William McDougall papers, 1892 - 1982

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McDougall, William, 1871-1938
William McDougall (1871-1938), an early twentieth century psychologist, taught at Duke University from 1927 to 1938. McDougall espoused a hormic theory of psychology, emphasizing genetics and instinct over nurture. McDougall was also a strong proponent of parapsychology. The William McDougall Papers, 1892-1982, includes correspondence, writing, research, teaching materials, clippings, notebooks, photographs, diaries, drawings, and tributes. Most of the materials date from the time of McDougall's tenure at Duke University. Major subjects include Lamarckian experiments conducted by McDougall, the McDougall family (and sons Kenneth and Angus in particular), the study of parapsychology, the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University, the Psychology Department at Duke University, and anthropological studies in Borneo and the Torres Strait. English.
9.5 Linear Feet
10000 Items
Collection ID:
University Archives Record Group:
29 -- Papers of Faculty, Staff, and Associates
29 -- Papers of Faculty, Staff, and Associates > 02 -- Individuals


Scope and content:

The William McDougall Papers date from 1892 to 1982, and contain McDougall's own papers as well as those of his family and other researchers. The collection is organized into three series. The first series, Professional, includes correspondence, writing, research, teaching materials, clippings, and tributes. Most of the materials date from the late 1920s to the late 1930s, the time of McDougall's tenure at Duke University. Of particular note is his correspondence with other scholars in the fields of psychology and the social sciences. A card file which indexes these correspondents is available with the collection. McDougall's notes from his Lamarckian experiments on rats can also be found here, as can photograph albums from his anthropological travels in the late 1890s. The Family series contains correspondence, notebooks, photographs, clippings, writings, research and education materials, diaries, drawings, and other materials. Many materials belonging to two of McDougall's sons, Kenneth and Angus, are filed here. The third series, Other Researchers, contains writings and correspondence written by other researchers about McDougall or about McDougall's influence on psychology. These materials were not directly related to or owned by McDougall; most were generated after his death.

Biographical / historical:

William McDougall, a noted psychologist, was born in Lancashire, England, in 1871. He was educated at the University of Manchester (1886-1890); St. John's College, Cambridge (M.B., 1894), St. Thomas Hospital in London; and at Oxford (M.A., 1908). He also studied at Gottingen and received the D.Sc. from the University of Manchester in 1919.

In about 1898, McDougall participated in an anthropological expedition to Borneo and the Torres Strait. Unsatisfied with anthropology, he turned back to psychology and taught at University College, London, from 1900 to 1904. From 1904 to 1920, McDougall served as a Wilde reader in mental philosophy at Oxford University. During World War I, he also served as a major in the Royal Army Medical Corps. In 1920 he became a professor of psychology at Harvard. In 1927, he came to Duke University as a professor and chair of the new Department of Psychology, a position he held until his death in 1938. McDougall was also one of the organizers of the British Psychological Society; he was for a time president of the British Society for Psychical Research; and in 1912 became a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

McDougall was perhaps best known as a vigorous opponent of behaviorism and materialism in psychology. He strongly believed that nature, not nurture, was responsible for a person's psychological composition. Through empirical, scientific study, McDougall attempted to demonstrate that his "hormic theory of psychology," which emphasized instinct, was superior to the prevailing behaviorist theory of psychology at the time. For many years, he conducted experiments on rats to determine if training could be inherited from one generation to the next. Although his prolific writings and speeches were often controversial and unpopular, McDougall was considered one of the most prominent psychologists of his time.

He also showed a strong interest in extrasensory perception and parapsychological phenomena from his time at Oxford onward. Like his opinions on behaviorism, his advocation of parapsychology was also criticized. McDougall was instrumental in bringing J.B. Rhine to Duke University, and helping to establish the well-known Parapsychology Laboratory at the school.

In 1899, McDougall married Anne Amelia Hickmore of Brighton, England. They had five children: Leslie (Mrs. Paul Brown); Duncan Shimwell (who died while serving in the R.A.F.); Angus Dougal (who died in 1978); Kenneth Dougal (who was killed in France in World War II); and Janet Aline (who died in childhood). William McDougall died on November 28, 1938, and his widow in 1964.

Acquisition information:
The William McDougall Papers was received by the University Archives as a gift in 1949 (A48-589), 1950 (A48-789), 1956 (A48-2339), 1967 (A67-80, A67-326), 1979 (A79-32), 1980 (A80-61, A80-80), 1985 (A85-76), 1986 (A86-31), 1990 (A90-53), and 1991 (A91-122).
Processing information:

Processed by Valerie Gillispie

Completed August 20, 2004

Encoded by Valerie Gillispie, September 2, 2004

Finding aid updated by Kat Stefko, September 3, 2014

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult University Archives, Duke University.
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Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], William McDougall Papers, University Archives, Duke University.