James A. Davis, Sociologist, Founder of the General Social Survey (GSS), 1929–2016

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James A. Davis, a leader in the use of quantitative statistical methods in social science research, died September 29, 2016. Davis was faculty in the Department of Sociology from 1957–1965 and 1972–1975. He was Director of NORC from 1971–1975, where he continued as a principal investigator until 2009.  From 1994 until recently Davis taught in the Department of Sociology as a senior lecturer and visiting professor, making a lasting impact on students and colleagues alike.


Davis was a profound scholar of sociology, immensely respected in his field. He was awarded the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) Award for Exceptionally Distinguished Achievement in 1992 for his “innovation in teaching, his prodigious scholarship, and creation of the General Social Survey.” Over the duration of his career, he was recognized many times for both his research and teaching. Most recently, he was presented the 2010 Warren J. Mitofsky Award for Excellence in Public Opinion Research.


Former students remember Davis fondly. Harvey Choldin, AB’60, AM’63, PhD’65, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Illinois, was a student of Davis from 1959–60. In a note to the Division, Choldin recalled, “Everyone respected him, but in addition to that, we appreciated his ready smile and approachability. On campus, while others of us were schlepping briefcases, Jim was recognizable for always having a green book bag slung over his shoulder.”


Davis received his PhD from Harvard University in 1955, where he returned to teach in 1977. Although he left the University of Chicago to return to his alma mater, he never really left, returning to Chicago throughout his retirement to teach in the Department of Sociology and maintaining a constant, productive relationship with NORC.


For more information about Davis and his role in founding of the GSS, visit NORC’s History of the GSS.


A memorial service is being planned for spring 2017. 

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