1951 Notable Sociologist’s Cornell University Master’s Thesis on the Social Organization of Groups, Including Handwritten Data Collection Notes and Feedback from a Sociology Colleague

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On offer is the outstanding personal copy of George Achilles Theodorson’s (1924-2010) 1951 Cornell University Master’s sociology thesis and associated ephemera on the topic of small group development.

After completing his Master’s degree, Theodorson would go on to earn his PhD at Cornell (with his PhD research being completed at the U of Chicago). Throughout his long and impressive career in sociology, Dr. Theodorson specialized in social theory and human ecology. He taught for three decades at Pennsylvania State University and authored or edited several books including an anthology he edited titled Studies in Human Ecology, which provides an overview and criticisms of the ecological method known as the “Chicago School” of sociology.

The thesis on offer is titled Study of the Elements Involved in the Progressive Development of Small Groups by George Achilles Theodorson, June 1951. In it, Theodorson analyzes the development of eight experimental groups over the course of a 15-week project, and puts language to the processes that “change the relations of the individuals involved, as they meet together and work toward a common goal” (p. 1).

Theodorson lists 35 processes that he identified as being common among groups as their dynamics shift. His data collection and analysis was completed during his participation in a classroom project in his thesis supervisor, Dr. Nelson Foote’s, 1949 social psychology class. Theodorson quantitatively and qualitatively analyzed his observations, his fellow students’ weekly reports on their roles within the group, and the professor’s feedback about the project.

Theodorson’s discussion is broken into 14 sections, including topics such as “Leadership”, “Growth of a System of Statuses and Roles”, Tendency Toward an Operating Consensus”, “Ideology” and more.

Theodorson’s thesis committee included his supervisor, Cornell sociologist Dr. Nelson Foote, and Cornell anthropologist, Dr. Allan Holmberg.

Complementary Ephemera

Tipped into the thesis itself are a number of pieces of ephemera which enhance the collection and provide evidence that this copy of the thesis was, in fact, Theodorson’s personal copy.

The ephemera includes three pages of typed notes prepared for Theodorson titled “Running Comments on Theodorson Thesis” authored by “Blau”. We believe this to be fellow sociologist Dr. Peter Blau, who was working on his doctoral thesis at Columbia University while Theodorson was completing his Master’s degree at Cornell. Blau and Theodorson had complementary research interests, with Blau focusing on exchange theory, which details how social exchanges relate to societal-level social structure. Blau’s notes are detailed and insightful. An excerpt follows:

“Your thesis is that in initially egalitarian groups, one or a few individuals assume leadership functions at first, but later all members assume such function...This is suggestive, but it is startling in many respects, since most analyses of interactions claimed that it increases social differentiation, i.e. produces differences in status (W.F. Whyte, Hormones, Bales, etc.)”.

Blau concludes with the suggestion that Theodorson meet with him to discuss further, more “systematic development and testing of some of [your] suggestions in an empirical study”.

A second delightful ephemeral addition are Theodorson’s handwritten research notes, which track all 15 weeks of his research in chart format. He provides numerical values to indicate the positive and negative findings in 22 separate areas of study. Some areas he tracks include “Group concern for Social Schema”, “Clearly defined ideology”, “Conflict or dissention” and “Fluency of Group discussion”.

The remaining ephemeral pieces include a personal note to self about books on social theory, economic anthropology, and other associated topics, a note on the cost of printing the thesis, and two handwritten drafts of cover letters for future employment as an instructor.

Taken together, this collection provides insight into the work and mind of a burgeoning sociologist who would go on to make important contributions to the field as both an author and a professor. It also provides insight into academic discourse of the time through the feedback provided by Blau.

BIO NOTES: George Achilles Theodorson (1924-2010) was an American sociologist born in New York, New York to parents Achilles and Anna (Debos) Theodorson. He served in the US Army’s 710th Tank Battalion in Hawaii, New Caledonia and the Philippines during World War II. He received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in sociology from Cornell University and Ph.D in sociology (with minors in social psychology and cultural anthropology) also from Cornell in 1954. He did his research for his PhD dissertation at the University of Chicago from 1953-1954. During the course of his PhD research, he worked as a researcher for the Family Study Centre at the University of Chicago.Beginning in 1956, Theodorson spent 30 years on the faculty of the Pennsylvania State University, winning numerous awards and promotions. Theodorson specialized in social theory and human ecology. He authored many books, including the 1961 anthology, Studies in Human Ecology, which provides an overview and criticisms of the ecological method known as the “Chicago School” of sociology. He is likely best known for his book titled, Modern Dictionary of Sociology, which was an exposition of sociological concepts published in 1969.

The thesis is hardbound with a paper dust jacket. It includes 92 single-sided numbered pages plus unnumbered preamble. Both the thesis book and ephemera present signs of age toning that do not interfere with readability. All are in Good+ condition.

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