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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A New Dealized Grand Old Party: Labor, Civil Rights, and the Remaking of American Liberalism, 1935-1973

July 21, 2020

Drawing on the wealth of material from the Nelson A. Rockefeller papers held at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), my dissertation project examines the rise and fall of the "liberal" wing of the mid-twentieth century Republican Party. Big city Republicans from industrial states faced social movements that made mass democracy a vibrant force. Liberal Republicans emerged among the typically wellto-do men and women of older and established neighborhoods in New York, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. While no less an elite class than other Republican partisans, urban Republicans witnessed the upheavals and political transformation of the city firsthand. Unlike the rural and suburban right, big city Republicans simply could not imagine mounting a frontal assault against the vaunted New Deal coalition. In this setting, the reactionary bent of the party's base actually looked more like an electoral liability. Liberal Republicans insisted that winning statewide (or national) office required votes from major cities home to a diverse and organized working class that otherwise voted for Democrats. But securing any significant segment of that vote required a series of accommodations that most Republicans simply could not tolerate.

Embattled River:  The Hudson and Modern American Environmentalism

June 2, 2020

I spent several days in September 2015 at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) working in the Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers, especially the gubernatorial collection, investigating the Hudson River Valley Commission (HRVC), a largely unstudied state agency that the governor created in 1965. Thanks to considerable effort by archivist Monica Blank after my initial interview at RAC, I also worked in the documents Laurance S. Rockefeller compiled as chair of the (temporary) Hudson River Valley Commission, which are housed at the RAC. Given his longstanding interest in the Hudson River Valley, Laurance S. Rockefeller's papers include a large amount of material from the subsequent years of the "permanent" commission's existence. During the same month of my visit to RAC, I also spent considerable time working in the Hudson River Valley Commission Collection at the New York State Archives, Albany. Between these two collections, I was able to develop a thorough understanding of the commission's goals and operations.

The Business/Labor Working Group

May 13, 2020

In February 1976, New York Senator Jacob Javits summoned a group of public officials, including Governor Hugh Carey, New York City Mayor Abraham Beame, and some leading businessmen to his New York offices to discuss how to create jobs in the city. Since the recession of 1970–71, private-sector employment had fallen sharply, a trend greatly exacerbated by deep cuts to the public-sector work force during the previous year's scrape with bankruptcy. As the city emerged from the brink of insolvency, with its fiscal hands tied as a result, Javits wanted to discuss ways to "improve the perceived and actual business climate" of the city—specifically, "to prepare an analysis of the measures required to keep business (and therefore employment) in the City" and to develop a plan "for New York City's best prospects for economic development during the next 3 to 5 years." Out of this meeting, Javits moved to organize a task force "aimed at improving the employment climate in New York City." Carey was initially "highly skeptical" of the task-force idea, but Javits and Beame were enthusiastic, and with their support, Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller pushed the plan ahead. From these beginnings emerged the Business/Labor Working Group (B/LWG), a collection of business and private-sector union leaders which issued a widely-read set of recommendations in late 1976.

Broadcasting the Gospel of Tolerance: Media, Capitalism, and Religion in Twentieth-Century America

September 5, 2019

Most histories of religion, media, and capitalism have focused on televangelists or on conservative religious leaders who built their own broadcasting networks. But this is not the entire story. Religious insiders—frequently centrist liberals—did not need to create their own broadcasting networks because their connections with media networks and philanthropists gave them a privileged place in the American mediascape. In this report, I investigate the relationship between the Rockefeller family and religious media. I focus especially on John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his funding of Riverside Church's Harry Emerson Fosdick and his National Vespers radio program. This report demonstrates the prominence of liberal religious media during the "Golden Age" of radio, and it helps explain how religious liberals navigated the financial dilemmas of producing sustaining programs.

The White Slavery Controversy, Women’s Bodies, and the Making of Public Space in the United States

February 26, 2019

After John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was appointed to serve on the New York White Slavery Grand Jury, he began a long commitment to the cause of prostitution and sex trafficking. This research report outlines initial conclusions based on a review of records in the Rockefeller Archive Center for the ten years after Rockefeller's service on the grand jury. The research report summarizes findings from the archives, previews arguments deriving from the archival documents, and suggests additional future directions for research.

Paul Monroe and the Origins of American Comparative Education

January 29, 2019

Paul Monroe was a pioneering leader of international and comparative education. His greatest contribution to comparative education came from his leadership of the International Institute of Teachers College during 1923-1938, where he led and practiced the teaching and research on comparative education with dynamic international outreach and engagement in investigation of educational systems and conditions of many countries. Monroe played a key role in shaping the development of comparative education as an academic field during its formative years. He and his colleagues trained the first generation of comparative educators in North America and elsewhere. Paul Monroe was also significantly involved in the modernization of education in countries of Asia and the Middle East, when the influence of the United States expanded in these regions primarily via the work of private institutions in the first half of the 20th century.

The Women of Communication Studies and Foundation Funding

October 18, 2018

The Bureau of Applied Social Research (BASR) at Columbia University was an important location where Paul F. Lazarsfeld and his researchers developed methods for the statistical analysis of audience interpretation of mass media messages. Although several studies exist of Lazarsfeld and the BASR, no attention has been paid to the numerous women who worked there. In fact, the very history of Communication Studies, with a few exceptions, overlooks the important role women's work played in the development of lasting theories of mediated communication, as well as methods for audience research. By 1949, seven women were listed as members of the BASR on the bureau's letterhead: Jeanette Green, Marie Jahoda, Babette Kass, Patricia L. Kendall, Rose Kohn, Louise Moses, and Patricia J. Salter. The work histories of these women show that, during the 1940s and 1950s, female social scientists negotiated the pursuit of careers as social scientists with several important pressures. These pressures included gendered expectations regarding female employment, foreclosure of entrance into tenured academic positions, anti-communism of the early Cold War, and foundation-based funding opportunities for research. This research report outlines some of the work histories of the women conducting audience research in the 1940s vis-a-vis foundation-based funding opportunities.

Urbanist William H. Whyte and the Observational Study of Public Spaces in New York City

October 16, 2018

I visited the Rockefeller Archive Center to research the William H. Whyte papers for my doctoral dissertation, "Transactional Terrains: Partnerships, Bargains and the Postwar Redefinition of the Public Realm, New York City 1965-1980," that traces the architectural and urban history of the privatization of the public realm. At the center of the research is New York City during the "urban crisis" years of the 1960s. The period saw an ongoing shift in how city and state governments initiated, financed, and managed architecture and urban development. As an administrative apparatus of crisis management, the public-private partnership was the fiscal and legal device that was at the center of this shift. With the public-private partnership, there was an increased emphasis on transactions between jurisdictional authorities and private sector actors. The 1960s witnessed the beginnings of organized cultivation of private sector participation by city and state governments, in the funding, management, and provision of public goods (parks, plazas, and housing). By examining the ecology and economy of these public-private partnerships, the dissertation seeks to examine the privatization of the public realm in New York City as a series of complex intersections between the city's economic, political, urban, architectural and real-estate histories beginning in the 1960s. Urbanist William H. Whyte's writings, research, and speeches on the design and value of public spaces in New York City have shaped policy and theory in architecture, urban design, and planning since the early 1960s. He was a prominent figure, specifically for my first chapter.

Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller: Muse of the Museum of Modern Art

March 15, 2018

"The role of women in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has been a vital one from the day the idea was first conceived," observed David Rockefeller to a small gathering in a newly dedicated gallery on the recently expanded third floor of New York's MoMA on December 7, 1987. "[And] we are here today to give thanks and praise to [an] amazing and dedicated lady who . . . since she became President of the Museum for a second time in 1972, has probably had a greater impact on the evolution of MoMA both internally and externally than any other one individual."The setting, in fact, was the dedication of a gallery designated for abstract expressionist art in whose honor the space was named, Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller. Thirty years after that ceremony, thousands of patrons continue to mill through the delicately lit space, some soothed by the muted cardinal color of an outsized Barnet Newman canvas, others stirred by a Jackson Pollack oeuvre, most unaware of the singular influence of the gallery's namesake on the museum's history itself.

The Several Meanings of Global Health History: The Case of Yellow Fever

November 2, 2017

I am writing a global history of yellow fever aiming to interrogate the yellow fever story at the global, international, and national levels. Mark Harrison did this for a number of diseases in his recent study of commerce and contagion. Yellow fever has engendered a fund of excellent historical scholarship by Jamie Benchimol, Marcos Cueto, Ilana Löwy, Nancy Stepan, Liora Bigon, and many others. My research at the Rockefeller Archive Center examined materials created before the 1948 founding of the World Health Organization. I wanted to ask, for example, if we ought to think of yellow fever as a global disease. More precisely, when did it become that, if it did? It wasn't long ago that some of our colleagues, especially the more sociologically inclined, chanted the mantra that "All science is local!" This was in some ways a reaction to the historiography of Alexandre Koyré, a Russian émigré working in Paris who coined the term "scientific revolution." He and others enjoined historians of science to focus on theory while others claimed that quantification and replication of results constituted the heart of scientific advance.

Prevailing Upon the World John D. Rockefeller, Jr. & the Architecture of International Houses (1921-1936)

January 1, 2016

In 1946 when the newly formed United Nations was searching for a suitable site for its headquarters, the American philanthropist and heir to the Standard Oil and Gas fortune, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., bought and gifted eighteen acres of land on Manhattan's east side to the organization. This gift -- as well as the Second World War that had preceded it -- marked the official resumption of American leadership in world affairs. But for Rockefeller it was also the culmination of a decades-long campaign of architectural patronage and cultural philanthropy, which had aimed at positioning the United States as exactly the type of political messiah it was now becoming. A precursor to the UN project, and to this idea of American leadership, may be found in the earlier and relatively obscure International House movement in the United States and France, which was also championed by Rockefeller.

Mass Transit, New Towns, and National Parks in New York City's 'Forgotten Borough'

January 1, 2016

My dissertation insists that Staten Island is central not only to the history of twentieth-century New York City, but to postwar urban planning and politics more broadly. Despite its absence from almost every major historical work on the postwar urban crisis, the borough was considered by many planners and politicians to be New York City's greatest asset and most volatile liability. Set against the rest of the boroughs' declining populations and shrinking tax revenues, Staten Island's large swaths of vacant acres provided a blank slate onto which urbanists mapped their conflicting critiques and cure-alls for the American city. Amongst a long list of influential politicians, environmentalists, and planning organizations that debated the future of Staten Island, Governor Nelson Rockefeller and the Regional Plan Association (RPA) stand out as having particular interest in and influence on the borough. My research at the Rockefeller Archive Center was integral to tracking and contextualizing both Rockefeller's and the RPA's planning approaches to the "forgotten borough" -- philosophies which by the early 1970s had come into tension with one another. While Rockefeller would move, in the late 1960s, toward encouraging a dense, socially-diverse, mass-transit oriented Staten Island, the RPA's uncompromising support of Gateway National Recreation Area would forestall precisely the type of new town planning project -- the South Richmond Development Corporation designed by James Rouse -- that was capable of densifying and integrating the borough's overwhelmingly white, middle-class southern shore.

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