After twelve years of frustration in attempting to use my research to create positive changes in children's psychiatric hospitals, schools and day care centers, I needed to put my failures into perspective. My research into the history of these institutions allowed me to understand their role in U.S. society and revealed implicit values and goals shaping their philosophy, form and functioning which work against positive change. My research into the history of action-research raised questions about the role of research and the researcher in environmental change - ethical and value based issues which we rarely address. An historical approach provided an understanding of how prevailing ideologies shape research and design questions, methods and professional roles and limit our visions of what could exist. Without such an analysis, and despite our best intentions, places we are helping to create will probably not be an improvement over the ones which exist.