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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Psychologists’ Academic History


Psychological science traces its history to academic institutions mostly in Europe and the United States. Much of that history is documented in research reports and biographies, but the academic context of that activity also is of great importance.

In his review of Essential Documents in the History of American Higher Education, Bruce Henderson describes that context broadly in U.S. colleges and universities. The documents in the book include curriculum reports, memoirs, and speeches by people who were not psychologists. Henderson points out that  psychology also has an academic history that goes beyond its research. His examples include James McKeen Cattell’s conflict with the president of Columbia University, John B. Watson’s scandal at Johns Hopkins, and “Edward Tolman’s response to the University of California’s imposition of a loyalty oath in 1950 (Carroll, 2012), a landmark in the history of academic freedom” (para. 12). I would add a European example in Wolfgang Kohler’s stand against the Nazis (Henle, 1978).

As students and faculty, psychologists have their own experiences that illuminate academic life in the last century. Several psychologists have been presidents of universities. That includes Robert Sternberg, the previous editor of PsycCRITIQUES’s predecessor journal, Contemporary Psychology—APA Review of Books. They should have some interesting stories to tell and perhaps some worthy speeches. Many departments have written their history, which may be mostly of local interest but are likely to contain incidents of more general interest.

What are your suggestions for documents that might be included in psychology’s academic history? Perhaps someone who enjoys editing books could put together our field’s volume.


Henle, M. (1978). One man against the Nazis: Wolfgang Kohler. American Psychologist, 33, 939-944.
Read the Review
ReviewGlimpses of American Higher Education’s Past
By Bruce B. Henderson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(42)


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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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