by the lack of that knowledge which the social sciences must provide.” Ruml offered what for him was the clinching argument (cited in Fosdick, 1952, p. 194):
It is as though engineers were at work without an adequate development of physics and chemistry, or as though physicians were practicing in the absence of the medical sciences. The direction of work in the social field is largely controlled by tradition, inspiration and expediency.
Ruml and the SSRC leadership had a clear goal: to professionalize the social sciences, provide them methodological tools necessary for rigorous research, and point them toward important fields of investigation.
Ruml was not naïve about the challenges: data were meager; research was based on second-hand observations and anecdotal material; classroom instruction isolated students from social conditions; and, especially, the social sciences were challenged to investigate topics that could not “be brought into the laboratory for study,” but “must be observed if, when, and as operative.” Difficulties notwithstanding, “unless means are found for meeting the complex social problems that are so rapidly developing, our increasing control of physical forces may be increasingly destructive of human values” (cited in Fosdick, 1952, p. 195).
We bring this early philanthropic initiative to mind to draw a lesson still applicable. Targeted funds can help develop new research specialties. The well-funded SSRC emphasized interdisciplinary research and a strong commitment to empirical methods. Social science researchers responded not only to the SSRC, but also to the program priorities announced by other philanthropic foundations, to the Russell Sage Foundation in more than a century of social science funding and to the larger foundations—Ford, Carnegie, Hewlett, and MacArthur, among others—in the second half of the 20th century. The label field development, for example, was attached to area studies, a Cold War era success story. Coordinated conferences, workshops, research monographs, and edited volumes advanced research focused on showing how recently decolonized countries could engage in “nation building” and how western democracies should meet the threat of Communism, which in turn spawned a generation of research on the Soviet Union and China watchers (so-called because lacking access to the Chinese mainland, they “watched” from Hong Kong). There are many examples of new research fields promoted by private foundations and government