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Münsterberg's Photoplays - continued...

Portrait of William James
William James (1842-1910)

In early August 1889, Münsterberg attended the first International Congress for Physiological Psychology in Paris. Besides physiological psychology in the Wundtian sense (focused on "normal" adult test persons), this Conference was addressing issues of psychopathology and hypnotism. As a result, Wundt and many of his followers and students refused to attend the meeting. However, it was at the Paris Congress that Münsterberg first met the famous Harvard philosopher and psychologist, William James (1842 - 1910).

James was in the middle of proofreading the two volumes of his textbook "Principles of Psychology", when he left for Paris. In the "Principles", he repeatedly makes reference to and underscores the importance of Münsterberg's contributions to experimental psychology and the study of voluntary action. After their first personal encounter, James and Münsterberg sporadically exchanged letters, starting with a letter by Münsterberg in April 1890 and continuing until the death of James in 1910. At about the same time, James began to send his psychology students to Freiburg for acquiring all the skills needed for practicing the new science of psychology in Münsterberg's lab (rather than Wundt's).

Muskelsinnapparat by Elbs (1895)
Muskelsinnapparat by Elbs (1895)

In 1892, another early psychological practitioner from the US, William O. Krohn, visited Münsterberg's private lab. In his published description of this research site, Krohn highlighted the fact that it is "distinctively a psychological laboratory" (in contrast, for example, to Johannes von Kries's psycho-physiological laboratory in the same city). With respect to the equipment of Münsterberg's lab, he noted: "The laboratory is provided by the professor with all the current literature. His apparatus is all practical, designed by himself, and constructed by his mechanic, Elbs" (Krohn, 1891, p. 587).

Born in 1861, Hermann Elbs was a master of precision engineering. After employment in the mechanical workshops of Tesdorpf in Stuttgart, Starke & Kammerer in Vienna and Bamberg in Berlin, Elbs established his own workshop in Freiburg in 1886. He constructed theodolites and other metrological instruments which were required for building and/or improving the railway lines at Elztal and Kandertal, and he provided the University of Freiburg with high precision instruments. For Münsterberg, he devised instruments such as the Augenmassapparat (fig. 1) and the Muskelsinnapparat (fig. 5) that corresponded to Münsterberg's interest in peripheral, i.e. muscular and nervous processes– in contrast to Wundt's focus on psychological functions as such.

Reference: Schmidgen, Henning. 2008. Münsterberg's Photoplays: Instruments and Models in his Laboratories at Freiburg and Harvard (1891-1893). The Virtual Laboratory (ISSN 1866-4784),