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The Laboratory in Sociology at Atlanta University
W. E. Burghardt DuBois

DuBois, W. E. Burghardt. "The Laboratory in Sociology at Atlanta University." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 21:3 (May 1903): pp.160-163.
[The May issue pagination corresponds with the Volume 21 pagination of pp.502-505.]

Online Source:
Start page of the article within the entire Vol. 21 of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (1903) at Google Books.

Robert Williams' Notes:
1. DuBois's "The Laboratory in Sociology at Atlanta University" was published within a section of the Annals entitled "Charities and Social Problems". The essay continues his discussion of the various issues—at once, methodological, logistical, historical, and pedagogical—that were related to the research and distribution of the Atlanta University Studies (sometimes called the Atlanta University Pubications).

2. The word "Negro" was not capitalized in the original text
presented below. Paragraphs numbers have been added.
— Robert W. Williams, Ph.D.  [Bio]

The Laboratory in Sociology at Atlanta University.—There is some ground for suspicion when a small institution of learning offers courses in sociology. Very often such work means simply prolonged discussions of society and social units, which degenerate into bad metaphysics and false psychology, or it may take a statistical turn and the student become so immersed in mere figures as to forget, or be entirely unacquainted with, the concrete facts standing back of the counting.
On the other hand every one feels how necessary social study is,—how widespread in modern times is our ignorance of social facts and processes. In such matters we still linger in a Middle Age of credulity and superstition. We print in the opening chapters of our children's histories theories of the origin and destiny of races over which the gravest of us must smile; we assume, for instance, elaborate theories of an "Aryan" type of political institution, and then discover in the pitso of the South African Basutos as perfect an agora or tungemot as ever existed among Greeks or Germans. At the same time all of us feel the rhythm in human action; we are sure that the element of chance is at least not supreme, and no generation has taken to the study of social phenomena more energetically or successfully than ours. Have we, however, accomplished enough or settled the matter of scope and method sufficiently to introduce the subject of sociology successfully into the small college or the high school? Perhaps DuBois had in mind Impressions of South Africa in which James Bryce [bio] wrote about the Basuto people (who were then under British rule):
Once a year the [British] commissioner meets the whole people, in their national assembly called the Pitso,-- the name is derived from their verb "to call," --which in several points recalls the agora, or assembly of freemen described in the Homeric poems. The Paramount Chief presides, and debate is mainly conducted by the chiefs; but all freemen, gentle and simple, have a right to speak in it. There is no voting, only a declaration, by shouts, of the general feeling. Though the Paramount Chief has been usually the person who convokes it, a magnate lower in rank might always, like Achilles in the Iliad, have it summoned when a fitting oc­ca­sion arose. And it was generally preceded by a con­sul­ta­tion among the leading men.... In all these points the re­sem­blance to the primary assemblies of the early peoples of Europe is close enough to add another to the arguments, already strong, which discredit the theory that there is any such thing as an "Aryan type" of institutions....
[P.352 (at Google Books) in James Bryce, Impressions of South Africa, 3rd Ed. (NY: Century Co., 1900). Also see Bryce's Studies in History and Jurisprudence, Vol.1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901): 137, 267 (]
I am not sure that our experience at Atlanta University contributes much toward answering this question, for our position is somewhat exceptional, and yet I think it throws light on it. Atlanta University is situated within a few miles of the geographical centre of the negro population of the nation, and is, therefore, near the centre of that congeries of human problems which cluster round the black American. This institution, which forms in itself a "negro problem," and which prepares students whose lives must of necessity be further factors in this same problem, cannot logically escape the study and teaching of some things connected with that mass of social questions. Nor can these things all be reduced to history and ethics—the mass of them fall logically under sociology.
We have arranged, therefore, what amounts to about two years of sociological work for the junior and senior college students, and we carry on in our conferences postgraduate work in original research. The undergraduate courses in sociology are simply an attempt to study systematically conditions of living right around the university and to compare these con­ditions with conditions elsewhere about which we are able to learn. For this purpose one of the two years is taken up principally with a course in economics. Here the methods of study are largely inductive, going from field work and personal knowledge to the establishment of the main principles. There is no text-book, but a class-room reference library with from five to ten duplicate copies of well-known works. Within the Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Atlanta University ... 1903-1904 (Atlanta University Press, 1904) there was a section on "Sociology and History" that provided details similar to those conveyed in this para­graph and throughout this essay: for example, on p.14 (available at Google Books).
In the next year the study comes nearer what is understood by sociology. Here again after much experiment, we have discarded the text-book, not because a book of a certain sort would not be valuable in the hands of students, but rather because available text-books are distinctly and glaringly unsuitable. The book most constantly referred to is Mayo-Smith's "Statistics and Sociology," and after that the United States censuses. Our main object in this year of work is to find out what characteristics of human life can be known, classified and compared. Students are expected to know what the average death-rate of American negroes is, how it varies, and what it means when compared with the death-rates of other peoples and classes. When they learn by search in the census and their own mathematical calculations that 30 per cent of the negroes of New York City are twenty to thirty years of age, they immediately set to work to explain this anomaly, and so on. A large part of their work consists of special reports, in which the results of first-hand study of some locality or some characteristic of negro life are compared with general conditions in the United States and Europe. Thus in a way we measure the negro problem.

The 1910 reprint of Richmond Mayo-Smith's Statistics and Sociology is available in several formats at the Internet Archive for downloading or for online viewing. (Note that the book's title is listed as Science of Statistics which is actually the overall title of a two-volume set of which this book is the first part).
Sometimes these studies are of real scientific value: the class of '99 furnished local studies, which, after some rearrangement, were published in No. 22 of the Bulletin of the United States Department of Labor; the work of another class was used in a series of articles on the housing of the negro in the Southern Workman, and a great deal of the work of other classes has been used in the reports of the Atlanta Conferences. Our main object in the undergraduate work, however, is human training and not the collection of material, and in this we have been fairly successful. The classes are enthusiastic and of average intelligence, and the knowledge of life and of the meaning of life in the modern world is certainly much greater among these students than it would be without such a course of study. The reference to the Labor Department Bulletin is for Du Bois's "The Negro in the Black Belt: Some Social Sketches" published in the Bulletin of the Department of Labor, No.22 (May 1899): 401-417 [start page at Google Books].

Various articles in DuBois's series on "The Housing of the Negro", as published in The Southern Workman (1901-1902), can be located via a search at Google Books.
Our postgraduate work in sociology was inaugurated with the thought that a university is primarily a seat of learning, and that Atlanta University, being in the midst of the negro problems, ought to become a centre of such a systematic and thoroughgoing study of those problems as would gradually raise many of the questions above the realm of opinion and guess into that of scientific knowledge. It goes without saying that our ideals in this respect are far from being realized. Although our researches have cost less than $500 a year, yet we find it difficult and sometimes impossible to raise that meagre sum. We lack proper appliances for statistical work and proper clerical aid; notwithstanding this, something has been done. The plan of work is this: a subject is chosen; it is always a definite, limited subject covering some phase of the general negro problem; schedules are then prepared, and these with letters are sent to the voluntary correspondents, mostly graduates of this and other negro institutions of higher training. They, by means of local inquiry, fill out and return the schedules; then other sources of information, depending on the question under discussion, are tried, until after six or eight months' work a body of material is gathered. Then a local meeting is held, at which speakers, who are specially acquainted with the subject studied, discuss it. Finally, about a year after the beginning of the study, a printed report is issued, with full results of the study, digested and tabulated and enlarged by the addition of historical and other material. In this way the following reports have been issued: This paragraph reiterates points that Du Bois made several years earlier in his "The Study of the Negro Problems" (1898): see the section entitled "6. The Proper Agents for this Work" in which he wrote of the studies begun at Atlanta University (paragraph 49). He had expressed hope that a Black college might ally itself with schools like "Harvard, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania" (paragraph 48). ["The Study of the Negro Problems" is available here on this web site.]
No. 1.--Mortality among Negroes in Cities. 51 pp. 1896. (Out of print.)
    No. 2.--Social and Physical Conditions of Negroes in Cities. 86 pp. 1897. 50 cents.
    No. 3.--Some Efforts of Negroes for Social Betterment. 66 pp. 1898. 50 cents.
    No. 4.--The Negro in Business. 78 pp. 1899. 50 cents.
    No. 5.--The College-Bred Negro. 115 pp. 1900. (Out of print.) The College-Bred Negro. Second edition, abridged. 32 pp. 25 cents.
    No. 6.--The Negro Common School. 118 pp. 1901. 25 cents.
    No. 7.--The Negro Artisan. 200 pp. 1902. 50 cents.
    No. 8.--The Negro Church. (To be published in 1903.)
The Atlanta University Studies can be accessed online via a page on this site.
Of the effect of this sociological work it is difficult for us who are largely responsible for it to judge. Certain it is that there is a call for scientific study of the American negro, and it is also clear that no agency is doing anything in this line except Atlanta University, the United States Census Bureau and the United States Department of Labor. In general our reports have been well received, both in this country and in England, and their material has been widely used. In fact they have not received as much criticism as they deserved, which is perhaps one discouraging feature. At the U.S. Department of Labor web site, one can read "Black Studies in the Department of Labor, 1897-1907" by Jonathan Grossman (here) and a brief bibliography of "Early Department of Labor Black Studies" can be viewed here.
Upon the school, the community and the negro race, the emphasis put on this sort of study has undoubtedly exerted a wholesome influence. It has directed thought and discussion into definite and many times unnoticed channels; it has led to various efforts at social betterment, such as the formation of the National Negro Business League, and it has stimulated healthy self-criticism based on accurate knowledge.8 [The essay ends.]

     8Contributed by W. E. Burghardt DuBois, Ph.D.

The author's byline was put in a footnote at the bottom of the last page of the article (in a smaller font size).

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