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“Developing” Intellectuals in Cold War Burma: The Production of The Atlantic's 1958 Country SupplementJuly 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.
Life magazine's vast networks and the connections and collaborations between its editors and museum trustees, collectors, curators, critics, and artists at a wide range of institutions led to some of the most fascinating and innovative exhibitions, magazine articles, and programs in the mid-century American art world.
A central figure in the General Education Board's effort to improve the lot of southern African Americans was Jackson Davis (1882-1947), a white Virginian who emerged from post-Reconstruction southern society to intervene in the educational disparity that disadvantaged Black school children. Informed by progressive graduate training from Columbia Teachers College, Davis worked in Virginia in the early decades of the twentieth century to secure opportunities for Black teachers and pupils within the emerging separate-but-unequal system of education in the South. That is not to say that Davis, who was directly affiliated with the GEB from 1915 until his death, supported the racial integration of schools, only that he recognized the detriment inherent in under-resourced education for African American children, whose facilities were usually poor and teachers often inadequately trained. As we position Davis's significant contribution within the GEB's program of African American outreach and funding, we must acknowledge him as a white man of a specific time and place but with distinct professional, and perhaps personal, experiences that shaped his views on race and most likely influenced the perspectives of his GEB colleagues.
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