• IdentificationICU.SPCL.BURGESS
  • TitleGuide to the Ernest Watson Burgess Papers1886-1966
  • PublisherUniversity of Chicago Library
  • LanguageEnglish
  • Date1886-1966
  • Physical Description105 linear feet (204 boxes)
  • RepositorySpecial Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.
  • AbstractErnest Burgess(1886-1966), Professor of Sociology, University of Chicago, 1916-1952. Contains correspondence; manuscripts; minutes; reports; memoranda; research material that includes proposals, case studies, questionnaires, tables, and interviews; teaching and course materials, class record books; letters of recommendation; bibliographies; student papers; offprints; and maps and charts. Includes material relating to professional organizations with which Burgess was associated. Topics reflect Burgess' interest in urban sociology, family and marriage, crime and delinquency, parole, census work, and gerontology as well as research methods such as statistical predictors, factor analysis, case studies, and the use of personal documents. Also contains research projects on the Protestant church and the effects of radio on the development of children. Papers by students and colleagues include writings by Saul Alinsky, Nels Anderson, Leonard Cottrell, Paul Cressey, John Landesco, Walter Reckless, Clifford Shaw, Paul Siu, Frederick Thrasher, and others.

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African American Studies

Gender Studies and Sexuality

Chicago and Illinois

Sociology and Social Welfare

Series VIII contains files of Nels Anderson's research on homeless men that are restricted due to their fragile condition. Photocopies have been placed in Series VI, Subseries 1.

When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Burgess, Ernest. Papers, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Ernest Watson Burgess was born on May 16, 1886 in Tilbury, Ontario, Canada to Edmund J. Burgess and Mary Ann Jane Wilson Burgess. His father was a minister in the Congregational Church. Burgess attended Kingfisher College in Oklahoma and received his B.A. in 1908. The following year Burgess entered the University of Chicago as a graduate student in the Department of Sociology. He received his Ph.D. in 1913.

After several years of teaching in several Midwestern schools and collaborating in several social surveys, Burgess returned to Chicago with an appointment as Assistant Professor in Sociology in 1916. He has been called the first "young sociologist," since all the other professors had entered the field from other professional areas. His career spanned five decades from 1916-1957, when his emeritus appointment ended. Burgess remained active a number of years beyond this retirement, co-authoring a text on Urban Sociology with Donald Bogue as late as 1963.

In 1927 he achieved the status of full professor, and in 1946 he became chairman of the department. Although he retired as professor in 1951 at the mandatory retirement age, he remained active and salaried as Chairman until 1952. It was during this same period that he founded the Family Study Center, which later became the Family and Community Study Center.

Burgess was active in many professional organizations. The leading sociological organizations to which he was elected President include the American Sociological Society (1934), the Sociological Research Association (1942), and the Social Science Research Council (1945-1946). He took over the directorship of the Behavior Research Fund in Chicago from Herman Adler, from 1931 to 1934. In 1942 he became President of the National Conference on Family Relations, an organization which he had helped found in 1938 after his involvement with the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection.

His editing roles were extensive. He was managing editor of the American Sociological Society from 1921-1930, and editor of the American Journal of Sociology from 1936-1940. As Director of the Behavior Research Fund, he had the opportunity to edit a number of monographs from various areas of the social sciences, many of which represented pioneering efforts in their respective fields.

His involvement in a number of other distinctive organizations ranged from sponsorship to chairmanship. Among these were the American Law Institute, Vincent Astor Foundation, Chicago Census Advisory Committee, Chicago Urban League, Chicago Area Project, Chicago Crime Commission, Committee of Fifteen, Douglas Smith Fund, Illinois Citizens Committee on Parole, Illinois Academy of Criminology, National Recreation Commission, International Congress of Criminology, and The City Club.

Ernest Watson Burgess died on December 27, 1966. He was 80 years old.

Leonard Cottrell has written "Professor Burgess was not a systematic theoretician but an eclectic par excellence." Despite a truly "eclectic" approach to theoretical and methodological camps, Burgess applied all these different perspectives to the same set of research interests for nearly five decades. It can be argued that the truly systematic feature of his research, as distinguished from the more comprehensive theoretical structures erected by the earlier founders of sociology, was an effort to develop a reliable tool for prediction of social phenomena, e.g., delinquency, parole violation, divorce, city growth, and adjustment in old age.

Empirical research pursued for the purpose of prediction lies at the foundation of each of Burgess' major research projects. As Burgess wrote in 1929: "Prediction is the aim of the social sciences as it is of the physical sciences." Cottrell wrote that "the emphasis, therefore, was not on testing theoretically derived hypotheses so much as on identifying efficient predictors." For the sake of improving prediction, in addition to statistics and "factor analysis," Burgess constantly supported the more "subjective" case study methods and the use of personal documents. Burgess defended the study of the actual cases themselves in full detail, not only from the statisticians, but equally from the "theoreticians" who attempted to typify and classify the person. As Burgess wrote in "The Family and the Person" (1928), admitting all these and other criticisms that might be raised, there is a certain type of knowledge or understanding that comes from the examination of personal documents which one does not obtain in dissertations on the origin and nature of personality, nor from psychological, psychiatric, or psychoanalytic classifications of personality types.

Throughout his career Burgess participated in efforts to promote the collaboration of specialists from all the different social science areas to work together on joint research projects. His final project to study old age typified this by combining the efforts of medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists in a single all-inclusive effort.

Ernest Burgess' career spanned all phases of the development of sociology at Chicago. Beginning with the early years in which sociology and anthropology were wedded in the same department, to the development of specialized research centers for contemporary social phenomena, e.g., the Family and Community Research Center and the Chicago Community Inventory, Burgess' influence helped to maintain a strong empirically oriented series of research projects and dissertations.

The Ernest W. Burgess Papers consists of 105 linear feet. The collection has been arranged into six series: I. General Files, II. Academic Materials, III. Research Studies and Projects, IV. Work of Students and Collaborators, V. Burgess' Writings, and VI. Maps and Charts.

The materials in this collection are supplemented by those in the Ernest W. Burgess Papers. Addenda, described in a separate finding aid.

The division of the collection into series has been effected primarily on functional lines with respect to origin, but there are several exceptions. Initially, the Research section was to contain the raw data and work most directly related to the processing and presentation of results of a specific research effort. The general correspondence related to any research effort was placed in General Files, under the subject heading of that research project. In numerous cases both correspondence and write-ups were found with related data in the Research section. Therefore, although the above separation has been followed for the most part, one should not assume that there is no correspondence in the Research section. The major exception is the general organization of the Old Age research in which there was a degree of coherence between the correspondence and research and course work which compelled maintaining them together. Another exception is the placing of several research proposals in the academic section with notes on course subjects that were always integrally related to Burgess' research interests.

The correspondence that is present in the General Files is for the most part form letters, or short discussions, related to his professional and organizational interests and those of the courtesy sort. The collection of students' papers from his courses is a rich source of autobiographical essays related to sociological themes, e.g., first "criminal" experiences, first experiences with city life, etc. These papers also contain the research work of his more advanced students, which often represent pioneering efforts in their areas, e.g., Siu's study of the Chinese Laundryman, and Landesco's work on organized crime in Chicago. And finally, the Research section containing the data and related materials of those groundbreaking efforts in urban studies, crime and parole, marriage, the family, and old age reveals the major lines of thought and methodological structures upon which these studies were based.

As an aid to use of this collection we will sketch several strategies of use for typical cases of research interest.

Example 1: Research Project. Check first the relevant items under Research. Next the topic entry in the General Files, e.g., Marriage study, and then notes in Academic Papers under appropriate topic entry. Next, if one knows the name of the students and collaborators on the project, then check entries under these names in both General Files and Others' Work: Individuals. Similarly, any sponsoring organizations should be consulted in the General Files. Many proposals and write-ups can be found under organization entries, e.g., Social Science Research Council.

Example 2: Name of Researcher, Student, or Colleague. Obviously both the General Files and the Others' Work sections should be consulted under that name. Secondly, if the nature of the individual's work is known, then consult subject entry in General and Research Sections. Finally, if a student of Burgess is the subject of interest, and if the year and courses which he participated in are known, then consult those entries in Others' Work: Courses.

Example 3: Student papers on a subject, e.g., ethnic groups. It would be preferable if one knew which students did the work, e.g., there is a large body of research on Chinese under both Siu and Chen in the Others' Work: Individual section. One exception to the system of name entry in Others' Work, is the topic Mexican Studies, which is listed under that term. Another course to pursue would be to look at the paper titles that are listed next to the names in Others' Work: Individuals.

If one is not looking for the papers of any specific student, then the course subject entries by year and type of paper, e.g., autobiographical statement, case study, or general research paper can be consulted in the Others' Work: Courses subseries.

The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:

  • Names
    • Alinsky, Saul David, 1909-1972
    • Anderson, Nels, 1889-
    • Burgess, Ernest Watson, 1886-1966
    • Cottrell, Leonard S. (Leonard Slater), 1899-
    • Cressey, Paul Goalby
    • Landesco, John
    • Reckless, Walter Cade
    • Shaw, Clifford R. (Clifford Robe), 1895-1957
    • Siu, Paul C.P. (Paul Chan Pang), 1906-
    • Thrasher, Frederic Milton, 1892-1962
    • American Sociological Society
    • Chicago Area Project
    • Chicago Crime Commission
    • Chicago (Ill.). Dept. of Welfare
    • Illinois Association for Criminal Justice
    • Local Community Research Committee
    • Social Science Research Council (U.S.)
    • University of Chicago. Dept. Sociology
    • University of Chicago. Division of the Social Sciences
    • University of Chicago. Society for Social Research
    • White House Conference on Child Health and Protection
  • Subject
    • Crime
    • Family
    • Marriage
    • Old Age
    • Parole
    • Sociology, Urban
    • Sociology -- Study and teaching -- Illinois -- Chicago
    • Radio -- Social aspects