Area Studies Programs

  • Education
  • 1952

New U.S. responsibilities on the global stage after World War II brought needs for expertise in many exotic regions. To fill knowledge gaps that were handicapping policymakers, business executives, and other American leaders, foundations like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford took steps to expand intensive study of critical areas such as the Soviet Union, Asia, and the Middle East. In addition to raising general levels of understanding, this increased the supply of Americans with the language skills and cultural knowledge to make good commercial, diplomatic, and military judgments about such regions. Rockefeller and Carnegie focused primarily on funding universities—establishing academic centers to study Russia at Columbia and Harvard, for instance. Ford focused in the beginning on individuals, providing $35 million of fellowships to students and established scholars over two and a half decades. As individual experts began to populate these fields, Ford funded institutional structures as well, beginning in 1960 with $15 million of grants to further “area studies” work on places like the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East. In 1961, Ford allocated $21 million to build programs at Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan, Notre Dame, Yale, Princeton, Washington, and other universities. This strengthened Ford’s reputation for leading the nation into timely new academic disciplines at moments of need.