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"History, as well as life history, is necessary for the study of national culture," David Riesman '31, Henry Ford II Professor of Social Sciences, told an overflow crowd at New Lecture Hall yesterday.
Riesman, in his inaugural lecture, discussed the origins and problems of work in the field of national character, with special reference to the American case. He distinguished between two kinds of approach: the "classical," emphasizing generalizations that can be applied to any society; and the "romantic," concerned with a particular people at a single time and place.
His own The Lonely Crowd, Riesman said, falls into the romantic category, placing its emphasis on specific social strata in this country. The book takes the U.S. as the chief exemplar of post-industrial society and seeks to assess the meaning of this situation for individuals and for institutions.
The study of national character, according to Riesman, has grown out of an interaction of psychoanalysis, anthropology and history. The first two fields have a kinship, he remarked, in their common concern for "underprivileged data," (dreams, games, weaning habits), and search for "the rivulet of motive in the tidal wave of history." But "groups, like scholars, may differ over what is basic in society," and to understand these differences, a study of history is necessary.
In a future "where people are even more different from one another than they are now," Riesman concluded, "national character may become an even more tenuous concept than at present."
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