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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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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

Film and the Making of Postwar Internationalism: Progressive Filmmaking at the Rockefeller Boards, 1934-1945

January 1, 2013

During November 2012, I spent time at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in support of a broader research project entitled Film and the Making of Postwar Internationalism. The month-long archival research was focused on the role of the Rockefeller Boards [especially the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) and the General Education Board (GEB)] in cultivating ties to international progressive documentary film networks centered around British filmmaker and bureaucrat John Grierson. In this research report, I will detail the ways in which my archival visit to the RAC helped clarify the role of the RF and the GEB in inserting a distinctively American voice into progressive film networks of the 1930s and 1940s. Most importantly, the material I researched at the RAC helped shed light on the complexity of the Rockefeller interest in progressive filmmaking.

Interpreting Science for a General Public: the Rockefeller Foundation and the Politics of Science Popularization in the 1930s

January 1, 2013

In 1938 and 1939, the Rockefeller Foundation organized two confidential conferences "On the Interpretation of the Natural Sciences for a General Public", commissioned an exhaustive survey of contemporary science popularization in the United States and actively participated in international efforts in this direction under the auspices of the Paris-based International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations. The two confidential conferences gathered a significant part of the scientific, social scientific and mass media elites of the United States, and were conceived as an informal think tank in which the participants were asked to privately and frankly discuss over the political goals, strategies and techniques of science popularization.

Rockefeller Underwriting of Local, Regional, and National Educational Broadcasting Experiments, 1934-1940

January 1, 2013

Several publications and recent reports have chronicled John Marshall's decisive place in communication history. Reports by Buxton, Kridel, and Tobias, have examined the Rockefeller Foundation's (RF) crucial role in the formation of educational media in the 1930s, which has included the study and basis of media effects research. As this report will show, Rockefeller initiatives in the 1930s also served as an essential foundation for the development of American educational broadcasting, the precursor to public broadcasting. The RF archives reveal that the origin of noncommercial broadcasting methods and organization commenced as an advocacy response to the Communications Act of 1934, which privatized radio frequency allocations. Experiments between 1934 and 1940 were designed to determine the most effective spatial organization for a non-profit approach to broadcasting. Ultimately educational proponents settled on a national model, influenced by the success of and the Office of Education's Federal Radio Education Committee suggestions.

Running Head: Formative Foudation Support Research Note on Formative Foundation Support for Minority-Language Broadcasting

January 1, 2012

An overlooked part of the development of public broadcasting in America is the key role that Rockefeller philanthropy played in studying and funding educational radio before World War II. This paper recounts one little-known example of funding, started in 1938, directed to underserved minority audiences. It is the first example of a foundation underwriting the creation of American public media designed for non-English speakers.

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