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The New School for Social Research was founded in New York City in 1918 by a group of prominent Columbia University scholars—Charles A. Beard (1874–1948), James Harvey Robinson (1863–1936), Wesley C. Mitchell (1874–1948), and John Dewey (1859–1952), among others—in conjunction with a wider circle of dissident intellectuals, such as New Republic editor Herbert Croly (1869–1930) and iconoclastic economist Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), who were dissatisfied with the state of the social sciences and academic freedom in the United States. With donations from well-wishers in liberal circles, the New School opened for classes in the spring of 1919 in a set of rented row houses in the Chelsea district of New York.
The founders envisaged an institution of higher learning simultaneously capable of serious independent research, accessible to the intelligent lay public, and engaged in progressive social and political reform. But the founders held distinct visions of how to apply this in practice. Disagreements led to a sharp crisis in 1922 that culminated in a spate of resignations that nearly ended the school. The reins fell into the lap of Alvin S. Johnson (1874–1971), a former academic economist and editor of the New Republic, who set the New School’s focus on the “continued education of the educated,” bringing in a host of leading lecturers from the social sciences, arts, and other fields. At a time when “adult education” was narrowly thought of as the teaching of basic education or technical skills, the advanced academic fare the New School offered was a novelty for the American public. By 1929 the New School was back on sound footing and moved to new facilities on 12th Street.
Johnson maintained the necessity of revitalizing the New School’s roots as an academic research center and had launched the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences in 1927 with this in mind. In April 1933, the Nazi Party began its purge of the German academia. Johnson, who was familiar with many of the scholars through the Encyclopedia, helped form a rescue committee to place the expelled academics in U.S. universities. But the response from American institutions was lukewarm, so Johnson decided to have the New School host the scholars itself. It seemed natural: The Weberian emphasis in the German academic tradition on the unity of the social sciences and the willingness to engage the adult public and promote policy and reform echoed the philosophy of the New School’s own creation. Working closely with the Berlin economist Emil Lederer (1882–1939), Johnson created the University in Exile, soon renamed the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science. The first wave of scholars assembled for the Graduate Faculty’s opening in the fall of 1933 included the economists Eduard Heimann (1889–1967), Gerhard Colm (1897–1968), Karl Brandt (1899–1975), and Arthur Feiler (1879–1942); the sociologists Hans Speier (1905-1990) and Albert Salomon (1891–1966); the jurist Hermann Kantorowicz (1877–1940); and Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer (1880–1943). As the 1930s progressed, more displaced scholars found their way to the New School, including jurists Arnold Brecht (1884–1977) and Erich Hula (1900–1987); economists Hans Staundinger (1889–1980) and Fritz Lehmann; political scientists Hans Simons (1893–1972) and Max Ascoli (1898–1978); philosophers Felix Kaufmann (1895–1949), Alfred Schütz (1899–1959), and Leo Strauss (1899–1973); and Weimar dramatist Erwin Piscator (1893–1966).
The outbreak of World War II (1939–1945) prompted the New School and the Rockefeller Foundation to launch a vigorous, coordinated rescue plan to secure the immediate entry of a hundred European scholars into the United States, their permanent academic positions to be determined later. In all, it is estimated that between 1933 and 1945 the New School actively helped over 183 displaced European scholars and artists find their way to the United States (Krohn 1993).
The refugee scholars continued the continental tradition of interdisciplinary research, and a general seminar and journal, Social Research, were launched in 1934. The fall of France led to the formation of the École Libre des Hautes Études (free school of advanced studies), a Frenchlanguage division of the New School chartered by Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970), which housed prominent French thinkers such as Jacques Maritain (1882–1973) and Claude Lévi-Strauss. The New School also transplanted virtually the entire Kiel school of economists—Adolph Löwe (1893–1995), Jacob Marschak (1898–1977), Hans Neisser (1895–1975), and Gerhard Colm. Their Weltwirtschaftsinstitut was recast under the New School as the Institute of World Affairs in 1941, and they resumed their distinct research program on structural growth, business cycles, and long-run economic policy.
This period also saw the gradual separation of the Graduate Faculty from the New School adult division. In 1943 the New School had been reorganized and undergraduate degree programs introduced. But increasing academic specialization in the 1950s meant that fewer Graduate Faculty professors were willing or able to cross the lines from research to adult education. So the New School adult division organized its own curriculum, offering lecture courses delivered by giants like Erich Fromm (1900–1980) and Karen Horney (1885–1952) in psychology, Sidney Hook (1902–1989) and Ernest Nagel (1901–1985) in philosophy, Margaret Mead (1901–1978) in anthropology, Max Lerner (1902–1992) in contemporary politics, Robert Frost (1874–1963) in literature, Seymour Lipton (1903–1986) in the plastic arts, and John Cage (1912–1992) in music. In 1962 the New School established the Institute for Retired Professionals, the first major effort by an institution of higher learning on behalf of senior students and, in 1964, the J. M. Kaplan Center for New York City Affairs, the first to focus on a single metropolitan area.
As the 1960s arrived, the Graduate Faculty struggled to transform itself into a regular American graduate school without losing the distinctiveness of its continental legacy. In psychology, Wertheimer’s Gestalt program was upheld by the appointments of Solomon Asch (1907–1996), Rudolf Arnheim, and Mary Henle. In economics, the torch was passed from Löwe to Robert Heilbroner (1919–2005). The New School’s philosophy department catapulted to distinctive prominence with the appointments of Aron Gurwitsch (1901–1973) and Hans Jonas (1903–1993) and, in 1967, Hannah Arendt (1906–1975), thereby cementing the school’s continued emphasis on continental philosophy and theory.
In 1970 the New School acquired the Parsons School of Design (originally founded by painter William Merritt Chase [1849–1916] in 1896) and, in 1975, created a fourth academic division, the Milano School of Management and Urban Policy. In 1978 the New School established a full-time undergraduate liberal arts division, renamed Eugene Lang College in 1985. It established two music divisions, the School for Jazz and Contemporary Music (founded in 1986) and the Mannes College of Music (founded in 1916, acquired in 1989). In 1994 the Actor’s Studio joined the New School to form a new master’s program in theater, which laid the groundwork for the establishment of the New School for Drama in 2005.
The rapid expansion of the New School into areas beyond “social research” prompted a search for a new name consistent with its multiple divisions. The first rebranding attempt in 1995 yielded the unfortunate New School University. This was dropped in 2005 in favor of merely The New School, with the divisions renamed accordingly. Since 2005 the term New School for Social Research has been limited to the former Graduate Faculty.
- Coser, Lewis A. 1984. Refugee Scholars in America: Their Impact and Their Experiences. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Fermi, Laura. 1971. Illustrious Immigrants: The Intellectual Migration from Europe, 1930–41. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Johnson, Alvin S. 1952. Pioneer’s Progress: An Autobiography. New York: Viking.
- Krohn, Claus-Dieter. 1993. Intellectuals in Exile: Refugee Scholars and the New School for Social Research. Trans. Rita and Robert Kimber. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
- Rutkoff, Peter M., and William B. Scott. 1986. New School: A History of the New School for Social Research. New York: Free Press.
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