A Closer Look

For Div. 26 (Society for the History of Psychology) fellow Ludy Benjamin, PhD, a visit to the Archives of the History of American Psychology in Akron, Ohio, shaped his future career. As a young Nebraska Wesleyan University faculty member, Benjamin was studying perception when he learned about the archives from a colleague at APA's 1974 Annual Convention.

Benjamin couldn't afford to visit the archives, but he contacted the archives staff and received a $350 scholarship. That was enough to cover his 1975 bus trip to Akron and support him for three weeks while he buried himself in the archives researching Nebraska psychologists Harry and Leta Hollingworth. Benjamin estimates he looked through at least 250 manuscript boxes related to the couple's work on the psy chology of sex differences, and he discovered leads that spurred him to research them further.

"I sometimes joke with my students about the delights of reading other people's mail," says Benjamin. "That's what you do in archives. Manuscript collections are critically insightful for what they reveal about how ideas are shaped or came about."

Benjamin continues to use the archives for his teaching and books, one of which-"From Seance to Science: A History of the Profession of Psychology in America" (Thomson/Wadsworth, 2004)-he recently co-authored with Div. 26 Fellow David Baker, PhD, the archives' current director.

Many Div. 26 members consult the archives because they provide unparalleled history of psychology resources, including unique personal artifacts, such as Sigmund Freud's home movies, that provide a glimpse into the private lives of many of psychology's major and minor players. The letters and private writings in the archives offer a way to flesh out the real people behind great psychological experiments and publications-a boon to psychology instruction, says Benjamin.

With that in mind, Baker plans to make the archival material even more accessible while continuing to grow the collection.

"The public benefits in many ways from psychological science and practice, yet this is often not understood and recognized," says Baker. "Historical narrative is a way to increase public understanding and awareness of psychology, and we hope to be able to do this through interactive exhibits."

Small beginnings

The Archives of the History of American Psychology was created in 1965 by married University of Akron psychology professors John Popplestone, PhD, and Marion White McPherson, PhD. When Popplestone, whose background was in clinical psychology, was told he would be teaching a history of psychology course, he quickly realized that there was a dearth of appropriate material on the subject. He approached the university and offered to begin collecting primary materials related to the history of psychology. The university consented, and Popplestone and McPherson began accepting submissions, such as the papers of Harry and Leta Hollingworth, Henry Goddard, David Boder and Abraham Maslow.

Eventually, as word of the archives spread, retiring psychologists began to pledge their manuscripts and personal artifacts to the archives, says Baker.

Today, the archives are the largest collection related to the history of psychology in the world, and they are the first archives to become an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Much of the collection is available online through the archives' Web site, making it easy to conduct research without an actual visit to Akron.

What exactly makes the archives such a fascinating place for people interested in the history of psychology? The core of the collection, says Baker, is comprised of more than 750 manuscripts. The archives are also home to thousands of photographs of psychologists and testing equipment, such as B.F. Skinner's teaching machines, and reels of film footage, including movies of Ivan Pavlov and a child development film done by John Watson that includes footage of Little Albert. What makes these materials so interesting, according to Div. 26 President Benjamin Harris, PhD, is that they provide the back story to the official opinions and research that are formally published in journals.

"It's a way for historians to go beyond seeing what was going back and forth in journals, and really get at the motives of the different scientists of the day," says Harris, "which is even more exciting than published articles."

Many uses

Today psychologists use the archives to uncover bits of history that would have otherwise been forgotten. For example, Harris unearthed the topic of his division presidential address in the archives. While doing research, he uncovered a 1945 political scandal in which the editor of the Journal of Clinical Psychology called for a quota system to limit the number of Jews entering the field of psychology. The Eastern Psychological Association denounced the editor, and though the story made national news at the time, the incident was largely forgotten in the intervening years. By acknowledging the field's history, including its darker moments, psychology may avoid repeating the same mistakes, Harris says. This is a sentiment echoed by Baker.

"We want to ensure that history is inclusive," he says. "The historical record has the power to make people, events and institutions visible, but it has equal power to make them invisible."

In this regard Baker has been active in recruiting materials from traditionally underrepresented groups in psychology. In 2000, the archives' hosted a conference in honor of Robert V. Guthrie, PhD, the first African-American psychologist to deposit his papers in Akron. Next fall, the archives will present a conference on Native American influences on the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow. The recognized need of the discipline to acknowledge the history of psychology is one of its unique aspects, notes James Goodwin, PhD, Div. 26's president-elect. In fact, psychology is one of the only disciplines in which a history course is required by almost all departments.

"Teaching the history of the discipline is integral to the teaching of the discipline itself," says Goodwin. "Issues we deal with today, like nature versus nurture, are issues we've been dealing with since the founding of the discipline."

To that end, faculty members often use the archives in their teaching. A case in point is Christopher Green, PhD, a psychology pro fessor at York University in Toronto and Div. 26's electronics communications editor. Green directs his students to the archive's Web site so that they can see materials that they can't access in person.

"It makes it possible for me to assign readings to undergraduates that I would never have dreamed of assigning before, because you can't have hundreds of undergrads pawing through delicate original documents," he says. The material, he says, becomes much more "real" for students when they can view, either firsthand or online, pictures of equipment used in early psychological experiments, such as Stanley Milgram's simulated shock generator.

APA recognizes the value the archives has in preserving the history of psychology. Div. 26's journal, History of Psychology, provides a forum for announcements and other items of interest related to the archives. And, last year, APA's Council of Representatives voted to give the archives $60,000 a year to support their growing collection, and the 13 full and part-time staff members it takes to organize and catalog what Baker estimates is a three-year backlog of donations. In September, Roadway Express gave the University of Akron a 70,000 square foot building that will serve as the new home for the archives. However, Baker and his staff need to raise $10 million to refurbish the building before they can move in.

Ultimately, Baker would like the building to include the archives, a museum, a library, classrooms and office space for visiting scholars. He wants to hold summer teaching institutes and provide training for faculty interested in teaching the history of psychology. Baker aims to put even more of the collection online and design virtual labs where visitors can rerun historically important experiments. Div. 26 members have and continue to play a significant role in helping the archives acquire materials and secure funding, says Baker.

"Our ultimate vision," he says, "is the creation of the Center for the History of Psychology."


The Archives of the History of American Psychology's Web site is at www.uakron.edu/ahap.

Further Reading

Div. 26 at a glance

Div. 26 (Society for the History of Psychology) seeks to extend the awareness and appreciation of the history of psychology to shed light on contemporary psychology, psychology's relation to other scientific fields and its role in society. The division publishes the quarterly journal History of Psychology and offers four annual awards. For more information, visit the division's Web site at shp.yorku.ca. To fill out a membership application, visit Membership, and to read about the Div. 26 awards, visit the APA Division 26 Web site.