What did Hermann Ebbinghaus mean when he said that “Psychology has a long past, but a short history”? He meant that the subject matter of psychology has been around since the beginning, but that psychology as we know it today — scientific psychology, that is — is a fairly new development.
Modern, scientific psychology began in 1879 when the German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt established the first laboratory specifically devoted to experimental psychology. The first experimental psychology laboratory in the United States opened at Johns Hopkins University in 1883. By the turn of the century, more than 40 such labs had been set up at universities in North America.
Warren Street, a professor of psychology at Central Washington University, and author of A Chronology of Noteworthy Events in Psychology, developed and maintains the American Psychological Association Historical Database, Today in the History of Psychology. Click on any date in the calendar, and you will see three things that happened in psychology on that date. If you want to know what else happened that date, you will have to buy the book.
What was happening in psychology on the day you were born? For example,
on my birth date (September 8), I found that in:
1854 The cornerstone was laid for the State Asylum for Idiots in Syracuse, New York, the first building in the United States expressly built for the care and training of people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities. The program itself, directed by Harvey B. Wilbur, had begun in Albany in 1851. The institution's name was later changed to the Syracuse State School.
1932 The APA voted to apply for membership in the Inter-Society Color Council, a group concerned with color perception and industry standards. Clarence Ferree, A. T. Poffenberger, and Forrest Lee Dimmick were the first APA representatives on the Council. Their first informal report to the APA was made on September 8, 1933, and their first formal report was made on August 25, 1934.
1938 The APA Committee on Scientific and Professional Ethics was established. This was the APA’s first group to deal with professional ethical issues, but it used unwritten, informal procedures to handle incidents that were brought to its attention. Robert S. Sessions chaired the committee.
I often visit Today in the History of Psychology as soon as I get to school, print out the page for the day, take it to my classes and report to my students the events of the day. They seem to get a kick out of many of the reports — perhaps, in part because the know that “No. It will not be on the test.”
Another site for exploring the history of psychology is being developed by David Likely, a professor of psychology at the University of New Brunswick. His History of Psychology Headlines Pages list events from 1650 to 1950. You will find many entries about the activities of many of the most famous names in psychology, biology and philosophy. You can use his search engine that allows you to search the History of Psychology Headlines Pages for a particular name or phrase. Professor Likely promises that he will be adding to his events list.
Marvin Lifschitz is in the process of setting up The Lifschitz Psychology Museum, which he describes as the world’s first virtual museum of psychology. While it is still under construction, he has a History of Psychology timeline with links to several pages devoted to significant people and developments in psychology. If you are knowledgeable about psychology you are invited to become a contributor to the museum exhibits.
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The premier discussion list for psychology faculty, Teaching In the Psychological Sciences, frequently has threads devoted to the history of psychology.
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