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Discovering Psychology’s European Roots

Class in the Burggarten behind the Schmetterlinghaus (The Butterfly House)

Caroline Balling ’17 made a few surprising discoveries during her three weeks abroad as part of Furman May X course, “Discovering Psychology’s European Roots.”

She absolutely loved the German version of macaroni and cheese topped with crispy golden fried onions. Her favorite museum: the new Viktor Frankl Museum in Vienna, which opened last year.

“It was a modern and highly interactive exhibition that taught great lessons about the human condition and how to cope with it,” said Balling, a psychology major from Lexington, Ky. “Whether you agree with his theoretical approach or not, anyone can take a lesson away from Frankl’s ideas, writings, and museum.”

Viktor Frankl's glasses
Viktor Frankl’s glasses

Sixteen Furman students recently took their study of psychology on the road as they traveled through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to study five researchers of historical significance: Wilhelm Wundt, Sigmund Freud, Viktor Frankl, Carl Jung, and Jean Piaget. The May Experience course, “Discovering Psychology’s European Roots,” was offered for the first time this spring.

The Psychology Department had been looking for a unique way to take a hands-on approach to the study of the history of psychology, and so Adjunct Professor Frank Provenzano, Ph.D., teamed up with Associate Professor Michelle Horhota Ph.D., to design the course. Steve Dawes, Ph.D, psychologist and director of the Furman Counseling Center, accompanied Horhota on the trip.

“The idea behind the course was to create a flow chart of influence these original thinkers have on current day theory and practice.  In a way, it was an attempt to make the history of psychology a living experience by visiting the homes and libraries of these pioneers,” said Provenzano. “We wanted students to understand the influences that each of these pioneers faced when forming their own ideas and also how those ideas have moved through generations and still influence us albeit indirectly.”

Through visits to museums, archives and historical sites, students were able to learn about connections between some of the early theorists and explore the roles of war, culture, and history on the development of early psychological theories.

As they toured cities where scholars lived, students shared their travels through blog posts and worked in groups to research the five psychologists. Their final papers and group presentations shared the relevance each has on contemporary psychology.

“Like Freud suggested, we cannot escape our past,” said Madison Dennis ’17, a psychology major from Virginia Beach, Va. “In the same way, it was essential for me to understand where the field of psychology has been in order to appreciate where I am going next…I believe this perspective will help inform the way that I interact with people in my professional life.”

A Piaget testing case
A Piaget testing case

Like Balling, Dennis was especially captured by the work of Holocaust survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl. She and fellow students read his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and visited the Frankl Institute in Vienna where the exhibits actively engage the viewer in the concepts of logotherapy. They finished their study of Frankl by visiting Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany.

After studying German at Furman last year, Jackson Pearce ’18, a psychology major from Charleston, said the course gave him a chance to do three things he loves: travel, practice a new language, and expand his knowledge of psychology.

The trip also taught him an unexpected lesson – that, following the model of psychologists in years past, he can combine one field of work with another in his future career path.

“The world of psychology would not exist without the individuals that were willing to step over some lines and explore new territory,” said Pearce. “I’m grateful for the impact this trip has had on my life.”

Read more about “Discovering Psychology’s European Roots” on the students’ blog here:


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