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. 2012 Apr;25(2):23-44.
doi: 10.1177/0952695112439376.

Psychical Research and the Origins of American Psychology: Hugo Münsterberg, William James and Eusapia Palladino

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Free PMC article

Psychical Research and the Origins of American Psychology: Hugo Münsterberg, William James and Eusapia Palladino

Andreas Sommer. Hist Human Sci. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Largely unacknowledged by historians of the human sciences, late-19th-century psychical researchers were actively involved in the making of fledgling academic psychology. Moreover, with few exceptions historians have failed to discuss the wider implications of the fact that the founder of academic psychology in America, William James, considered himself a psychical researcher and sought to integrate the scientific study of mediumship, telepathy and other controversial topics into the nascent discipline. Analysing the celebrated exposure of the medium Eusapia Palladino by German-born Harvard psychologist Hugo Münsterberg as a representative example, this article discusses strategies employed by psychologists in the United States to expel psychical research from the agenda of scientific psychology. It is argued that the traditional historiography of psychical research, dominated by accounts deeply averse to its very subject matter, has been part of an ongoing form of 'boundary-work' to bolster the scientific status of psychology.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Eusapia Palladino and Henry Sidgwick in Cambridge in 1895 (Henry Sidgwick; Eusapia Palladino by Eveleen Myers (née Tennant), platinum print, circa 1890 © National Portrait Gallery, London)

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