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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Research Ethics and Professionalism on the Line: A Critical Analysis of Rockefeller Foundation Support of Neurosciences in Nazi Europe, 1933-1945

January 5, 2023

The Nazi movement, heavily rooted in eugenics, caused the persecution and exile of hundreds of neuroscientists. Additionally, eugenic research took place in Nazi Germany with the motivation of improving the so-called "German race" through elimination of hereditary neurological diseases. With the advent of illegal killing of neuropsychiatric patients after World War II started, those patients could be used unethically as research subjects. Thus, neuroscience was at the heart of immoral and unethical activities in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) supported at least twenty exiled academic neuroscientists who either had prior RF support, or who showed "merit" to justify their being awarded limited funds to restart their careers abroad. The RF also supported eugenic neuroscientific research in Nazi Germany (and Denmark) despite escalating racial persecution in pre-war Germany. Some RF funds went to an institute which was also funded by the elite Nazi paramilitary group, the SS. And, an initially RF-funded project, a monkey farm in Würzburg, was used in unethical experiments to prove the cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) with subjects targeted for killing. Overall, the RF walked a fine line between supporting some victims of Nazi persecution, while ironically continuing to fund some neuroscientific research that could be linked to their persecution in the first place, or to destruction of neuropsychiatric patients. While supporting academic refugees was laudable, there was an undercurrent of supporting "best science" without regard for the ethical implications, from which current neuroscientists and others can learn valuable lessons.

Alfred E. Cohn Papers; Biology and Medical Research; Commonwealth Fund; Eugenics; Refugee Scholars; Rockefeller Foundation; Rockefeller University; World War II

Shadow Diplomats: American Humanitarianism in the Era of the World Wars, 1900-1948

October 25, 2018

This project examines the development of American humanitarianism in the era of the world wars. It explores how, in the absence of state power, private citizens often filled the void. Their activities expand the common definition of diplomacy by noting myriad ways private organizations and individuals, including the Rockefeller Foundation and its partners, attempted to influence the direction of American foreign relations. The primary argument here is to demonstrate that American citizens, who grew frustrated at the lack of government involvement in world affairs during the first-half of the twentieth century, sought to insert themselves into positions of power and influence. This project shows that, in the absence of the state, many American individuals and NGOs formed partnerships and coordinated their humanitarian activities on a global scale. In specific ways, they undertook the roles and strategies of foreign policy professionals: stationing professionals in foreign offices, raising and appropriating large sums of money, providing food and medicine, coordinating the mass migration of refugees, and negotiating with foreign governments. By doing so, they acted as "shadow diplomats" – working as a shadow government in opposition to the recognized state authority, but also working in the shadows, away from most public attention and scrutiny, because they reasoned that quiet actions would produce the desired results.

Alfred E. Cohn Papers; Humanitarian and Disaster Relief; Institute of International Education; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Refugee Scholars; Rockefeller Family; Rockefeller University

Radio Research and Refugee Scholars: American Philanthropies Respond to the European Crisis before the War, 1933-39

July 19, 2018

University presidents and foundation administrators in the United States viewed the global refugee crisis precipitated by Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933 as a serious humanitarian disaster in need of immediate attention.  It was also, in their view, a historic opportunity to salvage the great minds of Central Europe.  For the officers of the Rockefeller Foundation, the crisis coincided with an increasing interest in sponsoring studies on radio and mass communications, public opinion, and the vulnerabilities of Western democracies to fascism.  Many European social scientists, with their background in empirical research, were ideally suited to study these problems.  The sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld, for example, chose to remain in the U.S. as a Rockefeller fellow when fascism took hold in his native Austria in 1934, and he went on to become the head of a major research institute at Columbia University.This paper considers the efforts of American citizens, academic elites, and foundation officers to aid refugee scholars and researchers by placing them at American institutions and supporting their work through grants and other forms of aid.  Officers in the Humanities and Social Sciences divisions of the Rockefeller Foundation, working in concert with the leaders of organizations like the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, were instrumental in supporting these émigrés and their work in the United States.  The Emergency Committee, with the financial assistance of the Rockefeller Foundation, assisted more than six-hundred refugee scholars with securing university appointments and grants over its twelve years of existence.

Academic Research and Education; Alfred E. Cohn Papers; Education; General Education Board; Institute of International Education; Mass Communications; Radio; Refugee Scholars; Rockefeller Foundation; Rockefeller University; Social Sciences

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