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

Applicant Tournès Ludovic
Number 172673
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Département d'histoire générale Faculté des lettres Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.09.2018 - 31.08.2022
Approved amount 1'400'000.00
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Keywords (8)

transnational circulations; globalization; knowledge; twentieth century; philanthropy; elites; database; development

Lay Summary (French)

Le projet constitue une analyse critique des processus de mondialisation contemporains à partir du programme “Fellowships” de la fondation Rockefeller. Ce programme, qui a fonctionné entre 1917 et 1970, a impliqué plus de 10,000 boursiers de près de 100 pays venus d’une multitude de champs disciplinaires dans le domaine des sciences de la nature, des sciences sociales, de la médecine et des humanités. A travers ce programme, la fondation Rockefeller entendait former des scientifiques et des praticiens dans tous les pays du monde afin de les faire participer aux processus de modernisation de leurs pays respectifs et contribuer ainsi à construire un monde fondé sur la paix internationale, l’ouverture des marchés et la stabilité politique et sociale des Etats-nations.
Lay summary

Le projet est fondé sur la combinaison de l’analyse quantitative et qualitative et sur la combinaison des échelles mondiale (le projet de la fondation Rockefeller) et locale (les parcours individuels des boursiers-fellows).

Sur le plan quantitatif, il vise à créer une base de données de l’ensemble des fellows de la fondation Rockefeller, qui permettra d’avoir une vision globale du phénomène. A l’issue du projet, cette base sera rendue accessible à l’ensemble de la communauté scientifique.

Sur le plan qualitatif, le projet s’attachera à étudier plus spécifiquement des groupes limités de fellows dans différents secteurs disciplinaires (ou transdisciplinaires), à différentes périodes, et dans différentes aires géographiques, et ce, sur le long terme (tout au long des carrières des fellows). Trois grandes directions de recherche seront privilégiées :

1/ l’organisation et la gestion d’un programme de bourse mondial par la fondation Rockefeller sur une période de plus d’un demi-siècle ;

2/ l’élaboration de savoirs sur les problèmes mondiaux contemporains ;

3/ Les pratiques de modernisation mises en place sur le terrain par les fellows et leur relation avec le projet mondial de la fondation Rockefeller.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 24.05.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



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.