Psychology as a discipline has over a 120-year history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Many major and lasting contributions to the university, profession, community, state, and beyond have been made by the Department of Psychology over this long and productive history. The many historical accomplishments have laid a solid foundation on which the Department continues to build and excel.
In 1886 the first two Americans to study under Wilhelm Wundt, considered by many to be the founder of modern psychology, received their doctorates at the University of Leipzig, Germany. One of these was Harry K. Wolfe, an 1880 undergraduate alumnus of the University of Nebraska who returned in 1889 as Instructor in the Department of Philosophy, teaching courses in general psychology, pedagogical psychology, and experimental psychology with laboratory. Wolfe established one of the early psychological laboratories in the United States (6th and 8th by different accounts) and apparently the first devoted to the training of undergraduate students. In 1891, Wolfe requested but did not obtain separate Departmental status for psychology. Wolfe was dismissed from the university in 1897, following a period of political conflict with the administration that involved disagreements about the role of psychology in academia, budgetary support for psychology at Nebraska, and disagreements about the emphasis on evolutionary theory in his teaching (Benjamin, 1991). Wolfe returned to the University in 1907 and he remained a member of the faculty until his death in 1918. His initial reappointment was in the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education, but he rejoined the Philosophy department as professor and chair in 1909. Wolfe’s efforts to upgrade laboratory facilities for psychology finally paid off, in 1917 with the funding of laboratory space for a new Social Sciences Building. Following Wolfe’s death in the summer of 1918, three faculty members who had been undergraduate students under him continued the traditions began by Wolfe.
The 1928 University Bulletin shows a name change to the Department of Philosophy and Psychology and, for the first time, courses in psychology (19 total in that bulletin) were listed separately from courses in philosophy. During that same year, J. P. Guilford, who received his B.A. and M.A. here and a 1927 Ph.D. from Cornell, returned as an associate professor. For the next 12 years Guilford was a dominant force in psychology at the University of Nebraska where he greatly modified the curriculum, earned an international reputation, and wrote important texts in psychometrics and statistics. By 1939-1940 the Department of Psychology was given departmental status with six faculty members.
By 1949-50, the Department had seven faculty members. This number doubled by 1969-70 and by 1979-80 the Department was up to 20 faculty members. During these decades, the Department moved from Social Sciences Building (now the College of Business Administration) to Oldfather Hall, and eventually to the present location, Burnett Hall.
During the 1940s, the Department developed one of the first formal clinical psychology training programs in the country. It has had continuous full accreditation since 1948, the first year for accreditation by the American Psychological Association (APA). Marshall Jones, the Director of Clinical Training at that time, was a participant in the influential 1949 Boulder Conference on Graduate Education in Clinical Psychology, which established the scientist-practitioner model of clinical training. Our program continues to follow this model of clinical training and psychological practice.
In 1953 the Department of Psychology began another notable development —the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Now in its 60th year, it is the longest running psychology symposium in the world. The Nebraska Symposium has brought together prominent researchers for scholarly discussion and then published the papers in annual volumes. Marshall Jones started the Nebraska Symposium as a way to enrich the graduate training offered by the Department. Like the field of Psychology, that series has evolved over the years. Regardless, it still enhances the intellectual and scholarly atmosphere of the Department as well as the Department's national and international reputation.
Another major development was the establishment of the Law-Psychology Program in 1974. The Department of Psychology and the College of Law jointly sponsor the program, which is the world’s oldest ongoing integrated program in psycholegal studies. The program is one of the leading centers for education and research in the interdisciplinary study of law and psychology, training scholars who are engaged in basic and applied research and writing on psychosocial issues and problems related to the law.
The Department has continued to grow and develop, and continues to make substantial contributions and innovations. We have developed the graduate training program to include Clinical, Developmental, Neuroscience and Behavior, and Social-Cognitive psychology. The Law-Psychology program includes faculty and students across many of these department areas, as well as the College of Law. Our interdisciplinary efforts have been aided by the addition of faculty who have joint appointments with the Institute for Ethnic Studies, School of Biological Sciences, Survey Research and Methodology program, Women and Gender Studies, and the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies. Significant developments include the creation of other interdisciplinary efforts, such as the establishment of the Center of Children, Families and the Law, and the currently developing Weibling Project for the Psycholegal Treatment and Study of Discrimination. Psychology faculty have also been leaders in a variety of other interdisciplinary efforts, including the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior (CB3); Center on Children, Families and the Law (CCFL); Justice, Conflict and Wellbeing (JCW); Public Policy Center (PPC); Substance Abuse Research Cluster (SARC); Substance Abuse and Violence Initiative (SAVI); and Systems Biology of Social Behavior (SB2). These initiatives have valuable overlaps, such as faculty and students who contribute in more than one area, and overlaps in research topics addressed, such as focus on health disparities. An exciting new development that grows out of CB3 and strengthens a number of our interdisciplinary efforts is the development of neuroimaging capabilities via a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) facility.