A century after Hugo Münsterberg´s…

…pioneering publication of 1916, The Photoplay. A Psychological Study, an international and interdisciplinary conference will look at audiovisual media from a broad variety of perspectives and disciplines. The conference will highlight Münsterberg´s achievements as a scholar, who began his academic career at the University of Leipzig before going to Harvard, via the Universities of Heidelberg and Freiburg.

The interdisciplinary character of the conference reflects /corresponds to the wide range of visions and interests that Hugo Münsterberg pursued in the course of his life. Not only his academic career, but also his biography was characterized by one constant, which was change. Born to a Jewish family in Danzig, Germany, in 1863, Münsterberg had grown up in the middle of Prussian traditions and international cultural influences. After his studies at the Universities of Leipzig (Dr. phil.) and Heidelberg (Dr. med.) and the formation of his first psychological laboratory at Freiburg, he was invited by to the United States, where he taught and researched permanently at Harvard University since 1897.

Hugo Münsterberg

Münsterberg´s scientific interests reached from philosophy, his first discipline at the University of Leipzig, to different fields of psychology and found a symbiosis in his studies on the new medium of film in the last years of his life. His psychological studies were mainly influenced, but simultaneously different from the theories of his doctorate supervisor, Wilhelm Wundt. Münsterberg´s work is noted for the independent and pioneering development of Wundtian experimental psychology based on fundamental concepts in philosophy and physiology. This was his later groundwork for behaviorism as well as for application oriented psychological sub disciplines like labor and organizational psychology, educational psychology, forensic psychology, and group psychology. 

In addition to his manifold interests and activities as a scholar, Hugo Münsterberg played a significant role in the political trials and tribulations in pre WWI. At his time and still today, the views on his role as a German in the prewar period vary extremely between a German-US bridge constructor and a spy for the German Empire.

In 1916, at the age of 53, he developed the most important, science based and coherent early film theory, from a psychological perspective: The Photoplay – A Psychological Study (Münsterberg 1916, in German: Münsterberg/Schweinitz 1996). Only a few months later Münsterberg died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during his Harvard lecture. 

The conference in Leipzig from 29th June and 2nd July 2016 will provide insight and current research into Hugo Münsterberg´s work: mainly his film theory The Photoplay in the context with other early film theories. How these have been and are reflected from a psychological point of view will be elucidated in a panel about media psychology and reception.

Further presentations may feature analysis of individual academics, critics or consultants working for the audiovisual industry. Taken all in all, the conference will give a comprehensive view of the medium of film that may lead to the redefinition of the boundaries of cinematic experience.

Conference Information Letter

Register now!

Hotel reservation special rates run out 25th May.

New Publication on Münsterberg and "The Photoplay"

Current research article on Münsterberg as a classic in communication and media studies:

Kretzschmar, J., Ramos Arenas, F., Sommer, D. & Steinmetz, R. (in collaboration with S. Franke): Im Fach fast vergessen: Hugo Münsterberg – Autor der ersten wissenschaftlichen, experimentalpsychologisch fundierten Filmtheorie [Almost Forgotten in our Discipline: Hugo Münsterberg – Author of the First Academic Film Theory, Based on Psychological Experiments]. Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft, 63(3), 2015, 399-418.