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.
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.
Critical Past is an online film archive with over 57,000 film clips and 7 million images available to view online. The films on the site are from as early as the 1890s and continue on through to the 1990s, many of them produced by the United States government. Unfortunately, the clips on the site cannot be embedded, but a quick search of “psychology” turns up 94 films, including an amazing two and half minute film clip from 1917 of some of the more than 1.7 million American soldiers who completed the Army Alpha and Beta intelligence tests (left). Also appearing in these search results are a series of film clips from 1953 of psychologist Kenneth Clark interviewing Martin Luther King, Jr. (here and here), Malcolm X (here and here), and James Baldwin (here, here, and here) about issues concerning the civil rights movement in the United States. There are also a number of other films on the site from the 1950s featuring American soldiers undergoing psychiatric treatment (here, here, here, here, and here). Pick your own keyword and explore some of the amazing films featured on this site.
Thanks to Cathy Faye for bringing this site to AHP’s attention.