The Local Community Research Committee and the Social Science Research Building.

Leonard D. White

Faced with the fascinating complex of problems inherent in the modern city, the social science group at the University of Chicago undertook in 1923 to focus their efforts more definitely, and with a greater degree of co-operation, on the processes of urban life. Stimulated by the inspiring, but unhappily brief, leadership of Dr. E. D. Burton, president of the University of Chicago, and by the dynamic personality of A. W. Small, dean of the Graduate School of Arts, many of the fundamental issues of urban-ism, of maladjustment, of the growth and interaction of institutions, of personality were realized more sharply than ever before to spread themselves at our feet for inspection and analysis, and even for diagnosis and prescription.

All agreed that the city and its region could not and ought not to absorb the whole range of interests and activities of the social science group. The historian particularly cannot limit himself to so narrow a field, but the phenomena of interest to the sociologist, the economist, the political scientist, and the student of welfare institutions were abundantly present. To exploit them most meaningfully, there was general agreement that the varying points of view of the various disciplines, so far as might be feasible in a given case, should all be brought to bear. This involved the abandonment of any remnants of the idea of vested rights in any subject matter in the range

(21) of the social sciences, and the immediate co-operation of any and all members of the faculty who possessed special interest in or knowledge of problems or methods.


Such a point of view implied a new administrative organization, and we wish in the present chapter to describe this organization and its new quarters, the Social Science Research Building dedicated on the campus of the University of Chicago at the close of 1929.

The departments and schools which became associated in the new enterprise included the Departments of Philosophy, Sociology and Anthropology,[1] History, Economics,[2] and Political Science, and the School of Social Service Administration. This by no means represents the whole range of the social sciences found in the University Faculties, for it takes no account of the Law School, the School of Education, the Graduate Library School, the Divinity School, or the Departments of Geography, Psychology, Hygiene and Bacteriology, or Home Economics, to say nothing of more remote but nevertheless real associations with the Medical School, and the Department of Physiology.

In 1929 other potential associations were set up by reason of the affiliation with the University of Chicago of the International City Managers' Association and the Bureau of Public Personnel Administration. Still another contact is opened up by the appointment of August Vollmer as Professor of Police Administration.

The Local Community Research Committee therefore is not a body fully representative of the whole range of the social sciences, but with its six members and executive secretary it serves for administrative purposes as such.


From the beginning its duties have been twofold: (1) to plan research, either independently or by approving projects submitted to it by members of the faculty, (2) to discharge the necessary administrative duties incident to an extensive research program.

In practice the initiative in proposing research has generally come from the departments and from individuals. In such cases the function of the Local Community Re-search Committee has been to evaluate the different projects brought to its attention and to approve, modify, or reject. An annual program is agreed upon in the spring of each year.

The Committee also exercises a general supervision over the research which it authorizes. The responsibility for each project is vested in a supervisor or a subcommittee; quarterly progress reports are received from them, and from time to time an oral report is presented by the supervisor to the Committee. The executive secretary is directed to keep in general touch with research; and without diminishing in any way the responsibility of the super-visor, he is able to be of assistance in many cases.

Subject to the general supervision of the executive secretary, a central stenographic pool is maintained under the immediate direction of an office manager; this office also supplies general clerical service. Such operations as mailing (en masse), photostating, blue printing, and mimeographing are performed in the appropriate University offices, or by commercial firms. Much of the drafting is performed by members of the office force.

Subject to the authority of the Committee a very extensive research program has developed. In Appendix I may be found a list of the publications and completed studies resulting from five years' activity, a list which will

(23) give some idea of the scope of the work. The bulk of the resent volume is devoted to a brief summary of the more important lines of research.

One of the objectives of the organization has been from e outset to secure co-operation and criticism of research in varied points of view. Reference has already been made to subcommittees charged with the responsibility of carrying on research. These are a characteristic illustration of the interpenetration of the various disciplines in attacking a given problem. The Local Community Research Committee itself has been the seat of considerable self-education in different points of view; the subcommittees, which are fundamentally research rather than administrative committees, offer a more intensive opportunity for each discipline to react on others.

Two or three illustrations will make this clear. The Causes of War Subcommittee is presided over by Mr. Quincy Wright, of the Department of Political Science, and includes Messrs. Bernadotte Schmitt, of the Department of History; Jacob Viner, of the Department of Economics; Fay-Cooper Cole, of the Department of Anthropology; and Harold D. Lasswell, of the Department of Political Science. The Subcommittee holds meetings from time to time, and at less frequent intervals meetings with the research staff as a whole. Nineteen persons were cooperating on this study in 1929.

The Joint Committee on Registration of Social Statistics is directed by Mr. H. A. Millis, of the Economics Department, and includes on the University side Miss Edith Abbott and Messrs. Harry Lurie, of the School of Social Service Administration; Clarence R. Rorem, of the School of Commerce and Administration; and Leonard D. White, of the Department of Political Science. The As-

(24) -sociation of Community Chests and Councils is represented by William J. Norton, Detroit Community Fund; Fred C. Croxton, Community Fund of Columbus and Franklin County, Ohio; Pierce Atwater, Community Chest, Wichita, Kansas; and Raymond Clapp, the Welfare Federation of Cleveland, Ohio.

The Committee on Personality comprises Messrs. Ellsworth Faris, of the Department of Sociology, L. L. Thurstone, of the Department of Psychology, and Charles E. Merriam and Harold D. Lasswell, of the Department of Political Science.

The Committee on Public Finance consists of Messrs. S. E. Leland, chairman, (economics), C. E. Merriam (political science), A. H. Kent (law), H. A. Millis (economics), Paul H. Douglas (commerce and administration), Jacob Viner (economics), and Leonard D. White (political science).

Not every attempt to cross-fertilize by the device of a joint subcommittee works, but in most cases effective co-operation and interpenetration develop. The process will be materially accelerated in the quarters provided in the new Social Science Research Building.


The social sciences have not ordinarily been thought of as using or needing laboratory equipment, and it still re-mains true that much social science research is conducted with documentary material not lending itself to the experimental method. The community has often been described, in a broad sense of the word, as a laboratory for the social sciences, wherein proceed sequences of significant events which may be observed if not controlled. Social scientists regularly treat the community as a clinic, diagnosing on the basis of existing knowledge and insight,

(25) and prescribing with what wisdom they may possess for social ills.

In a more precise sense, however, the social sciences have now reached the point where it is open to them to use laboratory methods. Mr. Gosnell's experiment with a section of the Chicago electorate, applying a known stimulus under controlled conditions, reveals the social scientist at work in an out-of-door laboratory; the various analyses of personality, including the application of the technique of the psychologist and psychiatrist, involve laboratory technique and equipment provided in the new Social Science Building.

It may be more accurate to refer to this building, the erection and maintenance of which was made possible by the generous gift of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, as a workshop, for not all the research enterprise which is taking place within its walls is experimental nor does it all require laboratory methods. A workshop par excellence it certainly is from basement to roof, and it includes specifically a laboratory for anthropometrics and archaeology, special rooms for linguistics, a psychological-psychiatric laboratory, and an extensive statistical laboratory.

The Social Science Building is contiguous to the Harper Memorial Library, extending eastward along the Midway for a distance of 158 feet, with a depth along the main axis of 52 feet, which increases by reason of a projection at the eastern end to a depth of 70 feet. It is thus immediately 'adjacent to the main stock of books, and provision is made for intercommunication on the basement, first, and third floors of the Harper Library. This in turn leads directly to the Law Library, to the modern-language collection in Wieboldt Hall, and to the Classics Library.

The design of the building is harmonious with Harper

(26) Library and when completed will fill in the Midway front. Contrary to the arrangement in the Harper, Wieboldt, and Classics Buildings there will be only a single basement, which will have direct light from both sides and adequate cross-ventilation. The basement will be used principally for storage, but one room with excellent southern exposure has been designed to care for the punch card and electric sorting-machines. Above the basement are five stories, each of standard 13-foot height.

In many respects the Social Science Building is unique. In the first place, it is devoted exclusively to the research and graduate school activities of the social science group. The non-research and undergraduate activities of these departments and schools are not housed in this building. Departmental offices, conference rooms for instructors, reading rooms, and the like are provided elsewhere. Instructors whose primary interest is in under-graduate teaching will not be housed here.

Second, it is the center of the co-operative research enterprises of this large group. In harmony with the intention of the grant to the Local Community Research Committee, this building gives primary consideration to the provision of facilities for projects which tend to cross departmental lines, which require borderland exploration, and which combine various techniques. Thus, by way of illustration, a series of rooms has been set aside for the investigation of the causes of war, a project which combines forces in the Departments of Political Science, History, Economics, Sociology, and Anthropology. In the assignment of studies to members of the staff little attention has been given to departmental groupings; a historian may hobnob with a sociologist to the left and with a political scientist to the right.


Third, with the exception of four graduate seminar rooms and a lecture-room seating about two hundred persons, there are no classrooms in the building. The plant is not intended for instructional purposes, except as instruction may be related to research.

Fourth, with the exception of a small data room connected with the statistical laboratory, there are no stacks and no provision for collection of books. This may seem at first thought an amazing oversight, but is explained by two considerations. The main collection of books is immediately at hand in the Harper Library and is easily accessible. More than this, a very great deal of the research conducted by the social science group at the University of Chicago involves the collection of fresh material from the field rather than the distillation of new conclusions from documentary sources. We are as much in need of a galvanometer, a calculating machine, an electric sorting- and counting-machine and a planimeter as we are in need of books, although naturally an extensive collection of documentary material is indispensable.

Fifth, the allocation of space in the building is in part flexible, being subject to reallocation as one project is finished and another appears. Much of the building will necessarily and properly be regularly occupied; thus professors 'studies and the three laboratories will be substantially settled allocations. Other space, however, will be allotted to a project as such, and will provide space for research assistants, clerical help, and field-workers. This .space, which is chiefly on the south side of the building, will be subject to frequent readjustment as projects are completed.

The Social Science Building is in fact a workshop where perhaps two hundred scholars and workers combine their

(28) efforts in a comprehensive research program. The layout of the rooms reflects the workshop spirit. The following diagram of the third floor, which is typical of the other floors, makes this clear.

A brief explanation of the floor plan is needed. The main axis of the building (which was fixed by its relation to Harper Library) was both too wide and too narrow to be most effectively used. It was too wide because the city building code made it impossible to carry the outside rooms back to the corridor, the rooms in that event being relatively narrow; it was too narrow because a court could not be introduced to give light from the center of the building. The arrangement worked out by the architects provides a series of inner rooms, artificially lighted but with good ventilation, which in turn give access to the studies and workrooms. They will be used for a variety of purposes, including the housing of books, filing of papers, display of maps, occasional clerical or statistical work, and the like. They will have another incidental but highly valued use to the harassed professor—they make him doubly inaccessible!

With these general observations on the character and plan of the building, a few words may be said concerning the particular uses to which each floor will be put.

The first floor contains the offices of the executive secretary of the Local Community Research Committee, the office manager, and the central clerical pool. These are arranged in a suite, conveniently placed off the main lobby. These offices will provide the general "control" of the building, where information can be had, where appointments can be made, and where various services can be supplied.

On this floor also are four seminar rooms, each seating


Floor Plan of 3rd floor of Social Research Building, University of Chicago

(30) from twenty to thirty persons. One at least will be equipped with a microphone, and the lecture hall will be wired for this purpose. The primary use of these rooms will be in connection with advanced research courses given to supplement research projects. Thus Mr. Jernegan is now giving a seminar on the early history of immigration in connection with his project in this field; Mr. Quincy Wright is conducting a seminar on the causes of war, and Mr. Merriam on leadership. The seminar-rooms will also be available for other advanced work in the departments concerned.

The large lecture hall on the first floor is designed to provide opportunity for distinguished lecturers from this and other countries to present to the University group their contributions to the social sciences. The room is carefully finished to present a dignified aspect in keeping with the significance of its use.

The remaining rooms on the first floor are typical studies and workrooms. Definite understandings exist that each professor normally is entitled to a private study; research assistants will join in the use of workrooms, two or more being assigned to a room.

On the second floor is found the Commons Room, an attractive lounging place with a southern exposure, with a fireplace and kitchenette. This room is open at all hours and is the convenient meeting-place of the whole group. Here it is expected that the various disciplines in the social sciences will cross-fertilize each other in easy conversation over a cup of tea, or in fruitful silences at the close of day.

The second floor is also the home of the archaeological group which, under the direction of Professor Fay-Cooper Cole, is exploring the prehistory of the neighboring region.

(31) The anthropometric laboratory is adjacent to the archaeological laboratory and is bordered by a special sound-proof room for the study of linguistics. These rooms, like the lecture hall on the first floor, are equipped with stereopticon and motion-picture cameras. The remaining rooms on this floor are typical studies or workrooms.

The third floor contains drafting-rooms with drafting tables and equipment, together with a special room for map display and a room for map storage. Further provision for map storage is made in the basement.

The third floor also contains the psychological-psychiatric laboratory, a suite of nine rooms including a small chemical laboratory and special speech reproduction apparatus.

The fourth floor is dedicated to the statistical method in the social sciences. Here is the statistical laboratory, a suite of four rooms containing a substantial array of calculating machines. In addition to the usual equipment ere is a specially constructed planimeter and a harmonic analyzer, both built by Coradi in Switzerland. Here also be housed the projects based on the statistical method, Much as the registration of social statistics, the studies in taxation and finance, the determination of prices, and the index of real wages.

The fifth floor, apart from studies and workrooms, is of interest because it is the home of the six social science Journals published by the University of Chicago Press. These are the International Journal of Ethics, the American Journal of Sociology, the Journal of Political Economy, the University Journal of Business, the Social Service Review, d the Journal of Modern History. Each journal will have its own quarters and in addition may call upon a central stenographic office.


This brief survey of the plans for each floor of the Social Science Building gives some idea of the nature and purposes of the structure. To the fullest possible degree the facilities of the building are at the disposal of the whole University and in a genuine sense of the word of the whole community. The building and its equipment are tools in the hands of an earnest group of social scientists who are patiently seeking better ways of life for the city and for the state. It is a significant symbol of one of the most characteristic developments of the twentieth century, organized co-operative research on human problems.


  1. In 1929 a separate Department of Anthropology was established.
  2. Which also represents the School of Commerce and Administration

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