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

Blanchette Rockefeller, Engaged Leadership, and MoMA, 1949-1987

December 12, 2022

This essay aims to highlight Blanchette Rockefeller's leadership style, which emphasized artistic appreciation, collaborative leadership, and institution building. As both a prominent donor to the museum as well as a fixture in leadership during the mid-twentieth century, Mrs. Rockefeller's leadership style falls somewhere between what we would think of as philanthropy and management. Not coincidentally, her husband, John D. Rockefeller 3rd, was engaged with public institutions in the sphere of Asia-US cultural and social relations and pioneered a type of philanthropy denominated "venture philanthropy," which entailed an intellectual and social commitment to favored causes that complemented financial support.[i] In some sense, Blanchette's approach to leadership drew on three key areas: an intellectual emphasis, evident in her passion for promoting artistic appreciation; a social component, manifest in her use of collaborative efforts to advance the mission of MoMA; and, finally, an investment of time, which arguably, in addition to financial support, represented a scarce resource she lavished on the various programs and institutions that she was called to pioneer within MoMA.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Papers; Art; Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Papers; David Rockefeller Papers; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Rockefeller Family

Friends in Foreign Places: International Understanding in Post-War Civil Society

August 19, 2022

My project seeks to understand the changing practices and discourses of internationalism within post-war British and American civil society. The practices of international friendship—with their emphasis on people-to-people connections—form a crucial but understudied part of the picture of postwar internationalism. My aim with this project is to address the neglect of the "everyday" by using international friendship projects as a window onto discourses and practices of internationalism. In doing so, it will contribute to new and emerging research on the role of emotion and intimacy in shaping transnational relationships. This report explores these issues in relation to three initiatives that sought or received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in the mid- to late 1950s: the Experiment in International Living (a youth exchange program), the Asia Society for cultural and educational exchange, and Eisenhower's expansive but poorly focused People to People Program.

John D. Rockefeller 3rd Papers; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Rockefeller Family; Rockefeller Foundation

Black Land, Black Power, and Liberal Philanthropy

November 9, 2021

The late 1960s saw a revival of the "land question" in African American public life. This was in part a product of the political and intellectual upheavals of the late 1960s, as exponents of the Black Power movement cited the desirability of economic empowerment, institution building, and consciousness-raising as preconditions of nationhood. Liberal philanthropies, such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Ford Foundation, and others, were central funders of a variety of land-based activism in the rural South, reshaping the process and limits of African American-led rural development initiatives in the region.

African American Studies; Agrarian and Rural; Ford Foundation; Rockefeller Brothers Fund

“Food-Space-Energy Problems”: The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the New Alchemy Institute, and the Emergence of Ecological Design in the 1970s

June 3, 2021

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) initiated its Environmental Program out of long-standing work in conservation and population in 1974. Driven by the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, famines, and the emergence of scientific research into the limits of the earth's resources, the RBF funded organizations that looked for ways to help humans live less destructively on a threatened planet. Its support helped usher in the rise of ecological design through its grant program, funding organizations focused on environmental lifestyles, agricultural practices, and renewable energy technologies. This research report explores the relationship between one such organization, the New Alchemy Institute, and the RBF during that decade. It suggests that the RBF played a critical role in providing networking opportunities and encouraging groups to strengthen their scientific investigations. While RBF support remained strong for nearly ten years, by the end of the 1970s, the Fund began looking towards "middleground" solutions to agricultural and ecological problems. It founded the American Farmland Trust in 1980 and turned most of its agricultural funding towards that institution. The RBF also increasingly sought to support international eco-development. Such changes in granting objectives pushed ecological design groups to shift away from their social critiques and towards international work and an embrace of ecological economics. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, therefore, facilitated both the success of an alternative technology movement and aided its transition into the mainstream.

Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Researching Human Rights at the Rockefeller Archive Center

April 23, 2021

This report details my January 2014 visit to the Rockefeller Archive Center.  My research agenda was to investigate how and why the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund supported nongovernmental organizations focused on international violations of human rights.  During my time at the Center, I explored two principal topics.  First, I searched records related to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund's support for the International League for Human Rights, Amnesty International USA, Freedom House, and the American Civil Liberties Union, four nongovernmental organizations whose human rights activism was central to my research.  Second, my visit enabled me to explore the broader role played by the Ford Foundation in supporting human rights organizations in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ford Foundation; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Rockefeller Family

Lost in Translation? US Foundations as Mediators between US Interests and the International Climate Policy Space

September 2, 2020

Given their historic ties with US foreign policy circles, their longstanding commitment to the amicable resolution of national differences, and their active role in forging an international climate regime and attendant "civil society," US foundations were ideally positioned to mediate between US domestic and foreign policy interests, and the international climate policy space. The study of their involvement in the international climate debate provides important insights into how US domestic politics feeds into the international climate policy process and, more specifically, how the alignment of international negotiations on the US position helped deliver the Paris outcome. Drawing on archival material from the Rockefeller Archive Center, this report looks at how philanthropic foundations' early involvement in the international climate debate was affected by domestic issues in the United States.

Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Rockefeller Foundation

Report on Research on the Rockefeller Foundation and American Psychiatry

May 28, 2020

I am working on a history of the psychiatric profession in the United States during the long twentieth century – roughly speaking from 1900 to the present. Any such history must perforce take account of the enormous role the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) played in shaping developments in the middle decades of this century. Though Rockefeller support for some aspects of psychiatry began in the nineteen-teens and –twenties (for example with support for the work of Thomas Salmon at the National Committee on Mental Hygiene, and as part of the more general support for the Institute of Human Relations at Yale), at the beginning of the 1930s, psychiatry was elevated to the major focus of the Medical Sciences division of the Rockefeller Foundation, and under Alan Gregg, the RF poured resources into both supporting individual researchers in the field, and underwriting academic departments to upgrade the training of future generations of psychiatrists.

Commonwealth Fund; Medicine and Healthcare; Mental Health; Psychiatry; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Rockefeller Foundation

African Students in the United States: Circulations, Politics and Transfers in the Global 60s

May 19, 2020

When more than thirty African countries gained independence in the early 1960s, most of them faced a shortage of qualified manpower to implement their new national projects. The colonial powers had often excluded the vast majority of Africans from higher education, allowing them only to obtain technical qualifications and rarely the skills to become managers. Higher education for Africans was therefore one of the most important issues for the continent's leaders in the aftermath of independence. This goal was also important in the United States: philanthropic foundations, academics, civil rights activists, and politicians, each for different reasons, wanted to participate in the education of the new African elites. The convergence of the interests of these African and American actors led to the creation of two scholarship programs, the African Scholarship Program of American Universities (ASPAU) in 1961 and the African Graduate Fellowship Program (AFGRAD) in 1963. These two programs, which continued until the 1990s, together enabled more than 4,000 young people from 45 African countries to study in the United States.

Academic Research and Education; Education; Ford Foundation; Rockefeller Brothers Fund

The American Legal Programs in Brazil: From Modernization Theory to Human Rights

September 17, 2019

The year 2014 marked 50 years since the civil-military coup in Brazil, on March 31, 1964. Recently, Brazilian historiography has been devoting a renewed interest in this period of the military rule in the country (1964-1985). A common element in the analyses that have developed identifies a significant role for the rule of law-human rights movement in the country, from which it would have been possible to form a systematic opposition to the Brazilian dictatorship that would lead to the transition to democracy. Nevertheless, there is still an existing gap in this discussion about the Brazilian rule of law-human rights movement, which relates to a consistent analysis of the network of politics and practices, connected to the field of law in Western countries since World War II. It is my premise that this analysis will facilitate a better comprehension of the Brazilian transition and its historical connections with the "Global North." The philanthropic foundations played a significant role in promoting this network. My research contributes by filling in aspects of this gap in the Brazilian debate, and provides an analysis of the role played in the rule of law-human rights international movement by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the programs of philanthropic foundations concerning the field of law directed to Latin American countries.

Ford Foundation; Law; Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Personalities at Work: Psychological Testing and the Work Ethic in America, 1940-1980

August 2, 2019

I conducted research at the Rockefeller Archive Center for my dissertation and current book project on the history of psychological testing in American business. My work has examined the network of psychologists and management experts who developed and implemented personality tests, such as the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The Rockefeller Archive Center was a crucial site to understand the origins, spread, and influence of personality tests. As a historian of science and business, I sought to understand the translations and circulations of research between psychologists and business. I focused particularly on the way that research into personality and work refracted existing social inequalities and biases of race and gender, at the same time that researchers sought to counter inequality through psychological testing. Both the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations funded research in personality psychology and in management that studied the psychological capacities associated with creative and managerial work. In particular, these two foundations both provided direct grants to four key organizations discussed in this report: Berkeley's Institute for Personality Assessment and Research (IPAR), Educational Testing Service (ETS), the Opportunities Industrialization Commission (OIC), and the Public Agenda Foundation (PAF). IPAR and ETS were especially important as early sites for research and publications on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test whose history I examine in my project. OIC and PAF both conducted research and implemented training programs that linked motivational psychology to the work ethic. All four organizations were important sites for studying the personality traits associated with work in 20th-century America.

Ford Foundation; Psychology; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Rockefeller Foundation; Social Sciences

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