In many parts of the world, America's influence has been felt through technological programs designed to modernize health, agriculture, and family structure, and to protect nature. Using a combination of archival and ethnographic methods, Thomas Robertson will write a social, economic, and political history of the environmental changes introduced by American technology transfer programs in Nepal by focusing on four strategically selected case studies from the 1950s to the 1980s: the Rapti Valley Development Project (1950s), the Malaria Eradication Project (1960s), U.S. Agricultural Development and Land Reform Programs (1960s), and U.S. Population Control, Natural Resource, and National Park Programs (1960s-1980s). These four Cold War-era programs, and the ideas of nature and technology wrapped within them, placed Nepal on the frontlines of economic competition with the Soviet Union and China in rural Asia and also reshaped the contours of Nepal?s national and local life. Together, the programs became the face of 'progress' and 'modern technology' at a time when Nepalis, on both the national and local levels, were just beginning to invent what modernity would mean for them. In this book-length project, Robertson will explore both the environmental and economic transformations that came with these technological projects. This will be a history that is multi-perspectival. Robertson will uncover the views of American strategists, American development workers, Nepali planners, and Nepali villagers, especially those often overlooked: ethnic minorities, religious minorities, 'lower' castes, and women. At a time when international development has taken on new urgency because of Iraq and Afghanistan, assessing the impact of American technological transfer programs in earlier periods is more important than ever.

Project Report

A very common problem in foreign policy making, and especially international development, is that policy makers do not know the history of earlier development projects. Historians have begun to focus attention on the history of international development, both for practical purposes and also to expand our understanding of what constitutes foreign relations. My study belongs to this larger field, but adds to it a focus on the environmental consequences of technology transfer. In many parts of the world, America’s influence has been felt not through the military or the market, but through technological programs to develop resources, both natural and human. Usually driven by Cold War strategy and often using technologies and methods devised during World War II, these development programs literally remade the world. My study focuses on the environmental, social, and political consequences of Cold War-era U.S. technological transfer programs in Nepal, which opened to the outside world only in 1951. In particular, I examine four case studies—the Rapti Valley Development Project (1950s), Malaria Eradication (1960s), Land Reform (1960s), and Population and Environment Programs (1970s). These programs—and the ideas of nature and technology wrapped within them—placed Nepal on the frontlines of Cold War economic competition in rural Asia, while simultaneously becoming the face of "progress" at a time when Nepalis were just beginning to invent what modernity would mean for them. Tracing the political, social, and cultural meanings of these technological transfer programs—in a single place but over time and from different perspectives—has allowed me to do two things: 1) shed light on Nepal’s troubled history at a moment in its current history when an ongoing Maoist insurgency has placed questions about development’s past at the top of the nation’s agenda, and 2) add an often-overlooked environmental component to American foreign relations history. The award has allowed me to collect thousands of documents and conduct scores of interviews in multiple locations in Nepal, as well as at international offices in Geneva, London, and around the U.S. I have given over 15 presentations on aspects of this work at professional meetings in Nepal, India, France, Germany, and the U.S. I have begun publishing the results of the research. I have more articles on the way, and am trying to put the research together in a book. Several of the more important articles include: "Toward an Environmental History of Cold War-Era International Development Programs." This has been accepted by Cold War History and is in the publication process. This article draws attention to the ways in which U.S. development programs during the Cold War transformed ecologies around the world. 2. "A Lowland Plague in a Mountainous Region: A Historical Political Ecology of Disease in the Nepal Himalaya Before 1950" [under revision for submission for publication] This article examines the mix of natural and human factors that created the malarial environments in Nepal before 1950s. 3. "Point IV in Nepal: DDT and U.S. Environmental and Social Engineering in the Rapti Valley, 1952-1962" [under revision for submission for publication] This article shows that eliminating a dread disease is not as beneficial as most assume. It highlights what happened to the Tharu people of the Rapti Valley. 4. " ‘A Great Thing for Poor Folks’: Population Programs in Nepal in the 1960s and 1970s" [under revision for submission for publication] This article counters the conventional wisdom about U.S. funded population programs by showing they brought not just problems to the people of Nepal but also benefits. The article makes a strong case for assessing international development programs by whether local people find them useful or not. In addition to these and other publications, I have assembled in digital form a collection of hundreds of documents (many thousands of pages) and photographs from archival sources related to the history of development in Nepal. Many are from Nepal and are not easily accessible to American researchers, and others are from archives in the U.S. not easily accessible to scholars and students in Nepal. After I publish my work I will make these materials accessible on the internet, either through established libraries and archives or through my own webpage. Most of the documents are in the public domain. Finally, my research has laid the foundation for a workshop/edited volume, organized with Prof. Jenny Smith (a historian of the Soviet Union at Georgia Tech) and funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, in Washington D.C. in June, 2015, on the comparative environmental history of international development during the Cold War. Oxford University Press has expressed interest in publishing this edited volume. Taken as a whole, these works are helping to change the way we think about U.S. foreign relations and the role of technology within international relations. They are drawing much more attention to the complicated role of environmental change in foreign relations.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Frederick M Kronz
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Worcester Polytechnic Institute
United States
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