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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Paul Ylvisaker, “Indigenous Leadership,” and the Origins of Community Action

July 21, 2021

This report examines how Paul Ylvisaker developed his view that the development of "indigenous leadership" represented the key to solving the urban problems of the 1960s. It also looks at how that view shaped the development of the community action programs at the Ford Foundation and in the Johnson administration. I argue that his conception of what "indigenous leadership" meant and the role it should play in US urban politics was formed through a brief stint working on a Ford Foundation project in Calcutta. This conception then affected his management of early conflicts in the Ford Foundation's Gray Areas program, where community action originated. Ultimately, I argue, this story illuminates one way in which debates about community action, antipoverty policy, and urban politics in the early to mid-1960s were conditioned by Americans' competing visions of decolonization and the postcolonial world.

The Ford Foundation and India’s Planning Commission

April 8, 2021

I consulted the records of the Ford Foundation at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in January 2015 as part of research for my dissertation titled "Planned Democracy: Development, Citizenship, and the Practices of Planning in Independent India, c. 1947—1966." My research at the RAC focused on the Ford Foundation's grants towards certain projects in India. These included ones supporting research on development, the training of economists, and the funding of a computer center at the Planning Commission. These archives offered me new insights into the depth of the Ford Foundation's involvement in postcolonial India's early experiments in economic development. They were especially useful in throwing light on how non-government institutions partnered with the Indian state in its quest to ramp up its research and data capacities.

The Green Revolution’s Alignments with American Agribusiness

February 4, 2021

During the past fifteen years, a wave of Western-led development efforts has aimed to transform agriculture across Africa under the banner of the Green Revolution in Africa. These efforts build directly upon a longer history of American-led Green Revolution development projects, that began with the Rockefeller Foundation-sponsored efforts in Mexico in the 1940s and 1950s. While the early Green Revolution programs that began in Mexico and expanded throughout much of Latin America and Asia during the 1960s were largely public sector-led projects, today's Green Revolution involves a growing number of public-private partnerships between national and international development organizations and multinational corporations. My research at the Rockefeller Archive Center aimed to provide historical context for the development of the "partnership paradigm" in contemporary agricultural development. In what ways, I ask, do public-private partnerships either extend or depart from previous Green Revolution projects? While today public sector researchers often collaborate with colleagues in the private sector, how did the early Green Revolutionaries understand their efforts in relation to commercial agribusiness? While scholars have persuasively argued that the Green Revolution was resolutely capitalist in its orientation—indeed, the "Green" in Green Revolution was originally coined to suggest that American-led capitalist agricultural development would serve as a buffer against the expansion of a "Red" communist revolution in the Third World—few scholars have traced how and where early Green Revolution programs aligned with US agribusiness interests. In this research report, I survey some initial findings from my archival research along these lines.

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.   

The Ford Foundation and Post-Independence Indian Theatre

July 15, 2020

With the research stipend from the Rockefeller Archive Center, initially, my intended research was to focus on theatre in Palestine. While Palestinian theatre is a worthwhile subject, I found that the Rockefeller Archive Center had a greater volume of archived records pertaining to theatre in India. As a result, I embarked on research with a concentration on the work of philanthropic organizations and their role in the India's cultural development in the latter half of the twentieth century. Thus, I reconstructed a narrative of the history of the Indian theatre.

Management, Modernity and Nation-Building: The Contested Histories of Management Education in India

June 17, 2020

The United States has been at the forefront of globalization of research and education in the field of Management. US business schools and philanthropic foundations, most notably the Ford Foundation, have led the institutionalisation of management research and education institutions across the globe. In the global histories of Management, there has been a long-standing interest in interrogating US influence on management theory, curricula, pedagogy, and practices of knowledge production. Commonly understood as Americanization, these global histories of management have mapped the diverse and particular historical trajectories of the field in various parts of the globe, most notably western Europe, the Mediterranean, Brazil, and India. (See, for example: contributions to a symposium issue of Journal of Management Inquiry, led by Üsdiken 2004; also see Gemelli 1998, Srinivas 2008, among others.)

The Ford Foundation and Visions of Urban Development in 1960s India

March 26, 2020

My PhD dissertation, "Global Townscape: The Rediscovery of Urban Life in the Late Twentieth Century," is a history of the Townscape movement, a British urban planning movement that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s and emphasized mixed-use planning, urban density, and the "life of the street." In its focus on vernacular, human-scale urbanism, Townscape echoed the ideas of American scholar and activist Jane Jacobs, whose 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (published the same year as Townscape, the movement's seminal text), outlined a similar vision of urban intricacy.

Environment, Disease and Medicine in Eastern India, 1900-1950s: Changes in Bengal’s Western Frontier

August 19, 2019

Since the 1990s, there has been considerable research on the histories of the environment and of medicine in India. These studies address wide-ranging issues such as environmental change since pre-colonial times, changing livelihoods, contestations and negotiations between 'Western' and 'Indian' medical practices, the treatment of epidemics, women's health, British colonial medical policies and the history of medical institutions. However, there has been much less research on health and disease among India's Adivasi or 'tribal' population. Similarly, there have been few studies which explore the interaction of environment, health and medical history of people living in the margins.  My research project seeks to address this lacuna and investigates the relationship between environmental change, emerging diseases, and health practices in eastern and central India. Specifically, it concentrates on the Chotanagpur Division and Santal Pargana districts which formed part of the Bengal Presidency under British colonial rule, and which today are incorporated within the Indian state of Jharkhand. Taking a long-term view, the project explores the fluid connection between landscape and health in pre-modern Adivasi society and analyses the interface between indigenous cultural beliefs and the state's medical intervention in colonial and post-colonial India.

American Seed Business, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Indian Seed Development in the 1960s

July 18, 2019

Many stories about green revolutions in South America and Asia revolve around the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation and their seed research. The materials of the Rockefeller Archive Center have proven to be a rich source for researchers studying the influence of foreign policy actors on agricultural development policy in the Global South. Yet, this research has not included multinational corporations as potential partners of U.S. foreign policy makers and philanthropic foundations in the dissemination of ideas and practices of 'modern agriculture'. This is linked to the understanding of the dissemination of Green Revolution seeds as the spread of a public good. My research has revealed that this was not always the case. It shows that ideas of seed accessibility as a public good competed with ideas and ideals of an effective market economy. Following the ideal of the superiority of a free market, some of the staff of the Rockefeller Foundation in India valued highly the participation of private corporations in their projected ability to effectively organize and market goods. In order to drive technological change in Indian agriculture, especially in maize cultivation, the Rockefeller Foundation relied on U.S. seed companies to increase hybrid seed production. In doing so, the Rockefeller Foundation acted similar to a chamber of commerce by establishing contacts for U.S. corporations with government officials in the US and India, and actively recruited and advised companies to enter the Indian market.

Women and Medicine in Early Twentieth Century India: A Study on the Intervention of the Rockefeller Foundation (with Special Reference to Public Health Nursing)

November 6, 2018

The early twentieth century saw a shift in the perspectives and policies related to medical care in India. In place of hospital care, preventive public health initiatives became more and more important. In this context, health education for individuals including enhancing consciousness for sanitation and hygiene, and protecting maternal and child health received greater attention than before. In the changing international scenario of the early twentieth century, improvements in maternal and infant health became matters of world-wide interest. Increasing imperial rivalries and anxieties about the future health condition of the children of army men, to some extent, prompted certain measures aimed at improving the health of mothers and children through adoption of public health measures. Child welfare movements developed in different parts of the world. In India, health policies of both colonial administrative personnel and administrators in native princely states, efforts of voluntary non-governmental agencies, as well as activities of international philanthropic organisations all played crucial roles in developing these new kinds of public health sensibilities and initiatives. The views expressed by the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) and the role it played in this respect remain significant.

Capital City: Local Businesses and Global Development Institutions in Calcutta’s Economic Decline

October 11, 2018

When the Ford Foundation entered India in 1951, its focus was overwhelmingly rural. As its presence expanded over time, it branched out to other areas such as education and culture, small-scale industrial development, manpower and management, population control and family planning, and technical training. Historians of development and U.S. foreign relations have over the past decade explored various facets of the foundation's activities in India. However, thus far, its role in the urban sphere in India and perhaps even globally has not received much scholarly attention. I began my research at the Rockefeller Archive Center in September 2017, with the intention of studying a very specific urban project in India: the Ford Foundation's planning assistance to Calcutta (now Kolkata) from 1961 to 1974, then India's largest and industrially most important city. Given the lack of secondary references on this topic, I came in with some basic questions. 1) Why did the Ford Foundation get involved in Calcutta's urban renewal project? 2) What was the nature of the Foundation's involvement? More specifically, was it a grant for training or simply a planning program? At that stage in my dissertation research, I had hoped to have a chapter on the Ford Foundation and use it as a contrast to study the response of locally-based Indian and British businesses to Calcutta's civic and infrastructural problems, which had started to make international headlines by the late 1950s. In fact, my main focus was on Calcutta's businesses. However, as I will chart out in this report, the archival materials at the RAC persuaded me to reorient and broaden my core research questions and framework.

Understanding Subordinate Healthcare in Colonial Madras: Shift in Women and Rural Healthcare (1918-1932)

April 26, 2018

My research at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC henceforth) in June 2016 was part of my doctoral research on the history of urban and rural healthcare services in colonial Madras. The collections at the RAC were important for me as I am examining health services ranging from 1880 to the 1930s, thus including a good part of the inter-war period. Once I finished my research at British and Indian archives, on the advice of my advisor, I wanted to follow with a research visit to the RAC.  The goals of my RAC research agenda consisted of two components: first, understanding colonial rule from a different perspective and, second and more importantly, consulting the diaries and personal papers of the officers who visited India, along with their official Rockefeller Foundation (henceforth RF) documentation. While writing the initial drafts of my dissertation, I became interested in understanding the relationships forged between individuals (British, Indian and also American), institutions and exchange of ideas in the single presidency of Madras. The diaries of the RF officers in India, particularly of William S. Carter, along with the records on rural health and nursing, will shape my thesis significantly by playing perfectly the role of 'informed outsiders' in this context. I have also been delighted to identify materials on women's health at the RAC, which has been an under-researched area in the context of colonial south India. All of these kinds of source materials are particularly valuable, given the scarcity of detailed reports and documents of the inter-war medical changes in colonial India.

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