The Sellin Collection at Penn

Almanac Vol 43 Number 4
Sept. 17, 1996


The books and journals of Dr. Thorsten Sellin, the late Penn scholar who changed the face of criminology, have been donated to the University of Pennsylvania Library.

Added to an already outstanding collection in the field, the Sellin Collection "will greatly increase the historical depth and sociological breadth of Penn's holdings in criminology, and make the Library one of the best places in the country to do research in the field," said Dennis Hyde, Director of Collection Development.

More than 7,200 books, journals and offprints, and a number of rare antiquarian books dating from as early as 1675, are in the collection donated by Dr. Sellin's sons Theodore and Eric, who between them hold five degrees from the University.

Dr. Sellin came to prominence in the 1920s and 30s for his studies in the use of criminal statistics at local, state, national and international levels, and later helped draft the U.S. Uniform Criminal Statistics Act in 1944.)

Meanwhile, in such work as the 1938 Culture Conflict and Crime he was to expand the field to embrace what became known as the sociology of deviance, and lay the groundwork for a science of criminology and a scientific basis for the study of crime.

President of the International Society of Criminology from 1956 to 1965, secretary-general of the Bern-based International Penal and Penitentiary Commission from 1949 to 1951, he was also for nearly four decades (1929-68) editor of the noted Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Science. He taught at Penn from 1922 until he retired in 1967, he died in 1994 at the age of 97, full of honors from a host of nations including the honorary doctorates of Leiden, Copenhagen and Brussels as well as his graduate alma mater, Penn. The University's Sellin Center for Studies in Criminology and Criminal Law is named for him and is directed by his onetime student and collaborator, Dr. Marvin Wolfgang.

Colleague Peter Lejins described the principal aim of Dr. Sellin's career as "developing criminology as a scientific discipline," with a methodology resting on two fundamental ideas: first, a comprehensive view of the subject, which incorporated historical, sociological, psychological, and legal factors into the analysis, in addition to the development of analytical models; and second, the establishment and utilization of statistics in the evaluation of crime, an area in which Dr. Sellin was a foremost authority.

"These two cardinal ideas are clearly embodied in his library," said Mr. Hyde.

Those interested in using the research collection may call the Reference Desk at 215-898-7555 for information.