A review of The Rockefeller Archive Center (Sleepy Hollow, New York, United States).
The Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) (http://www.rockarch.org/) houses collections of broad relevance to the Rockefeller family and the operations of Rockefeller-affiliated institutions throughout the world since the turn of the twentieth century. The RAC also holds records for the Ford Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Foundation for Child Development, the W. T. Grant Foundation, the Markle Foundation, the Social Sciences Research Council, and the Foundation Center. The collections would be of use to scholars in a variety of regional fields interested in the histories of philanthropy, public health, cultural diplomacy, the social sciences, and American influence abroad. Research reports from RAC grantees, available on the archive’s website (http://www.rockarch.org/publications/resrep/), are intended to help researchers gain a sense of the scope of the RAC’s holdings.
I spent approximately 10 days at the RAC in April 2015. I found the RAC’s collections of great value for my in-progress dissertation research on the politics of maternal and infant health in Nationalist China. After the founding of the China Medical Board and Peking Union Medical College, members of the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Division served in advisory roles to the Chinese Ministry of Health while also promoting scientific midwifery and arranging fellowships for Chinese medical practitioners to study in Europe and the United States.
The RAC sits atop a hill at 15 Dayton Avenue in Sleepy Hollow, NY, about 25 miles north of Manhattan along the Hudson River. The Westchester County Airport in White Plains is the closest airport, but I found it more affordable if slightly less convenient to fly into LaGuardia Airport in New York City. The M60-SBS bus provides access to Manhattan from LaGuardia. From Grand Central Station or Harlem-125th Street in Manhattan, take the Metro North Rail (Hudson Line) to Tarrytown, the station nearest Sleepy Hollow. Public transportation is limited in the surrounding area, but the RAC offers complimentary shuttle service from Tarrytown Station to the archives if you arrive on the 9:09 a.m. train and make arrangements beforehand. A shuttle also leaves the RAC at 5:25 pm each day to deliver passengers for the train departing Tarrytown at 6:02 p.m. There are several options for lodging in Tarrytown, but the Sheraton offers a special RAC researcher rate at a substantial discount and a complimentary local shuttle to and from the RAC. The Sheraton is about a five-minute drive from downtown Tarrytown, which offers a café, small shops, and a few restaurants.
The archive is somewhat hidden in a residential neighborhood a few minutes’ drive from town, but the road leading to the RAC is well-marked with signage. Hillcrest, the name of the former home built for Martha Baird Rockefeller that now houses the RAC, is a large, gated estate near the end of Dayton Avenue. If you are driving, you may use the intercom system to your left to contact the RAC’s reception as you approach the locked gate. If you have made arrangements in advance of your visit (as you most certainly should), you will be granted access and can proceed to park near the front entrance. The reading room is open Monday through Friday (except for certain holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. The reading room does not close for lunch, so researchers can work through the afternoon taking breaks as they wish. There are no shops or restaurants nearby, so researchers using the daily shuttle service will want to bring their lunch and store it in the kitchen provided on the ground floor.
Researchers should contact the RAC well in advance of their visit at firstname.lastname@example.org. In response to his/her initial email, each researcher will be assigned an archivist who will provide assistance locating relevant collections and planning his/her visit. Space in the reading room is limited and can fill up quickly, especially during summer months, so researchers should make reservations in consultation with an archivist. Each researcher will need to setup an account for an online system called RACcess (https://raccess.rockarch.org/) prior to their visit, through which s/he will be able to search the archive’s holdings and request documents. The online catalog, DIMES (http://dimes.rockarch.org/xtf/search), communicates with the RACcess system, so researchers can store lists of requested documents for later reference.
Though many documents have been digitized, most remain stored in files and boxes. In DIMES, keyword searches produce lists of relevant collections. The system uses an attractive and user-friendly interface, making it easy to find background information and lists of contents for each set of documents. After browsing search results, click “request” and then enter the date and time of your visit to request documents. Archivists recommend that researchers request an initial batch of up to ten boxes or thirty folders at least two days prior to your visit so that the documents will be waiting upon arrival. Documents are delivered at regular intervals throughout working days, at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. If a researcher requests documents that have been digitized, s/he will receive an email with a link to the requested document. Oversized items (maps, blueprints, etc.) require special accommodations in the reading room, and thus, must be requested at least two days in advance.
Researchers may take unlimited photographs without restriction, provided that each photograph includes a citation slip recording the document’s collection, record group, box, and file number. Blank citation slips are provided in the reading room, but researchers must fill in the appropriate information for themselves. The RAC will also supply researchers with photocopies ($0.50 per page), pdfs ($0.50 per page), or high-resolution scans ($25 per image) upon request. In addition to the fees per page, each order also incurs a $25 service charge. To request these reproductions, researchers should use the color coded forms provided in the reading room and give them to the monitor on duty. Given the costs involved, most researchers during my visit preferred to take advantage of unrestricted digital photography. Although policies regarding reproducing documents are quite permissive, the RAC asks that researchers refrain from publishing un-redacted personal information (eg: health records) contained in archival documents.
Except for the infrequent noise of groundskeepers’ equipment outside, the reading room was quiet and comfortable. Food, drink, pens, bags, etc. are not permitted in the reading room, but lockers are provided to each researcher for storage. Laptops and paper are welcome in the reading room, and pencils are provided. RAC staff members are friendly and eager to help.
I found my visit to the RAC fruitful and pleasant. Renting a car made my stay much more enjoyable, as Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown are largely rural areas with few options for dining and little in the way of public transportation. A trip into New York City on the weekend is easy and affordable via Metro-North Rail.
The archive’s collections are relevant to researchers working on a variety of regions, though the benefits of a visit for modern Chinese historians are particularly significant given the investments of Rockefeller-affiliated organizations in China. The RAC will soon become an even more attractive destination for scholars of modern China once its recent acquisition of the archives of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations is processed. These materials should be available to researchers in late 2016.
Rockefeller Archive Center
Address: 15 Dayton Avenue, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m.
Joshua A. Hubbard
Departments of History & Women’s Studies
University of Michigan
Image: Yang, Marion. Second Annual Report: First National Midwifery School (July 1, 1930 – June 30, 1931). Beiping, 1931. Folder 2765, Box 222, Series 601L, Rockefeller Foundation Archives, Rockefeller Archive Center.
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