Before the Cultural Cold Wars: American philanthropy and cultural diplomacy in the inter-war years


  • Katharina Rietzler

    1. University College London
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    • This article is a revised version of the paper delivered at the American History Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, on 12 Feb. 2009. It was subsequently awarded second place in the Pollard Prize for 2009. Financial support for research on this article from the German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C., the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History and the Rockefeller Archive Center is gratefully acknowledged.


The absence of formal state structures for the conduct of cultural relations until 1938 has led to the assumption that Americans abandoned a noble tradition of liberal cultural exchange in the Cold War, when state and private organizations co-operated in a propaganda battle against the Soviet Union. This article re-examines the realities of American cultural diplomacy in inter-war Europe by focusing on a group of key actors: philanthropic foundations founded by the Rockefeller and the Carnegie families. Far from being apolitical, foundations operated with the tacit approval of the state and reliably furthered American interests abroad but their non-governmental status also made them vulnerable to foreign intelligence.