[Posted as 1 of 10 in a series on the College Archives by Emma Paine, a graduate student intern from Simmons College]

Professor Harry Todd Costello was recently featured on this blog in connection to his work in the field of philosophy, specifically his connection to the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell.  He served as Russell’s teaching assistant at Harvard in 1914, and his faculty papers contain notes from that course, as well as essays and lectures from other philosophy courses he taught or took.

Although he was very much involved in the study of philosophy, however, Costello was also a professor of Psychology— in fact, he was the only professor in Trinity’s Philosophy and Psychology department until 1927.

The College Archives has several items from his teaching days, including exams for his Abnormal Psychology classes and the syllabus for Intro to General Psychology.  There’s also a newspaper article he might have used as a reading for Abnormal Psychology in Spring 1944.  Of course, Costello didn’t have access to PDFs, electronic course reserves, or even Xerox copies during his 36 years at Trinity, so we can only wonder how he shared the clipping with his class.

Another find is a sheet of notes on “Memory Training,” which he presumably handed out during the first class of Elementary Psychology.  Some of the tips:

  • “Trust your memory.  Think habitually and definitely that you are going to remember.”
  • “In learning a disconnected series, form quick associations, the more bizarre the better.  Get a picture that gets them all in.”
  • “Be rigidly exact in recall.”
  • “Learn to forget the useless.”
  • “Practise.”

Costello_1In addition to items that show how he taught psychology, there are also two journals that demonstrate how he learned the subject as an undergrad at Earlham College in 1907.  Although they didn’t have computers or today’s brain scanning technology, Costello and his fellow students were still looking for ways to objectively study seemingly subjective phenomena, and these journals document their experiments.


Most of the time, the students were each other’s lab rats, and the experiments literally brought them closer together. In one experiment, for example, Costello had to shave the back of his lab partners’ hand and count the “hair stalks” in order to determine the location of “pressure spots.” In another, “Distribution of Taste Sensitivity over the Tongue,” he had to identify prominent papillae on his partner’s tongue and then drop different flavored liquids on each one to determine which papillae sensed which kinds of flavors.   Should we be thankful that the field of psychology’s changed a bit since then?


To learn more about these journals and the rest of the Costello collection, please stop by the Watkinson and ask for the finding aid.

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