Described by the 49 Book as “the meeting place of the social sciences,” Sociology, as the study of human society, is interdisciplinary by definition. It is also not restricted to academic theory and large-scale studies; to quote Harvard’s concentration guide again, Sociology is the “study of social life at every level, from two-person relationships to the rise and fall of nations and civilizations.” Considering that, Houghton, with its collections ranging from personal letters between two private individuals to official documents, is the ideal research archive for the sociology concentrator and researcher. Moreover, the library’s large number of social science- and humanities-related materials allows sociologists to gather multiple perspectives on one particular issue, analyzing it through multiple lenses.
Linking personal experience to a larger political reality, the papers of the “My Life in Germany” contest (MS Ger 91, 000602078) are one example of Houghton material that can be used as a research resource for sociology students. A collection of more than 250 autobiographies of Germans who discoursed about their daily lives under Adolf Hitler’s régime, the 1940 competition was actually sponsored by Harvard and provides a point of view that is sometimes missing from academic analyses of Nazi Germany. The material, in fact, can be paired with theoretical and historical sources to provide a fuller picture of that society and of the period—and even be of help when attempting to answer questions that have puzzled the world for more than 70 years. Houghton has more material concerning Nazism in the José María Castañé Collection, which contains items about a series of key twentieth century events—from the First World War to the Cold War through the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and the Nuremberg Trials.
Personal interactions can also contribute to sociology when they discuss theory—especially if they are between a Harvard professor and a renowned architect. W. V. Quine’s correspondence with Clive Entwistle (MS Am 2587 , 008937558) is about Darwinism and urbanism, and the architect’s ideas about the city are an excellent point of departure for students researching about urban sociology and the urban space. The city, a social, human space par excellence, is a key topic in sociology, and students coming to Houghton can expect to find plenty of material about it.
One of Houghton’s main collections, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions archives (ABC 1-91, 000602481) can serve sociology students in multifarious ways. First of all, the impressive collection contains material about multiple societies, including Africa (ABC 15, 009763477), the Pacific Islands (ABC 19, 009763593), and Native North America (ABC 18.3-18.8, 009763568). Moreover, one of the fundamental features of this portion of the archive is its display of cross-cultural interaction between individuals and groups and the role of religion, a key part of culture that also plays into social exchanges. Again, these materials can be paired up with other items at Houghton and in other Harvard libraries to pursue a global sociological study of the societies in question.
The library also holds plenty of materials about experimental societies and utopian communities—including a whole reference class (Utopia) on the matter—another fertile area of study in the field of sociology. They include the John Thomas Codman Brook Farm collection (MS Am 2740, 012627267), about the Massachusetts transcendental cooperative community; and the Amos Bronson Alcott papers (MS Am 1130.9-1130.12, 008259890), which contain some items about the Fruitlands community.
The 49 Book, in emphasizing the overreaching nature of sociology, cites other concentrations—such as history, anthropology, economics, and psychology—while explaining the subject’s amalgamating power. Students, therefore, are invited to refer to the pages in this guide dedicated to those concentrations to gain more insight into Houghton’s collections and their uses in the Sociology concentration.