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Melvin L. Kohn papers

Identifier: MS-0963

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Content Description

This collection contains the faculty papers of sociologist Melvin L. Kohn (1928-2021), who worked for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the Laboratory of Socio-environmental Studies from 1952-1985, and then as a professor of Sociology at JHU from 1985 until his retirement in 2012.

The collection includes survey instruments for US and Japanese occupation studies between 1964 and 1979, research notes and analyses mostly conducted in the 1970s and 1980s on the relationship between occupation and personality, professional correspondence, teaching materials, and drafts of an unpublished autobiography. Cross-national research represented in this collection focuses on Japan and Poland.

Box 1 contains correspondence, alphabetized by correspondent. Box 2 contains files associated with the collection and coding of the NORC occupation survey data. Box 3 contains remaining correspondence and research files on parental authority behavior, Wittkin figure drawing, a copy of the survey instrument for the Japanese occupation study conducted in 1979, cross-national (US, Japan, and Poland) analyses of occupation study data for papers on social class, and analyses for a paper on social stratification, occupation, and values. Box 4 contains research files for his 1983 book Work and Personality coauthored with Carmi Schooler and the Polish and English editions of the Polish-US comparative occupational study coauthored with Kazimierz Słomczyński. Box 5 contains the remaining research files, files associated with Kohn's transition from NIMH to JHU, and unrestricted teaching materials. Box 5 research files consist of a reciprocal effects analysis on job conditions and leisure activity, education analyses on educational self-direction and personality, five volumes of research plans, and Kohn's review paper on Herrnstein and Murray's book The Bell Curve. Box 6 contains teaching materials that are restricted due to student data. Box 7 contains drafts of his unpublished memoir and notes from his studies at Cornell.


  • Creation: 1949 - 2019

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Contact Special Collections for more information.

Student records are closed for 80 years from the date of creation.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical / Historical

Melvin Lester Kohn (1928-2021) was a sociologist whose studies on occupational conditions and their effect on personality, which combined class analysis with social psychology, helped found the Social Structure and Personality subfield of sociological social psychology. Kohn collaborated with sociologists in the US, Japan, Poland, Ukraine, and China to produce cross-national studies on social structure and personality. His primary collaborator was Carmi Schooler (1933-2018), with whom he worked at the Laboratory of Socio-environmental Studies at NIMH.

Kohn's early work examined parental authority behavior and the relationship between social class and parental values and behaviors. With Schooler, he began to study the relationship between social class, occupation, and personality, beginning with the 1964 NORC occupation study, which was expanded into a longitudinal study in 1974. The Kohn-Schooler model examines social mobility as a function of social class and education, which affect both personality (as measured by intellectual flexibility and self-directedness) and occupation (as measured by occupational complexity); personality and occupation in turn affect each other over time. Later work examined how radical social change affects social structure and personality, focusing on Poland, Ukraine, and China.

Kohn, born in 1928 in New York, studied at Deep Springs College before he was admitted to Cornell University in 1946. After earning his BA in psychology and general studies in 1948, he continued at Cornell for his PhD in sociology, with minors in social psychology and industrial relations, which he completed in 1952. He joined the Laboratory of Socio-environmental Studies at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and became chief of that lab in 1960. In 1985, he left NIMH to join the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University as a professor. He served as chair of the department between 1996 and 1999, and was designated the William D. and Robin Mayer Distinguished Professor, School of Arts and Sciences, from 2009 until he was named emeritus in 2012. Awards include the Cooley-Mead Award in 1992 and an honorary doctorate at Ukraine’s National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

SOURCES 1. Hung, Ho-fung. “Obituaries: Melvin L. Kohn.” Footnotes 49, no. 3, Summer 2021. 2. Melvin L. Kohn papers, MS-0963, Special Collections, The Johns Hopkins University. 3. Mortimer, Jeylan T. “Melvin L. Kohn: Recipient of the 1992 Cooley-Mead Award.” Social Psychology Quarterly 56, no. 1 (1993): 1–3.


7.01 Cubic Feet (5 record center boxes, 2 letter full size boxes)

Language of Materials





This collection contains the faculty papers of sociologist Melvin L. Kohn. It includes notes on research, correspondence, teaching materials, and drafts of an unpublished autobiography.


The intellectual and physical arrangement of this collection differ slightly, as the processor attempted to house materials associated with the same research project in the same box, as much as possible.

Series 1 of the finding aid is arranged alphabetically. The remaining series are arranged chronologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred by the Department of Sociology in September 2023.

Processing Information

This collection was processed in March 2024 by Jenelle Clark.

Guide to the Melvin L. Kohn papers
Jenelle Clark
March 2024
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA