Papers of Robert K. Merton, Pioneer in American Sociology, Donated to Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library

NEW YORK, January 6, 2006 - The papers of Robert K. Merton (1910–2003), the esteemed Columbia sociologist who developed such concepts as “self-fulfilling prophecy,” “role model” and the “focused interview,” and who was a founder of  the sociology of science, have been donated to Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

The papers span Merton’s intellectual development from his undergraduate days to his last writings on serendipity. The collection was donated to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library by Merton’s widow, the sociologist Harriet Zuckerman, who is currently Senior Vice President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Professor Emerita at Columbia. The papers represent a vast and well-organized body of resources for scholars in many fields, including sociology; social, intellectual and urban history; the histories of science, criminology, the professions, and medical education; communication and media studies; African-American studies and many other fields. The archive includes unpublished lecture notes, course syllabi, draft manuscripts, and extensive primary data and records from Merton’s long and varied career in the social sciences. The papers also feature Merton’s correspondence with other pivotal figures in twentieth-century sociology and public intellectual discourse, including Paul Lazarsfeld, C. Wright Mills, Daniel Bell, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Pitirim Sorokin, Pierre Bourdieu, Granville Hicks, Diana Trilling, and Stephen Jay Gould, among others.

“Bob Merton spent over 50 years at Columbia, where he became perhaps the leading American sociologist of the twentieth century,” said Jonathan Cole, John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University at Columbia and Merton’s former student and colleague. “Merton was an impeccable scholar who kept the most extraordinary record of his own intellectual journey. This archive represents nothing less than a gold mine for those interested in the history of twentieth-century intellectual and social life. It is entirely fitting that Columbia will house these papers and materials for those who will delight in using them for generations to come.”

Merton joined the Columbia faculty in 1941 and helped build the University’s sociology department into one of the most prominent in the world. Merton’s ground-breaking work on the “ethos of science,” social deviance, the dynamics of “insiders” versus “outsiders, and on “middle range” social theories, neither grandly abstract nor narrowly fine-grained, helped make him one of the most influential and beloved of American sociologists. In 1994, he became the first sociologist to win a National Medal of Science.

“Merton was an elegant packrat, and the rest of us benefit,” said Charles Tilly, Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia. “He not only generated ideas, concepts, and methods energetically, but he emitted an incessant stream of forceful yet gracious criticism of other people’s work, including mine. Fortunately for us, he hoarded and meticulously managed manuscripts and files drawn from an incredible range of sources.”

The Merton archive contains empirical data from a number of significant but mostly unpublished research projects that Merton conducted in the 1940s and 50s as well as unpublished manuscripts on mass communications (Dwight Eisenhower’s presidential candidacy), the sociology of science, and on sociological semantics, his last area of research. The archive includes multi-year studies focused on two of the nation’s oldest public housing projects and on patterns of American social life in friendships, politics, labor relations, and among different races and ethnicities. The papers also include reports and primary data from Merton’s study of 1950s “Manhattanville,” the multi-ethnic neighborhood north of Columbia into which the University now plans to expand its campus.

Merton’s papers include extensive correspondence with his Columbia colleague and collaborator of 35 years, Paul F. Lazarsfeld, with whom Merton founded the Bureau of Applied Social Research and developed the “focused interview” procedure—laying the groundwork for the “focus groups” now widely used in marketing research. The papers also include correspondence with Merton’s wife, Harriet Zuckerman, with whom he frequently collaborated. In coming to Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Merton’s papers join those of Lazarsfeld and the archive of the Bureau of Applied Social Research. Additional papers and correspondence will be added to the current collection.

Once the Merton papers have been surveyed, the Library can provide limited access to the material prior to full processing. For further information, please contact the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at 212-854-4048 or

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 9.2 million volumes, over 65,650 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, and other nonprint formats. The collections and services are organized into 25 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. Columbia Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff to assist faculty, students, and researchers in their academic endeavors. The Libraries’ website at is a gateway to its print and electronic collections and to its services.

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library owns over 500,000 rare books in some 20 book collections and almost 28 million manuscripts in nearly 3,000 separate manuscript collections. It is particularly strong in English and American literature and history, classical authors, children's literature, education, mathematics and astronomy, economics and banking, photography, the history of printing, New York City politics, librarianship, and the performing arts. Individual collections are as eclectic as they are extensive.