In the latest issue of Isis, 99(2), Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky ask an important question: “Does science education need the history of science?” Generalized to address recent questions about the place of “the History of psychology” in “the discipline of Psychology,” their discussion seems particularly timely.
Perhaps predictably, given what is likely my own bias in sharing their article with the readers of AHP, Gooday and his colleagues answer such questions in the affirmative: “science education can gain from close engagement with the history of science both in the training of prospective vocational scientists and in educating the broader public about the nature of science” (p. 322). Their essay makes this case in two parts, with a third suggesting some ways in which historians could further increase the value they offer to science:
First it shows how historicizing science in the classroom can improve the pedagogical experience of science students and might even help them turn into more effective professional practitioners of science [pp. 323-327]. Then it examines how historians of science can support the scientific education of the general public at a time when debates over “intelligent design” are raising major questions over the kind of science that ought to be available to children in their school curricula [pp. 327-329]. It concludes by considering further work that might be undertaken to show how history of science could be of more general educational interest and utility, well beyond the closed academic domains in which historians of science typically operate.
Of the three, the third part of their essay seems most likely to generate the kind of discussion that would help historians of psychology secure the future of History in Psychology. Regrettably, this final section is the least well-developed. The essay simply ends, offering only a few pithy lines in conclusion:
We need to produce harder and more extensive evidence of the educational efficacy of historical thinking about science. We also need to work more closely with scientists to fend off irresponsible uses of history that might infiltrate the science curriculum. Of themselves, these twin projects could keep historians of science busy for decades, but we welcome debate not only on further initiatives along these lines, but also on other ways in which our discipline can critically benefit science education in the twenty-first century. (p. 330)
Yet it seems clear that these projects (especially the first) are still too limited in scope. There is a role for history not only in teaching, but also in discovery. Rather than simply demonstrating the value of the “educational efficacy” of “historical thinking” in teaching students, we therefore also need to show the scientific efficacy of historical knowledge in making discoveries. However, the authors apparently dismissed this out of hand: “Have any Nobel Prize winners declared that history of science was the secret of their creative success?” (p. 322).
In the history of psychology, this dismissal can be taken as a challenge. Hence: Whose research was improved/catalyzed/enabled/guided by their historical knowledge? My own work suggests that such a list might begin with James Mark Baldwin, Pierre Janet and Jean Piaget, but (because this initial list may just be a product of my own bias) there are presumably many others.
Unfortunately, we are led in this to a conflict: the kind of intellectual history argued-for by Gooday and his colleagues is of a kind not currently en vogue in history departments. Rather, it is “doing history for science.” Yet since this is what would be useful in psychology departments, it seems clear that — generalizing from Gooday’s discussion to address problems in our own discipline — room ought to be made in psychology for history.
Comments and criticisms are welcome below. The article discussed is available free from the University of Chicago Press website (PDF).