Although classes began on this campus in October 1859, the first sociology course was not taught until fall semester 1919. The course was "Elementary Sociology." From the time of this first course until 1935, when a separate Department of Sociology was established, all sociology courses were offered by the Economics Department. During the 1970s, the Sociology Department was restructured and Anthropology and Criminology became separate programs. Today, the Sociology Department houses the Center for Innovation, the Program for Society and the Environment, the Maryland Time Use Laboratory, the Center for Research on Military Organizations, and the Group Processes Lab, and is affiliated with the Maryland Population Research Center.
Over the years, the Sociology faculty has included many nationally and internationally renowned scholars. In the 1920s, sociology courses were taught by George Peter Murdock, who later created the Human Relations Area Files. In 1938, Logan Wilson, who later became the President of the University of Texas, joined the faculty for a few years. C. Wright Mills, the author of The Power Elite, White Collar, and The Sociological Imagination, was a member of the faculty from 1941-1945. The most renowned scholar on the faculty during the last quarter-century was Morris Rosenberg, the world's foremost student of how social forces shape self-esteem.
Since its founding, the Department has had eleven leaders: Theodore B. Manny, Carl Joslyn, Edward Gregory, Harold Hoffsommer, Robert Ellis, Kenneth C. W. Kammeyer, Jerald Hage, William Falk, Lee Hamilton, Suzanne Bianchi, and Reeve Vanneman. The current chair is Patricio Korzeniewicz.
Among the many people who have earned a degree from this department and subsequently achieved considerable recognition are William Form, the first person to hold a Ph.D. (1944) from this department; Parren Mitchell, who became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives; Adele Stamp, for whom the Stamp Student Union is named; and Charles Wellford of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.