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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Research Ethics and Professionalism on the Line: A Critical Analysis of Rockefeller Foundation Support of Neurosciences in Nazi Europe, 1933-1945

January 5, 2023

The Nazi movement, heavily rooted in eugenics, caused the persecution and exile of hundreds of neuroscientists. Additionally, eugenic research took place in Nazi Germany with the motivation of improving the so-called "German race" through elimination of hereditary neurological diseases. With the advent of illegal killing of neuropsychiatric patients after World War II started, those patients could be used unethically as research subjects. Thus, neuroscience was at the heart of immoral and unethical activities in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) supported at least twenty exiled academic neuroscientists who either had prior RF support, or who showed "merit" to justify their being awarded limited funds to restart their careers abroad. The RF also supported eugenic neuroscientific research in Nazi Germany (and Denmark) despite escalating racial persecution in pre-war Germany. Some RF funds went to an institute which was also funded by the elite Nazi paramilitary group, the SS. And, an initially RF-funded project, a monkey farm in Würzburg, was used in unethical experiments to prove the cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) with subjects targeted for killing. Overall, the RF walked a fine line between supporting some victims of Nazi persecution, while ironically continuing to fund some neuroscientific research that could be linked to their persecution in the first place, or to destruction of neuropsychiatric patients. While supporting academic refugees was laudable, there was an undercurrent of supporting "best science" without regard for the ethical implications, from which current neuroscientists and others can learn valuable lessons.

Alfred E. Cohn Papers; Biology and Medical Research; Commonwealth Fund; Eugenics; Refugee Scholars; Rockefeller Foundation; Rockefeller University; World War II

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

Eradicating Misunderstandings? The Institute of International Education, Student Exchanges and Transatlantic Relations in the 1920s

November 29, 2018

The project explores a novel and increasingly prominent field of German-American relations in the 1920s, student exchanges. It traces the ambitions attached to these exchanges by U.S. internationalists (especially the Institute of International Education) and German revisionists (especially the German Academic Exchange Service) and explores how these two groups hoped to achieve their objectives. It shows that it was primarily through two mechanisms, i.e. the careful selection of exchange students as well as a concerted hospitality on campus, that both sides sought to maximize the educational and political gains of these exchanges. In all, it argues that student exchanges were an important but often neglected cultural dimension of interwar transatlantic relations, which set seminal patterns in a new field of international relations as well as facilitated the German-American rapprochement after the First World War.

Academic Research and Education; Education; Institute of International Education; International Relations; Interwar Years

Radio Research and Refugee Scholars: American Philanthropies Respond to the European Crisis before the War, 1933-39

July 19, 2018

University presidents and foundation administrators in the United States viewed the global refugee crisis precipitated by Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933 as a serious humanitarian disaster in need of immediate attention.  It was also, in their view, a historic opportunity to salvage the great minds of Central Europe.  For the officers of the Rockefeller Foundation, the crisis coincided with an increasing interest in sponsoring studies on radio and mass communications, public opinion, and the vulnerabilities of Western democracies to fascism.  Many European social scientists, with their background in empirical research, were ideally suited to study these problems.  The sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld, for example, chose to remain in the U.S. as a Rockefeller fellow when fascism took hold in his native Austria in 1934, and he went on to become the head of a major research institute at Columbia University.This paper considers the efforts of American citizens, academic elites, and foundation officers to aid refugee scholars and researchers by placing them at American institutions and supporting their work through grants and other forms of aid.  Officers in the Humanities and Social Sciences divisions of the Rockefeller Foundation, working in concert with the leaders of organizations like the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, were instrumental in supporting these émigrés and their work in the United States.  The Emergency Committee, with the financial assistance of the Rockefeller Foundation, assisted more than six-hundred refugee scholars with securing university appointments and grants over its twelve years of existence.

Academic Research and Education; Alfred E. Cohn Papers; Education; General Education Board; Institute of International Education; Mass Communications; Radio; Refugee Scholars; Rockefeller Foundation; Rockefeller University; Social Sciences

U.S. Foundations in Weimar Germany: Asymmetries and Misunderstandings

January 1, 2013

The research period that I spent at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), generously supported by a RAC Grant-In-Aid, provided important information toward the completion of my dissertation on "Conceptions of Civil Society during the Weimar Republic: Civil Discourse, Leadership Principle, and People's Community." The files I have consulted at the RAC complement the material I have already analyzed at the Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany) on the "German College for Politics," (Deutsche Hochschule für Politik or DHfP) which was supported by the Laura Spelmann Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM) and the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) in the inter-war period. I will be able to fully evaluate the implications of the records of the RAC once I complete the investigation of additional archival material from other German archives -- Staatsbibliothek Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Landesarchiv Berlin, and Deutsches Bundesarchiv.

Interwar Years; Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial; Rockefeller Foundation

U.S. Foundations and Scientific Funding in West Germany, 1945 to the mid-1970s

January 1, 2012

My project seeks to reconstruct and explain to what extent and how U.S. foundations strove to further democratic values and practices in West German academia. It also assesses the impact of these American initiatives on the consolidation of West German democracy beyond its institutional framework and its constitutional foundation, the Basic Law. In particular, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations attempted to ingrain values that were amenable to a vibrant, pluralist civil society into West Germany's community of scholars. Beyond exploring the relationship between philanthropy and democracy, the project seeks to reassess concepts of "Americanization." This process is to be conceived of as an ensemble of non-linear, multilateral, selective and thus limited appropriations according to the needs of the receiving society. This complex relationship has been underestimated in research, not least by advocates of diffusion theory that highlight the preconditions of transfers, but underestimate "the autonomy of the receiving subject as well as the bilateral character of transatlantic communication."

The Primacy of the Political: The Rockefeller Foundation and post WW II Germany

January 1, 2011

As part of its general efforts to support the democratization of German society, the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) invested substantial funds into promoting public health as a discipline and developing a new basis for medical training in West Germany. Not limiting itself to simply providing literature, the RF pursued a two-pronged strategy. First, the RF organized a program for German university physicians and public health officers to visit various universities and teaching hospitals in the U.S. and Canada. A second aim was to establish training institutes for postgraduate physicians. However, rather than simply imposing the U.S. model, the RF intended to adapt it to the German context, in the form of a postgraduate course for physicians that integrated practical experience with a university setting. My research to date shows that the RF's activities did not meet with much enthusiasm from German medical professionals. Intellectual, cultural, cognitive and political differences impaired constructive collaboration between the RF's staff and local practitioners and academics.

The Rockefeller Foundation and Professionalization of Nursing in West Germany

January 1, 2011

Well into the early 1950s, West German nursing was influenced by the large confessional motherhouse, the sisterhoods of Caritas, the Inner Mission, and their tenet of Christian charity. A "good" nurse was primarily "good at heart," and tradition had it that a nurse's heart was not educated through theoretical instruction, but through practical nursing tasks and by participation in the community of sisters. The lessons offered at the nursing schools that were attached to hospitals were of minor importance. This strong emphasis on practical experience did not only apply to basic nursing training, but even head nurses and nursing teachers were considered qualified because they had years of practical experience, not because they could provide evidence of having attended advanced training courses.

Philanthropic American Foundations and German Social Sciences in the Inter-War Period

January 1, 2010

The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM) and the Social Science Division of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) supported by considerable means the development of German social sciences in the inter-war-period. In my doctoral dissertation I analyze the institutional support received by several German universities and institutes and the fellowships awarded to German social scientists between 1924 and the beginning of the Second World War. The Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), Sleepy Hollow, preserves important archival material about these activities. During my research stay in the summer of 2010, I primarily consulted the records in LSRM, Series 3.06, the RF files dealing with Germany (RF, RG. 1.1, series 717), the records about the European fellowship program in RG 1.2, 100 ES International and the diary of the RF officer John Van Sickle (RG 12.1 Diaries). The consultation of these records allowed me to make significant progress in my dissertation project.

Mediating Philanthropy in Changing Political Circumstances: The Rockefeller Foundation's Funding for Brain Research in Germany, 1930-1950

January 1, 2001

The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) was one of the first foreign institutions to react to the National Socialists' rise to power in Germany and the expulsion of Jewish scientists from their offices. With its thorough commitment to science in Germany and with its ideal of a republic of rational, liberal and free scientists, the RF found its funding in Germany in a situation which threatened both the sciences in general and the personal freedom of some scientists in particular. As early as 1933, the RF set up an emergency program, dedicating $60,000 alone for the Medical Sciences Section, to help German scientists continue their careers outside of Germany. At the same time, the RF aimed to maintain its position as an impartial and non-ideological funding organization -- a position that ruled out a complete withdrawal for political reasons from further activities in Germany. Trapped in this ambivalence, the RF attempted to react with the dual strategy of, on the one hand, critically evaluating existing funding programs and, on the other, continuing to fund new projects on the basis of sound scientific reasoning. Therefore, the RF did not cease its activities in Germany in 1933; indeed, it did not do so until the United States entered into World War II. Instead, the RF began a complex and sometimes ambivalent process of careful, individual, and critical decision-making beyond the established procedure of scientific evaluation and referencing.

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