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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.

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.

Unhooking the Hookworm: The Rockefeller Foundation and Mediated Health

January 1, 2012

In the beginning of the 20th century, a wide array of progressive-era projects aimed at improving and modernizing metropolitan everyday life. These didactic initiatives, working top-down, brought together a cross section of civil movements at a time when many federal and municipal organizations were still in the bud. These uplift and reform campaigns zoomed in on sanitation, working conditions, childcare, education, and recreation. Initially, the campaigns mainly had a local focus such as clean-up campaigns, milk, and child care campaigns, but their range gradually expanded with the aspiration to engage with localities across the U.S. and eventually outside American borders.

Composing for the Media: Hanns Eisler and Rockefeller Foundation Projects in Film Music, Radio Listening, and Theatrical Sound Design

January 1, 2009

Hanns Eisler and Theodor Adorno's Composing for the Films (Oxford University Press, 1947) remains a standard textbook reference on the problems and problematics of composing music for the commercial film. The textbook is essentially an expanded treatment of Eisler's motivations, observations, and conclusions, informed with Adorno's critical judgments of music and musical effects in the contemporary moment, in regards to his Film Music Project in which Eisler composed new scores for a variety of existing films, from animated short to documentary to narrative feature. The project was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and administered from 1940 through 1942 at the New School for Social Research located in New York City. But the relationship of the text to the project has long remained unclear. Since Adorno was not technically involved in the Film Music Project, the kind and degree of his contributions to Composing for the Films has been a matter of speculation. This confusion is related to another, more important set of questions relating to the methods of the project itself, which have persisted as the text has become a canonical reference in studies of film music over the past 60 years.

Rockefeller Family Support for W1XAL/WRUL, "Boston's Vest-pocket BBC"

January 1, 2009

I spent July and August of 2004 as a scholar-in-residence at the Rockefeller Archive Center, doing research on the support of Rockefeller philanthropy for the study and practice of educational radio. Within a few days of my arrival, I was saddened to learn of the death of Laurance Spelman Rockefeller (born 1910), who was one of the two surviving sons (along with David Rockefeller) of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. I was also informed that -- as is the case with the death of any Rockefeller family member whose papers are held by the Rockefeller Archive Center -- the papers of Laurance Rockefeller would now be open to researchers. As I have always found Laurance Rockefeller to be an intriguing figure -- well known for his activities as a venture capitalist, an aviation pioneer, a conservationist, not to mention his later forays into UFO research -- I began to examine his papers with a view to understanding the extent to which he may have been involved in educational radio. It became almost immediately evident that not only was Laurance Rockefeller a long-time supporter of educational radio, but his activities in this area over the years provided a window into the evolving relationship between private family interests, philanthropic practices, and the rise and fall of an innovative yet highly controversial 2 venture in radio broadcasting, namely the experimental educational radio broadcaster W1XAL. (In 1939 the experimental status was abandoned, and the station was assigned the call letters WRUL, which stood for "World Radio University Listeners"). Accordingly, I used Laurance S. Rockefeller's papers as a point of departure for examining other collections that contained material on the emergence and development of W1XAL/WRUL.

Unhooking the Hookworm: The Making and Uses of a Public Health Film

January 1, 2009

In 1920 the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation produced a film that would introduce tens of thousands of people throughout the world to the medium of the cinema. Unhooking the Hookworm was intended to teach rural peoples how to rid themselves of the Ankylostomiasis parasite, and to prevent its spread in their communities. This was one of the first educational films to be intended for audiences in what would come to be known as the "developing" world. In this respect, it is the ancestor of the public health films that are still produced and distributed by Non-Governmental Organizations throughout Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Rockefeller officials appear to have been unaware that they were pioneers in a global movement to bring cinema to rural peoples. Yet their film, Unhooking the Hookworm, would establish precedents for didactic film-making that shaped documentary film-making in Asia and Africa for a generation.

Rockefeller Support for Projects on the Use of Motion Pictures for Educational and Public Purposes, 1935-1954

January 1, 2001

While it is now commonly recognized that Rockefeller philanthropy supported a number of important projects related to radio, its involvement with motion pictures has received much less attention. Yet between 1935 and 1954, the Humanities Division (HD) of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), along with the General Education Board (GEB), allocated around a million and a half dollars to initiatives related to film, scattered across a broad range of initiatives. Indeed, the RF and the GEB interests in motion picture and radio programs were considered as part of a single program concerned with how the educational possibilities of the two new media could be explored and cultivated. As is the case with the Rockefeller projects related to radio, items dealing with motion picture initiatives can be found in abundance at the Rockefeller Archive Center. In addition to extensive material in the RF and the GEB collections (including the fellowship files), additional valuable documentation can be found in the Program and Policy collections, and in some of the officers' diaries (particularly those of John Marshall and David Stevens). In reading through the files on the particular projects found in these various collections, one is almost immediately struck by the overall vision and sense of unified purpose that seemed to underpin the support given to film. In particular, one can detect a strong interest in cultivating an inter-connected community of interests in educational film, each playing a particular role within an emergent complex.

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