Rockefeller fellows as heralds of globalization: the circulation of elites, knowledge and practices of modernization (1920s-1970s)


Requérant principal: Ludovic Tournès, Université de Genève

Co-requérants : Thomas David (Université de Lausanne), Davide Rodogno (Graduate Institute Genève)

Equipe : Yi-Tang Lin (Post-doc), Ahmad Fahoum (Doctorant), Hannah Tyler (Doctorante), Mathilde Sigalas (Doctorante), Steven Piguet (Informaticien)

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This project critically explores processes of globalization (or the lack thereof), using the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship Program (hereafter RFP) as a point of entry. The program ran from 1917 to 1970 and involved more than 10,000 fellows from 88 countries and a great variety of disciplinary fields in natural and social sciences, medicine and humanities. Through this program, the Rockefeller Foundation (hereafter RF) trained scientists and practitioners from all over the world; it intended these fellows to contribute to modernization processes in their home countries and, eventually, to contribute to building international peace, open markets (creating prosperity) and stable nation states. Through its policies, the RF thus worked toward the development of knowledge in multiple disciplines and fields. It selected fellows to translate knowledge into “modern” practices designed to solve contemporary problems, such as preventing epidemics, regulating the world economy, or establishing national administrations in newly created states. Rockefeller fellows were the heralds of this agenda, which had global aims. Our research project covers the RF’s vision, how its projects were designed, and the individuals involved, as well as the implementation of its programs and the discrepancies between the original ideas and the eventual outcomes. The research project is structured chronologically and covers the period 1920-1970 in order to highlight possible continuities between then interwar years and the post-1945 period. Finally, we take into account transnational circulations that took place during the Cold War by studying contact between the Eastern and the Western blocs. We center our attention on the fellows themselves and the ways in which they adhered to, accepted, appropriated and contributed to (or not) the foundation’s vision. We tell the story of what happened before, during and after the fellowships by tracing the career paths and transnational circulations of fellows over the long term, throughout their lives and careers. 

This project is innovative in several respects: 

1. It combines four different historiographical fields of research: the history of philanthropy, the history of knowledge, the history of elites, and the history of development programs. Past research has sometimes crossed the boundaries between these fields, but our approach offers a more sophisticated and thorough historical analysis. 2. It focuses on individuals (the fellows) to offer a different take on the history of globalization, one that studiously avoids teleological interpretations and considers the gaps that exist between global theoretical views – such as that of the RF – and the reality of local situations and individual career paths. 3. It offers a multi-layered analysis by combining a quantitative approach – indispensable for elucidating patterns in fellows’ career paths – with a qualitative one based on case studies compiled using various archives in a select number of countries. The database created for the project will be made available online as an open-source tool for the international research community; it will be hosted on the website of the Rockefeller Archive Center. The database is also designed to be expanded over time and thus used and adapted for further research. A diagram providing an overview of the project’s structure is joined in appendix. 

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