In 2016, the University of Manchester celebrates the centenary of Psychology. Here, Natalie Bigbie, 2nd year BSc Psychology, digs in the archives (with the help of some dusty note-sifting by Prof Alan Costall) to find out about our first Psychology lecturer, and Britain’s first full-time Professor of Psychology:
Many students at the university of Manchester (who spend enough time on campus), will be familiar with the name Samuel Alexander. But Psychology students, however, may not. His memorial building is part of the School of Humanities. ‘Why bring him up then?’ you may ask. What you may not know is we have Alexander to thank for introducing Psychology to Manchester.
Before joining the Philosophy department at the University of Manchester in 1893, Alexander studied experimental psychology in Germany, hoping to commit to ‘new psychology’, and bring it to our university. He was one of the few members of the British Psychological Society in its conception and, by 1902, had started an experimental psychology lab class at Manchester. In addition, he gathered other scientists, such as the pathologist Lorrain Smith and the famous physiologist Charles Sherrington, to further encourage psychological research; to top it off, Alexander planned to establish a department of Psychology. Alexander searched for the perfect lecturer for the department, deliberating between American, German and British psychologists. He first had his sights set on C.S. Myers, but he was ‘lost’ to King’s College London.
The place was later offered to an undergraduate by the name of Tom Pear (pronounced ‘peer’). Pear was a Physics student at King’s, but, after attending Myers’ lectures, became obsessed with the psychological issue that underlies all science – that scientific observation requires an observer. Pear’s attention was caught by Myer’s insight, so much so that he went on to become his protégé, alongside Cambridge psychologist Frederic Bartlett. Nudging from both Alexander and Myers resulted in Pear’s arrival at Manchester. Like a scene from a thriller movie, Pear was approached by Alexander in a corridor at UCL on a dark winter afternoon, where Alexander proposed the idea of a department of Psychology at Manchester. The only catch was that Pear needed to obtain a first.
As luck, and hard work, would have it, Tom Pear gained his first class degree at Kings, and so was invited to stay in Alexander’s home. At this point, several important figures at the university ‘looked him over’. Having gained their approval, Pear was sent to finish his psychological studies under guidance of Oswald Kulpe in Germany, before arriving in Manchester in 1909, taking up his new role as Manchester’s first lecturer in Psychology. In this role, he discussed science with noted figures (such as the physician Elliot Smith), immersing himself into the social life at the Medical School. This later helped to expand pathological and psychiatric education and research at the university. Later that year Pear was elected to the British Psychological Society.
The First World War tore Pear away from Manchester and thrust him into the Military Hospital in Maghull (near Liverpool). There, Pear engaged in therapy and teaching to wounded soldiers, increasing his prominence in Psychology and Psychology’s prominence in Britain. His work with Smith in Maghull led to significant advance in the understanding of ‘shell shock’. Upon returning to Manchester in 1919 Pear was promoted from lecturer to Professor of Psychology, establishing a new department of Psychology and, in the process, becoming Britain’s first full-time Professor of Psychology. Over the 32 years that Pear was Professor in Manchester, he was joined by only a handful of other academic staff, many of whom are remembered to this day, such as R.H. Thouless and H.E.O James. Despite the small department, Pear’s connections and contacts brought together several areas of Psychology at the university, including industrial, occupational, anthropological and social psychology. More broadly, he also engaged and worked closely with others from a range of physical and social sciences (including noted correspondences with Professor AV Hill).
Despite Pear’s time, effort and contribution to Psychology, his name is now remembered more for his legacy within Manchester than for the legacy of his work. The range of Psychological disciplines within Manchester perhaps stands testament to this. Today, Psychology is an established and prominent science; a glance over the past 100 years shows us just how far the subject has advanced. From a single student in 1916 to over 200 a year now, this year we celebrate how far Psychology has come at the University of Manchester.