Hermann Ebbinghaus

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Hermann Ebbinghaus (January 24, 1850 — February 26, 1909) was a German psychologist who pioneered the experimental study of memory, and is known for his discovery of the forgetting curve and the spacing effect. He was also the first person to describe the learning curve.[1] He was the father of the eminent Neo-Kantian philosopher Julius Ebbinghaus.

University of Berlin, University of Breslau

Lev Vygotsky


Early life

Ebbinghaus was born to Lutheran merchants in Barmen, a German town later incorporated into the city of Wuppertal. At age 17, he entered the University of Bonn, where he was first drawn to the study of philosophy. His studies were interrupted in 1870 by the Franco-Prussian War, in which he served with the Prussian army. Prior to the War, he had also briefly attended the universities of Berlin and Halle, but then had returned to the University of Bonn, where he completed his dissertation on Eduard von Hartmann’s Philosophy of the Unconscious. He received his doctorate in 1873 at the age of twenty-three.

Professional career

After acquiring his PhD, Ebbinghaus moved to Berlin, where he spent several years before leaving to travel in France and England for the next three years. In England, he may have taught in two small schools in the South of the country (Gorfein, 1985). In London, in a used bookstore, he came across Gustav Fechner's book Elements of Psychophysics which arguably spurred him to conduct his famous memory experiments. He began his work in 1879, but he may have performed his first set of experiments on several students from the English schools he had taught at. In 1885, the year he published his monumental work Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology he was accepted as a professor at the university of Berlin. In Berlin, he founded the Psychological journal Zeitschrift für Physiologie und Psychologie der Sinnesorgane (The Psychology and Physiology of the Sense Organs). He also founded two psychological laboratories in Germany. His very sparse contributions to academic writing eventually cost him the seat of head of philosophy department at the university of Berlin, which ended up going to Carl Stumpf. Nevertheless, he was described as an excellent teacher and eloquent speaker. Eventually, he had begun to drift away from his colleagues, and left to join the University of Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) in 1894. While in Breslau, he published a successful elementary textbook of psychology in 1908, and had also begun working on his next piece of writing Die Grundzuge der Psychologie (Fundamentals of Psychology). Before completing his third work, Ebbinghaus died of pneumonia in 1909 at the age of 59. At a conference later that year, prominent American psychologist Edward B. Titchener called Ebbinghaus’s death a great loss to psychology.

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