This month the Society for the History of Psychology (Division 26 of the American Psychological Association) offers a special virtual issue of the journal History of Psychology. Entitled “Teaching Diversity: What can History Offer?” this free volume includes three pieces selected and introduced by Division President Alexandra Rutherford which “address gender, race/ethnicity, and the intersection of sexuality and disability in historical perspective” in order to highlight “that historical scholarship offers a rich and often untapped resource for instructors who wish to engage students in critical conversations about diversity issues across the psychology curriculum.” Rutherford’s introduction “outline[s] how these articles can be incorporated into courses across the curriculum to deepen students’ understanding of how psychology and psychologists have grappled with these issues and how historical analyses can inform contemporary topics and debates.”
The conclusion to Rutherford’s introductory article provides a concise synopsis of how this special issue can be a resource for the promotion of socially responsible pedagogical values in psychology, and their application in the classroom:
“The articles featured here to encourage the use of historical scholarship across the psychology curriculum demonstrate how history can facilitate forms of critical thinking that have the potential to make students better scholars and better psychologists. By encountering historical analyses that provoke critical questions about the relationship between science and culture, science and politics, and science and society, students develop the capacity to examine the preexisting assumptions that may creep uncritically into contemporary research. They develop the capacity to examine the role that psychology, as a powerful scientific and social institution, plays in our everyday lives. There is no reason that the development of these skills should be undertaken only in the history of psychology course. I hope this introduction has provided some ideas about how to use history to achieve critical learning objectives across the curriculum.”
Authors, titles, and abstracts are as follows:
Stephanie A. Shields, at Pennsylvania State University, writes on “Passionate men, emotional women: Psychology constructs gender difference in the late 19th century.” Here is the abstract:
The author examines British and American scientific psychology’s portrayal of natural and ideal masculinity and femininity in the late 19th century to show how purported differences in emotion and reason were critical to explaining the evolutionary foundation of existing social hierarchies. Strong emotion was identified with heterosexual manliness and men’s purportedly better capacity to harness the power of emotion in the service of reason. “Feminine” emotion was portrayed as a comparatively ineffectual emotionality, a by-product of female reproductive physiology and evolutionary need to be attractive to men. The author argues that constructions of emotion by psychology served an important power maintenance function. A concluding section addresses the relevance of this history to the politics of emotion in everyday life, especially assertions of emotional legitimacy.
“Recontextualizing Kenneth B. Clark: An Afrocentric perspective on the paradoxical legacy of a model psychologist-activist” is by Layli Phillips from the University of Georgia. The abstract reads:
Kenneth B. Clark, whose scientific and political legacy has been the subject of controversy over the years, is presented as an important model of Afrocentric scientific praxis. Key characteristics of the Afrocentric scholar are outlined. Using Clark’s academic and nonacademic writings as evidence, it is argued that Clark, though complex, exemplifies these characteristics. Clark’s profound yet at times obscure vision of integration and his views on the role of empathy and respect in education are presented in detail. Clark’s life and work are then reexamined and recast through the lens of W. E. Cross’s (1971, 1991) nigrescence model and the political-historical lens of the 2-phase Black social movement. It is concluded that academicians interested in promoting diversity, particularly within the social sciences, as well as psychologists looking for models of activist praxis, examine and learn from the life and work of Clark.
And from the University of California at San Diego, David Serlin’s article “Carney Landis and the psychosexual landscape of touch in mid-20th century America.”
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In the last quarter of the 1930s, Carney Landis, an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University affiliated with the Psychiatric Institute of New York, headed a Committee for Research in Problems of Sex-funded research project in which he conducted interviews with 100 women between the ages of 18 and 35 who self identified as physically disabled. Landis interviewed the women about their sex lives, their sexual identities, and their relationship to their bodies and published the results in 1942 under the title “The Personality and Sexuality of the Physically Handicapped Woman.” The book represents conventional psychosexual presumptions about disabled women’s stunted personality and frustrated sexuality stemming from the absence of a Freudian “sexual moment.” Yet, the original research notes, housed at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, reveal that many of these women engaged in acts of erotic touching that played a far more dynamic and complex role in the development of their sexual subjectivities than Landis or his researchers could recognize. This article examines how touch and tactility produced meanings for Landis’ research subjects and thus illuminated forms of sexual subjectivity not regularly associated with either histories of disability or histories of sexuality.