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A 1966 photo of the crew and personnel of Project Stormfury, an experimental program by the US Government to weaken tropical cyclones using silver iodide. Credit: NOAA

Weather Control, Vichy France, and Early America: A Summer of Research as a Kluge Center Intern

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Rena Gabber was a Kluge Center intern, where she worked with PhD candidates Adelaide Mandeville of Harvard University and Dan Baker of Cardiff University, as well as Kluge Center Director Kevin Butterfield. Gabber is a senior at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service in International Politics. She is in Georgetown’s Carroll Fellows program, a highly selective, rigorous academic program that encourages its fellows to think critically and contribute deeply to the world around them. Rena is also the student president of Chabad Georgetown, an organization focusing on creating community among Jewish Georgetown students. 


At the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, I’ve focused my studies on analyzing US foreign policy in the Middle East over the last several decades and politics in the region more broadly. Interning at the John W. Kluge Center was a fantastic complement to my studies at Georgetown: I expanded my understanding of terrorist groups and US defense project funding, while applying skills I’ve developed inside the classroom—like open source research, political analysis and editing—to support research aiming to strengthen democracies today.

My first project at the Kluge Center investigated why people become terrorists. Led by Dan Baker, a PhD candidate at Cardiff University, this project looked at the establishment of the Milice française, a French far-right extremist group that took violent action on behalf of France’s Nazi-backed Vichy government during World War II.

In order to identify the broader motives that underlie joining and participating in terrorist groups, Baker studies the context in which the Milice emerged, the rationale for its creation and how it functioned. Throughout the summer, I considered the leadership of the Milice, investigating how and why former French soldier Joseph Darnard became the effective leader of the group. To do so, I looked through the diary entries of key Vichy bureaucrats from the late 1930s through 1942, in their original French. In piecing together accounts of their interactions with one another, I uncovered how the relationships between Prime Minister Pierre Laval, Darnard, and other likely candidates to lead the Milice precipitated Darnard’s rise to power.

Working with these primary accounts was the first time that I used information from diaries to better understand a historical decision that was made, at least in part, on an interpersonal basis. Ultimately, Darnard’s control over the Milice and the reasons why he received this leadership position help answer broader questions about the role of the Milice as a perpetrator of antisemitic violence.

Joseph Darnand, de facto leader of the Milice française, later Nazi SS Officer, executed by France at the end of the war as a collaborationist.



In addition to my work with Baker, I assisted Kluge Center Director Kevin Butterfield with putting together a special edition of the journal Early American Studies. Working directly under Butterfield, I copyedited the eight articles to be published in the review. I focused primarily on increasing the clarity of the articles and homogenizing the stylistic choices across the articles. I developed a sense of the line that I needed to navigate between thorough and excessive copy editing, while becoming accustomed to the common mistakes I needed to look out for. In addition to copyediting, I collaborated with Butterfield to develop ideas for the review’s introduction. I mapped out common themes across the articles and reviewed existing literature on the subject to see how this special edition of Early American Studies would contribute to and diverge from ongoing academic discussions on the topic.


After finishing my work for Butterfield, I compiled data on federal funding for weather modification projects for Adelaide Mandeville, a Harvard University PhD candidate studying the significance of weather control in the US. The overarching goal of my work for Mandeville was to create charts showing the ebb and flow of financial support for weather control. I hunted for government reports with information on the yearly budgets for different weather control projects, and I used historical legislative research to guide this search. Once I synthesized the funding data into a spreadsheet, I created about a dozen graphs to make sense of it, showing changes in the funding from the federal government or a specific agency or armed service. With a focus on making my spreadsheet and charts as useful as possible, I also wrote a memo summarizing key trends in the data and compiling further research questions tied to key patterns I identified in the dataset.



A 1966 photo of the crew and personnel of Project Stormfury, an experimental program by the US Government to weaken tropical cyclones using silver iodide. Credit: NOAA


During my time at the Kluge Center this summer, I enjoyed juggling research on a variety of topics, all sharing an underlying focus on democracy and international relations. It was a wonderfully rigorous nine weeks. I am certain that I will draw upon the research skills and knowledge that I developed at the Kluge Center during my remaining year at Georgetown and after graduation.


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