The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Münsterberg, Hugo

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The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Münsterberg, Hugo
CAB Münsterberg Hugo.jpg

MÜNSTERBERG, Hugo, psychologist, educator and publicist, b. in Danzig, West Prussia, 1 June, 1863; d. in Cambridge, Mass., 16 Dec, 1916, son of Moritz Münsterberg, a prominent lumber merchant and extensive traveler. Hugo was the third of a family of four brothers, and his was a childhood of rare happiness in a home where interest in literature, art, and music was fostered, and treasures of the mind were valued above all else. At the age of seven he wrote his first poem, inspired by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and the muse of poetry never deserted him throughout his busy life, although his life work was concerned with scholarship rather than literature. When he was nine years old, he began lessons on the violoncello. He was educated first in a private school, but after 1872, in the city “Gymnasium” of Danzig where he stayed until, in 1882, he passed the “Abitur” or examination which enables one to enter any German university. During his school years he had varied interests, among them anthropological research and excavations, but his chief interest was in literature, and he wrote many epics, stories, and poems. He began his university life in the summer of 1882, spending his first semester in Geneva to perfect his knowledge of French and see something of the world, but his serious study began in Leipzig in September, 1882. There, after shifting his chief interest from sociological psychology to medicine, he decided ultimately to combine the study of psychology and medicine. He studied under the world-famous psychologist, Wundt, and worked in his laboratory. In 1885 he was made doctor of philosophy at Leipzig, and, in the same year, went to Heidelberg, where, at the end of two years, spent not only in the study of medicine, but also in hearing lectures on philosophy, especially by the famous Kuno Fischer, Münsterberg was made also doctor of medicine. In 1887, when his student life was completed, he married and settled in Freiburg, Baden, the beautiful town in the Black Forest, as “Privatdocent” of philosophy at the university, where, in 1891, he was made assistant professor. In 1892 a letter arrived from William James calling Professor Münsterberg to Harvard, as director of the psychological laboratory. Tempted by the prospect of directing work in a fully-equipped laboratory, and with a young man's eagerness to become acquainted with the new world, then but little known to Germans, Hugo Münsterberg accepted the call to Harvard, but only for three trial years, with the full intention to return, when the three years of adventure should be over, to his life work in German universities. From the fall of 1892 on, he directed the work of the psychological laboratory at Harvard, and since the fall of 1894, when he had acquired enough fluency in English, he also gave lecture courses. When the trial years in America were over, Münsterberg returned to Freiburg University, and resumed his teaching as professor of philosophy. Meanwhile Harvard waited for him to decide whether or no he would accept a permanent chair as full professor in the American university. Although it was hard for the young scholar to give up activity in the universities of his own country, which had always been his aim, he was at the same time fascinated by a new task — namely that of interpreting the best spirit of America to Germany and of carrying the ideals of German scholarship to America. So, in 1896, he laid down his professorship at Freiburg, and settled in Cambridge, Mass., as professor at Harvard. During his second period at Freiburg he had published his first and only book of verse under the pseudonym “Hugo Terberg.” Münsterberg not only directed the work of the Harvard psychological laboratory, but gave courses at Harvard and at Radcliffe College on philosophical problems, as well as on psychology. His introductory psychology course at Harvard was exceedingly popular, and in one year the number of students attending it reached 462. For six years Münsterberg was chairman of the philosophical department. He was an eloquent supporter of the plan to give philosophy at Harvard a house of her own, and when Emerson Hall was at last opened in 1905, Münsterberg was officially appointed director of the psychological laboratory, which was now spaciously and fitly housed in the new building. With Hugo Münsterberg's second period of activity at Harvard began also his influence on the public life of the United States in a large variety of fields, through his books and through essays and articles, not only in scientific and educational reviews and the “Atlantic Monthly,” but later, also, in popular magazines of wide circulation, such as “McClure's,” the “Cosmopolitan,” and the “Metropolitan” magazines, the “Ladies' Home Journal” and others, including the large Sunday newspapers. Beginning with “Psychology and Life” (1899), books — some of them collections of essays that had first appeared in magazines — on psychological, sociological, educational, and philosophical subjects followed one another in remarkably swift succession, and Münsterberg became an educational force throughout the country. An example of his influence is the fact that of his “Psychotherapy” 3,000 copies were sold in three months, and that it was at the time the book most in demand in the New York Public Library. Through all his scientific and educational interests there always rang one of the leading motives of his life — the fostering of cordial relations between Germany and America, and in 1901 he had the satisfaction of seeing the climax of these good relations in the enthusiasm with which the American public received the visit of Prince Henry of Prussia. When the Prince came to Harvard to receive an honorary degree, he visited Münsterberg's house, where he presented Harvard with gifts from the Emperor for the Germanic museum. The next embodiment of Münsterberg's idea of good will among nations was the International Congress of Scholars held at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. This congress was not only his own original idea, but he worked out detailed plans for it and, during the summer before the exposition, personally visited scholars in Germany and invited them to attend. Another opportunity for carrying out his task of interpreting Germany and America to each other was given him when he was sent as exchange professor from Harvard to the University of Berlin. He had previously received a call from the Prussian government to the University of Königsberg, to fill the chair of philosophy once held by Immanuel Kant, but had refused it and remained loyal to Harvard. Now his chance had come to teach at the leading German university, without severing his connection with Harvard. At Berlin he not only lectured on applied psychology and idealistic philosophy, but he founded and directed the unique “America-Institute,” which is a kind of intellectual clearing-house for educational institutions in Germany and America. There are plenty of international problems which are neither political nor economic, and so cannot be handled either by embassies or consulates — problems of copyright that concern the author, problems of the comparative standards of scholarship that perplex the student — and for the solution of these the staff of the America-Institute was at work. An exchange of printed matter with the Smithsonian Institution was organized, and a useful library on topics of German-American relations was collected and suitably housed. On his return to America, after the year in Berlin, Dr. Münsterberg devoted himself again to his duties at Harvard, and, at the same time, energetically explored new fields, particularly that of applied psychology. In the year 1911-12 he made novel experiments on the reactions of telephone operators, motormen, etc., for the purpose of determining how psychology could be applied to industrial life, and through his researches, and his presentation of them to the public, a decided active interest in the application of psychological methods to the choice of vocations, and to the regulation of industrial work, spread through the country. Into this period of Dr. Münsterberg's productiveness fall the three books, “Vocation and Learning” (1912), the German “Psychologie und Wirtschaftsleben,” (1912) and its virtual English equivalent, “Psychology and Industrial Efficiency.” It was in the first year after his return from Germany that a new idea of Dr. Münsterberg's in quite a different realm, was first presented in an address at a dinner for the Steuben memorial celebration, and afterward embodied in an essay “American Patriotism,” the first in a book of essays of the same name (1913). This was the conception of all Europe, in contrast to England alone, as the “mother country” of America. “The American people,” he said, “is not an English, nor a Dutch, nor a French, nor a German, nor an Irish people. The American nation is an entirely new people which, like all the other great nations of the world, has arisen from a mixture of races and from a blending of nationalities. All these races are united and assimilated here — not by a common racial origin, but by a common national task. They must work out in unity the destiny of a nation, to which all the leading countries of Europe have contributed their most enterprising elements, as bearers of their particular traits and ideals.” The author of these words did not dream at the time of his writing how soon the bitter need would arise for him to bring home this lesson to America. In August, 1914, Dr. Münsterberg found himself severed from his country, and his kinsmen, whose fate was uncertain, at a time when cables between Germany and America were cut and no authentic news could reach American shores, while he breathed the hostile atmosphere of New England, and heard his own people and its government grossly misjudged and abused. He immediately sent an article, “Fair Play,” a defense of Germany, out into the world, and his book, “The War and America,” appeared in September as the first book on the great war. In spite of disheartening obstacles, he remained true to his mission of interpreting Germany to America, and he did so to the end, spurred on by his unfailing idealism. Meanwhile, he continued his work at Harvard with unabated energy, and this was rewarded by the loyalty of the students, who crowded his classrooms more than ever. He even gave time and attention to a new field of applied psychology — the art of the moving pictures — and his book, “The Photoplay,” appeared in 1916. In the midst of his work, at a time when his ever hopeful eye saw the dawn of peace, death overtook him, while he was lecturing on elementary psychology to a class of Radcliffe students. His last book, “Tomorrow,” published a month before his death, is an outlook into the future, when once more there shall be good will among the nations. A fragment is left us also of a book that he had begun: “Twenty-five Years in America,” a book of reminiscences, of which he finished one chapter with the touching words, “When shall I see my native land again?” Hugo Münsterberg's books may be classified under five headings: Psychology, Applied Psychology, Education, Sociology, and Politics, and last — though one should rather say first, and above all — Philosophy. It was as a psychologist, however, that he was most productive, and exerted the widest influence in the United States. His first psychological book in English was “Psychology and Life” (1899), which defines the mission and scope of the science of psychology, its relation to philosophy and practical life. This had been preceded by a German book, “Willenshandlung” (Freiburg, 1888). Dr. Münsterberg also published in German, “Beiträge zur experimentellen Psychologie” in four parts (Freiburg, 1889-92), “Aufgaben und Methoden der Psychologie” (Leipzig, 1891), and a profound, philosophical work on the fundamental nature of psychology: “Grundzüge der Psychologie,” Vol. I (Leipzig, 1900). In the summer of 1914 appeared his comprehensive English textbook, “Psychology: General and Applied” Dr.Münsterberg was editor of the “Harvard Psychological Studies” Vols. I-III (1904-13) and Vol. IV (1915). His first book on Applied Psychology was “On the Witness Stand” (1908), called in the London edition, “Psychology and Crime,” which dealt with the use of psychology in the courtroom and in dealings with criminals. Then followed “Psychotherapy,” a thorough presentation of the relation of psychology to medicine and the treatment of mental diseases — a field which, although possessing a high popular interest, had previously been approached in a manner both unprofessional and unmethodical. The application of psychology to industrial life Münsterberg introduced first in his German work, “Psychologie und Wirtschaftsleben,” and its English translation, “Psychology and Industrial Efficiency.” Then followed a more comprehensive German work on applied psychology, “Grundzüge der Psychotechnik” (Leipzig, 1914). Finally, “Psychology and Social Sanity” (Doubleday, Page, N. Y., 1914) helps toward the solution of various social problems, and “The Photoplay” is an esthetic as well as psychological study of the artistic possibilities of the photo-drama. Under the heading “Education” come first “principles of Art Education” (1905) and then “Psychology and the Teacher” (1909), which might as justly be classed with the books on applied psychology, since it deals with the use of psychology in the classroom; but it has also a broad, philosophical aspect in its treatment of the aims of education. “Vocation and Learning” (1912) is a unique contribution in the educational field, in which the author used his philosophic insight and psychological knowledge in helping to solve the problems confronting a young man or woman in choosing a vocation. Under the sociological and political group comes first the collection of charming essays, “American Traits” (1901), in which the writer looks upon certain aspects of American life with the eyes of a German. With this book, which won immediate popularity, he began his career as interpreter of German ideals to Americans and American ideals to Germany. This latter motive inspired the German book, “Die Amerikaner” (Berlin, 1904), which was thoroughly revised in 1912, and translated by Prof. E. B. Holt under the title, “The Americans” (1904), This was followed by another German book, “Aus Deutsche-Amerika” (Berlin, 1909). “American Problems” (1910), published in England under the title, “Problems of Today,” contains essays on various problems of the day, such as “The Standing of Scholarship,” “Prohibition and Temperance,” “Books and Bookstores,” and others. Of this book, in contrast to the “American Traits,” the author said in the Preface: “Not as a German, but as a psychologist I have begun to take sides as to problems which stir the nation.” In “American Patriotism” (1913), a collection of essays in the style of “American Problems,” the author has returned to his task of interpreting German ideals, as in the chapters: “The Germany of Today,” “The German Woman,” and “The Germans at School.” Finally, within the period from the outbreak of the war until his death, fall the three books inspired by the war and the war's effect on America. Of “The War and America” (1914), written in an easy, spontaneous style, in the form of a diary, the author says in the Preface: “Whatever more the struggle may bring refers to outer events, to the harvest of the guns, to victory or defeat. It cannot change the issues with which these pages have to do. They do not speak of soldiers and strategy and the chances of the battlefield; they speak of right and wrong; they speak of eternal values.” In this philosophical spirit the defense of the German point of view and the criticism of American prejudices were written, with a rare tolerance and insight. “The War and America” was soon followed by “The Peace and America” (1915). In the first chapter, “Peace,” Dr. Münsterberg says: “If the time is out of joint it cannot be set right again until the true causes of our war of minds are fearlessly analyzed and clearly seen. The truth alone will make us free from strife. To understand our misunderstandings is the only thing which we can contribute today toward a lasting peace.” And to the understanding of misunderstandings the book is devoted. Both books on the war appeared combined in a German translation under the title: “Amerika und der Weltkrieg.” The third book of the series is the last from Dr. Münsterberg's pen: “Tomorrow” (1916). In the form of letters to a friend in Germany which brings home to the reader in a warm and living way the hopefulness and idealism of the author, Hugo Münsterberg has given us his last message It is his vision of a better tomorrow when the guns of today will be silenced — the tomorrow not only of Europe emerging from the clutch of war, but of America which he believes indispensable in the reorganization of the Western world. His was the inspired vision of a prophet, who, before his death, beheld the dawn of a raging world's peaceful “tomorrow.” Psychologist, educator, and force in public life, Hugo Münsterberg was first and above all a philosopher. His earliest philosophical publications were in German — his doctor's thesis, “Natürliche Anpassung” (Leipzig, 1885) and “Ursprung der Sittlichkeit” (Freiburg, 1889). His first English contribution to philosophy was a small volume “Eternal Life” (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1905), in which he gave his conception of immortality, and this little book made a profound impression on the public. It was followed by another popular book of the same size: “Science and Idealism” (1906) which sets forth the relation of science to an idealistic view of life, and explains that they involve no paradox. The comprehensive, scholarly work in German “Philosophie der Werte” (Leipzig, 1908), presents Münsterberg's complete system of philosophy. The enthusiastic reception of this book in spheres outside of the circle of scholars for which it was intended induced the author to rewrite it in English and at the same time adapt it to his American public. It appeared as the “Eternal Values” (1909). The book is thorough and systematic and yet a source of inspiration to the serious layman as well as to the technical philosopher. It is a lucid presentation of a system of idealistic philosophy, based on the conviction that truth, beauty, morality, and holiness have absolute and eternal value. In 1887 Dr. Münsterberg married Selma, daughter of Dr. Anselm Oppler, of Weissenburg, Alsace, a physician of high rank in the German imperial army. They had two daughters, Margarete and Ella, who, with their mother, survive him. Dr. Münsterberg's home in Cambridge was the scene of hospitable entertainments, not only to his numerous friends, colleagues, and students, but also to many foreign scholars and authors, artists, diplomats, and other public characters.