Tag Archives: biography

NBN Interview with Damion Searls on The Inkblots

The New Books Network (NBN) has just released an audio interview with Damion Searls on his newly published book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing. As NBN describes,

In his new book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and The Power of Seeing (Crown, 2017), Damion Searls presents the first biography of Hermann Rorschach and the history of the Rorschach Test. A story that is largely untold, Searls starts with the childhood of Rorschach and brings readers through his growth as a psychiatrist as he created an experiment to probe the mind using a set of ten inkblots. As a visual artist, Rorschach incorporated his ability to think about visuals and his belief that what is seen is more important than what we say. After his early death, Rorschach’s Test found its way to America being used by the military, to test job applicants, to evaluate defendants and parents in custody battles and people suffering from mental illness. In addition, it has been used throughout advertising and incorporated in Hollywood and popular culture. A tragic figure, and one of the most influential psychiatrists in the twentieth century, The Inkblots allows readers to better understand how Rorschach and his test impacted psychiatry and psychological testing. Searls’ work is eloquently written and detailed, pulling in unpublished letters, diaries and interviews with family, friends and colleagues. Searls’ well researched text presents insight into the ways that art and science have impacted modern psychology and popular culture.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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New Book: The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

A new book length account of the life and work of Hermann Rorschach,The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls, has just been released. As described on the publisher’s website,

In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind: a set of ten carefully designed inkblots. For years he had grappled with the theories of Freud and Jung while also absorbing the aesthetic movements of the day, from Futurism to Dadaism. A visual artist himself, Rorschach had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see.

After Rorschach’s early death, his test quickly made its way to America, where it took on a life of its own. Co-opted by the military after Pearl Harbor, it was a fixture at the Nuremberg trials and in the jungles of Vietnam. It became an advertising staple, a cliché in Hollywood and journalism, and an inspiration to everyone from Andy Warhol to Jay Z. The test was also given to millions of defendants, job applicants, parents in custody battles, and people suffering from mental illness or simply trying to understand themselves better. And it is still used today.

In this first-ever biography of Rorschach, Damion Searls draws on unpublished letters and diaries and a cache of previously unknown interviews with Rorschach’s family, friends, and colleagues to tell the unlikely story of the test’s creation, its controversial reinvention, and its remarkable endurance—and what it all reveals about the power of perception. Elegant and original, The Inkblots shines a light on the twentieth century’s most visionary synthesis of art and science.

A short interview with author Damion Searls on NPR can be heard here.

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The Story of Aaron Beck & Cognitive Therapy in Isis

The December 2014 issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, features on article on the work of psychiatrist Aaron Beck (above). Adopting a biographical approach, the article describes how Beck came to articulate his cognitive therapy as a new mode of psychotherapy. Full title, author, and abstract follow below.

“The “Splendid Isolation” of Aaron T. Beck,” by Rachael I. Rosner. The abstract reads,

Aaron T. Beck’s Cognitive Therapy (CT) is a school of psychotherapy, conceived in the 1960s, that is celebrated by many clinicians for having provided the scientific antidote to all that was wrong with psychoanalysis. This essay situates the origins of CT in the crisis of legitimacy in psychiatry in the 1960s and 1970s, when, among many charges, psycho-analysts had to face the accusation that analysis was not adequately scientific. Beck actually began his career as both a psychoanalyst and an experimentalist. Contrary to common triumphalist accounts, Beck created CT to be a neutral space, not a partisan one, in turbulent times. Other notable psychoanalysts also sought compromise, rather than partisanship, to bridge the transition to biomedical science. The biographical approach of this essay to the origins of Beck’s CT both situates him historiographically and articulates the complex experiences of a generation of psychoanalysts otherwise opaque to standard narratives.

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New Book: Daniel Todes’s Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science

Historian Daniel Todes, of Johns Hopkins University, has just published a biography of Ivan Pavlov with Oxford University Press. The book is also discussed in a recent piece in The New Yorker, “Drool: Ivan Pavlov’s Real Quest.”

Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science is described on the publisher’s website as,

a definitive, deeply researched biography of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) and is the first scholarly biography to be published in any language. The book is Todes’s magnum opus, which he has been working on for some twenty years. Todes makes use of a wealth of archival material to portray Pavlov’s personality, life, times, and scientific work.

Combining personal documents with a close reading of scientific texts, Todes fundamentally reinterprets Pavlov’s famous research on conditional reflexes. Contrary to legend, Pavlov was not a behaviorist (a misimpression captured in the false iconic image of his “training a dog to salivate to the sound of a bell”); rather, he sought to explain not simply external behaviors, but the emotional and intellectual life of animals and humans. This iconic “objectivist” was actually a profoundly anthropomorphic thinker whose science was suffused with his own experiences, values, and subjective interpretations.

This book is also a traditional “life and times” biography that weaves Pavlov into some 100 years of Russian history-particularly that of its intelligentsia—from the emancipation of the serfs to Stalin’s time. Pavlov was born to a family of priests in provincial Ryazan before the serfs were emancipated, made his home and professional success in the glittering capital of St. Petersburg in late imperial Russia, suffered the cataclysmic destruction of his world during the Bolshevik seizure of power and civil war of 1917-1921, rebuilt his life in his 70s as a “prosperous dissident” during the Leninist 1920s, and flourished professionally as never before in 1929-1936 during the industrialization, revolution, and terror of Stalin.

Todes’s story of this powerful personality and extraordinary man is based upon interviews with surviving coworkers and family members (along with never-before-analyzed taped interviews from the 1960s and 1970s), examination of hundreds of scientific works by Pavlov and his coworkers, and close analysis of materials from some twenty-five archives. The documents range from the records of his student years at Ryazan Seminary to the transcripts of the Communist Party cells in his labs, and from his scientific manuscripts and notebooks to his political speeches; they include revealing love letters to his future wife and correspondence with hundreds of lay people, scholars, artists, and Communist Party leaders; and unpublished memoirs by many coworkers, his daughter, his wife, and his lover.

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Revisiting Erving Goffman’s Asylums and “The Insanity of Place”

A recent article in Symbolic Interaction provides insight into sociologist Erving Goffman’s work on mental illness. As part of a freely available special issue dedicated to Goffman, Dmitri N. Shalin explores the role of Goffman’s personal biography on his work. In addition to a more general piece on this subject, “Interfacing Biography, Theory and History: The Case of Erving Goffman,” Shalin details how Goffman’s Asylums, as well as a briefer piece “The Insanity of Place” were informed by his personal experiences. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Interfacing Biography, Theory and History: The Case of Erving Goffman,” Dmitri N. Shalin. The abstract reads,

This study aims to show that much of Erving Goffman’s writing is crypto-biographical and that key turns in his intellectual career reflected his life’s trajectory and attempts at self-renewal. The case is made that Goffman’s theoretical corpus reflects his personal experience as a son of Russian–Jewish immigrants who struggled to raise himself from the obscurity of Canadian Manitoba to international stardom. The concluding section describes the Erving Goffman Archives and the contribution that the large database of documents and biographical materials assembled therein can make to biocritical hermeneutics, a research program focused on the relationship between biography, theory, and history.

“Goffman on Mental Illness: Asylums and “The Insanity of Place” Revisited,” Dmitri N. Shalin. The abstract reads,

This case study is designed to demonstrate that sociological imagination can feed on personal experience, that research practice interpolates our biographical circumstances, and that a systematic inquiry into the interplay between our professional and everyday life offers a fruitful avenue for sociological analysis. The discussion focuses on Erving Goffman’s treatment of mental illness. The argument is made that the evolution of Goffman’s constructionist views on mental disorder had been influenced by his family situation and personal experience.

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New Biography of Howard Knox

A recently released biography of early twentieth century physician Howard Knox may be of interest to AHP’s readers. Published by Columbia University Press, Howard Andrew Knox: Pioneer of Intelligence Testing at Ellis Island, is authored by John T. E. Richardson. Knox, as the title suggests, was the leading figure in efforts to administer intelligence tests to new immigrants at Ellis Island in the 1910s. Richardson charts Knox’s life, playing particular attention to this work at Ellis Island and its lasting effects. As described on the publisher’s website,

Howard Andrew Knox (1885–1949) served as assistant surgeon at Ellis Island during the 1910s, administering a range of verbal and nonverbal tests to determine the mental capacity of potential immigrants. An early proponent of nonverbal intelligence testing (largely through the use of formboards and picture puzzles), Knox developed an evaluative approach that today informs the techniques of practitioners and researchers. Whether adapted to measure intelligence and performance in children, military recruits, neurological and psychiatric patients, or the average job applicant, Knox’s pioneering methods are part of contemporary psychological practice and deserve in-depth investigation.

Completing the first biography of this unjustly overlooked figure, John T. E. Richardson, former president of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences, takes stock of Knox’s understanding of intelligence and his legacy beyond Ellis Island. Consulting published and unpublished sources, Richardson establishes a chronology of Knox’s life, including details of his medical training and his time as a physician for the U.S. Army. He describes the conditions that gave rise to intelligence testing, including the public’s concern that the United States was opening its doors to the mentally unfit. He then recounts the development of intelligence tests by Knox and his colleagues and the widely-discussed publication of their research. Their work presents a useful and extremely human portrait of psychological testing and its limits, particularly the predicament of the people examined at Ellis Island. Richardson concludes with the development of Knox’s work in later decades and its changing application in conjunction with modern psychological theory.

 

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Symposium: Biography & History of Psychology

University College London’s Centre for the History of Medicine is hosting a symposium on Biography and its Place in the History of Psychology and Psychiatry. The event will take place on June 10th, 2011 and will explore a number of facets of biography’s place in the history of psychology. Among the symposium’s speakers are Daniel Todes on Ivan Pavlov (left), Roderick Buchanan on the biographical approach, and Peter Hegarty on “the man who made IQ”. Full symposium details follow below.

Biography and its Place in the History of Psychology and Psychiatry Symposium

Friday 10 June 2011

This one-day symposium will open up discussion about all aspects of the place of biography in the history of psychology and psychiatry. The main themes of the day will include questions such as:

  • Do biographical studies occupy a special or privileged position within the historiography of these human sciences?
  • What is biography? What kinds of questions can biographies hope to answer? And where should biographers not venture?
  • How historically have psychologists and psychiatrists themselves used individual patient ‘biographies’ to construct and legitimise their theories?
  • Can biography, as an immensely popular format, offer a vehicle for introducing more complex historical analysis to the general public?

Academic speakers will include:

Professor Daniel Todes (John Hopkins University)
‘Ivan Pavlov: “Objective” science as autobiography’ Continue reading Symposium: Biography & History of Psychology

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Raccoons & Scientific Biography

The September 2010 issues of The British Journal for the History of Science and Isis each contain an article on the history of psychology. The former journal features an article by Michael Pettit on the history of the raccoon as a psychological research subject and why the animal failed to attain prominence in the discipline in the way of rats and pigeons. In Isis historian of science Michael Sokal uses the case of early American psychologist James McKeen Cattell to argue that scientific biography can be enhanced if one puts to use the insights derived from modern psychology. Also in this issue of Isis is a review of Alexandra Rutherford‘s book Beyond the Box: B.F. Skinner’s Technology of Behaviour from Laboratory to Life, 1950s-1970s by Jill Morawski. AHP has previously discussed Beyond the Box here, here, and here. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The problem of raccoon intelligence in behaviourist America” by Michael Pettit. Continue reading Raccoons & Scientific Biography

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Twin Research, Biography as Method, and More

The History of the Human Sciences has just released its December issue online. Featured in the issue are articles on twin research, sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (pictured left) and biography as historical method, photography and biological vision, and the role of the environment in early American sociology.

In “Twin research, revisionism and metahistory,” Thomas Teo and Laura C. Ball, both of York University, explore the carefully managed presentation of the history of twin research. As is stated early on, the “article does not provide a history but is interested in the historiography, or, better, the historical accounts and reconstructions, of twin research, written by insiders” (p. 3). Teo and Ball look at how insiders selected pioneers in the field and what historical evidence has been privileged in constructing a history of twin research. The abstract to this article reads:

We understand metahistory as an approach that studies how histories within a particular discipline have been written and focus on insider scientists’ reconstructions of twin research. Using the concept of ethical-political affordances we suggest that such histories are based on a management of resources that prove to be beneficial for representing one’s own research traditions in a positive light. Instead of discussing information on the context and intellectual life of pioneers of the twin method, which include high-caliber eugenicists and Nazi ideologues, and on how the twin method has been used and abused, insider scientists’ accounts present twin research as neutral, objective and void of any kind of political connotations. Continue reading Twin Research, Biography as Method, and More

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CUNY/Leon Levy Foundation create Biography Center

Leon LevyThe New York Times is reporting that the Graduate Center of the City University of New York has plans for a new institution devoted to “the art and scholarship of biography.”

Financed by a $3.7 million gift from the Leon Levy Foundation, the new center will offer four fellowships for this fall to academics and others who are working on biographies, as well as two fellowships to graduate students at CUNY who are writing biographical dissertations. Next year the center will add two more fellowship slots.

The new center will be co-directed by Nancy Milford and David Nasaw and will sponsor an annual conference. Continue reading CUNY/Leon Levy Foundation create Biography Center

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