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Berlin, a “Hollow Shell”: The City as a “Laboratory Study” - A Report on the Ford Foundation’s Cultural and Artistic Projects in Post-war BerlinSeptember 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.
Designing a Pictorial Language: Rudolf Modley’s Search for Philanthropic Support for the Development of a Universal System of SymbolsMay 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.
When Siegfried Kracauer arrived in the United States in May 1941 aboard the Nyassa, he was one of countless German émigrés to have narrowly escaped the Nazi conquest of Europe. By the time of his death a quarter century later, Kracauer had found his footing in the American scene, having published significant contributions to the emerging discipline of film studies (From Caligari to Hitler, 1947; Theory of Film, 1960). He had been hard at work on a monograph about the craft of the historian, which would be published posthumously as History: The Last Things Before the Last (1969). How did this exile gain his bearings upon disembarking in New York Harbor? What were the waystations? Who provided the helping hands? Where did Kracauer turn?
Cross-Cultural Communication Theory: Basic English and Machine Translation at the Rockefeller FoundationDecember 19, 2019
My goal in conducting research at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) was to identify the ways in which both the Rockefeller (RF) and Ford Foundations (FF) conceived of the relationship between literature and computing in their programs at mid-century. This research is central to my book project, Machine Talk: Literature, Computers and Conversation. In what follows, I lay out the background of this project and a research context that has often highlighted the intertwined emergence of computing and communication theory—and ignored the contributions made by the humanities to the development of this concept. I turn specifically to the RF Humanities Division, outlining its role in supporting early research into theories of communication—particularly cross-cultural communication—which would prove vital to the post-World War Two development of communication theory in the sciences.
On February 29, 1968, readers of the New York Review of Books would encounter a stirring indictment of the United States of America: In an open letter, titled "On Leaving America," and addressed to Wesleyan University president Edwin D. Etherington, the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger publicly renounced a fellowship that sponsored his stay at the school. America's activities in Vietnam made it so that Enzensberger could no longer accept the support from Wesleyan, while millions of Vietnamese suffered. Instead, the politically committed writer would take to Cuba to see if he could somehow contribute to its revolutionary transformation. "Verbal opposition is today in danger of becoming a harmless spectator sport, licensed, well-regulated and, up to a point, even encouraged by the powerful," Enzensberger writes in conclusion. Supported by a respectable American institution of higher learning, Enzensberger felt disarmed in his opposition, adding that "the mere fact of my being here on these terms would devalue whatever I might have to say."
The purpose of my research at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) was to identify the ways that American philanthropic foundations' arts-focused initiatives connected to social science programs for modernizing the Middle East in the 1950s. This research is a central component of my forthcoming book, Metrics of Modernity: Art and Development in 1950s Turkey. At the Rockefeller Archive Center, I found that John Marshall, Associate Director for the Humanities at the Rockefeller Foundation, was unusually forward-thinking in his belief that arts-focused philanthropy could help drive development in the Middle East. In what follows, I argue that the Turkish ceramicist Füreya Koral, to whom Marshall offered one of the foundation's very first artist's fellowships in 1956, served as a test case for Marshall's hypothesis that the modern artist had an important role to play in the modernization of the Middle East.
This project examines the politics motivating the expansion and institutionalization of the fields of foreign language study and American studies in the United States and internationally during the Cold War. Both fields were considered to be ancillary to the United States's assumption of an international leadership role in the postwar years, and were mobilized as front lines in the Cold War. American studies faculty taught other scholars, students, and members of the public about the nation so that they would, in turn, convey their knowledge about it to colleagues and compatriots. Language scholars, in turn, championed foreign language study as a means of resisting political isolationism. By demonstrating the myriad ways that scholars in these fields used their teaching, scholarship, and administrative efforts to complement official U.S. efforts to win "hearts and minds" around the world, I reveal how these fields functioned, in effect, as vehicles for soft power from the 1950s through the 1970s, even as they expanded the practical reach and prominence of the humanities both domestically and abroad.
In 1927, the Library of Congress (LOC) started a comprehensive project of copying manuscripts related to the history of the United States and the Americas, stored in the libraries, archives and museums of several European countries. Internally referred to as "Project A", research assistants ventured out in order to select and superintend the systematic photographing of masses of documents preserved in institutional and private collections throughout Europe. Project A was financed through a substantial grant from the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) for an initial period of seven years and resulted in over three million still images. The LOC made ample use of microphotography, a photographic technique that was not new, but subject to major improvements starting in the 1920s. These improvements concerned the camera and projector technology as well as the development of fire-resistant celluloid acetate film as a purportedly stable image carrier. Compared to manual copying and earlier forms of reproduction photography, such as Photostat duplication, the storage of visual data on light-weight and flexible 16mm, 35mm and 70mm film rolls enabled the reproduction of entire books, journals, newspapers, individual documents or bits of information.
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