Renowned sociologist Dr. Pitirim Sorokin (PhD) was a prolific writer who survived the Russian Revolution. (Photo: USask Archives)

Uniquely USask: Sorokin collection a tribute to world-renowned sociologist

From his role in the Russian Revolution to attracting the attention of Dr. Albert Einstein (PhD) and U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover, Dr. Pitirim Sorokin (PhD) became one of the most influential social scientists of the 20th century.

Carefully stored in a quiet corner of the University Archives and Special Collections holdings in the Murray Library are the contents of the Pitirim A. Sorokin Collection acquired by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) in 1968, and serving as a priceless resource for sociology researchers from around the world ever since.

“It’s a major asset for the University of Saskatchewan,” said Dr. Terry Wotherspoon (PhD), a professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Science since joining USask back in 1989. “I don’t think that most people are aware of its significance. The collection has drawn a lot of attention over the years and it has given profile to the university.” 

The Sorokin collection, parts of which were digitized in 2008, features more than 1,500 books and manuscripts in more than 50 languages, photographs, memorabilia and personal correspondence between Sorokin and the likes of Einstein. While Sorokin had no specific connection to USask, he was looking for what was described as a “safe and neutral home” for his papers, and selected the university prior to his death in 1968. The acquisition was led by former USask professor Dr. Richard DuWors (PhD)—previously a student of Sorokin—and former head librarian David Appelt.

The personal letter from Dr. Albert Einstein (PhD) held in USask’s Pitirim A. Sorokin Collection. (Photo: USask Archives)

“That collection is continuously being researched,” said David Bindle, librarian in University Archives and Special Collections. “Researchers from all over the world come to us with requests for Sorokin material. It’s an important collection.”

Born in 1889, Sorokin played a role in the Russian Revolution in 1917 that ousted Tsar Nicholas II, and became a member of the new government, before being arrested himself and sentenced to death by the ruling Bolsheviks. Newly installed Russian leader Vladimir Lenin saved his life by ordering his release, and Sorokin was expelled from the country in 1922 and settled in the United States, later founding the Department of Sociology at Harvard University.

“Sorokin himself had an incredible history,” said Wotherspoon. “He initially supported the revolution and was imprisoned two or three times for his political actions. And in some of Sorokin’s work, he talked about how formative being in prison was, because he was thrown in with political prisoners and street criminals and others and learned a lot about different viewpoints on society.”

The university honours his legacy by hosting the Sorokin Lecture series, which began in 1968 following his death. The seventh Sorokin Lecture—My Life With Pitirim Sorokin—was delivered at USask by his wife Elena on March 12, 1974, with the series continuing to this day. 

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