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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Cross-Cultural Communication Theory: Basic English and Machine Translation at the Rockefeller Foundation

December 19, 2019

My goal in conducting research at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) was to identify the ways in which both the Rockefeller (RF) and Ford Foundations (FF) conceived of the relationship between literature and computing in their programs at mid-century. This research is central to my book project, Machine Talk: Literature, Computers and Conversation. In what follows, I lay out the background of this project and a research context that has often highlighted the intertwined emergence of computing and communication theory—and ignored the contributions made by the humanities to the development of this concept. I turn specifically to the RF Humanities Division, outlining its role in supporting early research into theories of communication—particularly cross-cultural communication—which would prove vital to the post-World War Two development of communication theory in the sciences.

Making PATH: The Ford Foundation and Appropriate Technology for International Health

April 10, 2018

In 1977, Dr. Gordon Perkin, a Canadian obstetrician-gynecologist, and his colleague Dr. Richard Mahoney, an expert in contraceptive development, left their jobs at the Ford Foundation. Together with reproductive health expert Dr. Gordon Duncan, a consultant to the Foundation, the three researchers formed their own non-profit organization, the Program for the Introduction and Adaptation of Contraceptive Technology (PIACT). The trio left Ford on very good terms. Their former boss, Chief Program Officer Dr. Oscar Harkavy—known to friends and close colleagues as "Bud"—helped to ensure that the Ford Foundation became PIACT's first funder and one of its most consistent early boosters. With a pledge of $92,000 in seed money from the Foundation and donated office space in Seattle, the three co-founders set to work designing novel contraceptive programs for the developing world.

Project A and Beyond: The Role of the Rockefeller Foundation in the Rise of Microfilm

February 6, 2018

In 1927, the Library of Congress (LOC) started a comprehensive project of copying manuscripts related to the history of the United States and the Americas, stored in the libraries, archives and museums of several European countries. Internally referred to as "Project A", research assistants ventured out in order to select and superintend the systematic photographing of masses of documents preserved in institutional and private collections throughout Europe. Project A was financed through a substantial grant from the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) for an initial period of seven years and resulted in over three million still images. The LOC made ample use of microphotography, a photographic technique that was not new, but subject to major improvements starting in the 1920s. These improvements concerned the camera and projector technology as well as the development of fire-resistant celluloid acetate film as a purportedly stable image carrier. Compared to manual copying and earlier forms of reproduction photography, such as Photostat duplication, the storage of visual data on light-weight and flexible 16mm, 35mm and 70mm film rolls enabled the reproduction of entire books, journals, newspapers, individual documents or bits of information.

The Atomic American: Citizenship in a Nuclear State, 1945-1963

January 1, 2017

Nuclear weapons altered the relationship between the American state and its citizens in the early years of the Cold War. From the 1945 Trinity Test forward, Americans grappled with the consequences of the nuclear weapons revolution. Among other challenges facing the nation, it was clear that military defense against a nuclear strike was nearly impossible and civilian preparation programs could cost billions of dollars. Should deterrence peacekeeping fail, Americans would face an attack without military protection, making large-scale civilian casualties unavoidable. "And yet," Senator Brien McMahon puzzled in 1950, "the first duty of a sovereignty is to protect its people." Nuclear weapons unsettled Americans' ideas about federal protection, individual responsibility, and public safety. Under the threat posed by nuclear technology, these conflicting concerns shaped domestic and international policy and framed national community in the Atomic Age.

Urban Renewal North and South: The Case of São Paulo and New York During and After WWII

January 1, 2014

When Nelson Rockefeller arrived at the São Paulo airport on June 18, 1969, as the head of Richard Nixon's Presidential Mission to Latin America, he delivered a statement that must have thrilled his paulistano hosts -- especially those who looked to New York as a model city. In addition to calling São Paulo Latin America's most modern industrial center and the world's fastest growing city, among other superlatives associated with the city at the time, Rockefeller went on to say that the usual comparisons between São Paulo and Chicago were now "out-ofdate." For Rockefeller, the more accurate parallel was between São Paulo and his own New York. Though unusual, the fact that Nelson Rockefeller emphasized the similarities between São Paulo and New York should come as no surprise given that he, and a group of influential politicians, engineers, city planners, architects, and museum directors from both New York and São Paulo, had been working in concert to improve US-Brazil relations and bring the two cities closer together since the early 1940s.

The Rockefeller Foundation's Decision-making Process in Funding the 184-inch Cyclotron

January 1, 2011

War broke out in Europe at the end of the 1930s, and the United States was on the verge of joining in when, on April 3, 1940, the meeting of trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) decided on a grant of $1,150,000 to support the construction of a new 184-inch cyclotron at the University of California. This paper elucidates the process leading up to that decision. The decision-making process can be divided into three stages: The first, beginning in October 1939, saw initial enthusiasm for the giant cyclotron project; the second, lasting until February 1940, involved changes in the foundation's internal circumstances and limitations on funding; the third, which began in early February 1940, saw specific steps toward the materialization of RF support for the project.

Aspects of the History of Instrumentation in the Neurosciences at Rockefeller University: Nobelists Herbert Gasser and H. Keffer Hartline

January 1, 2010

This examination of the importance of scientific instruments in the history of the neurosciences begins with the premise that the role of instrumentation in the history of medicine and the history of science in general has been underreported. I suggest that the history of science and the history of medicine have overplayed the conceptualization of research projects, and the pursuit of theoretical confirmation, and have underplayed the central role of instrumentation. In fact, two historians of instrumentation have argued that, for the history of science, "the philosophical debate over whether theory drives experiment or experiment drives theory has tended to obscure the independent role of instruments in science." Looking backward into the early modern period, the eminent historian of science Derek de Solla Price stated that "the scientific revolution was largely the invention [,] improvement [,] and use of a series of instruments of revelation that expanded the reach of science in innumerable directions."

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