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Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois: Honorary Emeritus Professorship of Sociology and Africana Studies

February 7, 2012, Volume 58, No. 21


On Friday, February 17, the department of sociology and the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania will hold a conference to honor the scholarly contributions of W.E.B. Du Bois. This day-long gathering will celebrate Dr. Du Bois being posthumously recognized with an Honorary Emeritus Professorship in Sociology and Africana Studies by the University of Pennsylvania, pending approval of the resolution by the University Trustees who will be meeting the same day. This will be the first time that Penn posthumously gives
such recognition. The conference will also serve as a significant platform, said Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, “to engage participants in an interdisciplinary introspection of the achievements, research, scholarship and accomplishments of one of the most influential intellectuals of the 20th century.”

Dr. Du Bois (1868-1963) was an American sociologist, author, and cofounder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His pioneering work The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study was originally published in 1899 by, and remains available from, the University of Pennsylvania Press. He researched his landmark work while he was an assistant lecturer at Penn in 1896-97. In an article, “The Study of the Negro Problem,” published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Sciences in 1898 he proposed his landmark study. He wrote: ... “it is not one problem, but rather a plexus of social problems, some new, some old, some simple, some complex; and these problems have their one bond of unity in the fact that they group themselves about those Africans whom two centuries of slave-trading brought to this land.” In 1898 he also wrote, “It is to the credit of the University of Pennsylvania that she has been the first to recognize her duty and in so far as restricted means and opportunities allowed, has attempted to study the Negro problem in a single definite locality,” (Almanac October 1, 2002).

In 1973 a new college house was founded at Penn to further the study of African-American culture; in 1974 the W.E.B. Du Bois College House was dedicated. It was renovated in 2009 (Almanac February 3, 2009).

In 1995, his book was republished by Penn Press with a new introduction, by Dr. Elijah Anderson, who examined how the neighborhood studied by Dr. Du Bois had changed over the years and compared the status of blacks today with their status when the book was initially published. In 1998, Penn professors Dr. Thomas Sugrue and Dr. Michael Katz co-edited W.E.B. Du Bois, Race and the City: The Philadelphia Negro and Its Legacy.

du bois profile
"I determined to put science into sociology through a study of the conditions and problems of my own group," Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois.


By 1899, Dr. Du Bois had written two major books, published, respectively, by Harvard University Press and the University of Pennsylvania Press. Under normal circumstances, a major university would have hired a white scholar with these accomplishments and a desire to teach. Yet Dr. Du Bois was never offered a professorial appointment in a major “mainstream” university department; the University of Pennsylvania grudgingly extended him the title of “Assistant Lecturer” for the duration of his study of the Seventh Ward.

Dr. Du Bois came to the University of Pennsylvania as Assistant Lecturer in 1896.  Dr. Du Bois’s research is not easily characterized given the scope of contemporary disciplinary dialogue. Thus, he has been listed as a philosopher, historian, anthropologist, political scientist, and sociologist. His research focused specifically on the place and role of Africans and persons of African descent in the modern world. During Dr. Du Bois’s lifetime, the racial structure of academia marginalized his research to the sidelines. As he noted, other sociologists saw this research “as Negroes studying Negroes and after all, what had Negroes to do with America or science?” This sociological Jim Crow scenario did not turn Dr. Du Bois away from sociological research. On the contrary—it forced him to apply his sociological imagination to the dismantling of racism and white supremacy.

Dr. Du Bois’s second book, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (published in 1899), was the first scientific sociological study of race. The Philadelphia Negro centered on what might be done to understand and solve the African American community’s social problems that stemmed from their racial marginalization and social ignorance, rather than generally examining a social problem like poverty. Dr. Du Bois did study poverty, but African American poverty was not the object of his study. The object of his study was the African American community of Philadelphia. Additionally, The Philadelphia Negro presents the first population study of African Americans. He concluded the book with suggestions for social reform. In a word, Dr. Du Bois’s work humanized the study of the African American population and his approach became a model for understanding the same.

Dr. Du Bois established one of the first departments of sociology between 1886 and 1915 at Atlanta University. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study was the model for his sociological laboratory at Atlanta University during this period. Dr. Du Bois wanted the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and the other leading educational institutions to study the problems of African Americans. During his years as an active academic sociologist, he thought the resulting knowledge gained from social science would lead to solutions to problems confronted by the African American community. He argued that if the greatest universities in the land would take up the cause of educating the world about the humanity of the Negro then the race problem would be solved. Sociology would solve the race problem by reporting the facts. He reasoned that if people knew the facts, solutions to the problem would follow.

Dr. Du Bois’s citizenship in the academy has been widely recognized and his contributions have had a profound impact on the world as one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and for being recognized by the leaders of the African independence movement and pan-Africanists from Europe and the Caribbean as the father of Pan-Africanism.

Dr. Du Bois is one of the most important scholars and public intellectuals of his generation. The Department of Sociology and the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania are proud to support the appointment of Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois as Honorary Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies.

—Tukufu Zuberi, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology


The conference begins at 10 a.m. on February 17 in G17 Auditorium, Claudia Cohen Hall, followed by three panels including leading scholars from across the United States who will gather to present new research examining conditions on sociology. (Registration is required: see below)

Conference panels will focus on the following studies:
11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Panel 1: Who Was W.E.B. Du Bois?
Lawrence D. Bobo, Harvard University
Stephanie Y. Evans, Clark Atlanta University
Robert Vitalis, University of Pennsylvania
Gwyndolyn Du Bois Shaw, University of Pennsylvania
Moderator: Kenneth L. Shropshire, University of Pennsylvania

12:30–2 p.m.
The Philadelphia Negro Reconsidered; suite of 18 silk-screen prints; Terry Adkins, professor of fine arts, University of Pennsylvania will lead a tour of his art; 100 Morgan Building.

2-3:30 p.m.
Panel 2: W.E.B. Du Bois and Social Science
Elijah Anderson, Yale University
Rogers Smith, University of Pennsylvania
Quincy Thomas Stewart, Northwestern University
Howard Winant, University of California, Santa Barbara
Aldon Morris, Northwestern University
Moderator: Vivian L. Gadsen, University of Pennsylvania

4-5:30 p.m.
Panel 3: W.E.B. Du Bois and Africana Studies
Lewis Gordon, Temple University
Mary Patillo, Northwestern University
Reiland Rabaka, University of Colorado Boulder
Anthony Monteiro, Temple University
Moderator: Camille Charles, University of Pennsylvania

8-9:30 p.m.
A Musical Tribute: Art Songs in the Kingdom of Culture by Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., professor of music, will be performed that evening, in the Fisher-Bennett Recital Hall.

screen print

This event is made possible by the generous support of the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of the Provost, with contributions by the School of Arts and Sciences, the Center for Africana Studies, the Department of Sociology and the Annenberg School for Communication.

For more information about the W.E.B Du Bois Honorary Emeritus Professorship in Sociology and Africana Studies contact the Center for Africana Studies at (215) 898-4965.

The conference is free and open to the public. Registration, which is required, is available online: www.sas.upenn.edu/duboisprofessorship



Almanac - February 7, 2012, Volume 58, No. 21