THE EMERGENCE OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES
DURING THE LATE NINETEENTH and early twentieth centuries spokespersons for areas of inquiry that dealt with the activities of human beings made concerted efforts to participate in the community of discourse established by natural scientists and their apologists by drawing on the techniques, methods, and theory-driven agendas associated with natural science. Indeed, one scholar has suggested that “one could write the history of much of social science during the past hundred years in terms of declarations that it has just become, or is just about to become, a genuine scientific enterprise.” 1
Unlike the natural sciences, which had long occupied an important place in the college curriculum, the areas of inquiry embodied in the human, or social, sciences had characteristically been woven into courses in moral philosophy. Proponents of autonomous human science disciplines—most notably history, psychology, political science, economics, sociology, and anthropology—therefore found themselves needing to provide a compelling justification for them. This was one of the reasons why social scientists allied themselves with natural science. They hoped that this tactic would give their disciplines the intellectual authority needed to ensure them an important role within institutions of higher education. In turn, such a role would increase employment opportunities as well as the credibility and power of the human sciences within American culture. These professional considerations, however, do not entirely account for the eagerness with which partisans of the human sciences sought to identify their efforts with the natural sciences. Many were also convinced that the work of physical scientists and natural historians provided essential guidance in attaining truth. 2
Although separate courses in history and political economy could be found within some antebellum colleges, study of what later became the human sciences remained within the curriculum of moral philosophy at most colleges until after the Civil War. Harvard, for example, did not create a department of political economy separate from philosophy until 1879. Moreover, the separate courses that were established prior to the late nineteenth century bore little relation to the human sciences that emerged in that period. Courses in political economy taught in antebellum colleges, for example, characteristically remained linked conceptually to the humanistic and theological concerns of moral philosophy.