History of the Psychology in Leipzig, Germany
“Hence, even in the domain of natural science the aid of the experimental method becomes indispensable whenever the problem set is the analysis of transient and impermanent phenomena, and not merely the observation of persistent and relatively constant objects.”
The history of psychology at the University of Leipzig, Germany, can be traced as far back as late 17th century. The works of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646), Christian Thomasius (1655-1728) and Christian Wolff (1679-1754) are closely linked to this history. Whereas Thomasius was appointed to a professorship in Leipzig, however Leibniz and Wolff left town. Leibniz was refused a professorship after his dissertation and Wolf habilitated in Leipzig in 1703 and was appointed to a professorship in Halle four years later. Yet, the work about psychology written by all three men would gain a significant influence in Leipzig: Andreas Rüdiger (1673-1732) and Christian August Crusius (1715-1775) lectured on psychology according to or, at least, after thorough examination of teachings of Leibniz, Thomasius and especially Wolff.
Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869) and Ernst Heinrich (1795-1878) were disciples of Plattner. Carus can be associated with the Romantic School of Medicine which became significant for the genetic approach to psychology. Experimental research on the overlapping disciplines of psychology and physiology commenced because of Ernst Heinrich Weber (1795-1878), at the University of Leipzig. Since Weber’s studies laid the foundation for the evolution of experimental psychology, Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) would refer to Weber as the “Founding Father of Psychology.” Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801-1887), who had been a member of the Department of Philosophy since 1823, lectured on moral and natural philosophy starting in 1846, on psychophysics in 1857 and on experimental aesthetics in 1864. He had seen his concept of psychophysiological law confirmed in Weber’s discovery that differential change in perception was constant. Fechner coined the term Weber-Fechner law and acknowledged thereby Weber’s contribution to the foundation of psychophysics.
In Leipzig, the professorship for philosophy had been vacant since 1866 and had to be filled in 1874. It had been decided to appoint two younger professors to this one professorship for which the salary had to be split. Max Heinze (1835-1909) was appointed to teach the history of philosophy whereas Wundt was appointed to teach the new field of philosophy; i.e., psychophysiology. By creating Wundt’s professorship, leading scientists acknowledged the influence of natural science on philosophy.
Wundt’s teaching activity began in October 1875 (see photo) in Leipzig with a lecture titled: Logik und Methodenlehre mit besonderer Rücksicht auf die Methoden der Naturforschung (Logic and Methods with Respect to Natural Science Methods).
Wundt and Fechner were always close. Fechner had lectured the Department of Philosophy until 1874 concluding with a lecture titled: Vorschule der Ästhetik (Precursors of Aesthetics). They had planned to establish the Institute of Psychology, starting with the foundation of the private ‘Institut für experimentelle Psychologie ‘(Institute of Experimental Psychology) in 1878. In 1883, the Institute of Psychology was officially integrated into University of Leipzig and a fixed budget was assigned. Granville Stanley Hall (1844-1924), Max Friedrich (1856-?), James McKeen Cattell (1860-1944), Alfred Lehmann (1858-1921), Hugo Münsterberg (1863-1916) and Emil Kraeplin (1856-1926) were among the first members of the institute.
People from all over the world came to hear Wundt’s lectures and workshops and to observe research executed in the laboratory. Leipzig had become a Mecca for modern psychology at last.
Cues for addresses of Wundt’s assistants and doctorate candidates can be found in biographic documents; e.g., autobiography, obituaries and letters, generated by Wundt. In a nutshell: coming to Leipzig meant encountering a young, enthusiastic and creative group of people who would keep in touch beyond the get-together or, research-related reunions. Apparatuses and test procedures were designed and improved in group work. The German psychiatrist Emil Kraeplin (1856-1926) states in his first book of the “Series on Psychological Works” that, upon his arrival in 1879 in a humble accommodation, Wundt could not have anticipated the expansion of this newly institutionalized field of research. Moreover, Kraeplin honors the persistence and tirelessness of a few disciples who contributed to Wundt’s work despite setbacks and challenges from outside.
Kraeplin’s memoirs are outspokenly vivid and he gives an impressive account of the enthusiasm in Wundt’s lab, where Wundt participated frequently as an examinee himself. Within the first years in the Institute of Psychology, a creative and general sense of elation was established undoubtedly by Wundt. His lectures were inspiring and included real-time demonstrations of modern psychology and its philosophical framework. Back at the laboratory, his physiological demonstrations would not have been as impressive as they were in the auditorium.
Wilhelm Wundt and his assistants
In 1917, Wundt abdicated from his professorship and he had written 184 expert reports for doctoral candidates. At least 60 candidates had been from foreign countries and 18 from the United States. Fechner’s psychophysics and measurements of reaction times had been prominent in experimental studies (the main focus of 85 dissertations).
The following scientists assisted in Wundt’s research:
In the year 1912, the following departments had been established in the Institute of Psychology
Wundt had intended to establish a Department of Ethnopsychology; however, WWI obviously could have impeded this plan.
Furthermore, the growth of the Institute of Experimental Psychology will be presented in an overview:
In 1917, Felix Krüger (1874-1948) was appointed to be the director of the Institute of Psychology at the suggestion of Wundt and with the consent from Johannes Volkelt and Eduard Spranger. Krueger was appointed on the grounds that was the only candidate who promised to continue the proceedings of experimental and ethnological psychology according to Wundt.
The Department of Psychophysics was then outsourced to the so-called Pyschophysisches Seminar (Psychophysical Seminar). The professorship of Wilhelm Wirth (1876-1952) was renamed as that of philosophy with a focus on psychophysics; however, the duration of the seminar was confined until Wirth’s resignation. Students were allowed to assist hands-on in the seminars, but the administration declined the request for the employment of a research assistant.
By then, at the Institute of Experimental Psychology, the following departments had been established:
In the year 1925, another change of names was agreed upon. The Institute of Experimental Psychology was renamed as Psychological Institute (Psychologisches Institut). By celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Institute in the very same year, Krüger’s account of the institute’s real date of establishment contradicts Wundt’s account.
The following scientists researched at the Institute of Experimental Psychology/Psychological Institute:
In April 1935 Felix Krüger became the rector of the University of Leipzig. In his inaugural speech, he expresses a national-socialistic set of beliefs and nationalistic ethos as one of his objectives for the University of Leipzig. Eight months later, he is subpoenaed to speak out on attacks from the national-socialist student association. The student association filed a complaint about professors who had been affirmative about Jews. Krüger was one of the criticized professors since he had called an altruistic German erudite, Heinrich Hertz, “a noble Jew.”
In February 1938 the administration lists the following people as potential successors:
Hans Vokelt was supposed to run for the non-resident external chair. Because of his old age, 61-year-old Wilhelm Wirth was not considered. In a letter from the administration, the faculty staff was encouraged to have race-mental-treatment (“Rassenseelenkunde”) considered by the replacement rector.
Moreover, the administration emphasized also that Wundt’s tradition would be continued next to race-mental-treatment values. In July, Phillip Lersch (1989-1972) was added to the list.
Staff listing during Lersch’s tenure:
Three years later, the University of Leipzig was re-opened and the Psychological Institute was led by the dean of the Department of Philosophy, Hans-Georg Gadamer. He re-established correspondence with Wilhelm Wirth in order to re-establish the Psychological Institutes. In 1949, Ernst Bloch became the provisional head of the Institute of Psychology as well as the dean of the Department of Philosophy.
In 1952, Ernst Struck became the rector of the Psychological Institute and died two years later. Right before Struck’s passing, the Department of Animal Psychology was re-established, and Munich-based Werner Fischel was appointed its new head. K. Fischer became Struck’s provisional representative and since 1955, Werner Fischel is appointed the next official rector of the Psychological Institutes. Coinciding with the institute’s 85th anniversary in 1965, Wilhelm Wundt’s full name is added to its name in his honor, Wilhelm Wundt’s Institute of Psychology. At that point, general psychology, applied psychology (work psychology and diagnostics), educational psychology and animal psychology had become the most important research interests of the Wilhelm Wundt’s Institute of Psychology.
In 1965, Fischel resigned and Adolf Kossakowski was appointed the new rector of the Wilhelm Wundt’s Psychological Institutes. The education and research track of the institute is cut down to educational psychology only. In 1968, in line with the Third Reform of the Universities in the GDR (German Democratic Republic), the Wilhelm Wundt Institute of Psychology was assumed under the Department of Pedagogy/ Psychology with Kossakowski as a division manager (Chair of the Department?) but under the leadership of a professor of the Department of Pedagogy. When Kossakowski was appointed a professor in Berlin two years later, Günter Clauss received his position.
The following will be directors of the Department of Psychology:
In the years from 1968 to 1976 educational psychology (and education psychology for pedagogues with a diploma in a distance learning program) had been the only educational track for psychology students seeking a diploma. Starting in 1976, as the Department of Psychology became independent again, an educational track in clinical psychology was offered. In addition, the following research-oriented work groups that represented the striking profile of the new Department were established:
Due to the re-establishment of the faculties in 1993, the threefold structure resulted for all institutes at the Faculty of Biosciences, Pharmacy and Psychology:
The Psychological Institute of Psychology currently has approximately 400 undergraduate psychology majors and a lot of graduate students. With a focus on experimental psychology, our mor than 70 full-time faculty members cover 5 broad areas in the Institute for Psychology I and 4 broad areas in the Institute for Psychology II since 2004.
In the new Millennium, the Institutes look forward to the 600th anniversary of the University of Leipzig.