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“Food-Space-Energy Problems”: The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the New Alchemy Institute, and the Emergence of Ecological Design in the 1970sJune 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.
In March of 1953, the University of Toronto forwarded the following three applications to an interdisciplinary competition as part of the Ford Foundation's Behavioral Sciences Program: "Changing Patterns of Language and Behavior and the New Media of Communication," "Study of Problems of Social Learning and Co-operation in an Industrial Society," and "Radical and Conservative Behaviour." All were associated in varying degrees with the legacy of Harold Adams Innis, a prominent economic historian and political economist at the University of Toronto, who had died in November of the previous year. "Changing Patterns" was the one that was accepted: its group of sponsors, spearheaded by Marshall McLuhan and Edmund Carpenter, was awarded a grant of $44,250 over two years. This came as a surprise to many, as the other two applications featured not only renowned established figures but also younger scholars who were quickly coming into prominence. Moreover, while the other two applications were grounded in Innis's highly respected work in political economy and economic history, that of the McLuhan/Carpenter group used Innis's less well-known work in communication as a point of reference.
Film and the Making of Postwar Internationalism: Progressive Filmmaking at the Rockefeller Boards, 1934-1945January 1, 2013
During November 2012, I spent time at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in support of a broader research project entitled Film and the Making of Postwar Internationalism. The month-long archival research was focused on the role of the Rockefeller Boards [especially the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) and the General Education Board (GEB)] in cultivating ties to international progressive documentary film networks centered around British filmmaker and bureaucrat John Grierson. In this research report, I will detail the ways in which my archival visit to the RAC helped clarify the role of the RF and the GEB in inserting a distinctively American voice into progressive film networks of the 1930s and 1940s. Most importantly, the material I researched at the RAC helped shed light on the complexity of the Rockefeller interest in progressive filmmaking.
On 6 April 1949 the Board of Trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) announced that it was awarding McGill University $100,000 for the purpose of supervising "the production of studies in the public and private life of W.L. Mackenzie King...." The object of the grant, King noted in a statement to the press the following day, was to provide him with assistance in the collection and organization of his papers and thus to "expedite the writing and early publication of Memoirs...." Under its terms, King had "complete liberty in making arrangements for the use of these funds in the study and preparation of his materials." The ultimate goal of this "quite exceptional expression of international friendship and good-will," King informed the public, was to produce "a Canadian biography and Canadian history." For its part, the RF saw the project as no less than "a significant opportunity to use the desire of a national and international leader to record his final views on the meaning of democracy."
Perfect Timing: Policy Change at the Rockefeller Foundation and the Establishment of the Montreal Neurological InstituteJanuary 1, 2008
My current research project explores the emergence of the profession of neurosurgery in the first half of the twentieth century. I take an in-depth look at two of these institutes, the Montreal Neurological Institute, which was founded in 1934 with financial help from the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Neurological Institute of New York, which opened its doors in 1909, but did not benefit from substantial Rockefeller Foundation help until much later.
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