A Brief and Selected History of the UVA Department of Sociology

Thursday, November 6, 2014 | Murray Milner, Jr. 

Jefferson Statue

On October 2nd, the department and many friends gathered to celebrate our "return to the lawn."  At the party, Murray Milner, former dept. chair and now Professor Emeritus, provided the following brief history of the department, which I think all of us found quite interesting.  Thanks to Murray for pulling it together!

- Jeff Olick

The first mention of “sociology” in the Board of Visitors Minutes was in 1889 when an adjunct professor of “Sociology & Political Economy” was appointed.

The first professor of sociology, Floyd House, was appointed in 1927.  His work included a then well-known critique of Pareto.  He is mentioned in sociology textbooks of the time.

Around 1970 the Provost, David Shannon, wanted to strengthen the then combined department of Sociology-Anthropology and hired Ted Caplow, who was then at Columbia University, to become chair of the department.  

Ted recruited a number of adjunct lecturers from other departments including Frank Arnoff from psychiatry, Calvin Woodard from the Law School, David Little from Religious Studies, and Miriam Birdwhistle from social work—all of whom were associated with the department for a number of years.  This contributed to the department teaching more students per faculty person than any other department, and the Provost allocated the department a number of new positions to fill.  

In 1972 the department, under Ted’s leadership, recruited Robert Bierstedt, a distinguished scholar from NYU and former general secretary of the ASA, Jeff Hadden, a widely-known sociologist of religion and new religious movements, and a NYU assistant professor named Murray Milner, who eventually wrote extensively about status systems and how they work.  

When these four new recruits arrived there was already an active group of sociologists including David Bromley who became prominent in the sociology of religion and Jean Biggar who became president of one of the demographic societies, Richard Coughlin, who was a specialist on Southeast Asia, and Charles Longino who became a nationally known expert on aging and retirement.

I should add that despite his administrative responsibilities Ted continued to be a conspicuously productive scholar including conducting his Middletown III and Middletown IV studies.

In 1974 we recruited Gresham Sykes, a renowned criminologist, who later served as chair of the department.

Around 1975 a separate Anthropology Department was created and they moved to Brooks Hall.

In 1976 Tom Guterbock and Burke Grandjean became assistant professors and a year or so latter Patsy Taylor joined us as assistant professor.  All three received tenure.

In 1978 we recruited Steven Nock.  Steve became a recognized expert on the role of the family.  A year or so later Daphne Spain, joined the department, but later moved to the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning.  

Also in 1978 Randall Collins, who later became President of ASA, was recruited as a full professor.  In 1983 he returned to California where his wife had become a senior state judge.

Paul Kingston was recruited in 1981 from Columbia and later served as chair 1993-1997 and 2004-2007 and as associate dean of Arts and Sciences from 2007-2009 in addition to his writings on education and social inequality.

In 1983 James Hunter joined the department as an assistant professor and soon became a highly visible scholar in the sociology of religion and the sociology of culture.

Donald Black, well-known for his book The Behavior of Law, moved from Harvard to UVA in 1985 and became University Professor in 1988.

Gianfranco Poggi, originally from Italy and for many years at the University of Edinburgh, was a member of the department from 1988-1995.  He wrote a standard work on the emergence of the modern state and numerous books on the history of social theory.  He returned to Italy in 1996 to take a senior appointment at the European University Institute in Florence.  

Sarah Corse joined the department from Stanford in 1991 to introduce us to the newly developing field of cultural sociology.  The same year we recruited Stephan Fuchs who specialized in the sociology of science and social theory.

In 1993 Sharon Hays arrived from the University of California San Diego, and soon received considerable national attention for her book The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, and later, for her Flat Broke With Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform.  

In 1994 Milton Vickerman became a member of the department, strengthening our scholarship in race and ethnicity.  

Krishan Kumar, who had published a string of impressive books on social theory and social change, was recruited from the University of Kent in 1996.  Katya Makarova, a scholar of areas in the former Soviet Union, joined the department a year or so later. 

Rae Blumberg, widely known for her theory of gender inequality and studies of its effects on development, moved from the University of California San Diego to UVA in 1998. 

In 2001 Elizabeth Gorman was recruited to strengthen us in the analysis of organizations, work, and quantitative methods.  Brad Wilcox, a UVA undergraduate and a Ph.D. from Princeton, joined the faculty in 2002 and has become director of the National Marriage Project.  

Jeff Olick of Columbia University joined the department in 2004, greatly increasing our depth in comparative and historical analysis.  With five books largely focusing on the German collective memory of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, he became full professor in Sociology and History in 2007 and chair of the department in 2013.

Andrea Press became chair of the new Department of Media Studies in 2006, with a joint appointment in Sociology.

That same year Josipa Roksa joined our faculty with a joint appointment in the School of Education.  The next year Alison Pugh came to UVA and in 2008 Simone Polillo joined us.  All three developed outstanding records of scholarship and have become tenured associate professors.

In recent years the department has recruited four very promising assistant professors: Rachel Rinaldo in 2009, Sabrina Pendergrass in 2012, Adam Slez in 2013, and Miranda Waggoner in 2014.  

In 2010 the Provost of the University of Michigan, Teresa Sullivan, was appointed president of the University of Virginia and became a tenured member of the Sociology Department.

It should also be noted that at various times we have had distinguished sociologists as visiting professors including Wilbert Moore and Johan Galtung.

We have had a number of dedicated staff over the years but there are four that deserve mention for their many years of efficient and dedicated service:  Lorraine Cote, Brenda Tekin, Joan Snapp, and Katherine Shiflett.  

In addition to having had an array of notable teachers and scholars, the department has been the origin or seedbed of several programs and institutions that were so successful that they became university-wide organizations.  

The first of these is the University Internship Program that was started in 1976 as a joint project of sociology and psychology.  It was directed by Nancy Gansneder from 1978-2006 and is now headed by one of our Ph.D.s, Karen Farber.  For a number of years it was located in the Sociology Department, but eventually became part of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. 

A second is the Center for Survey Research, which under Tom Guterbock’s leadership grew out of a CATI lab for training students and became a self-sustaining research arm of the Cooper Center.

A third is the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, which under James Hunter’s direction grew out of the Postmodernity Project into an independent interdisciplinary university research center that has gained a national and international reputation—despite letting me hang out there since my retirement from the department.

Another significant accomplishment of the department has been to recruit a large number of women and minority students as majors.

There have been and will continue to be disagreements within the faculty, but in my judgment these have increasingly become principled disagreements over important issues—and this is and should be at the core of any good department or university.

I have not been active in the department for over a decade, and so with some degree of detachment can say that the department has steadily improved the quality of its faculty and its graduate students.  At the same time is has provided undergraduates stimulating and challenging courses and new ways to look at the world. 

In my opinion, the move to Randall Hall not only means a change of location but is a symbol of substantial accomplishment.

I can honestly say that I am proud to have been a small part of this history—and I hope that you are too.

Murray Milner, Jr. 

October 2, 2014