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COLLECTION Identifier: HUGFP 15.xx and HUGFP 42.xx

Papers of Talcott Parsons


Parsons taught sociology at Harvard and was Chairman of the Department of Social Relations from 1946 to 1956. Papers reflect Parsons' involvement in professional societies, Harvard committees, and his writing, teaching, lecturing, and publishing activities.


  • 1921-1979


Restrictions on Access

Open for research with the following exceptions: Harvard University records are restricted for 50 years. Personnel and student records are closed for 80 years.


66 cubic feet (198 boxes and 10 folders of mss.)

Papers reflect Parsons' involvement in professional societies, Harvard committees, and his writing, teaching, lecturing, and publishing activities.


Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) was an educator and scholar of sociology. He contributed to the field of sociological theory, particularly through his development of a "general theory of action." Parsons spent most of his professional career at Harvard University, where he was affiliated with the various incarnations of the sociology department for thirty-two years.

Parsons graduated from Amherst College in 1924, having majored in philosophy and biology. In 1925 he redirected his intellectual focus and entered the London School of Economics, studying with Bronislaw Malinowski, L.T. Hobhouse and Morris Ginsberg. The following year he received a fellowship at the University of Heidelberg, where he first encountered the work of Weber. Parsons completed his doctoral dissertation, on the concept of capitalism in recent German scholarship, in 1927 while teaching economics at Amherst. The following year he joined the Harvard faculty as an instructor in economics. He continued to teach at the University until his retirement in 1973.

Parsons' career is entwined with the development of sociology as an academic discipline at Harvard. In 1931 he joined Carle Zimmerman and Pitirim Sorokin as inaugural faculty in the Department of Sociology. Gordon Allport and Henry Murray, of the Psychology Department, and Clyde Kluckhohn, of the Anthropology Department, joined with Parsons in 1945 to establish the Department of Social Relations. This department became a landmark of interdisciplinary collaboration in the behavioral sciences and served as a model for similar departments at other institutions. Parsons served as chairman for the first ten years and continued to work enthusiastically in the Department until its dissolution in 1972.

Parsons' scholarship is unified by his effort to draft a set of concepts of the determinants of human behavior. He began to develop his "general theory of action" in Structure of Social Action (1937). He refined this theory in Social System and Towards a General Theory of Action (both published in 1951). Parsons spent the later years of his career further modifying his theory and eventually applying it to discrete social situations.

List of Series in the Collection

  1. Biographical Material
  2. ___Genealogical Tables, 1930s (HUGFP 42.36)
  3. ___Photographs of Talcott Parsons and family, 1903-1940s and 1970-1979 (HUGFP 15.65)
  4. ___Appointment books, 1964-1973 (HUGFP 15.32)
  5. ___Memorials, 1979 (HUGFP 15.85)
  6. Early papers
  7. ___Biology Notebook, 1921 (HUGFP 42.34)
  8. ___Early Papers, 1923-1940 (HUGFP 42.8.2)
  9. Correspondence
  10. ___Alphabetical correspondence, ca.1930-1959 (HUGFP 15.2)
  11. ___Originals of items photocopied for preservation and removed from series above (HUGFP 15.2.2)
  12. ___Alphabetical correspondence, 1935-1955 (HUGFP 42.8.4)
  13. ___Alphabetical correspondence, ca. 1959-1966 (HUGFP 15.4)
  14. ___Alphabetical correspondence,1962-1963 (HUGFP 42.8.6)
  15. ___Alphabetical correspondence, ca. 1965-1974 (HUGFP 15.6)
  16. ___Alphabetical correspondence, 1965-1979 (HUGFP 42.8.8)
  17. ___Robert Redwine to Talcott Parsons, Sept. 17, 1970 (HUGFP 15.18)
  18. Research, Teaching, and Professional Associations
  19. ___Cambridge Housing survey, ca. 1944 (HUGFP 15.44)
  20. ___Sociology of Medicine, 1934-1936 (HUGFP 42.10)
  21. ___Conferences, 1954-1976 (HUGFP 42.25)
  22. ___Harvard courses, committees, and research organizations, ca. 1964-1973 (HUGFP 15.10)
  23. ___American Sociological Association, ca. 1960-1970 (HUGFP 15.20)
  24. ___American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967-1973 (HUGFP 15.25)
  25. ___ American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1970-1971 (HUGFP 42.20)
  26. ___Recommendations, 1935-1979 (HUGFP 15.72)
  27. ___ Grants file, ca. 1960's and 1970's (HUGFP 15.28)
  28. ___Sociology 6 lecture notes, 1930's (HUGFP 15.55)
  29. ___Course material, 1930's-1960 (HUGFP 15.65)
  30. ___Lectures and Addresses (primarly teaching), 1929-1978 (HUGFP 42.62)
  31. ___Sociology and Social Relations Course Materials, 1931-1956 (HUGFP 42.64)
  32. ___Books annotated by Talcott Parsons (HUGFP 42.55)
  33. Writing, Publishing and Speaking
  34. ___Lectures, speeches, conferences, ca. 1957-1972 (HUGFP 15.60)
  35. ___Manuscripts, typescripts, and notes HUGFP 15.70
  36. ___Manuscript of Structure of Social Action (HUGFP 15.75)
  37. ___Rough drafts and manuscripts, ca. 1929-1967 (HUGFP 42.41)
  38. ___Rough material for The Human Condition Paradigm (HUGFP 42.41.5)
  39. ___ Reviews written by Parsons (HUGFP 42.41.8)
  40. ___Manuscripts of lectures, talks, articles and reviews, and reviews of Parson's work by others, 1925, 1936, and 1940s (HUGFP 42.42)
  41. ___Manuscript of Toward an American Societal Community (HUGFP 42.45.1)
  42. ___Manuscripts of Books and Major Theoretical Works (HUGFP 42.45.2)
  43. ___Manuscripts of Articles and Essays, 1937-ca.1970 (HUGFP 42.45.4)
  44. Audio and video recordings (HUGFP 15.80)
  45. Lantern slides (HUGFP 42.65.2)


  1. 7352 June 10, 1974 T. Parsons
  2. 7517 Jan. 15, 1975 T. Parsons
  3. 7605 July 21, 1975 T. Parsons
  4. 8751 Aug. 31, 1979 Mrs. T. Parsons
  5. 8931 6-20-1980 Mrs. T. Parsons
  6. 9211 6-16-1981 Mrs. T. Parsons
  7. 9533 8-13-1982 Victor Lidz
  8. 9723 May 9, 1983 Mrs. T. Parsons
  9. 10044 4-30-1984 Charles D. Parsons
  10. 11462 7-12-1988 Charles D. Parsons
  11. 11842 9-26-1989 Prof. Renee C. Fox
  12. 12004 7-23-1990 Mrs. T. Parsons
  13. 12140 2-22-1991 via Lois Lord

Inventory update

This document last updated 2019 February 18.

Parsons, Talcott, 1902-1979. Papers of Talcott Parsons, 1921-1979 : an inventory
Harvard University Archives
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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