Input and Output
I have been surprised to discover how often, as dean of the Social Sciences, I still get to wear my Medievalist hat. The distant past provides a wealth of proverbs, anecdotes, and wisdom that come to mind in all manner of situations I encounter in the office. For example, as I thought about this issue of Dialogo, which highlights how our faculty are pursuing research that improves life across the spectrum of age, I was reminded of a quote from the 7th century Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib: “The nourishment of body is food, while the nourishment of the soul is feeding others.”
It might seem unusual to compare charitable giving to the work of social scientists, but, as this issue illustrates, research can have meaningful impact in the lives of individuals and for whole communities. Harking back to the Chicago School of Sociology, which made Chicago its laboratory, the work of UChicago faculty has often been deeply entwined with the lives of the people they study, as they strive to understand the complexities of life in our urban neighborhoods.
This model is characteristic of a unique interaction that allows researchers to develop interventions in real time—solutions that can have a tangible, lasting effect on people in need. In this way, social scientists both take knowledge from and give knowledge back to our communities. This last part of the exchange, the giving part, is what makes our work so important. As you will see throughout this issue of Dialogo, our faculty are pursuing research that illuminates aspects of our lives from early childhood (as the new book The Ambitious Elementary School explores) to young adulthood (as studied in almost real time by Cathy Cohen’s GenForward project) through later life (via the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project led by UChicago sociology faculty). This breadth and depth speak to the integral role that our disciplines hold in understanding and improving lives, livelihoods, and communities.
To conclude, I will return to wearing my decanal pileus: While these are a few examples of the myriad ways our faculty and graduate student research has impact, it’s the deep commitment to scientific analysis, methodological innovation, and the use of theory to extend the explanatory and predictive power of social research that unites all the work we do here. I invite you to keep in touch with all that our faculty and students are pursuing, through this publication as well as our website and social media channels. Here’s to wearing many hats, as social scientists typically do.
Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor of Medieval History and Social Thought
Dean, Division of the Social Sciences