Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Hill, Michael R. 2000. “The Intellectual Context of Émile Durkheim’s Review of George Elliott Howard’s American Institutional Perspective on Marriage and Divorce.” Sociological Origins 2 (Winter): 75-80.


Copyright 2000 Michael R. Hill


ARGUABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT work produced within the Nebraska tradition of sociology is George Elliott Howard’s (1904) massive History of Matrimonial Institutions. The work was widely read, much admired, and warmly critiqued–and it influenced the shape of divorce law reform in the United States of America. Howard’s magnum opus was reviewed by the well-known French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, in L’année sociologique in 1906–an event that should have guaranteed for Howard a more prominent place in the pantheon of sociological founders. This essay documents the special uniqueness of Durkheim’s review and notes the curious neglect of the review by subsequent chroniclers of the history of sociology.

Émile Durkheim reviewed very few English-language books during the early years of L’année sociologique. When it came to books written by Americans, Durkheim became selective in the extreme. Thus, to better assess the significance of Durkheim’s review of Howard’s work, it is crucial to ask: What American works did Durkheim review?2 Taking to heart Harriet Martineau’s (1838: 73) astute dictum that, “The eloquence of Institutions and Records . . . is more comprehensive and more faithful than that of any variety of individual voices,” I reconstructed a catalogue of works published in the United States—in English—that Durkheim studied and reviewed for his famous yearbook, L’année sociologique.