The Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence Collection

Written by Sean Beebe, graduate student in the Department of History at Brandeis University, April 2016.

 The Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence CollectionBrandeis University's Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections Department is proud to announce the re-uniting of the archives of the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence, which is expected to be publicly available in early 2017. From 1967-73, the Lemberg Center, affiliated with Brandeis' Heller School for Social Policy and Management, intensely examined social violence in America, with a particular emphasis on contemporary race-related violence — race riots. In the course of its work, the Lemberg Center compiled large amounts of information about the racial violence of the period, as well as other forms of conflict in American society.

The Center originated in the wake of the November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. With the financial support of a New York City businessman, Frank A. Cohen, Brandeis organized three "Institutes on Violence," inquiries into the social role of violence in the United States. The first took place in December 1964, while the latter two followed in April and July 1965. At the third Institute, it was suggested that a permanent Center for the Study of Violence be established at Brandeis, and in the fall of that year, the Center was established. The Center took its full name — The Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence — in 1967, after a substantial gift from Samuel Lemberg, a longtime Brandeis Fellow and New York City real estate developer.

In 1966, the university appointed John P. Spiegel as director of the center. Spiegel, a prominent psychiatrist and Harvard professor, was an expert on the psychological impact of violence on individuals, most notably under combat conditions.[1] Under Spiegel's direction, the Lemberg Center compiled data, organized events and produced several publications. Among these were confrontation (sic), its regular newsletter. Each issue of confrontation was dedicated to a different topic, and explored violence in a wide sense, such as one issue’s focus on the relationship between women and violence: why, it asked, did women not make use of violence in efforts to improve their status?[2] Another publication, Race-Related Civil Disorders, tracked accounts of racial unrest in the late 1960s and analyzed the particular characteristics of those events. In order to produce Race-Related Civil Disorders, the Center amassed vast amounts of data on incidents large and small, gleaned from newspapers across America.

Beyond these regular publications, the Center also produced individual reports, the most notable of which was Terry Ann Knopf's "1969 Youth Patrols: An Experiment in Community Participation." The work examined one possible response to problems of unrest: the creation of groups of young people, working in their own neighborhoods, charged with a mission of defusing violent situations before they could escalate and helping to prevent other crime. The Center's work on these patrols, however, became a source of controversy on the Brandeis campus. For members of the radical group SDS, for example, such patrols were a manner of reinforcing police control as they co-opted young people in poor neighborhoods, rather than responding to the social needs of the residents of such neighborhoods.

As such, when in 1973 the Lemberg Center closed, The Justice opened its story on the closure by describing the Center as "one of the more controversial agencies on campus," in large part the result of this work on community policing.[3] The Center's closing was due to a combination of a downturn in funding — as it had drawn much of its support from external organizations — related to the sharp decrease in social violence itself; but perhaps also the "distance" between the Center and the rest of the university. The Center was essentially wholly externally oriented; it was a research institute with no teaching function and little interaction with students. For his part, John Spiegel was optimistic about what the closure meant, telling The Justice, "Mainly, our feeling is 'mission accomplished,' " and that the Center had succeeded in its primary objective of studying the violence of the period.[4] Spiegel would remain at Brandeis as director of the Heller School and professor of social psychiatry.

The Lemberg Center's archives, including all of the Center's collected data, had a life of their own. When the Center closed, prior to the creation of the Brandeis University Archives, the materials were boxed and kept under a staircase. In 1979, a large portion was permanently loaned to Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Indiana, where they remained largely unused. Almost two decades later, in 1997-98, Dan Myers, then a professor of sociology at Notre Dame, learned of the collection and arranged to transfer the material to his institution.[5] The loaned portion of the Lemberg Center archives finally returned to Brandeis in 2015.

In the mid-1960s, as America experienced a period of tremendous social transition, analysis of the state of the country found both greater significance and new energy. While African-Americans struggled for recognition of their civil rights and other mass causes gained support, from anti–Vietnam War protests to second-wave feminism, the Stonewall riots and the American Indian Movement, the turbulence of the period both fueled and gave greater influence to social analysis of the nation. While some of these works were deeply controversial — most notably Daniel Patrick Moynihan's report on poverty and the black family[6] — others, including the work of the Lemberg Center, were more subtle and complex, though not without problems of their own.[7] What the Lemberg Center's archives ultimately provide, however, is a unique window into both how American society of the late 1960s and early 1970s viewed its own divisions and how, for a brief time, a group of contemporary researchers strove to approach and make sense of those same questions.

June 1, 2016


[1] Spiegel would later play a pivotal role in changing the status of homosexuality in America, when in 1973, under his presidency, the American Psychiatric Association rewrote its 81-word definition of "sexual deviance:" the organization no longer considered homosexuality a disease. On this complex story, see — or rather hear — a 2002 episode of This American Life, "81 Words."

[2] confrontation, 1971. The issue's author, drawing on anthropology and social theory, effectively assumed that the answer had to do with sharply pronounced gender differences, and that these would remain so, at least in the near future.

[3] The Justice, Sept. 18, 1973.

[4] Ibid.

[5] For further details, see "N.D. Sociologist Accesses Information on Race Riots from Archives," South Bend Tribune, Dec. 16, 2000.

[6] Office of Policy Planning and Research, United States Department of Labor, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, 1965.

[7] This is to say that if the Lemberg Center's work was quite broad, both in terms of the scope of the research (and its fair-mindedness) and the audience to whom its findings were addressed, that work was still entrenched within particular patterns of thinking. For instance, the Center was largely interested in proximate causes, rather than longer-term or structural causes, meaning that it could overlook or underplay such factors, except as background information. In consequence, the Center generally emphasized solutions on smaller scales.