On Oct. 20, 1945, Gustave Gilbert arrived in Nuremberg, Germany, to begin what was perhaps the most compelling assignment ever given to an American psychologist — working for the International Military Tribunal at the first Nazi war crimes trial. Fluent in German, Gilbert was given the assignment to work as a morale officer and translator. Nuremberg was a high-stakes affair, and the Allied powers wanted the trial to proceed in an orderly and dignified manner. Gilbert’s job was to keep the prisoners — Hitler’s leading henchmen — in a reasonably calm, rational state.
With the approval of his superiors, he quickly recast the position as “prison psychologist” and began studying the prisoners as well. Gilbert used all the standard psychological tools of the day — intelligence tests, Rorschach and Thematic Apperception tests. However, his preferred method was casual conversation. Gilbert befriended the prisoners, visiting them in their cells daily and chatting with them at meal times. At the end of each day, he wrote about these conversations, providing a fascinating window into the thoughts and motivations of the prisoners as they faced what they all knew was a likely death sentence.
Rebecca Lemov‘s beautifully written Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity (Yale University Press, 2015) is at once an exploration of mid-century social science through paths less traveled and the tale of a forgotten future. The book is anchored around the story of Harvard-trained social scientist Bert Kaplan, who embarked on, in her words, a dizzyingly ambitious 1950s-era project to capture peoples dreams in large amounts and store them in an experimental data bank. While unique in scope, Kaplan’s project can be characterized as the culmination of efforts to apply techniques of personality capture–projective testing, dream analysis, and life history–in cross-cultural research on indigenous peoples, an effort to account for the full spectrum of human life amidst the encroachment of modernity upon cultures based, for example, in oral traditions.
Richly documenting the entanglements of Kaplan and others in their attempts to render subjects as data, Lemov throws the transactional nature of anthropology into relief. A data point for an ethnographer can be many things for a research subject: cash for buying American niceties, a beer, a dream lost in the act of recounting, even a permanent mark of distrust. The book is also a history of a technology which never came to fruition: the futuristic reader for Kaplan’s Microcards was never realized, and the boxes of cards became dispersed and lost their value as a total archive of human personality. Lemov argues that we would do well to regard the fate of Kaplan’s database as a parable for our age by calling attention to the information loss upon which the technologies of documentation that saturate our present rely. What, then, will become of our compressed audio files, forgotten social media accounts, and backup hard drives stashed in the back corners of drawers?
The May issue of History of Psychology is now online. Articles in this issue address the (lack of) health psychology in post-apartheid South Africa , the concept of “active touch” before the work of James Gibson, the Lvov-Warsaw School of historical psychology, and the teaching of the history of psychology in Spain. Two further articles contribute to the digital history of psychology: John Benjamin offers a Zipfian analysis of the anglophone vocabulary of psychology, while Michael Pettit argues for caution in using the Google Books Ngram Viewer as a means of assessing cultural change over time. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Psychology and health after apartheid: Or, Why there is no health psychology in South Africa,” by Jeffery Yen. The abstract reads,
As part of a growing literature on the histories of psychology in the Global South, this article outlines some historical developments in South African psychologists’ engagement with the problem of “health.” Alongside movements to formalize and professionalize a U.S.-style “health psychology” in the 1990s, there arose a parallel, eclectic, and more or less critical psychology that contested the meaning and determinants of health, transgressed disciplinary boundaries, and opposed the responsibilization of illness implicit in much health psychological theorizing and neoliberal discourse. This disciplinary bifurcation characterized South African work well into the postapartheid era, but ideological distinctions have receded in recent years under a new regime of knowledge production in thrall to the demands of the global market. The article outlines some of the historical-political roots of key trends in psychologists’ work on health in South Africa, examining the conditions that have impinged on its directions and priorities. It raises questions about the future trajectories of psychological research on health after 20 years of democracy, and argues that there currently is no “health psychology” in South Africa, and that the discipline is the better for it.
The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology has launch a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the National Museum of Psychology at the Center. In just a few days the campaign has raised more than $17,000 of their $250,000 goal. Donations at every level come with rewards, including a number of fun history themed items (Stanford Prison Experiment t-shirt anyone?) and the opportunity to sponsor an aisle of the archives, a table in the reading room, and more.
Head on over to Kickstarter to back the project and help #KickstartHistory! (And don’t forget to spread the word to your friends and colleagues about this worthy and important endeavour!)
The March 2016 issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, is now online. An article by Gregory Radick on the place of Noam Chomsky’s linguistics in the borderlands of the history of psychology may be of interest to AHP readers.
“The Unmaking of a Modern Synthesis: Noam Chomsky, Charles Hockett, and the Politics of Behaviorism, 1955–1965,” by Gregory Radick. The abstract reads,
A familiar story about mid-twentieth-century American psychology tells of the abandonment of behaviorism for cognitive science. Between these two, however, lay a scientific borderland, muddy and much traveled. This essay relocates the origins of the Chomskyan program in linguistics there. Following his introduction of transformational generative grammar, Noam Chomsky (b. 1928) mounted a highly publicized attack on behaviorist psychology. Yet when he first developed that approach to grammar, he was a defender of behaviorism. His antibehaviorism emerged only in the course of what became a systematic repudiation of the work of the Cornell linguist C. F. Hockett (1916–2000). In the name of the positivist Unity of Science movement, Hockett had synthesized an approach to grammar based on statistical communication theory; a behaviorist view of language acquisition in children as a process of association and analogy; and an interest in uncovering the Darwinian origins of language. In criticizing Hockett on grammar, Chomsky came to engage gradually and critically with the whole Hockettian synthesis. Situating Chomsky thus within his own disciplinary matrix suggests lessons for students of disciplinary politics generally and—famously with Chomsky—the place of political discipline within a scientific life.
The Spring 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore the work of V. M. Bekhterev, patient experiences of “subconscious conflict” in prewar America, the history of the Rorschach test in Britain, and the mid-twentieth century relationship between the Carnegie Corporation and the Social Science Research Council. Full titles, authors and abstracts follow below.
“V. M. BEKHTEREV IN RUSSIAN CHILD SCIENCE, 1900S–1920S: “OBJECTIVE PSYCHOLOGY”/“REFLEXOLOGY” AS A SCIENTIFIC MOVEMENT,” by ANDY BYFORD. The abstract reads,
In the early 20th century the child population became a major focus of scientific, professional and public interest. This led to the crystallization of a dynamic field of child science, encompassing developmental and educational psychology, child psychiatry and special education, school hygiene and mental testing, juvenile criminology and the anthropology of childhood. This article discusses the role played in child science by the eminent Russian neurologist and psychiatrist Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev. The latter’s name is associated with a distinctive program for transforming the human sciences in general and psychology in particular that he in the 1900s labelled “objective psychology” and from the 1910s renamed “reflexology.” The article examines the equivocal place that Bekhterev’s “objective psychology” and “reflexology” occupied in Russian/Soviet child science in the first three decades of the 20th century. While Bekhterev’s prominence in this field is beyond doubt, analysis shows that “objective psychology” and “reflexology” had much less success in mobilizing support within it than certain other movements in this arena (for example, “experimental pedagogy” in the pre-revolutionary era); it also found it difficult to compete with the variety of rival programs that arose within Soviet “pedology” during the 1920s. However, this article also demonstrates that the study of child development played a pivotal role in Bekhterev’s program for the transformation of the human sciences: it was especially important to his efforts to ground in empirical phenomena and in concrete research practices a new ontology of the psychological, which, the article argues, underpinned “objective psychology”/“reflexology” as a transformative scientific movement.
As TheNew York Times reports, Winston Mosesley has died in prison at the age of 81. Mosesley infamously raped and murdered Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964. The story that 38 bystanders stood by and did nothing as Genovese pled for help during the attack inspired the development of the “bystander effect” within psychology, which describes the diffusion of responsibility that occurs when events are witnessed by multiple individuals. That 38 bystanders in Genovese’s case witnessed the attack and did not intervene, however, has been discredited. (For more on the Genovese case see here.) The full New York Times piece, which describes the Genovese case and its historical significance, can be read online here.
““The Glamour of Arabic Numbers”: Pliny Earle’s Challenge to Nineteenth-Century Psychiatry,” by Lawrence Goodheart. The abstract reads,
A well-established interpretation associates the nineteenth-century psychiatrist Pliny Earle’s deflation of high cure rates for insanity with the onset of a persistent malaise in patient treatment and public health policy during the Gilded Age. This essay comes not to praise Earle but to correct and clarify interpretations, however well intentioned, that are incomplete and inaccurate. Several points are made: the overwhelming influence of antebellum enthusiasm on astonishing therapeutic claims; the interrogation of high “recovery” rates begun decades before Earle’s ultimate provocation; and, however disruptive, the heuristically essential contribution of Earle’s challenge to furthering a meaningful model of mental disorder. In spite of the impression created by existing historiography, Earle, a principled Quaker, remained committed to “moral treatment.”
“Constitutional Therapy and Clinical Racial Hygiene in Weimar and Nazi Germany,” by Michael Hau. The abstract reads,
The paper examines the history of constitutional therapy in Weimar and Nazi Germany. Focusing on Walther Jaensch’s “Institute for Constitutional Research” at the Charité in Berlin, it shows how an entrepreneurial scientist successfully negotiated the changing social and political landscape of two very different political regimes and mobilized considerable public and private resources for his projects. During the Weimar period, his work received funding from various state agencies as well as the Rockefeller foundation, because it fit well with contemporary approaches in public hygiene and social medicine that emphasized the need to restore the physical and mental health of children and youths. Jaensch successfully positioned himself as a researcher on the verge of developing new therapies for feeble-minded people, who threatened to become an intolerable burden on the Weimar welfare state. During the Nazi period, he successfully reinvented himself as a racial hygienist by convincing influential medical leaders that his ideas were a valuable complement to the negative eugenics of Nazi bio-politics. “Constitutional therapy,” he claimed, could turn genetically healthy people with “inhibited mental development” (geistigen Entwicklungshemmungen) into fully productive citizens and therefore made a valuable contribution to Nazi performance medicine (Leistungsmedizin) with its emphasis on productivity.
The Journal Psychology and Health is an electronic journal published every six months that aims to disseminate and to promote scientific knowledge through the dialogue between Psychology and other disciplines of Health (e.g., Nursing, Medicine, Physiotherapy, Social Services, etc.), connecting their scientific debates. Its goal is to disseminate, for free, local and international contributions from research and theoretical considerations for the development of Psychology as a discipline and a professional practice of reference in the field of Health and Culture.
The Journal Psychology and Health is published by the Graduate Program in Psychology at the Universidade Cato?lica Dom Bosco (PMPUCDB). It is currently indexed to the LATINDEX and PePSIC, and in the submission process to RedALyC.
The special issue “Dialogue: History, Psychology, Health” is a PMPUCDB partnership with Iberoamerican Network of Researchers in the History of Psychology (RIPeHP) and the Brazilian Society for the History of Psychology (SBHP). This number is open to original contributions of researchers whose research address historical discussions about the connections between Psychology and Health. Thefore, manuscripts related to the history of various fields of Psychology, such as health psychology, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, mental health, hygienism, etc. are estimated. We also expect manuscripts stressing relations between Psychology and other areas – e.g., Medicine, Nursing, Social Work, Biology, Neuroscience, Special Education and related areas).
Collaborations that highlight disciplinary, social, cultural, political or economical aspects in the history of Pychology and psychological knowledge in the Health are expected. Contributions will be accepted in Spanish, English, and Portuguese.