Juan Acosta and Erich Pinzón-Fuchs recount the history of the creation of a deeply complex macroeconomic model of the US economy developed by the SSRC’s Committee on Economic Stability in the early 1960s. The work was led by future Nobel winner Lawrence Klein and sought to take advantage of emergent computing technology and a range of databases to simulate the potential impacts of various economic policy options. Based in part on research in the SSRC archives, the authors argue that the model was a pioneering effort in large-scale collaboration among economists with a long-lasting influence.
history of social science
Soon after its founding, the SSRC engaged the study of race and race relations in the United States with the support of its main funder, the Rockefeller philanthropies. However, by 1930, Rockefeller and the Council shifted focus, shuttering the four committees tasked with studying these issues. Here, Maribel Morey critically examines the early history of the SSRC’s approach to race in the 1920s and 1930s, focusing on its relationship with the shifting priorities of the philanthropies that supported it. This includes major projects of the era such as W. E. B. Du Bois’s ambitious Encyclopedia of the Negro and the massive research undertaking that launched Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma.
In this essay, Stuart Schrader traces the arc of US security assistance to Latin America from the late nineteenth century to the present, and finds deep continuities amid the policy changes. From gunboat diplomacy and direct occupation to training and support for militaries, police, and counterinsurgency, economic and geopolitical interests have predominated. At the same time, the legacy of former policies constrains new ones, and Latin American elites, once dependent on the United States, have grown more autonomous in pursuing their own political projects.
Starting in the early 1950s, the SSRC cultivated interdisciplinary research into the role of language in culture and thought through its Committees on Psycholinguistics and Sociolinguistics. Here, Monica Heller examines how the latter committee (1963–1979) helped establish sociolinguistics in the United States, investigating the tensions between language, culture, and inequality. In exploring how the committee shifted focus from the developing world to marginalized groups in the United States, Heller addresses how the research agendas of these scholarly structures are influenced by the political dynamics or ideologies of their time, in this case the Cold War and decolonization.
Sixty summers ago, the SSRC’s Committee on the Simulation of Cognitive Processes organized a landmark training institute, in partnership with RAND and codirected by Herbert Simon. The ambitious goal was to push the use of digital computers as key tools in modeling human cognition. Here, Hunter Heyck reflects on the legacy of the institute in advancing the use of computer-assisted “models” in the social sciences and how participants’ future work was shaped by the event. The institute was initially described in a 1958 Items report by Simon and Allan Newell, which we now republish to accompany Heyck’s essay.
A "big data" project for its day, the SSRC's The American Soldier series was deeply influential in shaping the social science of military organization and in developing new research methods. On the occasion of its four volumes and the underlying trove of data becoming openly accessible, Items republishes several archival essays on The American Soldier. Here, Rodrigo Ugarte provides an overview of the project's origins and impact.
Forty years after the publication of the first volume of The American Soldier, John Clausen, one of the series’ contributors, reflected on the project’s history and the volumes’ impact in this 1989 Items archive piece. Clausen explains how the four-volume series anthologized the research conducted by the War Department Research Branch during World War II, which studied soldiers’ attitudes on a wide range of issues, from the war effort to unit desegregation, and utilized various methodologies. In particular, he highlights the role the SSRC and its associates played in developing the Research Branch and the volumes.
At a moment in which the Council was exploring the privatization of risk at the beginning of the twenty-first century, former SSRC program director Yasmine Ergas explored the SSRC’s important role in the development of the social security system during the Great Depression. For almost a decade, the Council convened social scientists and policymakers, issuing studies and reports related to the construction of social insurance for those suffering the greatest effects of the crash. The SSRC’s Committee on Social Security contributed to the knowledge base upon which one of the New Deal’s most important interventions was based.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Deborah Coen explores how human beings make sense of large-scale natural phenomena like climate change. What does it mean to “understand” climate change? Does it mean the same thing to concerned citizens as it does to natural scientists, or humanities scholars, or policymakers? Coen uses a brief history of climate science since the nineteenth century to explore these questions and to challenge the traditional dichotomy between scientific explanation and humanistic understanding.
Michael Dawson and Megan Ming Francis, curators for and contributors to the “Reading Racial Conflict” series, conclude the series with a set of reflections on the ways RRC authors bring the deep lessons from classic works in the political economy of race to bear on the present. They call attention to key themes that cut cross the essays: the persistence of violence visited on and the demonization of African Americans; the place of race in the development of capitalism and class formation; how capitalist development and racism deepen divides between the white and black working classes; class divisions within the black community; and how the intersections of race and capital shape inequalities globally.