A few notes on the history of psychology at Leipzig University

Leipzig University has long been involved in the scientific study of the human mind and human behavior. In the mid-nineteenth century, two of the university's professors, Ernst Heinrich Weber (1801 — 1887) and Gustav Theodor Fechner (1795 — 1878), began exploring the relation between our subjective experience and stimulation from the world. Fechner called this psychophysics; his techniques provided the measurement tools for modern psychology.

Photographs of Ernst Heinrich Weber and Theodor Gustav Fechner (source: collection of the Institute of Psychology - Wilhelm Wundt, Leipzig University).
Ernst Heinrich Weber and Theodor Gustav Fechner (source: collection of the Institute of Psychology - Wilhelm Wundt, Leipzig University).

In 1879, another Leipzig University professor, Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (1832 — 1920), founded the world's first Institute of Psychology. It attracted numerous scholars from all over the world who came to listen Wundt's lectures, to attended his seminars, and to participate in experimental research conducted in his laboratory. When Wundt resigned from his professorship in 1917, he had written numerous highly influential books, including Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie (Principles of physiological psychology) and the ten-volume Völkerpsychologie (Cultural psychology),and had written reports for 184 doctoral dissertations. At least 60 of his doctoral candidates came from abroad, including 18 from the United States of America. A substantial number of the doctoral dissertations focused on Weber's and Fechner's psychophysics and the measurement of reaction times.

From left: Wundt memorial, unveiled during the 50th Congress of the DGPs (artist: Markus Gläser), (b) portrait of Wilhelm Wundt (dated about 1902), (c) photograph of Wilhelm Wundt (middle) acting as a participant in an experiment (dated abot 1908).

Many of Wundt's scholars became famous and highly influential scientists, including:

  • James Mark Baldwin (1861 – 1934),
  • Paul Barth (1858 – 1922),
  • Wladimir Michailowitsch Bechterew (1857 – 1927),
  • James McKeen Cattell (1860 – 1944),
  • Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917),
  • Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938),
  • G. Stanley Hall (1844 – 1924),
  • Charles Hubbard Judd (1873 – 1946),
  • Friedrich Kiesow (1858 – 1940),
  • August Kirschmann (1860 – 1932),
  • Emil Kraepelin (1856 – 1926),
  • Oswald Külpe (1862 – 1915),
  • Matataro Matsumoto (1865 – 1943),
  • Charles Herbert Mead (1863 – 1931),
  • Ernst Meumann (1862 – 1915),
  • Albert Eduard Michotte (1881 – 1965),
  • Hugo Münsterberg (1863 – 1916),
  • Charles Spearman (1863 – 1945),
  • Edward B. Titchener (1867 – 1927) 
  • und Wilhelm Wirth (1876 – 1952).
Photograph of the Wilhelm-Wundt-Room, source: Jörg Jescheniak
Photograph of the Wilhelm-Wundt-Room, source: Jörg Jescheniak

Today, the Institute hosts ten professorships (and three honorary professorships from the local Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the local Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology) that represent the main basic and applied sub-disciplines of contemporary psychology.

In December 2019, in honor of the upcoming 100th anniversary of Wundt's death on 31 August, 2020, the Institute was assigned a new name: Institute of Psychology - Wilhelm Wundt.

To learn more about the institute's history and Wilhelm Wundt, we invite you to follow the links listed below (many texts currently available in German only).

© 2020, Jörg D. Jescheniak, Erich Schröger, and Robert P. O’Shea

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