In the recent memory, Jean Piaget has been known as a cognitive developmental psychologist.
But in 1936 when Harvard gave him his first honorary degree, he was recognized mainly
as a sociologist. Why did Harvard honor him in 1936? Who knew his work well enough
to nominate him? This article will address these questions by exploring archival documents
from different sources. Evidence draws our attention to a broad social and intellectual
endeavor in philanthropy, other social sciences, and especially industrial research
that brought Piaget across the water. This article also attempts to interpret the
circumstances of the nomination process inside and outside of Harvard University by
using a theory of institutional design. It suggests that embodied in Harvard's honor
of Piaget in 1936 was an idealistic act in social designing for a future society.