary corporation.  When the UDC entered Westchester County on February 18, 1970, hoping to expand its operations to the state's suburbs, these tactics proved ineffective in the face of the county's traditionally decentralized politics, municipal and county officials' long history of support for restrictive zoning and single-family residential construction, and the weakening political position of the county's once-powerful Republican Party.  Additionally, widespread protests against state-led public works projects in the late 1960s sapped local support for Governor Rockefeller's administration just before the UDC entered the county.  Combined, these factors conspired to enable affluent, white Westchester residents and officials to stall out the UDC until they could form a coalition of state legislators to pass a bill eliminating the UDC's zoning override powers, effectively ending state-level efforts to construct affordable housing.

Cary Reich Papers; Nelson A. Rockefeller Gubernatorial Records; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Rockefeller Family; Urban and Suburban; Warren T. Lindquist Papers

Private Funders and Private Wildlife Conservancies in Neoliberal Kenya (1980-2010)

February 7, 2024

This report examines the rise of nongovernmental organizations and private game reserves in Kenya's conservation and tourist sector in the last two decades of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. Because these institutions are private and not required to be transparent, it can be difficult to study their histories. The archival holdings of funders, such as the Ford Foundation, or individual philanthropists, such as Laurance S. Rockefeller, can thus provide insights into the histories of these organizations. These records provide particular information on two private conservancies started in the 1980s in Laikipia, Kenya: the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Ol Ari Nyiro (at times referred to as Laikipia Ranching). Attention to these conservancies demonstrates a shift in the practice of conservation during the late twentieth century, as the Kenyan state saw its role diminished, and private funders, NGOs, and private conservancies became more central to the project of protecting Kenya's wildlife, while also benefitting from the tourists which followed.

David Rockefeller Papers; Ford Foundation; Laurance S. Rockefeller Papers; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Rockefeller Family

Patronage of Video Art: The Relationship of the Rockefeller Foundation and Nam June Paik

January 18, 2024

On October 4, 1965, Korean-born artist Nam June Paik bought his first Sony Portapak with a JDR 3rd Fund grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Introduced earlier that same year by the Sony Corporation in Japan, this device was the first portable video recorder with a dedicated camera. Paik's Portapak was among the first in the United States, which enabled him to play a central role in establishing video as a credible medium for artistic expression. By analyzing grants Paik received from the Rockefeller Foundation, this essay examines a three-decade-long relationship between the artist and the Rockefeller Foundation that enabled Paik to create groundbreaking works of art. This project will analyze how the social and financial capital of the Rockefeller Foundation equipped Paik with the knowledge and equipment to pursue his transnational projects linking South Korea, Japan, Germany, and the United States, among other countries, through his video, television, and satellite projects. The relationship Paik cultivated with Howard Klein, director of arts at the Rockefeller Foundation, reveals a complex dynamic of power, institutional interests, and global reach of works that Paik could not realize without the support of the Rockefeller Foundation. In this way, this essay will examine a series of correspondences, interviews, and proposals that reveal the commitment the Rockefeller Foundation officers, specifically Howard Klein, had in making Paik the pioneer of video art.

Art; Asian Cultural Council; Rockefeller Foundation

“Among a people such like their own”: Thai Nursing Students in the Philippines, 1920-1931

January 5, 2024

In the early twentieth century, the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) worked to expand the nursing profession in the Philippines and in Thailand. Using the close geographic proximity and the well-established circulation of health professionals between the two countries, the RF helped sponsor six Thai nursing students to study abroad in Manila. Due to the status of the Philippines as a colony of the US, while Thailand was not within the US's official purview, the encounter between the colonized nursing instructors and the Thai nursing students learning within a colonial system created contradictory positions of power. Depending on who perceived this crossing, it could reflect the expanding influence for different parties invested in nursing education, either the Foundation, Filipino medical workers, Thai elites, or both Thai and Filipino women. This report examines these crossings and the approximate relationships of domination that supported and confounded the US empire. For example, rather than American colonizers' relationships with Filipinos, I examine the roles of Filipino women, Filipino men, and Thai women who participated in uneasy and shifting tensions of domination. These relationships of power were contested and circulated in complicated forms, not just unilaterally, but within expansive spheres attached to US ambitions within Asia, as well as the Philippines and Thailand's own ambitions for sovereignty and modernity. Lastly, this report examines Filipino women's fraught relationship to power vis-a-vis science and medicine, which also represented (even if incompletely, temporarily, and immemorably) both the domination and the collaboration of Thai women.

Medicine and Healthcare; Nursing; Rockefeller Foundation

The Gift of Fellowship: India, Modernism, Abstraction, and New York City

December 15, 2023

From 1963, first through the JDR 3rd Fund and then from 1979, through the Asian Cultural Council (ACC), several Indian painters were granted time, stipends, materials, resources, and travel budgets to explore the United States. Krishen Khanna, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Avinash Chandra, Jyoti Bhatt Natvar Bhavsar, Bal Chhabda, V.S. Gaitonde, K.G. Subramanyan, Paritosh Sen, Bhupen Khakhar, Ram Kumar, Paritosh Sen, and Rekha Rodwittiya each went on to have remarkable careers. My research at the Rockefeller Archive Center was to look at the artists' articulation of their practice, and their desire to expand it, at the moment of their applications. Using fellowship materials and correspondence from a range of Indian artists, art historians, and critics from 1960 and 1990, I reconstruct here the significance of a year's travel and study in New York City and its implications for artistic education and practice. At the same time, I explore the breadth of correspondence between Indian artists and the ACC, which offers rare primary source materials for the reconstruction of the history of abstraction and the history of art history in postcolonial India; and indicates the significance of the shared experience and memory of applying and experiencing the fellowship as creating bonds of solidarity between Indian artists.

Asian Cultural Council; JDR 3rd Fund; Mass Communications; Rockefeller Foundation

Prison Plastic Surgery: The Biopolitics of Appearance and Crime in New York’s Civil Rights Era

December 4, 2023

From 1920 to 1990, around 500,000 US incarcerees received free plastic surgery during their incarceration. The majority of the surgeries — which included facelifts, rhinoplasty, chin implants, blepharoplasties, breast implants, etc. — were performed for purely cosmetic reasons, under the broad banner of prisoner rehabilitation. The underlying notion was to assist marginalized individuals in assimilating into society by capitalizing on prevailing beauty biases. New York was an early prison plastic surgery pioneer, alongside other rehabilitative offerings, but these programs were not without controversy. Concerned, in 1968, Governor Nelson Rockefeller charged the Department of Crime Control Planning to investigate the long-term outcomes of various recidivism programs, a project that spanned five years and covered 231 methodologies. This research report outlines the early emphasis on prisoner beautification, and the broader shift in carceral policies from rehabilitative to punitive, based on a review of records in the Rockefeller Archive Center pertaining to correctional reform, access to healthcare, and civil rights issues. This report summarizes my preliminary findings from the archives, and adds additional context to my book, Killer Looks: The Forgotten History of Plastic Surgery In Prisons, (Prometheus Books, 2021), which explored the history of criminal reform through the lens of beauty and bias.  Using records, the majority unearthed from the Joint Commission on Correctional Manpower and Training in the Nelson A. Rockefeller Gubernatorial Records, along with records from the Bureau of Social Hygiene, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund archives, I discuss rehabilitative ideals and lookism, intermingled with political wrangling and efficacy in twentieth-century New York. My work deals with correctional healthcare and surgery, but more broadly, it is about the shift from a rehabilitative to a punitive approach to crime. As contemporary discourse returns to the importance of rehabilitation, the insights presented in this research will foster current conversations and enable us to learn from the past. 

Crime and Criminal Justice; Ford Foundation; Nelson A. Rockefeller Gubernatorial Records; Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Intervention Programs of Public Health: Rockefeller Fellowship, Dr. Adetokunbo Lucas, and the Development of Public Health in Nigeria, 1963-1986

November 20, 2023

This paper looks at conversations around global exchanges through fellowship programs for public health development by the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), focusing particularly on Dr. Adetokunbo Lucas. Studies about the history of transnational scholarships designed by RF have often centred on Western/Asian recipients with little or no significant discourses on fellows of African descent. By focusing on Dr. Lucas and the University of Ibadan, this paper examines how campus-based politics, fuelled and shaped by larger Cold War politics, interfered with the implementation process of the global public health agenda of the RF in Nigeria.

Academic Research and Education; Cold War; Medicine and Healthcare; Rockefeller Foundation

Making Experts, Sustaining Families: The Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican Fellowships as a Social Program for the Middle Class

November 2, 2023

Drawing from a sample of forty fellows sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation's Mexican Agricultural Program, with case studies coming from dossiers on ninety-one individuals in several different fellowship programs, this report looks at the families left behind and brought along by the Mexican experts whose training was financed by the Rockefeller Foundation (RF). Alongside uncovering geopolitical subtexts and intellectual legacies left by US philanthropic foundations, historians can also scrutinize what is arguably the most tangible impact made by the RF in countries like Mexico: namely, the consequences of its educational investment in young people's material and social worlds. This report contends that the RF's philanthropic efforts to form highly-skilled human capital for the Global South also functioned as a kind of family welfare program for up-and-coming Mexican experts. RF officers closely scrutinized not just their fellows but their wives and children, and the RF expended considerable resources on both financing whole families and in monitoring their collective well-being. However, there are also important differences in terms of the support available for men and women due to RF officers' beliefs about the impossibility of married women being professional experts.

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