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Alfred de Grazia:


The American Image Project (July 10, 1968)

(Note: This proposal of a generation ago is published now for the first time. It was written by Alfred de Grazia, submitted to Harold Lasswell and Angus Campbell, requesting their approval and cooperation. They did so, without asking for changes. Despite its obvious importance, several foundations passed up a chance to support the project. Nor has the U.S. Bureau of Census shown any interest. Today (February 7, 2001) there is still no body of data corresponding to the proposed data bank, even though the advent of the computer and the digital camera would permit the whole project to be carried through with far less relative cost.)

"The American Image" is the name assigned to a proposed large-scale study of the American people to be undertaken for educational and scientific purposes.


The sponsors of the project wish to invite a cross-s section of the American people to cooperate with a group of social and behavioral scientists in recording on film, in speech, and through interview their individual parts in the vast and complex republic. With the materials collected from this survey and concurrent studies, the sponsors plan to make available over an indefinite period of time:

1. Scientific reports on the sociological characteristics of the population, especially the socio-economic settings in which the people are found, and the group life in which they move.

2. Anthropological studies of the physical character of the population, speech habits, dress, and ways of comportment.

3. Economic studies of the occupations, spending habits, and uses to which goods are put.

4. Humanistic studies of the aesthetics of the American, his tastes, his uses of cultural materials.

5. Civic studies on the political awareness, activity, and attitudes of the people.

And in conjunction with these scientific studies several forms of applied work, that is,

6. Relation of all the foregoing to educational achievements and suggestions for curricula.

7. Dynamuseums, that is, scientifically prepared social displays, which can be made mobile and used in schools of the land to show who the Americans are, how they live, think, and work.

8. Displays, including giant schoolroom wall charts that show a cross-section of the American people, to answer the eternal question addressed to the teacher: "What is an American?"

9. A series of reports based on these and associated materials, published for both school teachers and for the elementary and secondary school student in works of graded difficulty of comprehension.

10. State and regional seminars for the exposition of the results of the studies to school officials and teachers.

11. To build up and maintain a permanent Dynamuseum of Man in New York as a center in itself and as a clearinghouse for all the local American and international services to be provided by the project.


The means by which the sponsors plan to achieve such results are as follows, subject to further planning and decisions:

1. The establishment of an educational corporation independent of existing institutions, with a Board of Trustees composed of distinguished scientific leaders, centered in New York.

2. Financing of the program through the United States office of Education, the National Science Foundation, other government agencies, and various non-governmental foundations, all of whom share the research and educational objectives of the sponsors.

3. Co-opting a complete executive committee and appointing a director and subordinate officials.

4. Instituting a set of directives for achieving the program and budgeting the phases of the operations.

5. Contracting with the Survey Group "X" for undertaking the national sample survey. Contracting with educational film group "Y" to provide training, crews, and production for the film work to be completed in the survey. Contracting with information storage, retrieval and publishing group "Z" for the preparation of reports and materials for publication. Contracting with Group "O" for the administration of the project (housekeeping, accounting, purchasing, etc.).

6. Organizing a central scientific and professional staff which, because of the above contracting arrangements, will be able to give undiluted attention to the theory, goals and substantive executive of the program.

7. Carrying out the phases of the program as outlined below.


The phases of The American Image Project are planned as follows, subject to further determination:

Phase 1. Six Months: Planning and designing the proposal in detail, and presenting it to interested agencies for discussion, approval, and support. During this phase, the Board of Trustees will be settled upon.

Phase 2. Three months: Financing, incorporation, and organizing phase. Offices opened.

Phase 3. Five months:

A. Contracting for administration, survey, publication, and film production.

B. Organizing and conducting a training school for the employment of motion pictures in social surveys. Crews would be selected and trained here for the actual work of the project.

Phase 4. Four months: Pilot studies.

Phase 5. Six months: Field work. In the critical phase, the bulk of material for the whole project would be gathered in a national film and questionnaire personal interview of a sample of Americans.

Phase 6. One year: Analysis of materials by a battery of new techniques employing the computer and other instruments. Preparation of reports of scientific findings. Preparation of educational displays, and other educational materials.

Phase 7. One Year: Publication of scientific reports. Publication and display of materials. Planning of new projects.

Total time elapsed from date of this memorandum: Four Years,


Estimated costs of The American Image Project: (to be recalculated precisely in Phase 1.)

Phase 1. Original planning and designing: Consulting time, travel, secretarial, other: $7,000, absorbed by sponsors and interested agencies.

Phase 2. Financing, incorporating, organizing: Consultants, legal fees, leases, travel, communications, reports, conferences, officer equipment: $29,000 to be paid by interested support agencies.

Phase 3. Administration, planning, contracting, training school:

A. Contracting $ 8,000

B. Initial payment to contractors 60,000

C. Central Staff 50,000

D. Administrative contractor 30,000

E. Training School (100 students,

subsistence, travel to school,

faculty, administration, equipment,

one month) 120,000

Total Cost of Phase 3 $ 258,000

Phase 4. Pilot Studies:

A. Central staff $ 70,000

B. Survey contractor 40,000

C. Film contractor 20,000

D. Administrative contractor 20,000

Total Cost of Phase 4 $ 150,000

Phase 5. Field Work:

A. Central Staff $ 80,000

B. Survey contractor 100,000

C. Film contractor 400,000

D. Administrative contractor 40,000

E. Reports and publications

contractor 20,000

Total Cost of Phase 5 $ 640,000

Phase 6. Analysis and preparation of reports and materials:

A. Central staff $ 200,000

B. Survey contractor 100,000

C. Film contractor 250,000

D. Administrative contractor 80,000

E. Reports, Publications and

Displays contractor 175,000

Total Cost of Phase 6 $ 805,000

Phase 7. Publications, Storage, and Display

A. Central staff $ 400,000

B. Survey contractor 100,000

C. Film contractor 150,000

D. Administrative contractor 60,000

E. Reports, Publications and

Displays contractor 225,000

Total Cost of Phase 7 $ 885,000

Total cost of The American Image Project over four years:

$ 2,738,000


In embarking upon a project of such extent, the sponsors are convinced of the importance of a number of propositions concerning American society, the principles of social science, and the needs of American education. these propositions underlie the far-flung operations that are contemplated and justify the heavy investment of national talents and funds. They are stated as follows:

1. The social crisis in America today calls urgently for a re-creation of an "American Image" based upon the realities and aspirations of Americans as they are.

2. Never before has a true census in depth of the American people in their full variety and life settings been accomplished. Statistics of the census type and survey data in most instances skim the surface of the truths about the people.

3. Many Americans suffer from stereotypes about their fellow citizens, most of which beliefs are harmful to social solidarity and block freedom of opportunity and equal dignity for all.

4. Many Americans hold mistaken beliefs about themselves and their place in the country, suffering from low estimates of themselves, and resulting feelings of inferiority and insecurity.

5. A full and sympathetic vision of oneself and others as parts of the communities of the land will constitute and can be used to aid in a form of mental health therapy, especially in problems of schizophrenia, alienation, aggressiveness, and related areas.

6. The "Hollywood Image" of the American people has done harm to the people in many cases and there has been until now no image in kind to contradict it. By the same token, some measure of control over the "Madison Avenue image" can be sought in a presentation of Americans as they are.

7. Because of the crude, thoughtless, and haphazard spreading of American characterisations around the world, foreign nations and peoples misjudge Americans badly. They receive defective, unsympathetic, and inhuman portraits of Americans. A thesaurus of scientific, graphic, and written material characterizing the American way of life can be helpful to American foreign policy and American cooperation with other peoples of the world.

8. The American people are in a state of great mobility. The "melting pot" is working not only ethnically, but religiously, occupationally, geographically, and culturally. A complete and detailed "shot" of the nation at this point will be of inestimable value to the future planning, reassessment and social history of the country.

9. Planning and policy is more and more being determined by decision-makers who must be divorced from daily contact with the people. The decision-makers need a constant source of graphic refreshment in the subjects of the policies. Students everywhere need to ask themselves constantly whether the academic principles that they are about to apply correspond to the people moving before them.

10. The humanities that interest themselves in the language and behavior of the population of different sections of the country need "base lines" by which to evaluate literature and must depend upon sporadic reporting of these features at present.

11. The science of anthropology lacks several basic sources for its development of an anthropology of modern America. It needs accurate and representative data on the physiognomy, posture, gestures, facial expressions, manner of speech, linguistic usages, and dress of Americans.

12. Sociology has been balked in its progress towards an accurate and fundamental set of propositions about American life because it has had to rely on incomplete verbal or second-hand descriptive data on the socio-economic and group settings in which Americans live. Intensive and prolonged analysis of a full bank, including graphic and acoustical material, will permit large forward steps.

13. The study of representative government, representation, leadership and other political and civic phenomena can benefit from the matching of appearances, gestures, language, behavior of persons seeking or holding public office and the corresponding handling of expression, symbols, and speech by the represented population.

14. Teachers in the very earliest grades, where the pupils re most impressionable, are often young, inexperienced, and poorly educated themselves, yet must answer complicated social questions such as "What are Americans?" The stereotyped, biased, and partial answers that ensue often do as much harm as good.

15. The inadequacy of library and graphic material sources on social sciences and human relations in the lower schools is notorious, but there is little to supply.

16. Training in the visual arts, the making of surveys by film, is almost completely terra incognita, even after motion pictures and still photography have become billion-dollar industries of world-wide importance.

17. Progress has been made in the use of film for scientific and educational purposes in the natural sciences, owing in large part to governmental support, whereas the social sciences have remained unsupported and stagnant in this respect.

18. The methodology of film (both still and motion picture) is badly underdeveloped in the social sciences. It would be a new and valuable manpower resource to have a hundred and more professional social scientists trained in the direct employment of and analysis of motion picture and still photography technique for conducting field studies and teaching in the social sciences.

19. The camera provides a new depth and variety of data for social analysis in many disciplines and subject-areas, but its potential is unfathomed. Part of a large-scale project to develop a cross-sectional filming of Americans should be the preparation of an automated index of existing social film resources for quick retrieval and comparative study.

20. The sample survey, perhaps the most versatile and usable instrument of social research, should reach new heights with the incorporation of filming techniques.

21. Not only sample surveys, but projective methods, small group dynamics, case studies and other methods-areas of the social sciences can be improved and enlarged in scope through adding the pictorial and acoustical dimensions. Experimental design, content analysis, purposive sampling, interviewing, questionnaire construction, research training, and a number of other technical fields will be advanced.

22. All of the social and historical sciences, in interdisciplinary league, can develop and profit from the study of the American Image. In all of them, for example, speech intonation, facial expression, and other accompaniments of discourse, including the settings of discourse, have been accessible only indirectly through the medium of print until now, whereas it is possible to proceed directly from the act itself to the analysis by employing new techniques thoroughly.

23. New techniques of motion picture production are needed. The naive realistic film with the detached commentary is only one of many ways in which to produce communication via film, especially with sound tracks. Many new techniques and principles of sight and acoustics are known today that have not been applied for scientific or educational purposes along the lines of the American Image Project.

24. The traditional natural history and art museums have not been able to engage the social sciences. There is a new species of museum -- the dynamuseum -- that can be developed as a teaching device in all grades of study, from elementary to post-graduate education. The concept of a Dynamuseum is needed to teach rapidly and with great impact. The Dynamuseum concept is the presentation in tableau pseudo vivant form of a social setting or event, incorporating all of the suggestibility of the "shot" moment of action, with the impact of sound, verisimilitude, small and accompanying explanation.

25. An institution is needed in which new educational materials can be explained to visiting individual teachers, seminars, and classes. This will include, among other materials, the Dynamuseum.

26. Mobile Dynamuseum and other graphic material can be transported for exhibition purposes around the country bringing the social studies directly to the students.

27. Computer technology has developed to the point where it can be of considerable use in research into American society. Most of the information gathered in such studies can be stored, analyzed and retrieved as the demand occurs. Computers can be useful in the analysis of visual appearances, sounds, movements, language, and contents of interviews.

28. Means need to be developed to translate, frame, and produce scientific facts and concepts in the social studies directly into popularly usable form. This translation does not normally occur, partly because of the over-professionalism of the professional and the under-professionalism of the popularizer. If, prior to the initiation of the processes of educational production, the final goal is known, the chances of achieving the final goal through rational direction of the processes are greatly increased.

29. Elementary and secondary schools need new curricular materials for civics, American history, economics, psychology, and social studies. These can be provided by new types of materials, phonograph records, tapes, slides, motion picture films, wall displays, pamphlets, books and mobile exhibits.

30. A series of experimental primers for elementary school social studies and for secondary school social sciences can be of great use. The social sciences can be taught together in the early years of education without too great loss of sharpness and validity of they are presented in a proper form, with the proper professional controls.

31. It is important at this stage in the development of the behavioral sciences to build up bodies of data of massive extent. The tools of analysis have outmatched the materials for analysis. In effect, giant steam shovels are being used to turn over handfuls of dirt. There is no rich collection of broad, validated, standardized, usable, first-hand facts about American civilization.

Alfred de Grazia

Professor of Government, New York University

Harold D. Lasswell

Professor of Law, Yale University

Angus Campbell

Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan

and Director, Survey Research Center

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