Introduction to the book Pioneers of Psychology - Pioneers of Psychology - Fancher & Rutherford

Writing about history

Historiography is the official term for the concept of writing about history, but it is difficult to determine when 'the history of psychology' exactly begun. Psychology, as a field of study, did not become an independent department within universities until the mid-nineteenth century, yet it was not uncommon for man to give thought to the mind and behaviour. General psychological and philosophical theories already arose in ancient times and these ancient theories can also be relevant for modern psychology still. 

Over the last century, psychology has become one of the largest scientific studies there is. Within its stream, many sub-disciplines have arisen, some of which are related to each other. Every one of these branches has its own history, but it is sadly impossible to fully treat all of these different histories in a book.

Structure of this book

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Francis Galton (1822-1911) and B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) have not only each left behind their well-known, published works, but also a lot of unpublished data. These unpublished works included background stories and information about their private lives that influenced their scientific work. This interaction between biographical and theoretical factors led to a greater appreciation and understanding of the abstract work and thinking they performed. 

This is why this book contains a more personalistic way of writing. The goal is to give an accurate representation or important psychological ideas, which get more meaning when viewed in the context of the scientists' lives. In result, it will become clear how modern ideas have come about. The theories that we know now of as incorrect can become more understandable when seen in the view point of the researcher and it will be made clear how these theories have led to progress.

Pioneers in this book

The pioneers in this book had to fulfil three criteria. Firstly, they must have been important for the development or psychological thinking. Secondly, because the ideas in this book are presented in the context of the life of the researcher, biographical information must also be available. In addition, the pioneers needed to have contributed to the broad field of psychology in a meaningful way. 

For instance, Plato, known for his nativist conception of the brain, and Aristotle, known for his empirical view and observations, are not addressed in this book due to a severe lack of biographical information. Therefore, our starting point will be René Descartes, at the beginning of the sixteenth century. 

Classification per chapter

Though excluded, Aristotle and Plato do return in René Descartes’ work, thus giving an overview of the important ideas of the ancient Greeks. Chapter one will portray his theories about body and mind as two different substances, with which he laid the foundations of modern psychology. In the second chapter, Locke and Leibniz will be discussed. Just like Aristotle, Locke was an empiricist, while Leibniz continued to build on the ideas of Plato. In chapters three through five, different pioneers,  who were present until the beginning of psychology as a separate university department will be discussed. Wilhelm Wundt will be discussed in chapter five, because of who the start of modern experimental psychology began. 

The middle chapters describe how psychology became independent discipline at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. First Darwin and his ideas on adaptability and heredity, then Galton and his theories on intellectual characteristics, William James - who became the starting point for behaviourism - and then Pavlov, Skinner and Watson, who each were important for the development of the branch of behaviourism. 

The first part of this book, therefore, is arranged chronologically. The second part continues the twentieth century with a representative overview of the different histories of the subdisciplines. Modern experimental social psychology, Freud and the development of abnormal and personality psychology, humanistic psychology, intelligence testing and developmental psychology, cognitive psychology and finally the various subdisciplines or applied psychology such as clinical and organizational psychology will all make an appearance.

Extra themes


Throughout the whole book, attention will also be given to the role of women in the development of modern psychology. 

For a long time, women were excluded from the formal sciences. Especially in the beginning, their influence was thus only indirect or supportive, which also only occurred in higher social classes. The facilitating and moderating roles of women were, however, often important. Even when psychology became a separate section the end of the nineteenth century, it was doubted whether it was appropriate to give women a higher level of education. Later, during the twentieth century, however, more and more women were allowed to participate. In 1970, a project occurred to determine the contribution of women in the history of psychology, in which movements that had an influence on theories about race and gender were also included.

Recurring topics

In this book, recurring topics are looked at as well. Especially ideas from the antiquity seem to keep returning over time. These recurring subjects are examined in a way appropriate to their time. These topics are about several central questions of human experiences and life. An example of a subject is the subconscious. Does it exist and what exactly is it? By discussing these recurring topics, the continuity of psychology in ancient times are visible up to this time.


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