Academic Career and Contributions
Merriam joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1900. He was the first member of the political science faculty. He authored A History of American Political Theories in 1903, a notable analysis of American political movements which strongly supported the emerging Progressive movement. He moved up quickly in the department, reached the rank of full Professor in 1911, and served as chairman of the department of political science from 1911 until his retirement. From 1907 to 1911, he served as chairman of the College of Commerce and Administration (the precursor to the Booth School of Business).
Merriam significantly influenced the discipline of political science in the United State during his years in academia. As two political scientists noted in their study of the discipline in 1985, "Merriam's hand can be seen in virtually every facet of modern political science." "As much as any single scholar during this period, Merriam set the standard for how American democracy should be studied within the academy" was the assessment of Merriam's thinking on the discipline by another political scientist in 2008. Noted political scientist Gabriel Almond concluded, "The Chicago school is generally acknowledged to have been the founding influence in the history of modern political science, and Charles E. Merriam is generally recognized as the founder and shaper of the Chicago school."
Merriam was a firm believer in the use of data and quantitative analysis in the practice of political science (even though he himself had almost no mathematical training), and he founded the behavioralistic approach to political science. Merriam "denied the utility of theory" and advocated instead a "practical" political science aimed at creating a more harmonious, democratic, and pluralistic society. A corollary to this thinking was his "vision of social scientists as technical advisors to society's political leaders." Subsequently, Merriam successfully pushed American political scientists to be politically progressive.
Merriam also deeply influenced the administration of political science in academia. He assembled a faculty that represented some of the best scholars of the day, and he and the faculty produced some of the brightest political scientists of the next generation, creating a department that dominated the discipline for 30 years. His influence was such that the department's structure, personnel, and reputation largely did not survive his retirement in 1940. He also pushed the discipline to move away from theoretical discussion and into actual research, and he established the first social science interdisciplinary research institutes in the United States. He was also a leader in pursuing private grants and foundation money as a means of funding this research. According to Harold Lasswell, Merriam also introduced critical concepts in psychology to the field of political science.
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