University of Pennsylvania, the end result of a fifteen month project Du Bois was contracted to conduct focusing on a social study of the African American community of the Seventh Ward in Philadelphia, home to the largest population of blacks in the city. Moving into the neighborhood himself, a slum marked by extreme poverty and miserable living conditions, Du Bois was quickly immersed in the community, conducting 2,500 interviews during the first phase of the project. Met initially with suspicion, the residents of the Seventh Ward ultimately cooperated with Du Bois, who went door-to-door collecting the data that would later be published as the fourteenth number in a series on political economy and public law by the university.
In the first chapter of the report, Du Bois describes the study's general aim as an inquiry that “sought to ascertain something of the geographical distribution of this race, their occupations and daily life, their homes, their organizations, and, above all, their relation to their million white fellow-citizens.” Providing first a history of African Americans in the city of Philadelphia stretching as far back as the 1600s, Du Bois reserved the bulk of the more than 500-page volume to detailing every aspect of the Black community in the Seventh Ward from the size, age, and sex of the population to their level of education, health, income, and occupations. In particular, Du Bois addressed a number of problems the African American community faced, drawing attention to challenges imposed by current racism as well as those imposed by the lingering legacy of slavery.
The work received immediate acclaim, extolled as the first study in the social sciences to apply a scientific method, and was quickly held up as a model for future studies in the field. Upon its completion, Du Bois accepted a position at Atlanta University to teach History and Economics.