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Psychological Machinery

Experimental Devices in Early Psychological Laboratories

Dalibor Voboril, Petr Kveton and Martin Jelinek

The book covers the topic of experimental instrumentation at the turn of the 20th century. The authors introduce the role of instruments in the process of establishing psychology as a science. They concentrate on identifying historical devices and problems with rediscovering their functionality. The core of the book consists of a categorized list of instruments with a description of their purpose and mechanical design. The categorization covers recording and time measuring devices, instruments designated for the research of human senses, memory and learning, and devices for physiological measurement. The publication also includes a companion website with short videos demonstrating selected instruments in action.
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Methodology of Working with Historical Sources - Putting Pieces Together

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When working with original instruments from the turn of the 20th century, the ultimate sources of information one can refer to are E. Zimmermann’s catalogue from 1903 and Spindler & Hoyer’s catalogue from 1921. Besides these two famous catalogues we also drew on other historical sources, such as Methodology of Physiological Experiments and Vivisection by Cyon (1876b), or Langendorff’s (1891) guide to physiological graphical recording methods. The bank of knowledge accumulated from all these sources helped us identify and classify the instruments and accurately describe their functionality. In several cases we were even able to locate and identify individual components of dismantled instruments and put all parts together into complete devices.

For experimental studies published at the beginning of the 20th century it was not necessary to provide a detailed description of the functionality of every single piece of equipment used, since most scientists of that time were familiar with these instruments. The problem is that today’s researchers studying such original papers have virtually no means of accessing this knowledge. A great deal of historical equipment has been lost and forgotten, and its functionality is currently unknown or might have been misinterpreted. For example, when reading an article by of one of the founders of modern Czech psychology Vilém Chmelař published in 1935 in the authoritative journal Psychology, the reader finds no less than three different instruments mentioned in a single sentence: “Graphical autoregistration by Römer’s acoustic key connected to electromagnetic marker and Jaquet’s...

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