A Background and Introduction to the History of Psychology at Surrey

2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the University of Surrey.

While the School of Psychology is just a few years younger, we have taken the occasion to look back over the history of the School in order to provide an account of its early history, and those who established psychology at Surrey and gave it its particular characteristics.  There is no doubt that Surrey Psychology had a specific identity born of its early appointments and philosophy as well as significant changes in the priorities of government, research councils, higher education and the psychology profession over the past five decades, both nationally and internationally.  The legacy of this lives on through individual members of staff, through our teaching programmes, through our research interests, and the philosophy that drives our day-to-day activities and practices. But new appointments over recent decades have created new identities and traditions.  We have been particularly fortunate – like many psychology departments and universities throughout the UK – to attract colleagues from across continental Europe and beyond.  This has enhanced our international presence and collaborations, and made for a vibrant intellectual community.

There are various ways of writing history.
There is the ‘great lives’/hagiographic approach which suggests that history is created by far-sighted, single-minded individuals who have a vision and drive to bring about change.  Then there is an alternative approach that recognises the importance of individuals, but pays equal attention to the conditions that encourage, enable and support the work and efforts of individuals.  In other words, there is a time when historical moments intersect with individual personalities and interests in a creative way that leads to new research interests, subject areas, and teaching initiatives that had the conditions not been auspicious, change might not have occurred.  The early history of the Department is a good example of that.  There are places in this history where we have written extensively about some individuals.  Usually these have been Heads of Department or other senior staff who have made their mark in terms of initiating new areas of psychological research and teaching, or they have been influential figures in psychology nationally or internationally.  But we have also been acutely aware of the changing political and economic climate in which we live and how the university sector has changed making certain actions possible and providing the conditions which encourage and enable key people to come to the fore.

This in turn has raised an interesting issue.
In some cases, individuals were influential and had an impact on some aspect of psychology (at the university, or at the national or international level) when they were here. In other cases, they were influential after they left Surrey.  If we are to subscribe to the school of history which argues one should also understand the conditions which allow people to flourish (and fail) it seems to be entirely reasonable to mention the later achievements of some colleagues after they have left Surrey because Surrey has been a part of their formation.

Another decision that has to be made is how one structures the narrative.
On the one hand, one can paint the big picture and discuss the weft and weave of all the threads simultaneously through time.  Alternatively, one can break the history down into the various specialisms within the department and discuss them individually over time.  We have decided to adopt the former approach. At the time of publishing this first ‘chapter’ on the Heads of Psychology Department since 1967, some of the chapters on the development of sub-disciplinary specialisms were still being researched and written. Over the next few months we will publish further chapters on social psychology, environmental psychology

A more integrated approach is probably better, but this requires not only a good understanding of the interactions between areas but a good factual/chronological knowledge (i.e., the dates).  There is too much uncertainty at the moment in the remaining collective knowledge to allow this.  The university records may well be equally unreliable; there has been insufficient time to check centrally.  As a consequence, we have opted for a thematic account.

This publication tries to capture the origins and the subsequent twists and turns of our history.
Since the appointment of the first Head of Department, Professor Terence Lee, there have been nine heads of department, and five Vice-Chancellors over the history of the University.  Each incoming Vice-Chancellor has changed the organisational structure of the University, starting with the Faculties.  Prior to restructuring in 2015 and the transfer of the School to the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, the Department of Psychology was variously in the Faculty of Human Sciences, the School of Human Sciences, and the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences.  Psychology became a School in 2012. Adopting the different structural configurations of our new home in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, and given the size and specialisms of the School of Psychology, it was decided that the School would be sub-divided into a Department of Psychological Sciences, with Paul Sowden as Head, and the Department of Psychological Interventions, headed by Mary John.  The Head of School is Derek Moore, who moved to Surrey in 2015.

The history of the School of Psychology can only be understood by situating its origins and early development in the political and educational foundation of the University of Surrey as a whole. This had, and continues to have, a significant effect on the philosophy, interests and management of the University, and by extension the School of Psychology.

It is our intention to publish the various ‘chapters’ over the coming months.
These chapters will tell the story of the history of the various areas of research and teaching specialism in the School over the last four decades, as well as other notable achievements.  The first ‘chapter’ discusses the origins of the School, how – like the University as a whole – it was very much a ‘child’ of the political philosophy of the 1960s, and how this provided the foundation much of the Psychology which continues to be undertaken down to the present day and makes Surrey Psychology unique.

Thank you to all those colleagues – past and present – who have provided comments and, even more usefully, paragraphs of text. When organisations are new, they do not often anticipate that one day they will have a past that people about which people may be interested; records may not be kept. The University of Surrey is no different.  This history has been written drawing more on collective memory and personal accounts than the University archives. If you are reading this and have been part of Surrey Psychology’s history and have something to add to our story (or make corrections), please do write to me.

Professor David Uzzell