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 Also, see the RAC Bibliography of Scholarship, a comprehensive online database of publications citing RAC archival collections.
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Planned or by Accident? The Inception of the Chinese Materia Medica Research Program at the Peking Union Medical College

April 17, 2023

This report chronicles the events that led to the inception of the Chinese materia medica (CMM) research program at the Peking Union Medical College (PUMC). Dozens of herbal drugs were investigated during the decade after the program was conceived in 1921, including ma-huang, from which ephedrine, an anti-asthmatic drug of global impact, was isolated in 1924.  The program was primarily born out of a serendipitous intersection of two independent pursuits by Dr. Ralph G. Mills and Mr. Bernard E. Read, two PUMC faculty members, of their interests in CMM, instead of a preconceived grander aim or strategy by the institution or by any visionary. The establishment of the program, however, was the result of pragmatic handling of personnel and administrative issues by the China Medical Board (CMB)'s key decisionmakers, who accepted the seemingly plausible scientific value and various utilitarian promise of CMM and were open to its research at the PUMC.The discovery of ephedrine is the most celebrated scientific achievement from the CMM research program, and one of the few highlights of Chinese science during the entire Republican Era. Reconstructing the origin of the program will hopefully place this highly acclaimed scientific event in an accurate historical context and enable the construction of a non-whiggish historiographical narrative.

Biology and Medical Research; China Medical Board, Inc.; Medicine and Healthcare; Rockefeller Foundation

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

“American Patrick Manson” Goes to China: Ernest Faust’s Career Path to Peking Union Medical College

November 21, 2022

Based on primary sources from the Rockefeller Archive Center, this research report examines the leading American tropical medicine specialist Ernest Carroll Faust's initial career choice to go to Rockefeller-sponsored Peking Union Medical College in the early 20th century. It argues that Faust accepted the position and introduced a medical-zoological-based tropical medicine to China mainly because of his own career ambitions and his mentor Henry Ward's ardent promotion of this new field, within the Rockefeller Foundation's expanding global network. With this case study, my report also challenges the current dominant model which treats tropical medicine as colonial medicine.

Biology and Medical Research; China Medical Board, Inc.; Medicine and Healthcare

“If Human Ears Were Tuned to Bat Frequencies": Inaudible Sound and the Sciences of Bat Echolocation

October 27, 2022

This report provides draft excerpts from my PhD dissertation titled "The Inaudible Sounds of Science and Medicine: Animals and Media from the Galton Whistle to Bat Echolocation," a chapter of which explores the laboratory work of Donald R. Griffin – and especially the emergence of the concept of bat echolocation – as it contributed to a sonic history of "ultrasound" and other typologies of liminal sound vibrations. Such "inaudible sounds" repeatedly defied amplification (efforts to make them louder); their frequencies were too high or too low to vibrate the human eardrum. But humans have long suspected that insects, bats, dogs, and other animals could hear them and communicate through them. The following research on bat echolocation in the Griffin laboratory is one aspect of a much more comprehensive historical project, which platforms nonhuman listeners in 19th- and 20th-century experimental contexts as they repeatedly pushed the limitations of human hearing. Broadly speaking, the dissertation suggests that animal figures are useful vectors for exploring an expanded history of sounds, including high-pitched frequencies, in science and medicine. My objective is to better understand how scientists designed media and choreographed animal listeners in order to make meaning from the sounds they could not hear on their own. I am most invested in understanding how humans exploited, collaborated with, and coexisted with animals to make sense of the insensible – or, to understand the unheard bestial worlds of communication.  In this report, I draw on material from the Donald R. Griffin Papers, held at the Rockefeller Archive Center, which includes a vast array of Griffin's laboratory notebooks, correspondences, sound films, newspaper clippings, and publications. The analysis spans the years between Donald Griffin's first experiment on bat navigation in the dark (1938) – conducted during his early graduate training years – and his postwar research on the physical principles of bat pulses into the 1960s.  More specifically, I characterize the ways in which various forms of media were deployed in experimental settings to study bats and the inaudible sounds emitted by them for orienting their bodies in flight. Scientists and collaborators of the Griffin lab relied on an array of mixed media, from the sound transposing devices of Harvard physicist George W. Pierce, to mechanical-visual apparatuses such as cathode-ray oscillograms and sound spectrographs, through to hand-written laboratory notes and printed correspondences and – ultimately – the bats themselves, to answer their questions. Furthermore, I explore the epistemic techniques of listening for sound and silence in the Griffin laboratory, in which the ears and eyes of scientists interfaced with special acoustic media to produce certain knowledges about bats and their patterns of flight. This project also engages with the highly militarized scientific contexts that constituted Griffin's work on bat echolocation.

Biology and Medical Research; Donald R. Griffin Papers; Rockefeller University; Technology; World War II

Donald Redfield Griffin, American Zoologist: Report on Archival Research

January 14, 2022

Donald Redfield Griffin (1915-2003) was an American zoologist best known for his discovery of echolocation and for his later work on animal consciousness. He was a central figure in behavioral biology and sensory physiology in the United States, and he made important contributions to the disciplinary and intellectual development of animal behavior research in the second half of the twentieth century. During his early career, he focused on the sensory physiology of animal navigation. Along with fellow Harvard graduate student Robert Galambos (1914-2010), in the late 1930s, Griffin discovered the ultrasonic method of orientation in bats; in 1944, he coined the term "echolocation" to describe this phenomenon as a general method of perception. In addition to his discovery of echolocation, Griffin also made several contributions to understanding the physiological basis of bird migration and navigation, and he popularized in the United States zoologist Karl von Frisch's (1886-1982) dance language theory of the honeybee. In 1976, Griffin surprised the scientific world by raising the question of animal consciousness, a taboo in professional science for most of the twentieth century. Beginning with his provocative book, The Question of Animal Awareness (1976), Griffin devoted the second phase of his career to making animal consciousness a scientifically respectable topic once again. Here again, he made significant contributions to the study of animal behavior by establishing a new field of science, cognitive ethology, which is centered on the evolutionary and comparative analysis of consciousness and cognition in animal behavior.

Biology and Medical Research; Detlev W. Bronk Papers; Donald R. Griffin Papers; Rockefeller University

Beyond Eradication: Scientific Partnerships in Brazil and the Malaria Service of the Northeast

December 14, 2021

The study of mosquito-borne diseases, such as yellow fever and malaria, promoted an important international cooperation effort throughout the twentieth century. These activities are already well represented by a historiography dedicated to the so-called field of Rockefeller Foundation studies. Scholars have looked at the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation (IHDRF) in Brazil as one of the great promoters of this cooperation, which was frequently involved with a series of complex negotiations, setbacks, and controversies. On the other hand, few studies have explored the development of cooperation between Brazilian and American scientists regarding fieldwork and continuity of research related to medical entomology and the study of microorganisms transmitted by mosquitoes. I intend to explore how scientific cooperation between Brazilians and Americans continued in light of the many challenges. They pursued their research objectives, even after the end of the cooperative eradication campaigns promoted by IHDRF, which had specific objectives, delimited by budgets and defined steps. Such is the case with the Cooperative Yellow Fever Service (CYFS) and the Malaria Service of the Northeast (MSNE). My research has benefitted from the reports, articles, and publications found in the collections of the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) and has resulted in historical reflections on fundamental aspects of cooperation between researchers involved in IHDRF projects and on the history of mosquito-borne diseases. The research carried out at RAC has contributed to my publication of articles and important updates in a recently published book, and has also outlined plans for future projects.

Biology and Medical Research; Public Health; Rockefeller Foundation

A History of Diabetes at the Rockefeller Archive Center: The Development of Oral Hypoglycaemic Drugs and the UGDP Debate

December 3, 2021

With very generous research funding provided by the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), I was able to travel from Scotland in early August 2018.  This was my first trip to the RAC, as well as my first time in the United States.  Having just finished up at a three-month internship at the Scottish government, I was thrilled to be granted time and financial support for archival research.  This report presents a summary of my time at the RAC and how the material I accessed there has supported my thesis.  For those interested in the history of pharmacy in the second half of the twentieth century, or specifically the history of diabetes, this report provides an overview of the history of the development of the first oral anti-diabetic agents. It highlights the debate that followed one of the most contentious medical trials in the history of medicine, the University Group Diabetes Program.

Biology and Medical Research; Mass Communications; Medicine and Healthcare; The Medical Letter

The Franco-American Race for the Yellow Fever Vaccine

August 30, 2021

This paper looks at the cooperation and rivalry between the Rockefeller Foundation and the French Pasteur Institute during the development of the 17-D and Dakar vaccine strains for inoculation against yellow fever. Using sources held at the Rockefeller Archive Center, this paper recovers the tenuous relationship between the researchers funded by the two institutions, and shows how their work was shaped by national, imperial, and scientific rivalries. In the race to the yellow fever vaccine, the Pastorians, in particular, utilized their imperial network, which allowed them to bypass ethical concerns raised by researchers in Paris and elsewhere, and proceeded to human trials using a vaccine that had been criticized for its adverse neurological effects on certain subjects. 

Biology and Medical Research; International Health Board; Medicine and Healthcare; Public Health; Rockefeller Foundation

Primates and Population in Postcolonial India

January 5, 2021

In May 1963, Dr. Sheldon Segal convened a meeting of reproductive biologists at the Population Council's offices in New York City. He had called them there to consider "the possibility of concentrating efforts to increase fertility control research by means of establishing a large primate center in India." The proposal was an outgrowth of Segal's consultancy work for the Ford Foundation in New Delhi, and he was keen to pursue it. Segal regarded India – "a country with an abundant monkey supply" – as an ideal place to establish a cost-effective primate center for contraceptive research.   

Biology and Medical Research; Ford Foundation; Population Council; Population and Reproductive Sciences

Saiki Tadasu and the Making of the Global Science of Nutrition, 1900-1927

December 2, 2020

This paper examines the activities of Saiki Tadasu, a leading Japanese nutrition scientist of the early twentieth century.  According to his American counterpart, Dr. Victor G. Heiser, Saiki's work was "of great benefit to the human race."  Using a variety of sources in Japanese archives, the Rockefeller Archive Center, and the League of Nations Archives, this paper focuses on Saiki to explore Japan's role in the making of a global science of nutrition, and to map out an international network of intellectual cooperation and knowledge circulation on nutrition science during this period. Inspired by the work of Iris Borowy and Tomoko Akami, it illustrates a world of scientific knowledge-sharing about human well-being which extended geographically beyond the Atlantic world, and thematically beyond disease control. Following Saiki's lead, from 1900 to 1927, Japanese nutrition scientists contributed to growing public recognition of the importance of nutrition science and championed its global development.

Biology and Medical Research; Food and Nutrition; International Health Board; Interwar Years; John Z. Bowers Papers; Rockefeller Foundation

The Fly Room: The Invention of Genetics, the Science of Evolution

December 13, 2018

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was awarded to three scientists who studied domestic fruit flies—Drosophila melanogaster—in outer space to understand how humans have adapted to life on earth. This adaptation of fruit fly research to the farthest reaches of human experience may not seem surprising, given that they were the first animals ever brought into orbit, and have been used to study so many diverse facets of life on this planet. But how did we and the flies get here?

Biology and Medical Research; Genetics

Andrew H. Woods in China and the United States: A Medical History Study at the Rockefeller Archive Center

June 25, 2018

In 1872, Andrew H. Woods was born in Hartwood, Virginia. He obtained a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1899 and became a resident at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital after graduation. In 1900, he arrived in Canton, China, for the first time. He worked as a surgical trainee, neurologist and dermatologist at Canton Hospital. Then, he returned to the United States in 1907 and worked as an intern at a private hospital in Bryn Mawr, Philadelphia. In 1908, Woods transferred to the Pennsylvania Hospital as an anesthesiologist and also served as a neurological assistant physician at the Philadelphia hospital. Between 1908 and 1911, Woods had multiple responsibilities. He was a lecturer in neurology at the Pennsylvania Medical School, an assistant physician in neurology and an assistant physician in psychiatry at the Philadelphia Hospital. Having various roles became a feature of many clinicians in that era. Although medical science was divided into distinct subjects, the boundaries between clinical subjects were not strictly defined, especially in non-surgical departments.  So, it provided a space for many doctors to change their clinical roles. By the 20th century, clinical medicine sub-divisions were based on the organ system, and no longer classified according to clinical symptoms. Therefore, diseases in different department may show the same or similar symptoms. For example, neurological diseases could show skin symptoms. A neurologist was also a dermatologist, which was relatively easy to understand.

Academic Research and Education; Biology and Medical Research; China Medical Board, Inc.; Medicine and Healthcare

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