Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Susan V Donaldson


My dissertation, "Artful Manipulation: The Rockefeller Family and Cold War America," examines how the Rockefeller family used the Museum of Modern Art, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection to shape opinions about America, both at home and abroad, during the early years of the Cold War. The work done at Colonial Williamsburg tied the Rockefeller name to the foundations of American society and, later, to the spread of global democracy in the Cold War world. The establishment of a new museum for the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art collection in 1957 renewed the narrative that American folk art was the basis for American modern art, thus creating a legacy of creative cultural production that could match America's Cold War economic and military power. A close reading of the Museum of Modern Art's famous 1955 Family of Man exhibition shows how the Rockefellers promoted America as the head of the post-war global family. The show, a large scale photography exhibition, glorified universal humanism as the only option for global peace after World War II. The implicit message of the show, which traveled nationally and internationally through 1962, was that Americans would lead the free world in the second half of the twentieth century. In their insistence on shaping American society in their view, the Rockefellers shut out dissenting opinions and alternative narratives about American culture. A consideration of James Baldwin and Richard Avedon's 1964 photo-text Nothing Personal is then offered as a rebuttal to the narrative of modern American culture endorsed by the Rockefellers. In Nothing Personal, James Baldwin's essays and Richard Avedon's photographs signify on the narrative of white domination, the same narrative evoked across the Rockefellers' institutions. Juxtaposing Nothing Personal against the hegemonic work of the Rockefellers' cultural organizations offers readers a consideration of how narratives of exclusion necessitate and give life to narratives of resistance.



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