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A Personal Trip Through Psychology’s History

Posted Dec 30 2009 10:36am

While working on a writing project on the history of psychology, I was reading through various timelines others have constructed. Usually, these start with a series of “firsts”–first psychology laboratory, first psychology degree, etc.  I was reminded of a delightful coincidence of “firsts” in my own library, courtesy of Mr. F’s love of classic books and his persistence in finding interesting books online. We own a copy of George Trumbull Ladd’s Elements of Physiological Psychology, which was published in 1887. Ladd’s book is considered to be one of the very first textbooks in psychology. Given my personal interest in textbook writing, and writing about biological psychology in particular, this is an important book in my library.

Dr. Ladd's Physiological Psychology that was once owned by Joseph Jastrow

Physiological Psychology by Dr. Ladd (1887) once owned by Joseph Jastrow

What makes this book especially meaningful to me is that it was once part of the library of Joseph Jastrow, a student of G. Stanley Hall’s at Johns Hopkins, who is credited as having obtained the first Ph.D. in Psychology in 1886. So two firsts collide–a first textbook and a first doctorate.

I’m not sure if perusing the pages of Ladd’s book, as I often do, or the thought that my book might have once guided Jastrow in his thinking about psychology will help me in my own writing efforts, but surely it can’t hurt. The writing style, of course, reflects the time, but one can’t help but marvel at what these early psychologists accomplished without the word processors, internet resources, and photography that we enjoy today.

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