History of the ISEP

The International Society for Ecological Psychology was founded in the fall of 1981 in the wake of the First International Conference on Event Perception. That first Event perception conference (conceived as the only one, a unique event so far as anyone intended) was held at the University of Connecticut in the summer of 1981 (it is documented in the book, Persistence and Change, edited by William H. Warren, Jr. and Robert E. Shaw and published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1985). At the end of that conference, Joe Lappin rose to speak at the final dinner and announced that he liked it so much that he would hold one at Vanderbilt. This was arranged and the conference held in 1983. It was Lappin’s gesture that transformed the single conference into a series.

Meanwhile, for several years, the idea of starting a journal had been bandied about. Larry Erlbaum brought up the idea of a journal before he had any other journals — in the late 1970’s. However, a journal seemed premature. At the end of the summer of 1981, we finally thought that a journal might be in order. We learned that LEA could best help us put one out if there was a clear nonprofit organization behind it. Thus two motives converged to dictate a meeting in the fall of 1981. (1) Excitement to continue what was started at the UConn Event conference and (2) an occasion to start a Society for the purpose of backing a journal. Thus, a meeting was rapidly organized and held at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut (USA) on September 26, 1981. Robert Hoffman, of Adelphi University, played a prominent role in stimulating the organizing, and at the business meeting started the momentum (like bidding at an auction) by very publicly offering to pay the first dues.

The first dues ($20) were paid by Catherine Best, Geoff Bingham, Donna Boswell, Steve Braddon, Claudia Carello, Claudia Farber, Robert Hoffman, Allyssa McCabe, Viki McCabe, Bill Mace, Len Mark, Phil Rubin, Robert Shaw, Jim Todd, and Michael Turvey. Within a month, money had been received from Ennio Mingolla, Beth Shapiro, Louis Tassinary, and Robert Verbrugge. By the end of December, Claes von Hofsten and Sverker Runeson had sent money from Sweden as the first non-U.S. members. These must be considered the charter members.

The legal work of incorporation was done by lawyers from Shipman & Goodwin of Hartford. The work was done by Tom Divine, who later moved to Cohn & Birnbaum of Hartford and took us with him. Tom ultimately landed at the firm of Rogin & Nassau — still in Hartford.

As part of our incorporation, we had to name officers. Therefore, for convenience because of geography, Bob Shaw was designated President and Treasurer. Bill Mace was Vice-President and Secretary. A third person was required to provide the minimum number of Board members. Len Mark played that role.

The first full Board of Directors consisted of: Eleanor Gibson, Margaret Hagen, Robert Hoffman, James Jenkins, Scott Kelso, Nathan Knobler, Joe Lappin, Bill Mace, Ulric Neisser, Sverker Runeson, Robert Shaw, and Quentin Summerfield.

As it turned out, the Society, which was organized mostly in the interest of having a group behind the journal, became a focal point for a number of people and sailed along well on its own. The journal, in fact, did not finally materialize until 1989.

We have advertised ourselves very little. Most growth has been by word of mouth, but we now have several hundred members representing more than 20 countries. At the Seventh International Conference on Event Perception and Action, in Vancouver, we added two members from Brazil, our first in either central or South America.

There have been regional groups organized (by varying degrees, with the British being regular but the least formal) in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and Europe.

Fall 2007 Update — In July of 2003, we had our first international meeting in the Pacific Rim. Paul Treffner organized the meeting in Surfer’s Paradise, on the East coast of Australia. In July of 2007, we had our 14th International conference in Yokohama, Japan, under the leadership of Masato Sasaki, Nobuhiro Furuyama, and Hiroyuki Mishima. A strongly emerging Brazilian group makes it likely that we could meet in Brazil for 2011.

Summer 2014 Update — Our first meeting in South America was held in Ouro Preto, Brazil in 2011. Our second University of Minnesota meeting was held in 2015 and we return to Asia in 2017, convening this time in Korea. Click here for a full list of meeting sites and names of organizers.