Letter to President Harper on a New Sociology Journal

Albion Small

Founded by John D. Rockefeller

Chicago, April 25, 1895

President William R. Harper, D.D., L.L.D.,

My dear President Harper:—

By your permission, I present herewith a statement of some of the reasons why a journal of Sociology is demanded of the University of Chicago. Hoping that the Board of Trustees will see fit to authorize the establishment of such a journal, I am preparing a more specific statement in form of prospectus which will be ready for your consideration in a few days.

1. A recent English critic made the following remark:—"Outside a small group of workers, who, however, stand more or less aloof from the main body of professional thought, we have really in England at the present day no school of thought producing men fitted to deal with the science of human society as a whole" (Mr. Benjamin Kidd, in Nineteenth Century, Feb. 1895). The observation notoriously fits every other country. The foundations of the science of Sociology have been and are being laid by men who realize this failure and who appreciate the necessity of combining social abstractions with "a science of human society as a whole."

2. The University of Chicago has made more liberal provision than any other institution in the world for development of and instruction in the science of Sociology. Nowhere else in the world are so many courses of instruction offered. This fact, together with the fact that equally liberal provision has been made for related

( 163) departments of social knowledge, has given the University a prominence in these departments, which makes it our duty to use every means of leadership in the formation of opinion about what is desirable right and possible in social action.

3. Sociology is the most recent, the most difficult, the most complex and the most misunderstood of all the sciences pertaining to society. Every silly and mischievous doctrine which agitators advertise, claims Sociology as its sponsor. A scientific journal of Sociology could be of practical social service in every issue, in discrediting pseudo-sociology and in forcing social doctrinaires back to accredited facts and principles.

4. Although everything written under the title or ostensibly written in the domain of Sociology, is eagerly read by increasing numbers of people in all ranks, there is no English or American magazine devoted exclusively or I may say even intelligently to a comprehensive treatment of the subjects properly belonging to Sociology or "the science of human society as a whole."

5. I have been urged by some of the leaders of Sociological investigation in this country, Lester F. Ward the Nestor of American Sociologists among the number, to take the editorship of such a journal, of which every Sociologist feels the need.

6. By issuing such a journal now, we shall have the advantage of being first in the field. We shall not invade preoccupied territory. We shall enlist the good will of men and institutions not committed to the support of a possible competitor and their cooperation will fora long time secure to our journal undisputed possession of ground which it will be greatly to the credit of the University to improve.

7. A journal controlled by the University, while offering freedom of publication for all responsible conclusions and opinions, whether approved by the editors or not, will furnish a needed medium for the exposition of the system of Sociology which the department in the University of Chicago peculiarly represents. I may be permitted to say that if I am right in my views of the scope and method of Sociology, not only the department, but fairly adequate conceptions of the province of the department and of the contributions which it should make to knowledge of right social relations, had been lacking in America until the University of Chicago gave work in Sociology room to develop. The impression which our work has already made upon representative men, the incredulity and opposition as well as the approval which we have met confirms my belief that we have

( 165) adopted a scientific platform broader and more secure than the leaders of other tendencies have constructed, or in the present generation can construct. It is the courage of this conviction which spurs me to undertake what I see to be the most formidable task that I have ever encountered.

8. A journal of Sociology would be of direct value to each University department which deals with groups of facts and relations occurring in Society. Sociology, being a synthetic science, cannot gain any authority, except as it builds upon the results of the special social sciences. Sociology constantly emphasizes the necessity of reckoning with the data of Ethnology, History, Comparative Administrative Science and Political Economy. Sociology consequently reinforces the demand of practical men that study of these sciences shall not be pursued as though they were ends in them-selves, but in order that the results may be combined for useful purposes in the guidance of social effort. Sociology, therefore, furnishes the setting in which the importance of each special social science is seen in the perspective.

9. The following considerations need not be elaborated:

(a) A journal is needed to work against the growing popular impression that short cuts may be found to universal prosperity.

(b) It is needed to serve as a clearing house for the best that is appearing in the press of the world on sociological subjects.

(c) It is needed both to exert restraint upon utopian social effort and to encourage and direct well advised attempts at social cooperation.

(d) It would advertise the University, and give it additional repute as a moulder of thought.

(e) It would strengthen the department of Sociology and related Departments by attracting students.

(f)  It would improve the quality of work done by students in the department by offering a place of publication for meritorious productions.

(g) It would be an additional incentive to the instructors in the department to investigate and publish.

(h) The expense of starting the journal need not be large.

(i) The greatest interest in the subject justifies the hope that it would soon be self-supporting.

10. The following will indicate my opinion, in general of the proper scope of the journal of Sociology:—

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(a) It should be primarily technical. By this I do not mean that it should be devoted exclusively to discussions of the methodology of Sociological enquiry, but that it should aim to extend, classify and clarify knowledge of societary relations.

(b) It should be incidentally and secondarily popular. By this I do not mean that it should attempt to attract immature or ignorant readers; but that it should be as free as possible from technicalities which are of professional interest to sociologists alone, and should try to put the results of research in a form which would be interesting to all people capable of forming respectable judgements upon difficult social questions.

(c) It should attempt to present sociological conclusions or problems in such a way that they will be seen to have a double bearing: (1) upon the general or special doctrine of social philosophy held by the theorists: (2) upon the practical decisions of men of affairs. I do not anticipate that such a journal can cater to the latter class of readers in great numbers, but I would endeavor to make its contents available as a resource for middlemen, who could recast them for popular consumption.

(d) It should therefore become indispensable to all thinkers whatever their professional position or special social interest, who need to know the best that has been learned or thought about possibilities of rearranging social effort in the interest of larger usefulness:—Thus (1) Sociologists, scientific writers, leaders, sociological students. (2) Publicists of all kinds except the machine politicians. (3) Journalists, except those who are working for pay regardless of principle. (4) Ministers and others, engaged in promoting humane endeavor. (5) Men connected with state, county, municipal or private charities. (6) Officers of all grades in public school systems. (7) Specialists in particular social sciences who need to relate their part of a subject to the whole from which it is an abstraction.

The primary practical service of Sociology is to show all classes in society the functional significance of the part which each other element in society is performing. The exhibition of these primary facts will go far toward solving many puzzling social questions.

(e) In order to reach each class included under the above suggestions, the journal should contain articles:—(1) Dealing directly with systematic and technical Sociology. The aim of these articles should be to improve methodology, to define lines of distinction and

( 167) principles of classification among the phenomena and to reach constructive scientific conclusions. These articles should contain the maturest thought about society which our scientific attainments make possible.

2. Designed to show the rational basis or lack of basis beneath proposed plans of state action. These articles should contain diagnoses not merely of isolated symptoms but of social evils in their causes, and they should discuss the possibility of immediate remedies, or of palliatives according to the nature of the conditions in question.

3. Designed to show the relation of the educational factor in civilization to possible social progress. These articles should not deal with the technique of pedagogy, but rather with the subject matter of instruction considered as a societary function—a qualification for effective performance of work by each member of society. These articles should help to qualify teachers to perform their work from the larger outlook of the sociological view point.

4. Designed to interpret the social functions belonging to the church as an organ of society, to instruct clergy and laity and to aid in directing them to intelligent social service.

5. Showing the sociological significance of work done in other sciences.

6. Embodying results of special investigation of phases of contemporary society.

7. Containing records of social movements and experiments. Correspondents in the chief centres of America and other countries should be utilized.

8. Containing theoretical and practical suggestions for administrators of penal and charitable institutions, and for the public who ought to be interested in same.

9. Containing critical bibliographies—exclusive and inclusive—brought down to date and classified.

10. Containing the results of the club work of the department, especially in sifting the new book and magazine literature, thus constituting a means of calculating all the currents of contemporary sociological thought. This department should be extremely valuable because such thought is now so scattered.

11. Containing editorial comments upon current events interpreted by sociological criterians, sociological miscellanies, biographical notes of social workers, news from the Sociological department of the University etc. etc.

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Awaiting the decision of the Board upon this general preliminary statement, before entering upon more specific particulars, I remain

Very respectfully

Albion W. Small


No notes

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