The New York Times‘s Retro Report has produced a short documentary on the now infamous case of Sybil. As the article accompanying the documentary notes,
The “Sybil” story began in the mid-1950s. At its center were the Minnesota-born Ms. Mason and her intense relationship, first in the Midwest and later in New York, with a psychoanalyst, Cornelia B. Wilbur. Dr. Wilbur’s determination that Ms. Mason had 16 personalities — people of varying manner and ages, including two who were male — did not come about in a vacuum. She was well aware of “The Three Faces of Eve,” a 1954 report by two psychiatrists who worked with a woman said to have had three distinct personalities. (As Eve in a 1957 film based on that study, Joanne Woodward won an Academy Award for best actress. Years later, she did a neat Hollywood pivot by playing the psychiatrist in the first movie version of “Sybil,” with Sally Field as the patient.)
Dr. Wilbur did not write up her findings in some dry professional journal. Instead, she went looking for a large audience, and enlisted a writer, Flora Rheta Schreiber, to produce what became a blockbuster. But as the years passed, challengers began to speak up. One was Herbert Spiegel, a New York psychiatrist who said that he had treated Ms. Mason when Dr. Wilbur was on vacation. Dr. Spiegel described his patient not as a sufferer of multiple personality disorder but, rather, as a readily suggestible “hysteric.” A harsher judgment was rendered in the 1990s by Robert Rieber, a psychologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a New York City school where Ms. Schreiber taught English. After listening to tape recordings that he said Ms. Schreiber had given him, he concluded that “it is clear from Wilbur’s own words that she was not exploring the truth but rather planting the truth as she wanted it to be.” Debbie Nathan, a writer interviewed for this Retro Report documentary, piled on still more skepticism in her 2011 book, “Sybil Exposed.” Perhaps inevitably in a dispute of this sort, counter-revisionists then emerged to denounce the doubters and to defend “Sybil” as rooted in reality.
The full documentary can be viewed online here.
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The British Psychological Society’s History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has announced the next talk as part of its autumn BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series. On December 1st, Marcia Holmes of Birkbeck College will be speaking on “Performing Proficiency: Psychological Experiments on Man-Machine Systems in the United States, 1950-1965.” Full details follow below.
The British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines
Location: UCL Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, London WC1E 7JG
Monday 1 December
Dr Marcia Holmes (Birkbeck College), “Performing Proficiency: Psychological Experiments on Man-Machine Systems in the United States, 1950-1965″
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Historians have traced American psychology’s ‘Cognitive Revolution’ – and its defining metaphor of the mind as information processor – to World War II, when the American and British militaries employed experimental psychologists to improve servicemen’s proficiency in operating the war’s complex electronics for communication, command and control. Yet the problem of matching men’s abilities to the design of machines not only encouraged the theorisation of cognition and information processing, it also motivated a new field of applied experimental psychological research, now known as human factors engineering. During the early years of the Cold War, this field of psychological engineering pioneered an elaborate form of behavioural experiment called ‘man–machine systems simulation.’ In this talk I will argue that interpreting these man–machine systems simulations through a cognitive or cybernetic lens, as some historians have done, misses their more direct, contemporary significance. For the psychologists conducting the experiments, these simulations performed the possibility of maintaining liberal-democratic sociability within the Cold War’s regimented networks of military command and control. Recognising the performative aspects of man–machine systems simulations, I argue, sheds new light on the political and epistemological stakes of the Cognitive Revolution in psychology.
The most recent issue of Science in Context includes an article on Hermann von Helmholtz that may be of interest to AHP readers.
“Hermann von Helmholtz’s Empirico-Transcendentalism Reconsidered: Construction and Constitution in Helmholtz’s Psychology of the Object,” by Liesbet De Kock. The abstract reads,
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This paper aims at contributing to the ongoing efforts to get a firmer grasp of the systematic significance of the entanglement of idealism and empiricism in Helmholtz’s work. Contrary to existing analyses, however, the focal point of the present exposition is Helmholtz’s attempt to articulate a psychological account of objectification. Helmholtz’s motive, as well as his solution to the problem of the object are outlined, and interpreted against the background of his scientific practice on the one hand, and that of empiricist and (transcendental) idealist analyses of experience on the other. The specifically psychological angle taken, not only prompts us to consider figures who have hitherto been treated as having only minor import for Helmholtz interpretation (most importantly J.S. Mill and J.G. Fichte), it furthermore sheds new light on some central tenets of the latter’s psychological stance that have hitherto remained underappreciated. For one thing, this analysis reveals an explicit voluntarist tendency in Helmholtz’s psychological theory. In conclusion, it is argued that the systematic significance of Helmholtz’s empirico-transcendentalism with respect to questions of the mind is best understood as an attempt to found his empirical theory of perception in a second order, normative account of epistemic subjectivity.
The journal History of Psychiatry is celebrating its 25th anniversary. A special issue marking the occasion has just been released. Among the articles in the issue are ones addressing the history of nostalgia, the treatment of shell shock at the Maudsley Hospital, masculinity in Victorian asylums in New Zealand and Australian, the distinction between passion and emotion, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
Editorial: “The first 25 years of History of Psychiatry,” by German E Berrios.
“Some reflections on madness and culture in the post-war world,” by Andrew Scull. The abstract reads,
This article examines the treatment of madness as a theme in drama, opera and films, concentrating its attention for the most part on the period between World War II and the 1980s. These were the years in which psychoanalysis dominated psychiatry in the USA, and so Freud’s influence in the broader culture forms the central though not the sole focus of the analysis.
“Nostalgia: A conceptual history,” by Filiberto Fuentenebro de Diego and Carmen Valiente Ots. The abstract reads, Continue reading
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Historian of Medicine Alexandre Klein, a postdoctoral fellow at the Université d’Ottawa has recently released a web documentary on Alfred Binet. The French language documentary, a collaboration with film maker Philippe Thomine, can be viewed in full here.
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The autumn 2014 issue of Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue discuss the race and professional organizations in South Africa, intelligence testing in British India, and discussion over psychical, occult, and religious research at early twentieth century international congresses. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“The Rhetoric of Racism: Revisiting the Creation of the Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa (1956–1962),” by Wahbie Long. The abstract reads,
This paper revisits the 1962 splitting of the South African Psychological Association (SAPA), when disaffected Afrikaner psychologists broke away to form the whites-only Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa (PIRSA). It presents an analysis of the rhetorical justification for forming a new professional association on principles at odds with prevailing international norms, demonstrating how the episode involved more than the question of admitting black psychologists to the association. In particular, the paper argues that the SAPA-PIRSA separation resulted from an Afrikaner nationalist reading of the goals of psychological science. PIRSA, that is, insisted on promoting a discipline committed to the ethnic-national vision of the apartheid state. For its part, SAPA’s racial integration was of a nominal order only, ostensibly to protect itself from international sanction. The paper concludes that, in a racist society, it is difficult to produce anything other than a racist psychology.
“Searching for South Asian Intelligence: Psychometry in British India, 1919–1940,” by Shivrang Setlur. The abstract reads, Continue reading
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History of the Human Sciences will be under new editorship as of January 2015. Full details on the journal, and its new editors, follow below.
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HISTORY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES aims to expand our understanding of the human world through a broad interdisciplinary approach. The journal publishes articles from a wide range of fields – including sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography, political science, philosophy, literary theory and criticism, critical theory, art history, linguistics, and the law – that engage with the histories of these disciplines and the interactions between them. The journal is especially concerned with research that reflexively examines its own historical origins and interdisciplinary influences in an effort to review current practice and to develop new research directions.
James Good, the editor of History of the Human Sciences for 15 years, will be stepping down at the end of 2014. The incoming editors are: Dr Felicity Callard (Durham University) [Editor-in-Chief], Dr Rhodri Hayward (Queen Mary University of London), Dr Angus Nicholls (Queen Mary University of London). They have assumed responsibility for new submissions since 1 July 2014. Dr Chris Millard (Queen Mary University of London) takes over as the new Book Reviews Editor. The journal also welcomes the following new members to the Advisory Editorial Board: Dr Sabine Arnaud, Prof Cornelius Borck, Prof Jamie Cohen-Cole, Prof Stefanos Geroulanos, Prof Sarah Igo, Prof Junko Kitanaka, Prof Rebecca Lemov, Prof Michael Pettit, Dr Chris Renwick, Dr Sadiah Qureshi, Prof Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Prof Marianne Sommer, Prof John Tresch, and Dr Neil Vickers.
Each editor is based in a different discipline – geography, history, and literary studies / critical theory – and all have strong cross-disciplinary interests. They look forward to continuing the journal’s rigorous interdisciplinary investigation of the human condition.
REGULAR SPECIAL ISSUES
The journal provides comprehensive coverage of a range of themes across the human sciences. Special issues and sections have been devoted to:
- Historians in the Archive
- Inventing the Psychosocial
- Foucault Across the Disciplines
- Neuroscience, Power and Culture
- Reflexivity in the Human Sciences
- The New Art History
- Rhetoric and Science
- New Developments in the History of Psychology
- Writing as a Human Science
- Hans Blumenberg
- Constructing the Social
- Identity, Self and Subject
- Making Sense of Science
- Identity, Memory and History
- Who Speaks? The Voice in the Human Sciences
The new editors welcome any enquiries about the journal and suggestions for special issues. Please write to:
Felicity Callard firstname.lastname@example.org
Rhodri Hayward email@example.com
A call for papers has been issued for a special issue of Revista Argentina de Ciencias del Comportamiento (Argentinean Journal of Behavioral Sciences) dedicated to the history of the behavioral sciences. The issue is guest edited by Fernando José Ferrari, Fernando Andrés Polanco, Rodrigo Lopes Miranda, and Miguel Gallegos and submissions are due by December 31, 2014. The call for papers notes,
This special issue on the “History of the Behavioral Sciences” is open to unpublished manuscripts of researchers addressing all aspects of the behavioral sciences past and of its interrelationship with the many contexts within which it has emerged and has been practiced. Therefore, articles focusing the history of psychology, pedagogy, biology, medicine, linguistics, neuroscience will be analyzed and can be submitted. Contributions in English, Spanish and Portuguese are accepted.
The full call for papers – in Portuguese, English, and Spanish – can be found here.
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The October 2014 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Among the articles included in this issue are ones exploring the relationship between psychology and ethnology, the role of mental tests in Russian child science, and the Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa by Wahbie Long (right). Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“On relations between ethnology and psychology in historical context,” by Gustav Jahoda. The abstract reads,
Ever since records began, accounts of other peoples and their institutions and customs have included comments about their mental characteristics. The present article traces this feature from the 18th century to roughly the First World War, with a brief sketch of more recent developments. For most of this period two contrasting positions prevailed: the dominant one attributed human differences to ‘race’, while the other one explained them in terms of psychological, environmental and historical factors. The present account focuses on the latter, among them those who asserted ‘the psychic unity of mankind’. Generally it is shown that from the early period when writings were based almost entirely on secondary sources, to the beginnings of empirical studies, ethnological theories were indissolubly linked to psychological concerns.
“The mental test as a boundary object in early-20th-century Russian child science,” by Andy Byford. The abstract reads, Continue reading
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The New Yorker recently published a piece by Harvard historian Jill Lepore on the roots of wonder woman. Created by psychologist William Marston in the 1940s wonder woman has become something of a feminist cultural icon. (See our previous posts on the subject here.) As Lepore puts it,
Superman débuted in 1938, Batman in 1939, Wonder Woman in 1941. She was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard. A press release explained, “ ‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived by Dr. Marston to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men” because “the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity.” Marston put it this way: “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”
Read the full piece here.
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