In Memorandum: William H. Ittelson

In Memorandum: William H. Ittelson

May 4, 1920 – September 20, 2017

University of Arizona Emeritus faculty member Bill Ittelson passed away after a long and influential career that spanned many of the traditional boundaries within Psychology.  Regarded by many as the founder of the field of Environmental Psychology, much of his work focused on how our environment influences cognition and behavior.  The scope of his work was broad and interdisciplinary, ranging from topics in visual perception (such as why mirrors reverse images along the vertical axis rather than the horizontal axis) to a classic study of how the spatial and architectural environment of psychiatric wards could be detrimental to the expression of symptoms in psychotic patients. 

Bill graduated from Columbia in 1942 with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. He joined the Navy during WWII and afterwards returned to Princeton where he obtained a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. He then switched his major and completed a PhD in Psychology. Bill taught at Princeton for five years before moving to the faculty of The City University of New York (CUNY) from 1955-1975, first teaching at Brooklyn College and then at the Graduate Center.  Bill’s last academic stop was the University of Arizona. He joined the faculty in 1975 and, although he officially retired in 1997, he continued to teach the course on History of Psychology because, as he said, he was so old that he was actually there when it happened.  His sense of humor was but one of the many things students and colleagues will miss. He was a kind and supportive colleague, and a devoted mentor—not only to his students, but also to junior faculty, who remember him with great fondness and respect. 

Bill continued to publish after his retirement, including a compilation of essays published earlier this month (September 2017) as an e-book:  Thoughts about Thinking.  In this book, he challenges us to see beneath the surface, to see beyond the perspectives we take for granted, and consider big-picture questions about how it is that humans and other organisms perceive the world, how they create mental representations of that world, and how they share those representations with others.  Bill never tired of trying to understand the mystery of the human mind, and in his quest to understand how humans acquire and represent knowledge, he was never shy to question the knowledge we as a field often take for granted.  He did so with an incisive intellect, but also with a deep humility, a wry sense of humor, and profound respect for science and for the scientists he would question.

Published Date: 
09/20/2017 - 07:09