How the teaching of American History was changed - and why - Norman Dodd

Half a century ago certain members of congress became concerned about tax-exempt foundations. In 1954 they launched a Congressional investigation. Norman Dodd was the staff director.

Late in his life Dodd reflected back on some of the things the committee discovered. Particularly interesting was the revelation of a concerted plan by leaders of the Ford, Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations to change the way history was taught in order to ensure that future Americans would never return to the types of attitudes that prevailed prior to World War I. The below was recorded in 1982 (transcript below).

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Transcript of Norman Dodd

“At that time their (Ford Foundation) interest shifts to prevent a reversion of life in the United States to what it was prior to 1914 when WWI broke out. And they arrived at the conclusion that, to prevent a reversion, we must control education in the United States.

“They realized then that’s a pretty big task. It was too big for them alone. So they approached the Rockefeller Foundation with the suggestion that, that portion of education which could be considered domestic be handled by the Rockefeller Foundation, and that portion which is international should be handled by the (Ford Foundation) endowment.

They then decided that the key to the success of these two operations lay in the alteration of the teaching of American history. So they approached four of the then most prominent teachers of American History in the country, people like Charles and Mary Beard1. And their suggestion to them is, would they alter the manner in which they present this subject? And they get turned down flat.

So they then decide that it’s necessary for them to build, “our own stable of historians”. And then they approach the Guggenheim Foundation, which specializes in fellowships, and say, “When we find young men in the process of studying for doctorates in the field of American History, and we feel they are of the right calibre, will you grant them fellowships on our say so?” And the answer is yes. So under that condition, eventually they assemble 20. They take these 20 potential teachers of American History to London and there they’re briefed on what’s expected of them when, as, and if they secure appointments in keeping with the doctorates they will then have earned. And that group of 20 historians eventually becomes the nucleus of the American Historical Association.

George Orwell George Orwell

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past. -George Orwell, 1984

For further reference read Rene Wormser. Foundations: Their power and influence.

  1. Charles A. Beard, d1948, one of the most influential American Historians of his time, taught at Columbia University. Mary Ritter Beard, d. 1958, one of the first female historians, focused on women in American history. (Brittanica) ↩︎


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