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Volume 7, Number 1

Spring 2009

The Berlin Years: The Influence of German Thought and Experience on the Development of Du Bois' Sociology


Stacey Weger

North Carolina Central University

    Despite being historically well received for his many contributions to literature, civil rights, and political advocacy, W.E.B. Du Bois' contributions to the development of scientific sociology have been understated.  While his work is briefly summarized in many introductory sociology texts, many learned sociology professionals will be the first to admit that they have completed doctorate studies without ever so much as hearing his name mentioned in any of their coursework (Zuckerman, 2004).  This glaring oversight is currently being addressed as his work is being rediscovered, reanalyzed, and is finally receiving the accolades it deserves related to the early development of scientific social research.

    In light of this renewal of interest in Du Bois' scientific endeavors, it is important to look to the years that he spent in Berlin as they arguably played a significant role in the development of Du Bois' methodology.  Du Bois found his educational experiences to be truly enlightening, and incorporated much of his scholastic influences in his own research studies.  In particular, he pointed to his years at the University of Berlin as most impressive upon his formulation of research methodology, as well as upon his own means of cultural and racial understanding.  According to Broderick (1958b: 367), Du Bois "went to Europe in 1892 as an historian; he returned two years later a sociologist."  Each segment of his education served to alter his worldview in some way, including his submersion in the lynching mentality of the deep South during his years at Fisk, as well as his experience with cold separatism in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  However, Du Bois makes no qualms about the monumental impact his years at Berlin played on molding his impressionable mind as a young adult.  As he notes in Dusk of Dawn ([1940], 2007), "Europe modified profoundly my outlook on life and my thought and feeling toward it, even though I was there but two short years...something of the possible beauty and elegance of life permeated my soul." (Du Bois, [1940] 2007: 23.)

    It is the intent of this paper to discuss the implications of Du Bois' Berlin years upon the development of his sociological methods, particularly during his early years as a researcher.  It is evident that the teachings of several key faculty at the University of Berlin, in particular, those of Gustav Schmoller and Max Weber, played a significant role in forming Du Bois' attitudes towards social research and reform, and in laying out a blueprint for his future practices in the field.  While Du Bois was also greatly affected by his Fisk and Harvard years, the development of his sociological methods occurred in Berlin between the years of 1892 and 1894.  In addition to the specific contributions made by his professors, Du Bois was also forever altered by the experience of his immersion in a foreign land. While academics were his focus during his stint in Germany, Du Bois was also fascinated with the culture, politics, economy, and the arts of the land. His interactions with the people of Germany, one can argue, nearly matched the importance of his scholastic ventures, and the results of such experiences left Du Bois irreversibly changed.  This change can also be seen in his writings and research.

The Path to Berlin: Fisk and Harvard

    To truly understand the development of Du Bois' early sociology, it is essential to begin by looking at his path up to that point.  William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868. While growing up he realized that although his family was "near the edge of poverty," he did not go without life's necessities.  He was rarely the victim of overt racism, but he was aware of it indirectly.  Du Bois applied himself to his schoolwork and rapidly excelled in all of his courses. "The secret to life," he believed, "lay in excellence, in accomplishment."  He came to theorize that "there was no discrimination on account of color it was all a matter of ability and hard work" (Du Bois, 1968: 75).  This became the keystone principle in his own life goals; determined to prove that a black man could succeed intellectually and help improve the overall quality of life for his race, Du Bois left Great Barrington with the intention of furthering his education at Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee.

    Du Bois did not initially intend to study at Fisk; rather, his ultimate goal was to be admitted to Harvard University.  Upon finding that his high school did not meet the entrance requirements for Harvard, Du Bois selected Fisk University as his destination. However, he "regarded this merely as a temporary change of plan" (Du Bois, 1968: 105).  So, at the age of 17, Du Bois ventured south to Nashville to begin his collegiate experience.  His choice of school was not supported by all of his friends and family; some suggested that it was unwise to move to the South, where racism flourished, jobs were scarce, and educational resources were admittedly lacking. Nonetheless, Du Bois felt that Fisk had a good reputation, and moreover, he was ready to escape the racial isolation he had felt in Great Barrington, and looked forward to mingling with peers of his own race. That sense of belonging was absent in his New England home town, and he looked forward to the end of what he termed a "spiritual isolation" (Du Bois, 1968).

    Because of his advanced abilities, Du Bois was admitted to Fisk in 1885 as a sophomore, rather than a freshman.  He was immediately comfortable amongst the black student population, and quickly became popular at the school.  He felt the education he received at Fisk was "limited but excellent," and while there he studied Greek, German, chemistry, physics, and philosophy.  It was here that Du Bois (1968: 112) said "I replaced my hitherto egocentric world by a world centering and whirling about my race in America." With this change in attitude, Du Bois set out to make his first impact upon the Negro race in the South; he did this by teaching. While at Fisk Du Bois therefore spent his summers teaching in eastern Tennessee, which he described as an invaluable experience:

I traveled not only in space but in time. I touched the very shadow of slavery. I lived and taught school in log cabins built before the Civil War. My first school was the second held in the district since Emancipation. I touched intimately the lives of the commonest of mankind people who ranged from barefooted dwellers on dirt floors, with patched rags for clothes, to rough, hard-working farmers with plan, clean plenty. (Du Bois, 1968: 114.) 
This experience clearly had implications in Du Bois' later studies of rural populations. Here, he shows his early fascination with participant observation and ethnographic description, anthropologically based methodologies he would come to use more frequently in his early sociological research studies.

    Du Bois was partially motivated to move to Nashville in order to gain a better perspective on the Negro problem in the South. It was here that he experienced firsthand the harsh effects of blatant racism that so many of the Southern blacks had suffered for many years. Du Bois had a run in with a white woman on a Nashville street during his youth experiencing "the kind of despising which a dog might incur."  He further admitted that "for at least half a century I avoided the necessity of showing them [whites] courtesy of any sort" (Du Bois, 1968: 122). Yet still, rather than further insulating him from other races, such indemnities roused in Du Bois an interest in not only aiding his own race in their fight for equality, but also in raising up the status of all oppressed races. He notes in his autobiography an increased awareness of the prejudice facing Italians, Chinese, and Jews in America; in this sense, his worldview was permanently altered as an immediate result of the time spent at Fisk (Du Bois, 1968).

    At his graduation from Fisk in 1888, Du Bois delivered a commencement address on the German leader Bismarck. According to Du Bois (1968: 126), Bismarck "made a nation out of a mass of bickering peoples." Bismarck's accomplishments were on par with Du Bois' goals for uniting a Black and White America, and thus one can see here an early indication of his infatuation with German history and politics (Lemke, 2000). Upon graduation from Fisk, Du Bois set his sights once again on Harvard University. Due to a recent change in enrollment structure, Harvard had been advertising scholarships to minority groups in order to help diversify their student population. Hence, Du Bois felt that it was more a stroke of luck than the effectiveness of his progressive education that landed him entrance at the university by means of a grant. He was admitted only as a junior, despite already having obtained his bachelor's degree from Fisk (Du Bois, 1968).

    At Harvard, Du Bois also studied a variety of topics, ranging from the social sciences to the physical sciences to philosophy. Nonetheless, the subjects that had the most impact upon his future education and later sociological research were his courses in philosophy taught by William James, his history classes, led by Albert Bushnell Hart, and his studies in economics under the guidance of Frank Taussig (Du Bois, 1968).

    A pioneer in the field of psychology as well as an outstanding contributor to philosophy, James had an eclectic educational background. Having received his early education abroad, James was fluent in multiple languages. He eventually moved toward scientific studies and obtained a medical degree.  James moved to Germany to seek out a cure for his frequent bouts of sickness, and later returned to the United States with a new philosophical interest. This path was reflected in his career at Harvard, where he began teaching courses in physiology and anatomy in the mid 1870s and eventually moved into teaching courses in psychology and philosophy by the 1880s (Broderick, 1958b). James was predominantly associated with the school of philosophical pragmatism, and Du Bois' relationship with James was warm and convivial. James invited him into his home on numerous occasions, and Du Bois considered him to be a friend. One can easily see the influence of James' teachings in Du Bois' later writings, where pragmatism considers the practical consequences of that which is defined as "truth" (Williams, 2006).

    Of equal importance during his years at Harvard, were Du Bois' experiences in the classes taught by Albert Bushnell Hart. Having studied at several European Universities, Hart focused much of his teachings on historical documentation, "and was known for his insistence on research methodology and careful scrutiny of documents" (Lemke, 2000: 54.)  His grounding in political and institutional history was embraced by Du Bois, who later investigated colonial, state and national statutes in his dissertation on the suppression of the African slave trade (Broderick, 1958a: 367.)  Du Bois (1968) claimed to be one of Hart's favorite students, and continued to work with him throughout his graduate studies.

    Frank Taussig, an economics professor with an interest in international trade, was also mentioned in Du Bois' autobiography as being a professor who had a profound impact on him during his stint at Harvard. 

I remember Frank Taussig's course supporting the dying Ricardean economics. Wages came from what employers had left for labor after they had subtracted their own reward. Suppose that this profit was too small to attract the employer, what would the poor worker do but starve? (Du Bois, 1968: 141.) 
This type of economic discussion piqued Du Bois' interest in the field, which he later studied in depth in Berlin. Throughout his writing Du Bois consistently incorporated economic concepts in his discussions of African American advancement in the United States.

    Du Bois' experience at Harvard was not entirely academic. Of equal importance was the impact of his cultural and personal interactions in Cambridge. While he remained amicable towards his fellow Harvard classmates, Du Bois admittedly did not make any effort to socialize with the majority of them, much preferring to spend his time with African Americans within the community. Du Bois (1968: 137) noted a distance between African Americans and whites that grew "so that increasingly a colored person in Boston was more a neighbor to a colored person in Chicago than to the white person across the street."

    Du Bois was awarded a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1890, and he received an M.A. in history in 1892. Still wishing to continue his education, Du Bois set his sights on studying abroad for the final portion of his academic career. This was not a surprising development considering the fact that two of his most influential professors at Harvard, James and Hart, had both studied abroad, specifically in Germany (Broderick, 1958b).

    In the late nineteenth century studying abroad was considered the best means for obtaining an extensive liberal education.  Du Bois (1968: 150) indicated in his autobiography, "I had made up my mind that what I needed was further training in Europe.  The German universities were at the top of their reputation. Any American scholar who wanted preferment went to Germany for study."  Du Bois had studied the German language for three years at Fisk University, delivered his valedictorian speech on the subject of Otto von Bismarck and the unification of Germany, and penned several research papers on the topic of Germany during his Harvard years (Lemke, 2000; Barkin, 2000).  Clearly, his interest in German unification helped steer him in Berlin's direction when choosing a European university to attend upon the receipt of his grant and loan from the Slater Fund.  At that time the University of Berlin was a cornerstone in the young school of German historical economics and a burgeoning harbor for early social sciences (Boston, 1991; Broderick, 1958a).

A Liberal Education

    The transition from the stifling, prejudicial atmosphere of America to the more accepting and open European environment was a welcome change. Du Bois (1968: 159) admitted that, over time, he "had reached the habit of expecting color prejudice so universally, that I found it even when it was not there." Hence, when he sailed to Europe aboard the Amsterdam in 1892, he felt naturally hesitant to mingle with whites who shared the journey with him. At Harvard, Du Bois had been an academic loner.  This attitude persisted even as he embarked to Europe, as Lewis (1993: 128) notes: "He felt awkward, choreographing his every move so as to avoid one of those small scandals he had learned to expect whenever men and women of the two races commingled in America." Thus, Du Bois was shocked when a young and attractive Dutch woman approached him on the ship. While he had initially attempted to allow distance between himself and his shipmates, the woman and her traveling companions quickly struck up a conversation with him, and before long the group was enjoying the sites in Dussledorf.  For the first time since his childhood, Du Bois felt a complete absence of the color line to which he was so accustomed (Du Bois, 1968).

    Du Bois disembarked at Frankfort, and traveled to Eisenach, where he stayed for seven weeks with a German family in an attempt to strengthen his language skills before attending the university. Here Du Bois became more light-hearted and easy going (Lewis, 1993). Du Bois also experienced a romantic interlude that further increased his feeling of unbridled racial freedom. The family he was staying with had a daughter, Dora, who immediately bonded with the young Du Bois, frequently accompanying him to church events, concerts, and even the formal annual ball. He found this relationship with a white woman both enticing and liberating, though in the end he realized he had not the funds nor the prestige to support a woman of her standing, and the relationship ended as he moved on to Berlin (Du Bois, 1968).

    Matriculation at the university began in mid-October, and eager to begin studies in political economy, Du Bois was granted admittance to seminars led by Gustav Schmoller, Adolph Wagner, and Heinrich von Treitschke.  It is here that Du Bois was exposed to some of the most important influences upon the development of his future research practices and, as Barkin notes, "to the strategy he embraced to mitigate racism in the United States for at least a decade" (Barkin, 2000: 80). Du Bois arrived at the University of Berlin when the economics program was experiencing a fundamental ideological shift which was being led by Schmoller, Du Bois' academic supervisor.  The proponents of the historical school argued that classical economics "erred in making excessive deductions from erroneous empirical facts" (Boston, 1991: 305) rather than grounding economic theories in historical realities (Broderick, 1958a: 369). Many of the American students in Germany were fascinated with the school's ideology, as the teachings contrasted sharply with what they had learned in their American economics textbooks. Rather than describing economics as a strict set of absolute laws, students were taught to "understand economic life in the context of social customs, values, and institutions" (Shafer, 2001: 934). This debate reached its zenith while Du Bois studied in Berlin, and the new approach played a fundamental role in the development of understanding of sociological research (Boston, 1991; Broderick,1958a).

    A founding member of the German historical school, Schmoller had also recently taken on the role of president for the Association for Social Policy (Verein für Sozialpolitik), a position that he held for 27 years. While Schmoller believed that politics and economics should always strive to accomplish moral goals, he also believed that government intervention was necessary to meet those ends (Lemke, 2000). According to Du Bois (1968), Schmoller was famous for stating that his school focused on the study of empirical realities (geschehen) rather than what should be (sollen).  The goal was to first present the facts before specific actions were entertained (Broderick, 1958b). This method was later mimicked by Du Bois in sociological studies like The Philadelphia Negro ([1899] 1996).

    Schmoller encouraged his students to conduct their economic research by focusing first on a historical perspective. This would provide a scientific (wissenschaftlich) grounding for their research (Barkin, 2000).  Schmoller shied away from generalized theories, instead putting more stock into well-designed inductive research that approached economics with specific questions in mind. Following a historic description, a research program should be implemented, and recommendations for policy change and reform could follow.  Schmoller's approach to research was adopted by Du Bois as a model for his own early sociological studies (Schafer, 2001).

    At Berlin Du Bois also encountered Max Weber.  At this time Weber's career was just beginning, and he was viewed more as a historian and economist. Weber came to the University of Berlin to teach in the early 1890s, and it was here that Du Bois came to sit in on some of his lectures (Barkin, 2000; Broderick, 1958a, 1958b). Weber's methodology was an appropriate fit for the German historical school, as it "provided a link, acceptable to both sides, between the social sciences and historiography" (Mommsen, 1987: 4). Following an anti-positivist tradition, Weber focused on the marked differences between social science and natural science. Additionally, Weber was among the first social scientists to investigate the correlation between religion and the relative wealth of church congregations. This is an issue that Du Bois later addressed in his edited sociological study on religion, The Negro Church ([1903b] 2003).

    Despite the fact that Weber and Schmoller shared an ideology grounded in historical research, the two differed on several important issues.  First, Weber did not believe wholeheartedly in the notion of inductive research. Rather, he argued that an "ideal type" or concept must serve as the framework for social and economic research. The goal of such an ideal type is to serve as a measuring rod designed to ascertain the similarities and variations in a specific case. Weber paired this notion of an ideal type with his historical methodology of social research, suggesting that empirical research conducted longitudinally would reveal "universals" throughout history (Mommsen, 1987). Later in discussing his vision for the annual Atlanta University Conferences, Du Bois ([1904], 1978) expressed an interest in the longitudinal study of the "Negro problems."

    Additionally, Weber claimed that ethics and scientific research were separate issues.  Hence social science and social politics were separate disciplines (Lemke, 2000).  While Schmoller attempted to achieve a moral and ethical end to his research endeavors, Weber felt that "professors should refrain from giving advice in ethical matters" (Lemke, 2000: 56).  Weber firmly believed that scientific research needed to be completely separated from value-judgments. Weber's position served two purposes: first, he was concerned with protecting the validity of scientific research by maintaining impartiality toward social causes. Secondly, he felt that this separation would prevent scientists from pushing their personal agendas by manipulating and presenting scientific data toward a desired end. Du Bois took both Schmoller's and Weber's philosophies to heart.  Though at first Du Bois clearly attempted to maintain neutrality in his studies, he eventually came to the conclusion that this was not possible. While he once noted that "we simply collect the facts. Others may use them as they will," (Du Bois, 1897), his philosophy changed over time to the point where he realized that "the cure wasn't simply telling people the truth, it was inducing them to act on the truth" (Lewis, 1993: 226).

    Du Bois' study at the University of Berlin ended in 1894 following the completion of his third semester. Although Du Bois was unable to schedule the oral examination to complete the Ph.D. program at Berlin, which required six semesters of study prior to the exam, Schmoller and Wagner rallied to have the requirements reduced. However, the university would not allow Du Bois to take the exam with only three semesters of course work completed, and Du Bois was not able to secure the funding for future study. In response to his request for an extension of the Slater Fund grant, the fund's President, Daniel Gilman, encouraged Du Bois to return to Harvard to complete his studies (Aptheker, 1973). Sixty four years later, Du Bois would be given the honorary title of Ehrendoktor by the university, an event Du Bois claimed "fulfilled one of the highest ambitions of my young manhood" (Lemke, 2000: 76.)

European Political and Cultural Influences

    Du Bois was eager to transfer the knowledge he garnered in Berlin with his compatriots back in America. He had long admired Germany as a model for American reform, particularly after having seen how Bismarck unified the country under his leadership. At the time of Du Bois' studies in the late nineteenth century, Germany was facing troubles similar to those faced by the United States. The number of immigrants from Eastern Europe was high, and as a result, job competition was increasing. Industrialization was taking its toll on the county, and urbanization was becoming more pronounced. Similar to the phenomenon that Du Bois would later explore in the United States, Germany showed a fast-paced movement from an agricultural society to an industrial one, and a subsequent mass migration from rural to urban centers became evident as factory jobs replaced farm work. At this time, Berlin remained Germany's largest city and its industrial center. Thus Du Bois played a key role in the transatlantic exchange of ideas addressing social reform and activism during this time period (Schafer, 2001).

    Du Bois also experienced racism firsthand in Europe, though he frequently suggested that the Germans generally respected him as an individual (Lemke, 2000). While this may have been the case in the academic setting of Berlin, it was not so throughout Europe. Having been dared by a colleague to visit Poland and to experience the race problems there, Du Bois was slighted when he was mistaken to be a Gypsy or a Jew during his travels throughout the region (Du Bois, 1968). While traveling alone on a train in Lübeck, Du Bois also noticed several young girls giggling at his dark face. At the town market, this experience grew more disconcerting, as a group of men, women and children pursued him through the streets, staring and whispering about him (Lewis, 1993). In this way Du Bois experienced the universality of the color line that he would work so diligently to eradicate in the United States. Du Bois credits his greater understanding of the race issue to his years in Berlin, noting that "Under these teachers and in this social setting, I began to see the race problem in America, the problem of the peoples in Africa and Asia, and the political development of Europe as one" (Du Bois, [1940], 2007: 24).

    The cultural exposure that Du Bois gained during his residency in Berlin was critical to his individual development. While studying in Berlin, he spent a great deal of his spare time traveling throughout Europe, attempting to see and absorb as much as he possibly could. Visiting museums was a favorite past time, and during a speech that he later gave at Wilberforce University, he noted that he had visited eight of the world's most important museums (Lemke, 2000). Du Bois traveled through much of Germany, sometimes alone, and other times with a few fellow students. He also visited Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, France, and England. Following his final semester in Berlin, Du Bois spent some time visiting Paris and London, catching performances at the Moulin Rouge, and visiting many of the great cultural attractions in the cities, including the Louvre, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the National Gallery, and the British Museum (Du Bois, 1968). The impact of Europe's culture and art scene was so significant that Du Bois reflected upon it nearly half a century later Dusk of Dawn ([1940], 2007). Here he states: "I came to know Beethoven's symphonies and Wagner's Ring. I looked long at the colors of Rembrandt and Titian. I saw in arch and stone and steeple the history and striving of men and also their taste and expression. Form, color, and words took new combinations and meanings (Du Bois, [1940], 2007: 23)."

    Earlier in the United States, Du Bois had struggled with identifying himself as a Negro and as an American (double consciousness), and he questioned "how far can love for my oppressed race accord with love for the oppressing country (Du Bois, 1968: 169)?"  In Germany, Du Bois may have further distanced himself from his patriotic side (Lemke, 2000). Europeans frequently dismissed the idea of an Anglo-American culture, a point in which Du Bois found some pleasure. Through conversations with Europeans, Du Bois (1968) saw that all which he had believed to be part of "American" culture was actually European. Experiencing the elitist attitudes of white Europeans toward white Americans helped drive a greater wedge between Du Bois and his group identification as an American. Du Bois also began to perceive Negro culture to be superior to white American culture (Lemke, 2000).

Sociological Accomplishments after Berlin

    Du Bois was a surprisingly prolific sociological researcher. Following the conclusion of his education, Du Bois settled into his newly begun teaching profession at Wilberforce University in Ohio. However, dissatisfied and unable to initiate a program in sociology at Wilberforce, Du Bois embraced the opportunity granted him to conduct a full-scale community study of the condition of the Negro in the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia. In Dusk of Dawn, Du Bois ([1940] 2007: 30) says of this unique opportunity, "The Negro problem was in my mind a matter of systematic investigation and intelligent understanding. The world was thinking wrong about race, because it did not know. The ultimate evil was stupidity. The cure for it was knowledge based on scientific investigation." The end result of this investigation was the publication of The Philadelphia Negro ([1899], 1996). This study was unique in that it was one of the first of its kind, a grand endeavor in scientific research rivaled only by his contemporaries Charles Booth and Jane Addams, researchers who had recently published urban and community studies.

    Having been only recently married, Du Bois and his wife lived in the slums of Philadelphia's Seventh Ward for fifteen months as he collected the data for this social study. He developed several instruments, or "schedules," and collected field data by going door to door and conducting in person interviews with every resident of the Ward. Du Bois employed methodological triangulation to ensure greater accuracy and completeness of his data.  In addition to the survey data, he also incorporated historical grounding, ethnographic descriptions, and additionally contrasted his findings to broader census data and public archival records. While Du Bois attempted to gather the data in an entirely neutral and unbiased fashion, he still hoped that the data would be used to improve the social condition of his people, and he included suggestions for further steps toward this end, pairing scientific research and public policy.  The Philadelphia Negro ([1899], 1996) was truly a groundbreaking work in urban sociology, concerned with both validity and accuracy, while still remaining well aware of its limitations.

    In addition to this work in urban sociology, Du Bois concurrently began to collect data for a sociological study in a rural environment "The Negroes of Farmville, Virginia" ([1898a] 1978). Having been commissioned to perform the study by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, Du Bois spent two months in the small tobacco farming community collecting data. Using much of the same methodology applied in Philadelphia, Du Bois culled information from the population of Farmville in an effort to once again exemplify the roots of the Negro problem in the United States. Du Bois noted the dire economic position facing the blacks of Virginia in light of industrialization and again focused data collection on a specific spatial area.  Some of these data were then cross-referenced with relevant U.S. and international data. In doing so, he hoped to delineate the unique social forces at play as a result of the social environment and unearth more universal concerns and plights (Williams, 2006).  Du Bois completed several other studies for the Department of Labor Statistics, including studies of Black Belt communities and Negro land ownership in Georgia, and a study of Negroes in Lowndes County, Alabama the sole existing manuscript of which was denied publication and was believed to have been subsequently destroyed by the Department of Labor (Du Bois, 1968).

    Immediately following Du Bois' work in Philadelphia and Farmville, he was offered a position teaching economics and history at Atlanta University, where he was also asked to manage the annual Atlanta Conferences. Du Bois came to Atlanta following the first two conferences, and there he stayed for more than a decade. Du Bois put into motion a plan for collecting a mass of longitudinal data on the Negro problem. As he described it, "I laid down an ambitious program for a hundred years of study. I proposed to take up annually in each decade the main aspects of the group life of Negroes with as thorough study and measurement as possible, and repeat the same program in the succeeding decade with additions, changes and better methods (Du Bois, [1940] 2007: 33)."  The idea of the Atlanta Conferences was borrowed from the annual conferences hosted by Hampton and Tuskegee, which focused on the rural Negro. During the course of its existence, the Atlanta Conferences produced comprehensive research studies on topics ranging from health and mortality, to education, occupation, and religion. Here, Du Bois was able to put into use his inductive research methods and produce a large body of cumulative data aimed towards the social betterment of his race. However, disheartened by the lack of funds and facing criticism from the Tuskegee machine, Du Bois' work on the Atlanta Conferences concluded in 1914 although he left his post at the University in 1910 (Du Bois, 1968). 


    As noted in the previous section, the impacts of Du Bois' educational and cultural experiences in Berlin are reflected in much of his early sociological studies. Although he did not achieve his ultimate goal of the coveted German doctoral degree, Du Bois did gain an abundance of knowledge at the University of Berlin, which contributed significantly in the development of his research methodology. Additionally, while studying in Berlin, Du Bois established the goals that would guide his future accomplishments.  In a letter to the Slater Fund trustees, he wrote that he hoped to obtain a teaching position at a Negro university and to accomplish two objectives: "(a) to study scientifically the Negro question past and present with a view to its best solution [and] (b) to collect capable young Negro students, and to see how far they are capable of furthering, by independent study and research, the best scientific work of the day (Aptheker, 1973: 25)."  Hence, upon his return to America and the completion of his academic studies, Du Bois was able to set into action his plans to solve the "Negro Problems" in America through the gathering of scientific data and the eventual development of social reform policies.

    Du Bois' adherence to the German historical school of economics is shown through his commitment to gather empirical, sound evidence and his use of inductive research.  The use of inductive methodology was very much a part of the Methodenstreit that the young German historical school wagered.  In a backlash against theory based research, the school focused their efforts on unearthing natural laws, rhythms, and theories through the collection of scientific data, which is the methodology that Du Bois also applied to his sociological studies (Boston, 1991).  As Williams (2006, 377) notes, Du Bois realized that "sufficient amounts of data must be gathered through various methods and the data must relate to valid demographic variables that make it possible to test hypotheses.  Hence, the appropriate data must be gathered before generalizations can be drawn."  The inductive method can be seen in the order in which Du Bois typically laid out his publications such as The Philadelphia Negro ([1899] 1996) and the annual Atlanta University Conference reports.  First, a historical summary of the situation being explored was provided.  This was followed by a presentation of the data.  In the final chapters, an exploration of the findings, discussion of the root causes of social phenomena, and suggestions for further research and social reform policies were presented (Williams, 2006).

    Another important element of the German historical school that Du Bois carried with him was his goal to unearth patterns and rules through his methodological research.  In order to prove that a pattern exists, one would need to research the same topic repeatedly, controlling for as many factors as possible outside of the passage of time (Boston, 1991).  This is the type of research that Du Bois ([1904] 1978) supported through the annual Atlanta University Conference studies as he presented his 100 year research program strategy.  Here Du Bois proposed the study of ten topics pertinent to the Negro problem that would be repeated each decade for a century.  By collecting data on the same topics longitudinally, Du Bois hoped to seek out those natural patterns and rhythms suggested by the German historical school, and rule out chance effects that are inherent when studying human subjects. Of the Atlanta Conferences, Du Bois ([1904] 1978: 54) claimed: "the careful and exhaustive study of the isolated group then is the ideal of the sociologist of the 20th Century from that may come a real knowledge of natural law as locally manifest a glimpse and revelation of rhythm beyond this little center and at last careful, cautious generalization and formulation."

    In Berlin, Du Bois was enlightened by ideologies that served as a sharp contrast to the popular belief in Spencer's Social Darwinism theory that was popular in the United States at the time.  The German historical school focused on a progressive approach to ethics and reform.  This approach required thoughtful activists to look to historical constructions for the explanation of social problems rather than going on the assumption that the problems were fixed and static.  By questioning the foundations of the social issues, one could then develop a plan for action (Schafer, 2001).  Upon his return to the States, Du Bois was able to implement these ideologies through his research and subsequent advocacy for social reform.  In the "Final Word" section of The Philadelphia Negro ([1899], 1996), Du Bois goes about defining the imperative duties of both Blacks and Whites in solving the Negro problem.  He concludes that "social reforms move slowly and yet when Right is reinforced by calm but persistent Progress we all somehow feel that in the end it must triumph (Du Bois, [1899], 1996: 393)."

    Du Bois also learned from Schmoller and other advocates of the historical school that the direct observation of phenomena could best provide the researcher with a glimpse of the economic laws and social organization that influenced them (Schafer, 2001).  This is something that Du Bois mentions several times regarding the data collection for his early works, and was fundamental, in particular, to his data collection for The Philadelphia Negro ([1899], 1996) and "The Negroes of Farmville, Virginia" ([1898a], 1978).  In his essay, "The Study of the Negro Problems" ([1898b], 1978: 81), Du Bois describes two categories of study: "(a) the study of the Negro as a social group, [and] (b) the study of his peculiar social environment."  Using this methodology, Du Bois clearly defines "social surroundings" as a variable that could impact the results of the scientific study of specific populations.  As a result, "he advocated the study of African Americans in particular communities with regard to the change (or not) of variables over time, and the similarities or differences of those variables across space" (Williams, 2006: 371.) This methodological perspective is based on what Du Bois learned at the University of Berlin.

    Following the encouragement of Max Weber, Du Bois in 1906 wrote "Die Negerfrage in den Vereinigten Staaten" which was published in Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik.  In the article Du Bois criticized the tenement farm system, which he described as a system of black exploitation.  The study also outlined the racial uplift of American blacks during this time, noting the substantial increase in literacy and the steady gain of assets and wealth among the black population.  Finally, the work discussed the political involvement of blacks, with an increased emphasis on union membership and the fight for suffrage.  Throughout this work, Du Bois fluctuated between the role of detached observer and that of an aggressive and judgmental critic.  Du Bois cited empirical evidence to demonstrate the Negro problem, and he also argued that the American sharecropping system as fundamentally wrong (Lemke, 2000).

    Indeed, Du Bois implemented many facets of the German historical school in his own research, though he never seemed to be able to firmly side with Weber or with Schmoller concerning the implementation of values in scientific studies.  On the one hand, Du Bois clearly wanted to follow the scientific method; he strove to collect impartial data without passing judgment on his subjects and without incorporating his own personal biases. However, one cannot say that Du Bois collected his data without some ultimate purpose in mind. In the end, he found that he could not completely remove himself and his personal convictions from his scientific studies. Looking back, Du Bois ([1940] 2007: 26) summed his own approach up perfectly: "I was going to study the facts, any and all facts, concerning the American Negro and his plight, and by measurement and comparison and research, work up to any valid generalization which I could.  I entered this primarily with the utilitarian object of reform and uplift; but nevertheless, I wanted to do the work with scientific accuracy."

    Disappointed that his research was met with little interest in enacting social policy changes and faced with much opposition by Booker T. Washington's camp on the topics of political and educational progression, Du Bois ([1940] 2007:34) began to realize that his strategy in using social science as a tool for reform was not working and argued that "there was no such definite demand for scientific work of the sort that I was doing, as I had confidently assumed would be easily forth-coming.  I regarded it as axiomatic that the world wanted to learn the truth...this was, of course, but a young man's idealism, not by any means false, but also not universally true."  The Negro Problem was not, as he originally believed, a problem of ignorance that could be cured with knowledge and empirical facts.  Additionally, Du Bois ([1940] 2007: 34) realized that he could not play the role of impartial and objective researcher "while Negroes were lynched, murdered and starved."  Thus, Du Bois moved on to other strategies, like political and social activism, to improve the condition of his fellow African Americans.

    The years Du Bois spent studying in Berlin undoubtedly had a great influence upon his understanding of the scientific method and social research.  Integrating the philosophies of the German historical school of economics, Du Bois was able to lay the groundwork for his own highly esteemed body of scientific work on the "Negro Problems." 


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