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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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

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

“Developing” Intellectuals in Cold War Burma: The Production of The Atlantic's 1958 Country Supplement

July 28, 2023

This report features part of an article I am working on about development, soft power, and Cold War competition in 1950s Burma and Indonesia, from the perspective of Burmese and Indonesian intellectuals and artists.  It tells the backstory of the production of The Atlantic's 1958 supplement on Burma, one of several country supplements the Ford Foundation produced throughout the 1950s as part of its Intercultural Publications project. James Laughlin's reports in the Ford Foundation archives reveal the fascinating backstory of the issue and the agency of intellectuals within Cold War development programs, while pointing to the neglected role of "culture" in the history of development.  

Cold War; Ford Foundation; Journalism

The 1963 Ford Foundation Program for Film Makers and the Networks of Experimental Cinema

May 12, 2023

In June 1963, the Ford Foundation's Humanities and the Arts program sent out a call for nominations for their Program for Film Makers. Nine months later, in March 1964, twelve American filmmakers received grants of 10,000 dollars "to enable a limited number of creative film makers to extend and deepen their artistic experience and productivity." The documents surrounding the creation and development of this one-time grant in support of experimental filmmaking reveal the challenges facing private foundations engaged with an evolving and diverse art form. Furthermore, they counter a representation of experimental filmmaking as individualistic and author-centered by uncovering networks of support among artists and the cultural milieu that sustained their works.

Film; Ford Foundation; Rockefeller Foundation

The Ford Foundation, Psychometric Experts, and the Dissemination of Aptitude Testing for College Admission in Latin America during the Cold War

April 28, 2023

This report reconstructs the largely unexplored development of a Latin American network of psychometric experts during the Cold War, which was promoted, funded, and organized by private non-profit US-American organizations, such as the Ford Foundation, the Educational Testing Service, and the College Board. The establishment of this network enabled the dissemination of psychometric knowledge and technologies, and the introduction of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) as a college admissions test in several Latin American countries. The dissemination mechanisms of these bodies included the organization of a Workshop in Test Construction for Foreign Scholars, training instances on educational measurement and testing offered in Princeton, New Jersey, to scholars from developing countries; the establishment of testing dissemination centers in South and Central America; and the institution of a Latin American branch of the College Board in Puerto Rico. This dissemination and networking process was triggered and catalyzed by a global discourse coalition that defined a global crisis in higher education admissions due to the rapid expansion of primary and secondary education.

Academic Research and Education; Cold War; Ford Foundation

Academic and Architectural Modernization for Development: Financial and Technical Assistance to the University of Concepción, Chile, 1956–1968

March 16, 2023

The following research is part of my ongoing dissertation project, which examines the planning, design, and construction of university campuses vis-à-vis the intensification of mining and oil extraction in South America between 1945 and 1975. In this report, I offer a brief overview of the technical and financial assistance that the Ford Foundation (FF), the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), and the UN Special Fund (UNSF) gave to one of my case studies, the Universidad de Concepción (UdeC), located in mineral-rich Chile. Multiple holdings at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) reveal that these organizations provided significant aid to the UdeC between 1956 and 1968—a critical period during which the technical and financial assistance programs of the US became entangled with a national developmentalist agenda that tied scientific and engineering education to economic development. The RAC holdings I explore are extremely useful in understanding the geopolitical and economic context that shaped these aid programs, the UdeC's modernization efforts, and the agendas of the multiple actors involved in this process. The textual and visual documents I analyze also underscore the critical role that modern architecture played in all of this as an enabler of the academic reform and the economic transformation of the region, and as a persuasive signifier of "development."

Academic Research and Education; Ford Foundation; Rockefeller Foundation

The Ford Foundation’s 1970s Program for School Finance Reform: Origins and Overview

October 13, 2022

As a foundation, Ford tried different approaches to ameliorate social problems.  For example, the Ford Foundation both funded community control of schools to make local fundraising easier and lawsuits to equalize state resources during the late 1960s.  Yet, the ideas behind the Ford Foundation's public education grantmaking conflicted: Should democracy be based on voting or participation? Should schools be run by the community or by experts? Should legislatures volunteer or courts require school finance reform?  From the start of its influential school finance grantmaking in 1969, Ford funded policy ideas rather than political action, looking to the courts for top-down orders to end the discriminatory use of property taxes to fund schools.  The foundation pursued two strategies: supporting groups reforming discriminatory school finance and building "intellectual strength."

Education; Ford Foundation; Taconic Foundation

Berlin, a “Hollow Shell”: The City as a “Laboratory Study” - A Report on the Ford Foundation’s Cultural and Artistic Projects in Post-war Berlin

September 23, 2022

Throughout the Cold War, American philanthropic organisations founded new institutions and supported already established institutions in West Berlin. They became essential players in the cultural life of the Western part of the former German capital. After a disastrous war and the dismemberment of Germany, the ex-capital Berlin, however, continued to exist – to employ a term of a British diplomat – as a "city on leave." Partly destroyed, disconnected from the "economic miracle" ("Wirtschaftswunder") of West Germany, and dependent for its survival on material assistance from the Federal Republic, the city nevertheless gained symbolic importance in the ideological conflict between the Soviet Union and the West. On a military level, the city was, as the French political scientist Raymond Aron put it, just a "glacis" in the Cold War's confrontations. But as a cultural outpost of Western democratic countries, the city obtained importance as a showcase for new artistic movements and cultural tendencies.

Cold War; Ford Foundation; Humanities; Rockefeller Foundation

The Ford Foundation and the National Committee on United States-China Relations: How They Assisted Chinese Economic Reforms during the 1980s

July 8, 2022

This research report summarizes my research experience at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in July 2017. I went to RAC to collect records related to the activities organized by the National Committee on United States-China Relations (NCUSCR) and the Ford Foundation to support the People's Republic of China's (PRC) post-1978 economic reforms. I incorporated a significant amount of materials from these records into my PhD dissertation, which analyzes how different American institutions, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), assisted and encouraged China's economic transition during the 1980s.The documents I found were extremely helpful in my effort to reconstruct and analyze the activities and the exchanges the NCUSCR and the Ford Foundation undertook with China during the 1980s. Furthermore, the records also clarified the motivations behind this assistance, revealing not only a genuine desire on the part of the two organizations to learn more about the PRC's economic outlook but also driven by an interest to disseminate ideas that these NGOs believed were necessary to strengthen a world in which liberalism and democracy would dominate. 

Detente; Economics; Ford Foundation; National Committee on United States-China Relations

Cultivating Moderates: East-West Exchanges and International Influences on Poland’s Transition to Democracy

May 13, 2022

Beginning in the 1950s, American nongovernmental organizations and US government agencies sponsored exchange programs to bring Eastern European scientists, humanists, scholars, and professionals to Western Europe and the United States, in the belief that exposure to the West would pull East Europeans toward democratic capitalism and undermine communist power. Four decades later in 1989, Poles from both government and opposition groups sat together at a round table to negotiate a transformation from one-party communist rule to capitalist democracy. But did these trips and experiences influence how political elites sought to reform their society at the end of the Cold War? Put most broadly, can pathways of influence and shifts in perception within specific epistemic communities be measured, mapped, and visualized to better illustrate and understand exogenous influences on the democratization process in Eastern Europe?This interdisciplinary project combines traditional, archivally-based qualitative techniques used by historians with digital network analysis tools to better understand the complex, overlapping networks of political revolution and international exchange that came together during the Round Table negotiations in Warsaw in 1989.

Cold War; Ford Foundation; International Relations; Rockefeller Foundation

Designing a Pictorial Language: Rudolf Modley’s Search for Philanthropic Support for the Development of a Universal System of Symbols

May 3, 2022

In 1966, acclaimed cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, and graphic designer Rudolf Modley established the nonprofit Glyphs, Inc., to advance the research, classification, and promotion of universal graphic symbols around the world. Creating a visual language and system of symbols, they believed, could transcend language and lead to greater international understanding and harmony. But despite their esteemed records and vast international contacts, Mead and Modley's ambitious and utopian vision was never fully realized, stalled by lack of financing, unclear and unrealistic goals, differences over philosophy and methodology, and competition and criticism from other comparable endeavors. The correspondence, memos, proposals and reports available in the Rockefeller Archive Center holdings -- notably those of the Ford Foundation (and its affiliate, the Fund for the Advancement of Education), the Rockefeller Foundation (specifically those of the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board), and the Russell Sage Foundation -- provide rich insight into the journey and obstacles faced by Rudolf Modley in raising philanthropic support for his ambitious vision in the decades leading up to the formation of Glyphs, Inc. They shed light on the competing effort of renowned industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss to create an international dictionary of symbols, their differing methods and approach, and their lack of familiarity as designers with the nuances of raising philanthropic funds for their ambitious endeavor. Both Modley and Dreyfuss would go on to publish seminal books on graphic and pictorial symbols in the 1970s, but their tireless efforts to garner support from philanthropic foundations were fraught with false starts and disappointments.

Ford Foundation; General Education Board; Humanities; Rockefeller Foundation; Russell Sage Foundation

Red Scare Recovery: The Ford Foundation’s Role in Rescuing China after McCarthyism

March 9, 2022

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, McCarthyism blighted the American intellectual landscape. The search for communists and communist sympathizers destroyed the careers of many scholars whose work touched on sensitive or controversial topics. It was exactly this "multistranded nature of McCarthyism" that made it so vexing for its antagonists and has made it such fertile ground for historians.

Academic Research and Education; Cold War; Ford Foundation; Rockefeller Foundation

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