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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2004
Psychology's National Treasures
Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr., PhD, Texas A&M University

Stanley Milgram conducted some of the most important psychological research in the 20th century. His obedience studies have been criticized as unethical, although it is not clear that they violated the ethical research standards of his time. What is clear is that his studies told us things about ourselves that we perhaps didn't want to know; that each of us possesses the capacity to engage in harmful actions toward our fellow human beings in the name of unquestioning obedience to authority.

Most of you are likely familiar with Milgram's famous (infamous?!) studies. Did you ever wonder what happened to the simulated shock generator that he used in that research? Maybe it is part of the Smithsonian collections, displayed next to Archie Bunker's chair or one of John Lennon's guitars. Or maybe it was discarded and lies buried now in some forgotten landfill. In fact, it has been preserved. It is part of the equipment collection of psychology's national archives

What!! You say you've never heard of psychology's national archives. Well, you probably aren't alone. They are not a secret, but not a household word either. American psychology's treasure house is the Archives of the History of American Psychology and it is on the campus of the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. Something else you might not know is that the Archives contain some of your history—it is the official archives of Psi Chi! Dr. David Baker, a psychologist and former Psi Chi Advisor, is Director of the Archives. In addition to the Milgram apparatus, there you can see the first teaching machine that B. F. Skinner invented in the 1950s. At the time, he believed that he was the first to create such a machine, but in fact, a psychologist named Sidney Pressey had invented and patented several teaching machines in the 1920s. You can see examples of those too in the Psychology Archives in Akron. In fact there are more than a thousand other pieces of equipment important to psychology's history in Akron.

But the apparatus collection is only a small part of the vast holdings of the Psychology Archives. There are more than 6,000 reels of movie film, including some home movies of Sigmund Freud that exist nowhere else in the world. There are films made by Ivan Pavlov and hundreds of classic reels depicting infant and child development. There are more than 15,000 photographs in the collection, many of them unique. There is a wonderful photo from the 1930s of the two great learning theorists who espoused competing theories, Edward Tolman and Clark Hull, sticking their tongues out at each other. There are photos of Wundt's laboratory in Leipzig and portrait photos of most of the individuals important to the history of American Psychology. Indeed if there is historical coverage of psychology in any of your textbooks that includes photography, look at the credit lines. Many of those photos are likely to be from the collections at Akron. There is also an enormous collection of psychological tests dating from the first such tests to more modern personality and intelligence tests.

The heart and soul of the Archives are the Manuscript Collections (the personal papers of individuals). In fact, there are more than 750 manuscript collections in the Psychology Archives. These collections include many kinds of personal records including grade books, grant proposals, case studies, clinical records, research data, and diaries. Yet typically the corpus of an individual's papers is the correspondence. And for the historian of psychology or the student interested in history, those records are of incredible significance. The bulk of materials in the manuscript collections are unique documents that exist nowhere else. They are the raw data of history that allows historians to do their work, to go inside the individual and often understand the motives for research, theory, actions, etc. These documents allow historians to provide a rich account that simply could never be gathered from the record of published material alone.

To tell the history of humanistic psychology means to have access to the private papers of Abraham Maslow, and those are housed at Akron. To understand the early work in the psychology of women and in gifted education, one would want to know about Leta Hollingworth, a pioneer in those fields, and her papers are at Akron. Intelligence testing, modeled on the work of French psychologist Alfred Binet, has been described as one of the most influential developments in American society in the 20th century. The person who began such testing in the United States and who coined the term "moron" in a time when such labels were applied to those with intellectual disabilities, was Henry Herbert Goddard, and his extensive papers are at Akron.

The Archives of the History of American Psychology were founded in 1965 by psychologists John A. Popplestone and Marion White McPherson to preserve the records and materials crucial to the history of psychology. In 40 years, the Archives have grown enormously such that funding has not kept up with the hundreds of deposits that are made each year. It is not only expensive to house and care for these materials in conditions of temperature and humidity control, but it is very expensive and labor intensive to process the incoming collections and produce an index to the materials therein so that scholars will be able to use the collections effectively. Currently, there are more than 150 manuscript collections that have yet to be processed, a backlog of perhaps five to six years given current staffing levels.

As a historian of psychology, a member of Psi Chi, and a frequent user of the Psychology Archives in Akron, I am pleased that the Archives is one of Psi Chi's national service projects. The Archives not only serve as the official repository of Psi Chi's historical papers, but they also preserve and make accessible the historical artifacts of our discipline. As a result, we can gain insight into the lives of people who have shaped our discipline and use our knowledge of the past to help build our future.

I encourage every Psi Chi chapter to conduct a fundraiser during the 2004-05 academic year that would raise money to help the Archives hire additional staff, including undergraduate student workers who do much of the processing of the manuscript collections. With more than 1,000 chapters, Psi Chi can truly make a huge contribution to the preservation and cataloging of our national treasures in psychology. Check out the web site for the Archives at You can see the apparatus collection there and peruse the many names of important psychologists whose papers are part of the collection. And, if you plan to be in Akron and would like to visit the Archives, call ahead and make an appointment. They welcome student visitors.

Ludy Benjmain Jr. received his PhD in experimental psychology at Texas Christian University in 1971. He has spent the last 24 years at Texas A&M University. His research program in the history of American psychology focuses on the early development of psychology as manifested in its laboratories, organizations, applications, and public education efforts, and the public's interest in popular psychology. He first visited the Archives in Akron in 1975, and has made many trips since. His latest book, coauthored with David Baker, Director of the Psychology Archives in Akron, is entitled From Seance to Science: A History of the Profession of Psychology in America. It traces the history of the practice of psychology from 19th-century phrenology and spiritualism through the current debates of managed care, practice guidelines, and prescription privileges.

Copyright 2004 (Volume 9, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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