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Our History

Howard W. Odum with one of his cows
Founder Dr. Howard W. Odum with one of his prize-winning cows.

The Howard W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the oldest university-based interdisciplinary social-science research institute in the world.

Founded in 1924 for the “cooperative study of problems in the general field of social science, arising out of state and regional conditions,” the IRSS has played a leading role in the development of innovative methods and research topics in the South and beyond.

Begun as a cooperative endeavor to address the social and economic problems of the South, it became a national center in the 1950s by implementing…

  • Many of the approaches to the study of human behavior
  • Newer methods of research
  • Quantitative techniques all of which had been initiated during WWII and had developed rapidly in the following decade

From a somewhat autonomous research institute, it has gradually developed into a facilitating center, oriented towards supporting social science endeavors. Spinning off several thematic institutes such as the Center for Urban and Regional Studies, it has maintained a generalized breadth of interests. Beginning with a small band of fellows, it has more recently expanded to over four hundred members, thus reaching a diverse constituency.

A Father for Social Science
by Alyssa LaFaro

( Endeavors | July 2019 )

“The Odum Institute, the first social science research center in the world, has trained and supported hundreds of researchers specializing in everything from anthropology to city and regional planning to public health for the past 95 years. And it all exists thanks to the determination of one eccentric man.”

Read full article – “A Father For Social Science.”