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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Building Administrative Capacity in the National Government: The Role of Rockefeller-Funded Initiatives, 1910–1930

August 11, 2020

During the 1910s and 1920s, corporate elites and their Republican allies emerged as the leading proponents of central power and national authority in debates about the institutional structure of the federal government. This project traces the progress of their agenda and shows how it was foiled by defenders of local control and white supremacy. The primary focus is on policy debates about three general topics: budget reform, executive reorganization, and anti-lynching. On each of these topics, elite reformers sought to build central power and national authority. In each case, they faced opposition from political leaders from the South and West. Rockefeller-funded initiates—and, indeed, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., himself—played a key role in the elite reform efforts of the 1910s and 1920s. The report that follows presents evidence drawn from records held at the Rockefeller Archive Center.

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.

Brazil: Transition and Reconciliation, a Cold War Strategy

July 7, 2020

My research project analyzes the Latin American Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, from 1977 (when it was established) to 1983. The Center is important for Brazilian and Latin American history especially because of the iconic discussions within the social sciences about the transition to democracy and the academic and political repercussions of that process. Financed by the Rockefeller and the Ford Foundations, the Latin American Program was established under the direction of Abraham Lowenthal, with the support of a very selective group of intellectuals, including Robert A. Dahl, Juan Linz, Adam Przeworski, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Albert Otto Hirschman, Guillermo O'Donnell, Ricardo Ffrench-Davis, Leslie Manigot, Olga Pelecer de Brody, Thomas Skidmore, Karen Spalding, and Philippe C. Schmitter. The Latin American Program held three big conferences on the subject of transition and published them in four volumes in 1988, under the title Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Prospects for Democracy, edited by Guillermo O'Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead. Albeit the importance of the "Transition Project," not much is known about the organization of the conferences and the involvement of different scholars, students, and government staff at the debates, reports, and meetings held at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, already one of the most important think tank organizations in the USA. In this project, I propose to explore the complexity of those debates, the agenda, and efforts to move from dictatorships to democratic governments.

No Dead Languages, Only Dormant Minds: U.S.- Spanish Educational Exchanges through the Ford Foundation

November 11, 2019

My dissertation examines the role of smart power in U.S.-Spain relations during the Spanish transition to democracy. The archives of the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) held several collections that enriched my analysis of the development of soft power by the United States in Spain. At the archives, I found records on the movement of Pablo Picasso's Guernica from the Museum of Modern Art to the Prado in Madrid, Nelson Rockefeller's impact on the Spanish transition, how the Ford Foundation and Peter Fraenkel helped administer Spanish educational reforms and exchanges of the 1970s, and how human rights played a vital role in the Spanish transition.

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.

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.

Winthrop Rockefeller: A Biography

January 1, 2016

My biography of Winthrop Rockefeller will be the first book-length study to examine his life in its entirety from his birth in 1912 to his death in 1973. Born in New York on May 1, 1912, Winthrop spent the first forty years of his life based there. After being educated in New York and Connecticut, Winthrop worked in the oil fields of Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico for three years before returning to New York. Starting in 1940, he began six years in the military, serving in the Pacific theatre during World War II. Upon his return, Winthrop once again attempted to make a permanent career and life in New York. In 1948 he married his first wife, Barbara "Bobo" Sears, and soon after the couple had Winthrop's only biological offspring, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller. In 1949, the couple separated, finally divorcing in 1954. The contested and protracted divorce, played out in the popular press and public eye, led to Winthrop making a life-changing decision in June 1953 when he moved to Arkansas. The move gave Winthrop a newfound sense of purpose and focus, away from the pressures attached to his family name and the responsibilities that came with it. Setting up home on a mountain farm, Winthrop worked in earnest to use his talents and resources to make Arkansas a better place. As part of his new life, he remarried in 1956 to Jeannette Edris, who was from a prominent Seattle family. In 1966, Winthrop was elected governor of Arkansas, the first Republican to hold that office in the state in almost a century. After two terms in which he tried to push through an agenda for reform with mixed success in a still heavily dominated Democratic state, Winthrop lost the office in 1970 to political newcomer Dale Bumpers. Shortly after, Winthrop was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer and died on February 22, 1973. Winthrop's time in Arkansas and his time as governor had a profound impact on the state that is still evident today.

Nelson Rockefeller and the State University of New York's Rapid Rise and Decline

January 1, 2015

This report focuses on my research into Governor Nelson Rockefeller's role in the expansion of the State University of New York (SUNY) in general and the Buffalo campus in particular for my new book project, The Business of Education: The Corporate Reconstruction of American Public Universities. This manuscript seeks to rewrite the story of twentieth-century public postsecondary schooling in the United States through a reconsideration of both national policies but also case studies that show how a variety of institutions in different regions evolved into the sprawling, research-focused system of "multi-versities," which replaced the private, independent liberal arts college as the exemplar of American higher education. This project emphasizes that state universities have always been dependent on private benefactors because local, state, and federal governments never provided enough funding to support these institutions.

Democracy Assistance in Post-Communist Russia: Case Studies of the Ford Foundation, the C.S. Mott Foundation, and the National Endowment for Democracy

January 1, 2013

This research report specifically focuses on The Ford Foundation, Early Explorations, and Motivations. Historic changes brought about by perestroika, glasnost, and the eventual collapse of the Soviet communist system in the late 1980s and early 1990s offered an unprecedented opportunity for the international community to support transitions to democracy and social transformations in a region that had long known totalitarian rule. Only a few years prior, few could have imagined that democracy's chief global rival -- communism -- would fall so dramatically and so rapidly in the USSR, transforming the day-to-day lives of millions of people who had lived under one-party rule, a command economy, and ideological and institutional control for decades. While financial and technical assistance to support transitions flowed into the region from the governments of industrialized democracies including the United States and many individual member states of the European Community, from international financial institutions, and from multilateral organizations, also among the key institutional players engaged in providing support were U.S. grantmaking institutions.

Exploring Twentieth-Century Politics of Health and Rights through the Biographical Lens: The Life of Chilean Medical Doctor Benjamin Viel Vicuña

January 1, 2013

In much of the western world, the trajectory of health as a right was linked to fundamental negotiations over the "social contract" between state leaders and civil society. In Latin America, most decisive debates over states' responsibilities for public health, and health as a citizenship right, took shape in the twentieth century. Governments began to recognize their role in designing and administering health programs and negotiated their responsibilities and duties. Since the first decades of the past century, the development of health systems at the nation-state level was also influenced by powerful international agencies that mediated new "social contracts" in modernizing nations. Historians have portrayed philanthropic "missionaries of science," like the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), for example, that contributed to the suppression of health threats such as yellow fever and malaria.

The Fracturing Human Rights Consensus: Uruguay's Contested History of Human Rights

January 1, 2013

Two crucial referendums bookended the 1980s in Uruguay. On November 30, 1980, Uruguayans headed to the polls for the first time in over seven years to cast their ballots on a constitutional plebiscite intended to give the armed forces a permanent and more sizeable control of power in the country. Since Juan María Bordaberry dissolved parliament and declared a State of Emergency in 1973, the Uruguayan military had, in the words of a leading human rights organization, established with "unprecedented sophistication a hushed, progressive repression measured out in doses until it gained absolute control over the entire population." During that time, the military shut down the press and imprisoned one in every fifty people, resulting in the highest rate of political incarceration in the world. Hundreds more disappeared, both in Uruguay and neighboring countries and over ten percent of the Uruguayan population fled the country in fear.

Progress and Protest: The Evolution of Public Works on Long Island under Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller

January 1, 2013

In the mid-twentieth century, parkways, highways, and expressways brought suburbanization to eastern Long Island. Until 1920, the island east of Brooklyn and Long Island City, Queens, remained open, predominantly rural territory. Subdivision and home-building booms of the 1920s and post-World War II era, however, substantially filled the territory to the Queens-Nassau border. In response to suburbanization in the 1920s New York had become the first state to develop a centralized park planning agency and an action plan for automobilefriendly regional park development. The island was not subject to metropolitan traffic and lacked any significant manufacturing centers; it seemed destined to support the city's recreation and residential needs, as Governor Smith often claimed. Throughout the 1930s Robert Moses realized this potential.

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