Special Section: Towards a History of the Questionnaire

AHP readers may be interested in a special section of the most recent issue of the Intellectual History Review: “Towards a History of the Questionnaire.” Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Towards a history of the questionnaire,” Daniel Midena & Richard Yeo. Open access. Abstract:

This introduction to the following five articles discusses concepts, practices and debates before and after the adoption of the term “questionnaire” in the late nineteenth century. Information gathering by way of itemized questions was established in the early modern period (c. 1500–1700). Developments associated with questionnaires in the modern period (such as mass standardized items) began in the late 1800s; but there was significant scrutiny of the questionnaire itself in the decades between the two World Wars.

“Distilling water, distilling data: questionnaires in Dutch East India Company record-keeping,” Margaret Schotte. Abstract:

During the age of colonial expansion, European merchant companies used paper technologies as tools of control. This article analyses a set of tables produced in the 1690s by employees of the Dutch East India Company, as they recorded their daily efforts on a new method of desalinating ocean water. These printed “formulieren” should be viewed not only as a novel extension of the nautical logbook but also as an early phase in the development of questionnaires. Adapted from clerical formularies, these structured tabular records are an early instance of a single-purpose data collection document, one linked with a new piece of technology, for which performance was to be measured daily. These sparse columns allow us to recover the practices of the “watermakers” themselves: some filled out the tables diligently, others gave rough estimates after the fact. Each of these men approached a supposedly standard technology in a different way, allowing us to uncover surprising individualism from within columns of numbers.

“Queries in early-modern English science,” Richard Yeo. Abstract:

The notion of a “query” occurred in legal, medical, theological and scientific writings during the early modern period. Whereas the “questionary” (from c. 1400s) sought replies from within a doctrine (such as Galenic medicine), in the 1600s the query posed open-ended inquiries, seeking empirical information from travellers, explorers and others. During the 1660s in Britain, three versions of the query (and lists of queries) emerged. Distinctions need to be made between queries seeking information via observation and those asking for experimentation, and between those aiming to keep theory to one side and those that framed theoretical conjectures. My examples are drawn from the work of the Royal Society of London (founded 1660) and from some of its leading members, especially Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton.

“Color terminology, sensory stimuli, and the semantics of the questionnaire,” Judith R. H. Kaplan. Abstract:

This article attends to “questionnaires” in linguistic fieldwork defined by the inclusion of sensory stimuli. It shows that such non-verbal protocols have been used to help elucidate and compare semantic content, which has generally been subordinated to formal analysis in the history of linguistics. To explain and exemplify this relationship, I target the color questionnaire developed by Hugo Magnus, which included ten standardized color chips and a long list of interview questions on language use. Magnus’s questionnaire (Fragebogen) decoupled perception and denotation in its day, though similar protocols have recently been employed to restore the connection between meaning and form.

“Magnus Hirschfeld’s 1899 psychobiological questionnaire: the paradoxes of de-narrativizing sexual and gender nonconformity,” Geertje Mak. Open access. Abstract:

The first scientific questionnaire to establish gender and sexual “intermediate” identities “objectively” was published in 1899 by the internationally renowned sexologist and pioneer of LGBTI emancipation, Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935). In this article, I show that this questionnaire changed how interactions took place between psycho-medical professionals and people who did not conform to sexual or gender norms. Rhetorically, the questionnaire created a delicate balance between self-expression and objectification of the subject. It broke down already existing semiautobiographical case histories into a list of characteristics, behaviour, and inclinations; all predicated on a conventional binary view of gender. I conclude that the questionnaire paradoxically activated and reified conventionally binary-gendered phenomena precisely by offering gender nonconformist people a robust frame for (gender-fluid) self-understanding; an inheritance still haunting us today.

“From questionnaire to interview in survey research: Paul F. Lazarsfeld and the Wirtschaftspsychologische Forschungsstelle in interwar Vienna,” Eric Hounshell. Open access. Abstract:

In interwar Vienna, Paul F. Lazarsfeld and his colleagues developed an approach to survey research that used the questionnaire and the direct, face-to-face interview to gather data about subjective experience for aggregative analysis. For these young researchers, the questionnaire-based interview emerged from a contradictory set of Central European intellectual traditions and political concerns. Enthusiasm on the political left for quantification and the gathering of social data encouraged survey research; yet, local political allies and intellectual mentors also opposed the study of individual attitudes and the quantitative aggregation of such material. Academic psychology legitimized the use of “introspection” and facilitated the extension of this method to populations of untrained subjects. The methodological concept of the “model” helped overcome the Verstehen/Erklären dichotomy within debates over the proper methods of the human and social sciences. This article examines methodological and philosophical statements, study designs, and questionnaires to explain how the interview gained particular importance within this setting.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.