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Howard W. Odum

Howard W. Odum
Born (1884-05-24)May 24, 1884
Bethlehem, Georgia
Died November 8, 1954(1954-11-08)
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Occupation Sociologist
Notable work Religious Folk-Songs of the Southern Negroes

Howard Washington Odum (May 24, 1884 near Chapel Hill, North Carolina) was an American sociologist.


He graduated from Emory University and received his first doctorate, in psychology, at Clark University. He received his second doctorate, in sociology, at Columbia University. While at Columbia, he studied with Franklin Henry Giddings, focusing on race. He went on to serve as Assistant Director of Research for President Herbert Hoover's Research Committee on Social Trends, wrote three novels and over 20 scholarly texts, was President of the American Sociological Association in 1930, and was also founding member of the Southern Regional Council.[1] Odum was known for collecting facts, ranging from oral history (including documentation of folk songs) to agricultural data. His publication 'Southern Regions of the United States' pulls together just about every fact and figure known about the Southeast when it was published in 1936. This text, used by government administrators, farmers, scholars, and others, remains relevant today as a historical text. Odum's prolific contribution to the social sciences has been an influence on multiple disciplines, including ecology. Both of his sons, Eugene and Howard T. Odum, were internationally recognized scholars of ecology. The Odum brothers frequently cited their father's holistic inquiry as an important influence in their own understanding of emergent properties and other ecological concepts.

Odum became a faculty member in the School of Public Welfare (a precursor of the School of Social Work) and Department of Sociology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1920. He also was a visionary in establishing the University of North Carolina Press. While at Chapel Hill, Odum founded the journal Social Forces [2] in 1922 and the H.W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Science [3] in 1924. Odum was one of the most prolific influences on the early development of the University of North Carolina, acting as a visionary and scholar who attracted other scholars to campus. This includes the university's first female faculty member whom Odum hired and collaborated with. Odum's productivity was renowned and his scholarship bridged from academic settings to the community—including influences on race relations in the American South. His book 'Race and Rumors of Race' is considered to be the earliest documentation of the civil rights movement. Odum's views on race progressed over time and ultimately he was a progressive leader, documenting folk life, hate crimes/lynchings, and rich oral histories of the South. His work is difficult to classify under one discipline, although he identified most with sociology while being deeply committed to social welfare. This was exemplified by his founding of the University of North Carolina School of Public Welfare, one of the earliest such schools in the Southeast.


  1. ^ American Sociological Association
  2. ^ Social Forces
  3. ^ The H.W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Science

Rotabi, K. S. (2008). Ecological theory origin from natural to social science or vice versa? : A brief conceptual history for social work. Advances in Social Work, 8 (1), 113-123. Available from

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