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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The Formation of the NBER: Insights from the Rockefeller Archive Center

September 14, 2021

During several visits to the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in 2017 and 2018, I viewed papers from a handful of collections which provided perspective on the early history of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). In my book project, tentatively titled Mapping the Future. A Euro-American History of Business Forecasting, 1920-1980, I investigate the history of four economic forecasting tools that have been developed, disseminated, and applied in the United States, in Europe, and beyond. One of them, leading indicators, was originally developed at the NBER in the 1930s and  remains, till today, one of the most prominent forecasting tools worldwide. In what follows, I offer an overview of my book project and outline the history of the formation of the NBER. In it, I make extensive references to the sources of the Rockefeller Archive Center, which provide the most profound insights into the early history of the NBER.

Commonwealth Fund; Economics; Interwar Years; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Rockefeller Family; Rockefeller Foundation; Social Sciences

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.

African American Studies; Ford Foundation

Report on Research Examining the Ford Foundation’s Influence on the Producing Model of US Regional Theaters

June 9, 2021

This report provides draft excerpts from my PhD research on the evolving relationship between US regional theaters and the New York-based cluster of legitimate commercial theaters and producers, collectively known as "Broadway," between 1947 and 2017. After World War II, Broadway had near total control over the professional production and regional distribution of new plays and musicals. In response to this stranglehold, there were calls to decentralize the American theater. The resident (or regional) theater movement that eventually arrived in response to these calls is generally credited to the massive investments, technical assistance, and public advocacy of the Ford Foundation. Between 1959 and 1980, the Foundation awarded approximately $31.5 million in support of strengthening resident professional theater. Material from the Ford Foundation (FF) archives collected at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) contributes to a chapter in my dissertation examining how requirements, constraints, and forms of support provided by the FF shaped the first generation of modern resident theaters, including their relationship with Broadway. To that end, two questions are currently motivating my review and analysis of documents collected in the FF collection: (1) Did financial support, technical assistance, and the imprimatur proffered by the FF strengthen or weaken the agency of resident theaters vis-à-vis Broadway? (2) Did the FF's support encourage resident theaters to adopt structures, policies, practices, goals, and beliefs that ultimately confined them to fulfilling a distributary (franchise) or tryout (farm club) function vis-à-vis Broadway, rather than the tributary (independent feeder) role that regional theaters were once imagined to fulfill?

Ford Foundation; Rockefeller Foundation

“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

“A Most Interesting and Complex Involvement”: Cold War Alignments between the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and the Central Intelligence Agency

May 25, 2021

When temperatures on the cultural Cold War front reached boiling point in the early 1950s, both the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) solicited the cooperation of the private sector for funding activities aimed at refuting Communist claims about the United States and its allies—activities that would have suffered from inefficiency had they been openly funded by Washington. This report traces this symbiotic state-private relationship in the case of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), a worldwide CIA-funded forum for intellectuals of centrist persuasion, established at a time when the US Congress was reluctant to appropriate funding for counterpropaganda. From the very onset, the CIA tried to transfer "Operation Congress" to the philanthropic sector, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, in particular. Records of these foundations reveal an internal balancing of risks against responsibilities, which tipped in favor of the CCF by the presence of staunch advocates such as John McCloy and Shepard Stone. By the time the Ford Foundation finally decided to commit itself substantially to the CCF, fate struck and exposed its link with its secret patron. A sense of obligation, if not guilt, on the part of Ford Foundation administrators, often combined with a sincere conviction of its continued utility in the concerted endeavor of tearing down the Iron Curtain, ensured the existence of the CCF—renamed into the International Association for Cultural Freedom (IACF)—for another decade. The incapacity of the IACF to adapt itself to the political climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, ultimately led to its demise.

Cold War; Ford Foundation; Francis X. Sutton Papers; John D. Rockefeller 3rd Papers; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Rockefeller Family; Rockefeller Foundation

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

The Music and Performing Arts Programs of the Rockefeller Foundation

March 8, 2021

The Rockefeller Foundation had originally left out much grantmaking to the arts during the first decades of its operations, instead devoting greater resources to efforts such as the alleviation of global hunger, the expansion of access to public libraries, or the eradication of hookworm. Its support of music prior to the 1950s had totaled less than $200,000 over four decades. After the Second World War, however, it began giving substantial funds to the arts and humanities. The Rockefeller Foundation funded projects in new music, like commissions made by the Louisville Orchestra, operas and ballets at New York's City Center, and the work of the "creative associates" at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In total, between 1953 and 1976, the Rockefeller Foundation granted more than $40 million ($300 million in 2017) to the field of music alone. 

Music; Performing Arts; Rockefeller Foundation

The Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction and the Ford Foundation

November 6, 2020

The Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI) was a major investment by the Ford Foundation and other philanthropies in the 1950s and 1960s.  Project administrators used broadcast antennae on airplanes to provide educational programs to schools across a six-state region, with the goal of closing the gap between wealthy, higher-performing schools in the region, and poorer school systems in cities and rural areas.  Furthermore, MPATI was envisioned as a potential model for other disadvantaged regions, such as Appalachia, as well as for other nations.  This report draws primarily from correspondence between Ford Foundation officials and MPATI administrators.

Education; Ford Foundation; Technology; Television

Observations on John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Involvement with Colorado’s Work-Relief Program

October 21, 2020

With the formal conclusion of the coal miners' strike at the Colorado Fuel and Iron pits in December 1914 and the suspension of the United Mine Workers' strike benefits in February 1915, former strikers and their families were once again solely dependent on wage labor. Yet demand for coal had plummeted due to mild winter weather and a deep economic recession. The lack of work quickly left many families destitute. In response to this dire situation, local officials turned to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (JDR, Jr.) and the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) to create a work-relief program for unemployed miners in the form of local road-building projects. The RF supplied $100,000 for the work-relief program that employed 4,250 men. (They were paid in vouchers that could only be used for clothes or food.) The program lasted from April through June 1915 in seven Colorado counties. W.L. Mackenzie King represented the Rockefeller Foundation in negotiations with Colorado officials to hammer out an agreement to access RF funds. During these talks, King not only made sure to protect RF funds from misuse, fraud, and waste by incorporating multiple oversights into the final agreement, but he also had to convince JDR, Jr. that the relief effort was a worthy endeavor. King clearly oversold aspects of Colorado's work-relief program. He exaggerated the degree of private/public partnership as neither sector contributed meaningful dollars to the endeavor. In the end, the entire work-relief project rested solely on the Rockefeller Foundation's funding.

Rockefeller Foundation

Nurses in the History of Psychiatry: The Role of the Rockefeller Foundation

October 14, 2020

I made multiple trips to the Rockefeller Archive Center throughout 2014 and 2015 for research on the history of psychiatry, especially in relation to nursing. I found extensive records on the Rockefeller Foundation's activities in this area. Its Medical Sciences Division had a major interest in the ways that psychiatry and psychiatric education could be used to solve social problems during and after WWII and into the Cold War period

Medicine and Healthcare; Mental Health; Nursing; Psychiatry; Rockefeller Foundation

The SSRC’s Committee on Economic Stability and the Consolidation of Large-Scale Macroeconometric Modeling in Postwar United States

October 7, 2020

This report presents ongoing research on the history of the Committee on Economic Stability of the Social Science Research Council (1959-1995), which played a major role in the consolidation of large-scale macroeconometric modeling in postwar United States, both inside and outside academia. A key characteristic of the Committee's projects was their scale, which largely surpassed previous model-building work. This feature provides interesting insights into the relevance of the Committee's work in shaping macroeconomics in the postwar period. The Committee's records offer a most valuable source for reevaluating the history of macroeconomics, since much of applied economics and economics outside of academia has been neglected in the historiography of economics.

Academic Research and Education; Economics; Social Science Research Council; Social Sciences

Health-Related Prison Conditions in the Progressive and Civil Rights Eras: Lessons from the Rockefeller Archive Center

September 23, 2020

During my 2019 visit to the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), I viewed papers from more than a dozen collections, which provided perspective on how health, incarceration, politics, and policy intermingled in the twentieth century. In this report, I offer an overview of my book project, Minimal Standards of Adequacy: A History of Health Care in Modern U.S. Prisons, and analyze how portions of it will be informed by two sets of documents from the RAC. I focus first on records contained in the Bureau of Social Hygiene records, which shed light on the perspectives of Progressive Era penologists who helped to shape ideals and practices related to prison health in specific institutions, as well as in state and federal correctional systems. Next, I discuss findings from the papers of Winthrop Rockefeller, who served as governor of Arkansas from 1966 to 1970, when federal courts deemed conditions within the state's prison system unconstitutional. While I continue to undertake research for the book, this report serves as a snapshot of my current reading of select sources from two different moments in the history of US prisons. It suggests the extent to which, throughout the twentieth century, carceral institutions posed tremendous health threats to the increasing numbers of people inside them, even as radical advocates urged drastic change, and as reformers, corrections professionals, and political representatives called for more rules, regulations, and bureaucracy.

Bureau of Social Hygiene; Crime and Criminal Justice; Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial; Medicine and Healthcare; Rockefeller Family; Rockefeller University; Winthrop Rockefeller Papers

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