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Harold Dwight Lasswell papers

Call Number: MS 1043
Scope and Contents

The Harold Dwight Lasswell Papers is a substantive, though incomplete, record of the career of Harold Lasswell, political theorist, social scientist, teacher, author, and wide-ranging scholar. Through his long career Lasswell investigated an array of subjects and relationships, and the papers, in their multiplicity of topics and extensive documentation are representative of the work and methods of their creator.

The quantity of papers, which came to the Yale University Library shortly after Lasswell's death, was housed in his office at the Yale Law School and included only professional correspondence, writings, and research material dated after 1938. Personal and professional papers from Lasswell's apartment and office in New York City enhanced the collection. Additional papers, such as memorials and reminiscences, were also added to the papers. The papers contain very little material illuminating Lasswell's early intellectual development. In 1938 Lasswell moved from Chicago to Washington, D.C. and vans carrying Lasswell's effects collided, destroying all existing professional files.

The papers consist of correspondence, writings, research material, and personal memorabilia which primarily document Lasswell's career from 1939-1978. The papers reflect Lasswell's scholarly interests in political and social science, communications, policy sciences, and the study and teaching of law. The papers are arranged in five series:

  1. General Files, 1920 - 1978
  2. Writings, 1923 - 1979
  3. Topical Files, [ca. 1930s - 1970s]
  4. Writings of Others, [ca. 1940s - 1970s]
  5. Biographical Material and Personal Memorabilia, [ca. 1877]- 1984

GENERAL FILES, the largest series in the papers, is arranged by individual or corporate name and is composed of correspondence with friends, associates, and organizations, writings by or about them, minutes of meetings, notes, and other types of records which pertain to the named person or organization. The series includes much routine academic correspondence. There is also abundant material on the mechanics of publishing Lasswell's extensive output of books and articles, and the series is the prime source for information on specific phases of Lasswell's career.

Though Lasswell's early files were destroyed, there are still some items of correspondence predating 1938. Of greatest significance are Lasswell's letters to his parents from 1920-1943 (folders 775-787) in which he gives lengthy descriptions of his travels, research, and cultural interests. While conducting his dissertation research Lasswell studied in Europe and letters from this period report on proceedings of the League of Nations and conversations with members of the European press and prominent political figures such as Beatrice and Sidney Webb and Harold Laski. Letters from his 1928 travels describe Lasswell's deepening interest in psychology and psychotherapy and refer to his meetings with Alfred Adler, Anna Freud, and Theodore Reik, while letters from 1931 describe. work with Harry Stack Sullivan. There are also a few items from Lasswell's trip to China in 1937. In folder 1209 there is a small amount of correspondence concerning Lasswell's projected work in Washington with the William Alanson White Foundation.

Following Lasswell's move to Washington the files became voluminous, and there are many files relevant to Lasswell's work on war communication and content analysis at the Library of Congress. Files for Joseph Goldsen, Keith Kane, Paul and Dorothy Lewis, Paul Lazarsfeld, Jesse MacKnight, Louis T. Olom, Leo Rosten, William Cherin, George Herzog, Alan Geller, and the United States Executive Office of the President relate to these topics.

Many of Lasswell's post-World War II activities are documented in this series. Lasswell, appointed by his friend William Benton, also served as an advisor to the State Department on public information policy and the use of radio. During the late summer and fall of 1946 Lasswell toured the U.S. Information Service offices abroad (See folders 195-218 and 1147-1157 concerning Lasswell's State Department work). At about the same time Lasswell served on the Commission on the Freedom of the Press (See folders 334-351). Lasswell's communication work is documented by files on educational television (folders 422-425, 899-901) and the Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, Inc. (folders 432-435). The files also reflect Lasswell's interest in civil liberties (See folders: 42-51; 179-188; and 853-855).

Beginning in the late 1940s the papers document Lasswell's collaborative scholarly studies in areas as diverse as architecture, psychiatric hospital administration, political personalities, the social science concepts of power and elites, political symbols, human values, the process of decision-making, the policy sciences, and other topics in legal research, political theory, and communications. The files for the Cornell-Peru Project, Nathan Leites, Hans Speier, Ralph D. Casey, Bruce Lannes Smith, Daniel Lerner, Abraham Kaplan, Joseph Goldsen, Ithiel de Sola Pool, Myres MacDougal, Bruce Russett, W. Michael Reisman, Richard Arens, Lung-chu Chen, J. Zvi Namenwirth, Robert Rubenstein, Satish Arora, Arnold Rogow, and Merritt Fox document these areas of interest. Lasswell's files on his Yale Law School and Political Science Department work can be found in folders 241-248, 275-278, 774, and 1265-1286. Other teaching duties, following retirement from Yale in 1970, are documented in folders for Temple University, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Columbia University.

Two major organizational files document some of Lasswell's prevailing interests as he approached retirement. Information on the founding and development of the Policy Sciences Center in New York City is located in folders 972-974. Lasswell maintained an office at the center, and some of the files in this series were created at that office. Additional Lasswell material remains at the Policy Sciences Center. There is also much documentation for the organization and growth of the World Academy of Art and Science and its subsidiary, the World University. Files for John McHale and Emily Stuart Mudd as well as the files for the World Academy of Art and Science (folders 1228-1239) detail this topic.

Lasswell's participation as officer, board member, consultant, or active member in other professional and scholarly organizations is well documented. Among the organizations represented in this series are: American Academy of Arts and Science; American Association for the Advancement of Science; American Bar Association; American Political Science Association; American Society of International Law; Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences; Committee for Economic Development; Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion; Institute for Religious and Social Studies; Institute for the Future; Ralph E. Ogden Foundation; Mershon Center at Ohio State University; New England Institute for Medical Research; Rand Corporation; Southeast Asia Development Advisory Group of the Asia Society; World Law Fund. Files for the journals Ethics, World Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Human Relations reflect Lasswell's work in support of scholarly publications.

Two other files of note in the series are those for Lasswell's friends Leo Nejelski and Luis Kutner. These files are not particularly personal but again reflect Lasswell's professional interests over the thirty-five-year period documented in these papers.

Series II, WRITINGS, contains Lasswell's published and unpublished work. The series, while extensive, is far from a complete collection of titles on Lasswell's long bibliography, and very few of his books are represented either in printed or manuscript form. For any particular title the files may contain drafts, printed copies, related correspondence, research notes, and background material. Box 118, for instance, contains research material and numerous interviews with nurses, doctors, patients, and administrators, collected by Lasswell in preparation for Sharing of Power in a Psychiatric Hospital. Folders 121-126 contain survey data for Lasswell and Arnold Rogow's unpublished study of sexual attitudes and political orientation. Boxes 123-127 include research data in the form of computer cards used to generate the Value Dictionary. For most titles, however, there is only a printed copy or reprint.

The files are arranged chronologically and a bibliography in Box 107 serves as a guide for finding the dates of early writings, while later writings are cited in various published bibliographies. The series includes a section of memoranda, not intended for publication. Many of these items date from Lasswell's years in his Library of Congress office and offer insight into his projects and thinking at the time. The series also includes numerous note card files containing Lasswell's reading notes.

Series III, TOPICAL FILES, incorporates many types of material including notes, research data, printed matter, background memoranda of others, bibliographies, extracts, travel memorabilia, clippings, and the like arranged by topic. The list of topics is indicative of Lasswell's broad interests and wide-ranging career. There are large files of research material on elites, particularly Indian elites; on values; and on Latin America, particularly the Vicos project. Many files are very general in focus, but a few such as those for the Chinese thought conference (folders 16-19) or for the Far Eastern study year, 1962 (folders 55-59) refer to specific events. The war communications project at the Library of Congress is well documented, and files include material on the content analysis of Hitler's speeches and other wartime propaganda. These files appear to be the actual project files, not just Lasswell's personal files, and there are files of other project staff including William Cherin, Joseph Goldsen, and George Herzog.

Series IV, WRITINGS OF OTHERS, consists of articles, reprints, speeches, papers, and other material sent to or collected by Lasswell. The series includes student papers, though obviously not all the papers Lasswell received during his long teaching career. The files are arranged by the name of the author. Similar material is arranged by author in the GENERAL FILES, but writings of individuals listed in Series I are not included in this series.

Series V, BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL AND PERSONAL MEMORABILIA, contains material of a personal nature. Photographs in the series show Lasswell as a child, and depict his parents and their residences in Illinois and Indiana. There is some memorabilia of Lasswell's parents, and Lasswell's early writings are filed under Juvenilia. There are several biographical sketches, articles about Lasswell, and evaluations of his works, but the most extensive in this regard is the statement written by Lasswell in 1951. Lasswell prepared the document for the Army-Navy-Air Force Personnel Security Board in a successful attempt to have his security clearance reinstated. Within this document Lasswell submitted a lengthy autobiographical summary and testimonials about his character and the quality of his work. The series also includes certificates and honorary degrees, obituaries and memorials, and files of material handled by Joseph Goldsen following Lasswell's incapacitating stroke. These include details of his hospitalization and recuperation but also arrangements following Lasswell's death in December, 1978.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Harold Dwight Lasswell has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the estate of Harold Dwight Lasswell, 1979-1980, 1984; gift of Myres McDougal, 1984, 1985; David Easton, 1984; Richard H. Stephens, 1984; Jeremiah McKenna, 1988; Karen Dovring, 1988; James A. Robinson, 1990; and Andrew Willard, 1991; and Michael Reisman, 2009.


Arranged in five series and two additions: I. General Files, 1920-1978. II. Writings, 1923-1979. III. Topical Files, [ca. 1930s-1970s]. IV. Writings of Others, [ca. 1940s-1970s]. V. Biographical Material And Personal Memorabilia, [ca. 1877]-1984.

135.05 Linear Feet (267 boxes)
Related Names
Lasswell, Harold D. (Harold Dwight), 1902-1978
Language of Materials