Ushered in modern empirical sociology

University of Chicago sociologists William I. Thomas and Florian Witold Znaniecki won international renown as co-authors of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918–20). The work is considered the foundation of modern empirical sociology.

Thomas and Znaniecki’s book is a classic work in modern sociology.


Charles Merriam, Professor in Political Science

Reconceptualized the study of politics as a science

In 1921, political scientist Charles Merriam outlined an alternate vision for political science, founded on behavioralism. This became the Chicago School of Political Science, which reconceived the study of politics as a scientific endeavor on the model of the natural sciences.


Conferred one of the first PhDs on an African American woman

In 1921, Georgiana Simpson, a German philology student at the University of Chicago, and two scholars at other institutions became the first African American women to receive PhDs from American universities.

Georgiana Simpson, AB 1911, PhD 1921


Arno B. Luckhardt, Professor in Physiology

Discovered use of ethylene gas as an anesthetic

In 1923, University of Chicago physiologist Arno B. Luckhardt, SB 1906, PhD 1911, MD 1912, discovered the anesthetic use of ethylene gas. In the 20 years following his discovery, ethylene came into general use as an anesthetic in major operations.


Proved that an Ice Age flood shaped the Scablands in Washington State

In a 1923 paper, UChicago geologist J. Harlen Bretz, PhD 1913, theorized that unique geologic features in the state of Washington were the product of a cataclysmic flood. It wasn’t until four decades later that his theory was widely accepted. Bretz received the Penrose Medal from the Geological Society of America in 1979. In 2009, the US government passed legislation to create the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, the first such trail in the United States.


Images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, named for Edwin Hubble, have led to important discoveries in astrophysics.

Discovered the universe is expanding

In the 1920s, astronomer Edwin Hubble, SB 1910, PhD 1917, made discoveries showing that the universe consists of more than just our galaxy and that the universe is expanding, which provided the basis for the big bang model.


Created forerunner of Black History Month

Known as the father of black history, historian Carter G. Woodson, AB 1908, AM 1908, announced the creation of Negro History Week at the Wabash YMCA in Bronzeville in February 1926. Negro History Week was the forerunner of the nation’s annual commemoration of Black History Month, established in 1976. Woodson helped to transform how people think about black history, creating the peer-reviewed Journal of Negro History, establishing the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), and starting the ASALH Press.

Carter G. Woodson, AB 1908, AM 1908


Ernest Burgess, Professor in Sociology

Inspired the field of urban sociology

With The Ghetto (1928) and Urbanism as a Way of Life (1939), sociologist Louis Wirth proposed a new academic paradigm for city life as a sociological construct, which was central to the establishment of urban sociology as a field of study. Wirth’s contributions, along with groundbreaking research by sociologists Ernest Burgess and Robert Park, provided the foundation for the Chicago School of Sociology, which emerged in the 1920s and 1930s. University researchers explored the urban environment by combining theory and ethnographic fieldwork in Chicago; this approach is now applied to many other urban areas.


Published the first business-focused scholarly journal

Founded in 1928 and published by the University of Chicago Press, the Journal of Business is believed to be one of the first scholarly journals to highlight business-themed research. The journal—which ceased publication in 2006—covered business finance and investment, money and banking, marketing, international trade and finance, and administration.

Interior of the Charles M. Harper Center, home of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business