In 1892, William James brought Hugo Münsterberg from Freiburg to direct the new, Harvard Psychological Laboratory that James had created in the Philosophy Department. Münsterberg had trained under William Wundt in Leipzig, who had pioneered an experimental method to explore the relationship between mental events and physical experience. The New Psychology banished the old method of introspection. Instead, it relied on highly controlled experiments with equipment borrowed from the domains of physics and physiology. Researchers studied the psychology of the senses, the timing of mental acts, judgement, memory, and attention. Starting with these “prism, pendulum, and chronograph philosophers,” as James called them, this talk will conclude with B. F. Skinner and his experiments on operant conditioning, reinforcement, and learning. Special attention will be paid to early apparatus such as reaction keys, prototype operant chambers, cumulative recorders, and teaching machines. The apparatus, laboratory records, memoranda, and correspondence of James, Munsterberg, and Skinner survive at Harvard University and can be accessed by scholars interested in the development of their thought.
Sara Schechner, Ph.D. is the David P. Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University, where she is also on the faculty of the History of Science Department. She has served as Secretary of the Scientific Instrument Commission of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. She has published widely on the history of astronomy, scientific instruments, and material culture and has curated numerous exhibitions, including several on the history of psychology.
Schechner earned degrees in physics and the history and philosophy of science from Harvard and Cambridge. Before returning to Harvard, she was chief curator at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and curated exhibits for the Smithsonian Institution, the American Astronomical Society, and the American Physical Society. Schechner’s research, teaching, and exhibition work has earned her many awards. She is the 2019 recipient of the Paul Bunge Prize from the German Chemical Society and the German Bunsen Society for Physical Chemistry, which is regarded worldwide as the most important honor in the history of scientific instruments. She has also received the prestigious LeRoy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy from the American Astronomical Society, the Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize of the History of Science Society, and the Great Exhibitions Award of the British Society for the History of Science.