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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Life’s Networks and the American Art World

June 17, 2022

Life magazine's vast networks and the connections and collaborations between its editors and museum trustees, collectors, curators, critics, and artists at a wide range of institutions led to some of the most fascinating and innovative exhibitions, magazine articles, and programs in the mid-century American art world.

Art; Journalism; Mass Communications; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Rockefeller Family

Siegfried Kracauer’s New York Networks

April 20, 2022

When Siegfried Kracauer arrived in the United States in May 1941 aboard the Nyassa, he was one of countless German émigrés to have narrowly escaped the Nazi conquest of Europe. By the time of his death a quarter century later, Kracauer had found his footing in the American scene, having published significant contributions to the emerging discipline of film studies (From Caligari to Hitler, 1947; Theory of Film, 1960). He had been hard at work on a monograph about the craft of the historian, which would be published posthumously as History: The Last Things Before the Last (1969). How did this exile gain his bearings upon disembarking in New York Harbor? What were the waystations? Who provided the helping hands? Where did Kracauer turn? 

Film; Humanities; Mass Communications; Political Science; Rockefeller Foundation; Social Sciences

A History of Diabetes at the Rockefeller Archive Center: The Development of Oral Hypoglycaemic Drugs and the UGDP Debate

December 3, 2021

With very generous research funding provided by the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), I was able to travel from Scotland in early August 2018.  This was my first trip to the RAC, as well as my first time in the United States.  Having just finished up at a three-month internship at the Scottish government, I was thrilled to be granted time and financial support for archival research.  This report presents a summary of my time at the RAC and how the material I accessed there has supported my thesis.  For those interested in the history of pharmacy in the second half of the twentieth century, or specifically the history of diabetes, this report provides an overview of the history of the development of the first oral anti-diabetic agents. It highlights the debate that followed one of the most contentious medical trials in the history of medicine, the University Group Diabetes Program.

Biology and Medical Research; Mass Communications; Medicine and Healthcare; The Medical Letter

Jackson Davis’s Imprint on the General Education Board Archive

November 1, 2021

A central figure in the General Education Board's effort to improve the lot of southern African Americans was Jackson Davis (1882-1947), a white Virginian who emerged from post-Reconstruction southern society to intervene in the educational disparity that disadvantaged Black school children. Informed by progressive graduate training from Columbia Teachers College, Davis worked in Virginia in the early decades of the twentieth century to secure opportunities for Black teachers and pupils within the emerging separate-but-unequal system of education in the South. That is not to say that Davis, who was directly affiliated with the GEB from 1915 until his death, supported the racial integration of schools, only that he recognized the detriment inherent in under-resourced education for African American children, whose facilities were usually poor and teachers often inadequately trained. As we position Davis's significant contribution within the GEB's program of African American outreach and funding, we must acknowledge him as a white man of a specific time and place but with distinct professional, and perhaps personal, experiences that shaped his views on race and most likely influenced the perspectives of his GEB colleagues. 

African American Studies; General Education Board; Journalism

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

Modernization and Documentary Film in  the Americas

June 29, 2020

Historians and other scholars have recognized the centrality of visuality and images to the modernization theory that drove US policy in the Global South during the Cold War. However, these scholars have so far failed to take into account the process of creating and consuming images and how that process shaped popular and expert ideas of what modernization would look like. Focusing primarily on efforts in Latin America, my book will trace the complex interplay between documentary filmmaking and international development institutions and agencies formed during and in the decades after World War II. This report traces the convergence of economic development and documentary film by examining some of the 1940s productions of Nelson Rockefeller's Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA), as well as some Rockefeller Foundation agricultural films of the early 1960s. In particular, it looks at a few films made by director Willard Van Dyke, who was trained in the New Deal documentary tradition and went on to make films for both the OCIAA and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Agriculture; Film; International Relations; Mass Communications; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Political Science; Rockefeller Family; Rockefeller Foundation; Social Sciences

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.

Mass Communications; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Radio; Rockefeller Family; Television

Paul Lazarsfeld and Media Reform at the Ford Foundation

August 22, 2019

Within communication and media studies, Paul Lazarsfeld is primarily known for his methodological innovations in the field of audience research. Yet, during the early 1950s, Lazarsfeld was asked to chair the Ford Foundation's Television Advisory Committee (TAC). This committee had been established by Robert M. Hutchins, then an associate director of the Ford Foundation. Hutchins had established the TAC as a means of continuing the work of the Commission on the Freedom of the Press, that he himself had chaired during the mid-1940s. Based upon material held in the Ford Foundation archives at the Rockefeller Archive Center, as well as material held at the archives of Columbia University and the University of Maryland, this paper provides an overview of Lazarsfeld's chairing of the TAC. It examines Lazarsfeld's relationship with both the commercial broadcasting industry and the media reform movement, two factions that had an interest in the work of the TAC, but whose relationship with each other was antagonistic. The paper argues that he was selected to chair the TAC because of his previous involvement with, and good standing within, the two factions. Ultimately, however, Lazarsfeld was unable to advance the cause of media reform within the Ford Foundation, and oversaw the production of a research report that was of little consequence, either to the development of television as a new medium, or to the case of media reform.

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.

Mass Communications; Rockefeller Foundation; Social Sciences; Women

The Ford Foundation and Communication Studies: The University of Toronto Program (1953-1955)

June 19, 2018

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. 

Academic Research and Education; Ford Foundation; Mass Communications; Social Sciences

Visualizing the American Economy: from Social Science to Mass-Communication and Beyond, 1920s-1960s

January 1, 2014

From the 1910s to the end of World War II, visual representations have been increasingly used in newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and official reports in the United States as a way to convey aspects of economic and social facts to a wider audience. A number of historians have shown that this movement toward visualization, which originated in various projects within social science departments and among social reformists, culminated during the years of the Great Depression when the Roosevelt administration used extensively photographs as a way to promote its economic policies. The most studied of these projects within the Roosevelt administration is the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration, which hired photographs such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein and sent them to the field to document the living conditions in rural America. Indeed, previous works on visualization have mostly focused on photographic representations of economic and social facts, as opposed to other types of visualization such as pictorial statistics, maps and drawings, which were equally important in the period. In addition, while these accounts focused on the artistic and communicational values of the resulting images, they did not investigate in depth the origins of this movement toward visualization in the works of economists and social scientists. Historians of social sciences -- especially economics -- have not paid attention to the visualization of social facts either because their work most often deal with the scientific and academic aspects of the discipline they study, therefore neglecting issues of communication and popularization. Indeed, contemporary social scientists tend to undermine the role of visual representation in their discipline because they do not consider visualization as constitutive of scientific knowledge, hence limiting its use to pedagogical purposes.

Economics; Mass Communications; Rockefeller Foundation; Russell Sage Foundation; Social Sciences

American Broadcasting and American Identities, 1920-1950

January 1, 2013

My research at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in August 2013 was designed to contribute to my current book-length project analyzing how manifestations of national, regional, and local identity shaped reactions to radio programming from the 1920s through the 1940s. Prior to my research at the RAC, my emphasis had been on programs deemed "foreign" or "unAmerican." These programs might have originated from abroad, such as those programs that crossed into the U.S. from neighboring Mexico or Cuba. At other times, a program garnering a hostile reaction might have been broadcast from a U.S. station, such as a program delivered in a foreign language. The reaction against "foreign" radio might even come from Americans abroad in response to programs heard over another country's airwaves. Many listeners recorded their judgments of these types of programs in the volumes of letters they wrote to stations, networks, newspapers, and government officials. Whatever the origins of the offending program, listeners reached judgments about international broadcasting after "filtering" its content through a constellation of existing personal values, beliefs, and assumptions that defined who they were. I argue that in the case of broadcasts or radio policies deemed "un-American," identity emerged as a prominent filter through which one engaged that content, particularly when a listener reluctantly encountered some presumably foreign program.

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