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In March of 1953, the University of Toronto forwarded the following three applications to an interdisciplinary competition as part of the Ford Foundation's Behavioral Sciences Program: "Changing Patterns of Language and Behavior and the New Media of Communication," "Study of Problems of Social Learning and Co-operation in an Industrial Society," and "Radical and Conservative Behaviour." All were associated in varying degrees with the legacy of Harold Adams Innis, a prominent economic historian and political economist at the University of Toronto, who had died in November of the previous year. "Changing Patterns" was the one that was accepted: its group of sponsors, spearheaded by Marshall McLuhan and Edmund Carpenter, was awarded a grant of $44,250 over two years. This came as a surprise to many, as the other two applications featured not only renowned established figures but also younger scholars who were quickly coming into prominence. Moreover, while the other two applications were grounded in Innis's highly respected work in political economy and economic history, that of the McLuhan/Carpenter group used Innis's less well-known work in communication as a point of reference.
I spent July and August of 2004 as a scholar-in-residence at the Rockefeller Archive Center, doing research on the support of Rockefeller philanthropy for the study and practice of educational radio. Within a few days of my arrival, I was saddened to learn of the death of Laurance Spelman Rockefeller (born 1910), who was one of the two surviving sons (along with David Rockefeller) of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. I was also informed that -- as is the case with the death of any Rockefeller family member whose papers are held by the Rockefeller Archive Center -- the papers of Laurance Rockefeller would now be open to researchers. As I have always found Laurance Rockefeller to be an intriguing figure -- well known for his activities as a venture capitalist, an aviation pioneer, a conservationist, not to mention his later forays into UFO research -- I began to examine his papers with a view to understanding the extent to which he may have been involved in educational radio. It became almost immediately evident that not only was Laurance Rockefeller a long-time supporter of educational radio, but his activities in this area over the years provided a window into the evolving relationship between private family interests, philanthropic practices, and the rise and fall of an innovative yet highly controversial 2 venture in radio broadcasting, namely the experimental educational radio broadcaster W1XAL. (In 1939 the experimental status was abandoned, and the station was assigned the call letters WRUL, which stood for "World Radio University Listeners"). Accordingly, I used Laurance S. Rockefeller's papers as a point of departure for examining other collections that contained material on the emergence and development of W1XAL/WRUL.
Rockefeller Support for Projects on the Use of Motion Pictures for Educational and Public Purposes, 1935-1954January 1, 2001
While it is now commonly recognized that Rockefeller philanthropy supported a number of important projects related to radio, its involvement with motion pictures has received much less attention. Yet between 1935 and 1954, the Humanities Division (HD) of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), along with the General Education Board (GEB), allocated around a million and a half dollars to initiatives related to film, scattered across a broad range of initiatives. Indeed, the RF and the GEB interests in motion picture and radio programs were considered as part of a single program concerned with how the educational possibilities of the two new media could be explored and cultivated. As is the case with the Rockefeller projects related to radio, items dealing with motion picture initiatives can be found in abundance at the Rockefeller Archive Center. In addition to extensive material in the RF and the GEB collections (including the fellowship files), additional valuable documentation can be found in the Program and Policy collections, and in some of the officers' diaries (particularly those of John Marshall and David Stevens). In reading through the files on the particular projects found in these various collections, one is almost immediately struck by the overall vision and sense of unified purpose that seemed to underpin the support given to film. In particular, one can detect a strong interest in cultivating an inter-connected community of interests in educational film, each playing a particular role within an emergent complex.
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