U-M Bicentennial Event Explores ISR and Social Science at U-M and Beyond

By Dory Knight-Ingram

An LSA Bicentennial Theme Semester event in March focused on the shared vision that led to the creation of ISR after World War II.

Among the speakers at “Surveys, Polling, and the Institute for Social Research” were Eugene Burnstein, James House, Robert Kahn, Donald Kinder, Margaret Levenstein, Robert Pachella, and Frank Stafford.

House provided context for the post-war period in which ISR was born – a time of significant growth in social science disciplines – and noted the large role played by the University and the Institute in that growth. “ISR is essentially the product of synergistic efforts of a group of people from Washington forming SRC in 1946, RCGD in 1948, and combining the two in 1949 to form ISR,” House said.

James House talks about ISR during the event.

James House talks about the creation and growth of ISR during the LSA Theme Semester Bicentennial Event, “Surveys, Polling, and the Institute for Social Research.” Photo by Dory Knight-Ingram.

Pachella, himself a psychologist, talked about the development of social psychology and ISR at U-M and detailed a “cast of characters” he credits with helping ISR become a part of the University. Included on this list were Donald Marquis, the Chair of the Department of Psychology at the time, Robert Cooley Angell, Professor of Sociology, Theodore Newcomb, Professor of Psychology and Sociology, Rensis Likert, ISR’s first Director, and Dorwin “Doc” Cartwright, the first Director at ISR of the Research Center for Group Dynamics. Pachella credits Marquis with convincing U-M regents to bring ISR under U-M’s umbrella as a self-supporting and independent agency, and Pachella noted that, under this arrangement, the University allowed ISR to keep all of its indirect overhead costs.

Robert Kahn highlighted the enthusiasm and optimism of ISR’s founders. “It wasn’t deviant. It was part of a national feeling of post-war hopefulness and confidence,” he said, later adding that the founders would need this optimism in the uncertain financial terrain in which ISR was working to support itself long-term.

For more about this event and its speakers, see LSA’s Theme Semester Bicentennial event website. The first two hours of the talk can be viewed on the ISR YouTube Channel. Video provided by Gregory Parker, Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies, U-M Dept. of History, with special thanks to Anna Massey.

U-M Bicentennial Event Explores ISR and Social Science at U-M and Beyond