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 Franco-American Race for the Yellow Fever Vaccine

August 30, 2021

This paper looks at the cooperation and rivalry between the Rockefeller Foundation and the French Pasteur Institute during the development of the 17-D and Dakar vaccine strains for inoculation against yellow fever. Using sources held at the Rockefeller Archive Center, this paper recovers the tenuous relationship between the researchers funded by the two institutions, and shows how their work was shaped by national, imperial, and scientific rivalries. In the race to the yellow fever vaccine, the Pastorians, in particular, utilized their imperial network, which allowed them to bypass ethical concerns raised by researchers in Paris and elsewhere, and proceeded to human trials using a vaccine that had been criticized for its adverse neurological effects on certain subjects. 

Biology and Medical Research; International Health Board; Medicine and Healthcare; Public Health; Rockefeller Foundation

Primates and Population in Postcolonial India

January 5, 2021

In May 1963, Dr. Sheldon Segal convened a meeting of reproductive biologists at the Population Council's offices in New York City. He had called them there to consider "the possibility of concentrating efforts to increase fertility control research by means of establishing a large primate center in India." The proposal was an outgrowth of Segal's consultancy work for the Ford Foundation in New Delhi, and he was keen to pursue it. Segal regarded India – "a country with an abundant monkey supply" – as an ideal place to establish a cost-effective primate center for contraceptive research.   

Biology and Medical Research; Ford Foundation; Population Council; Population and Reproductive Sciences

Saiki Tadasu and the Making of the Global Science of Nutrition, 1900-1927

December 2, 2020

This paper examines the activities of Saiki Tadasu, a leading Japanese nutrition scientist of the early twentieth century.  According to his American counterpart, Dr. Victor G. Heiser, Saiki's work was "of great benefit to the human race."  Using a variety of sources in Japanese archives, the Rockefeller Archive Center, and the League of Nations Archives, this paper focuses on Saiki to explore Japan's role in the making of a global science of nutrition, and to map out an international network of intellectual cooperation and knowledge circulation on nutrition science during this period. Inspired by the work of Iris Borowy and Tomoko Akami, it illustrates a world of scientific knowledge-sharing about human well-being which extended geographically beyond the Atlantic world, and thematically beyond disease control. Following Saiki's lead, from 1900 to 1927, Japanese nutrition scientists contributed to growing public recognition of the importance of nutrition science and championed its global development.

Biology and Medical Research; Food and Nutrition; International Health Board; Interwar Years; John Z. Bowers Papers; Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation (Non) Policy Toward Physics Research and Education in Latin America

September 10, 2019

This report provides an overview of the history of physics in Latin America through the intervention of the Rockefeller Foundation. It is mainly based on reports and correspondence located at the Rockefeller Archive Center, documenting the interaction of Rockefeller Foundation officers with Latin American physicists, providing insight into how these scientists represented themselves. It focuses on the policies of the Rockefeller Foundation behind its support for physics communities and institutions in Latin America from the 1940s to the 1960s. It provides a panoramic – but not exhaustive – view about how these orientations changed according to the group, the topic, and the geopolitical context.

The Fly Room: The Invention of Genetics, the Science of Evolution

December 13, 2018

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was awarded to three scientists who studied domestic fruit flies—Drosophila melanogaster—in outer space to understand how humans have adapted to life on earth. This adaptation of fruit fly research to the farthest reaches of human experience may not seem surprising, given that they were the first animals ever brought into orbit, and have been used to study so many diverse facets of life on this planet. But how did we and the flies get here?

Andrew H. Woods in China and the United States: A Medical History Study at the Rockefeller Archive Center

June 25, 2018

In 1872, Andrew H. Woods was born in Hartwood, Virginia. He obtained a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1899 and became a resident at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital after graduation. In 1900, he arrived in Canton, China, for the first time. He worked as a surgical trainee, neurologist and dermatologist at Canton Hospital. Then, he returned to the United States in 1907 and worked as an intern at a private hospital in Bryn Mawr, Philadelphia. In 1908, Woods transferred to the Pennsylvania Hospital as an anesthesiologist and also served as a neurological assistant physician at the Philadelphia hospital. Between 1908 and 1911, Woods had multiple responsibilities. He was a lecturer in neurology at the Pennsylvania Medical School, an assistant physician in neurology and an assistant physician in psychiatry at the Philadelphia Hospital. Having various roles became a feature of many clinicians in that era. Although medical science was divided into distinct subjects, the boundaries between clinical subjects were not strictly defined, especially in non-surgical departments.  So, it provided a space for many doctors to change their clinical roles. By the 20th century, clinical medicine sub-divisions were based on the organ system, and no longer classified according to clinical symptoms. Therefore, diseases in different department may show the same or similar symptoms. For example, neurological diseases could show skin symptoms. A neurologist was also a dermatologist, which was relatively easy to understand.

Rockefeller International Health Division and Nutrition Studies

June 5, 2018

My dissertation explores the science of nutrition in Britain in the first half of the 20th century. Archival research in the United Kingdom led me to explore further the Anglo-American connections related to the science of nutrition, and ask how American philanthropy came to shape the European scientific community working on public health. The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) was the single most influential American organization in the establishment of British nutritional labs, particularly those in Cambridge, and was also involved in educational programs in fields related to nutrition: agriculture, natural sciences and bio-chemistry. Many of the key figures I study in my dissertation, such as Harriet Chick, Clemens von Pirquet, and Robert Leiper, were supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Understanding the nature of those American-European and American-British connections is a crucial part of my dissertation and will hone my contribution to the field of interwar internationalism and science.

Egyptological Conversations about Race and Science

February 15, 2018

In 1908, when James Henry Breasted published ancient copies of some Biblical texts, he hoped that one interested reader would be Booker T. Washington. Breasted wrote to Washington to bring the matter to his attention, providing him with a copy of the article and explaining its general content. At that time, Washington was preoccupied with the aftermath of an injustice done to black soldiers stationed in Brownsville, Texas, and the subsequent refusal of Theodore Roosevelt, whom Washington had formerly advised, to undo the damage to the men's reputations, careers, and futures. Nonetheless, Washington replied to Breasted the following week, expressing his polite interest in the matter and noting that although he had not had the time to acquaint himself with the ancient history of Ethiopia, he noted that many West African traditions traced their cultural heritage to "a distant place in the direction of ancient Ethiopia." Washington wondered if that "distant place" and the subject matter of Breasted's article could be one and the same. "Could it be possible that these civilizing influences had their sources in this ancient Ethiopian kingdom to which your article refers?" If Washington saw ancient "Ethiopia," that is, the southern Nile River Valley, also known as the Upper Nile, Nubia, and in contemporary political designation the Sudan, as the source of other African people's culture, Breasted would have concurred.

The Ford Foundation and the Relocation of Argentinian Scholars, 1966-1968

December 19, 2017

On June 28th, 1966, the constitutional Argentinian President Arturo Illia was overthrown by a military putsch led by Lt. General Juan Carlos Onganía. The Congress elected in 1963 and all political parties were dissolved. The Rector, the Senate of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), and the Councils of most of the University Schools severely condemned the putsch, with its implied breakdown of all democratic procedures. On July 29th, the Universities were put under the direct control of the military Government and their autonomy was curtailed. That evening the Federal Police invaded the School of Exact and Natural Sciences (Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, FCEN) of UBA, brutally attacking the professors and students who had gathered and taking hundreds into police stations for several days. Similar invasions were perpetrated in the School of Architecture and in the School of Philosophy and Letters (FFyL) of the UBA. The Dean and Vice-Dean of the FCEN and the Dean of the School of Architecture were beaten. This episode, known as the "Night of the Long Sticks" (Noche de los bastones largos, or NBL) has been the object of numerous reports and studies.

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.

The Road Taken: René Dubos' journey from microbiologist to ecologist

January 1, 2017

In May 1977, René Dubos composed a letter to the University of Georgia biologist Eugene Odum. Then aged 76, Dubos was at the height of his fame as a popular medical and scientific thinker. In a 50-year-career that had taken in a PhD in soil microbiology at Rutgers University, the isolation of the first antibacterial agents in Oswald Avery's laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York, and pioneering studies of turberculosis and the role of intestinal microflora in the regulation of health and disease, the French-born medical researcher had increasingly decried short-term technological fixes that he feared might upset the delicate balance between humans and microbes. In this way, Dubos had come to be regarded as an apostle for the burgeoning environmental movement and a defender of the view of the earth as a delicate ecosystem. It was a view that he shared with Odum, not least because it was Odum who had brought the ecosystems concept to wider popular audiences through his 1953 book Fundamentals of Ecology, and who had helped establish ecology as a scientific discipline in American universities. In theory then, the researchers had much in common. However in 1977 when Dubos discovered that Odum was to be presented with the Tyler Award for thinkers who had made a significant contribution to ecology and environmental science -- the same award that Dubos had been presented with the previous year -- the Frenchman blanched. "You are for me Mr Ecology," he informed Odum. "Although I know I am not an ecologist, I have repeatedly been involved in scientific problems which have ecological components. This is happening once more in an enterprise that will certainly be my last professional activity."

Parasitology, Communism, and the Cold War in Brazil (1950s-1970s)

January 1, 2016

The main objective of my research project is to examine the intersection of medical parasitology, ideology, and politics in Brazil during the twentieth century from the perspective of two of its most important representatives: Samuel Barnsley Pessoa (1898-1976) and Amilcar Vianna Martins (1907-1990). Both are considered founding fathers of modern medical parasitology in Brazil. Pessoa taught at the School of Medicine of the University of São Paulo, Martins at the School of Medicine of the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte. Both were the chairs of medical parasitology in their respective medical schools. From the 1940s onwards, both, too, were active militants of the clandestine Brazilian Communist Party (PCB). In the mid-twentieth century, a considerable number of leading Brazilian parasitologists, most of whom were trained by Pessoa and Martins, were also associated with the Communist Party in the 1950s and 1960s. At the center of this story lies a major paradox: just as these parasitologists were recognized nationally and internationally for their research and contributions, they were also persecuted, both internally and externally, for their communism. Most of them were harassed, imprisoned, dismissed, or exiled by the military regime that was established in March 1964, ending the era of democracy inaugurated in 1945.

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