The Circulation of Corporate-Based “Scientific” Philanthropy in Europe and the United States (1880-1940)

Bertrams Kenneth

By the end of the 19th century, Belgian industrialist and philanthropist Ernst Solvay and his family deemed it necessary to “pay back to the advancement of Science a part of the prosperity [they] owe to it”. To American observers, the examples of Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford first come to mind when it comes to the creation of science-oriented philanthropic foundations or institutes. Yet, such practices, deeply rooted in the progressive credo and the gospel for industrial capitalism, have their counterparts in Europe. This paper seeks to examine some core aspects of the diversity of philanthropic cultures between both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It expressly aims at internationalizing the study of philanthropic foundations by adopting a transnational stance focusing on actors (donors, beneficiaries, and intermediaries), their networks and projects. A first set of questions deals with the international organization of philanthropic “communities”. Are these “communities” operating along the same patterns? To what extent is their agenda the outcome of a transfer of different cultures of capitalism, rather than the product of the global circulation of ideas? The second line of questions relates to the potential directions given to scientific research by philanthropic foundations. The literature on this topic is huge, yet scattered and controversial. National models (i.e. American, German, French) often prevail and are generally accepted prima facie without questioning the practices these “models” are supposed to encompass. It is the ambition of this paper to provide the first ingredients as a means to bring out a synthetic view on the divergences and convergences of such models.

Type Conference contribution
Language na
  • Europe as an Area of Economic and Social Regulation
  • Histoire contemporaine [de 1800 a 1914]
  • Histoire contemporaine [depuis 1914]
  • Histoire économique
Publication date 2014-03-14
ULB Institutional Reference