Category Archives: Opinion

New History of Madness Blog

Greg EghigianI just received the following announcement about the launching of a new blog, H-Madness, which covers issues in the “history of madness, mental illness and their treatment (including the history of psychiatry, psychotherapy, and clinical psychology and social work).” It is being collectively written by four prominent historians: Greg Eghigian (Penn State University), Eric J. Engstrom (Humboldt Universität), Andreas Killen (City College of New York), and  Benoît Majerus (Université libre de Bruxelles).

I’ll simply copy the announcement below for anyone who would like to check it out.


We are happy to announce the launch of a new blog dedicated to the history of madness and mental health: H-Madness (

H-Madness is intended as a resource for scholars interested in the history of madness, mental illness and their treatment (including the history of psychiatry, psychotherapy, and clinical psychology and social work). The chief goal is to provide a forum for researchers in the humanities and social sciences to exchange ideas and information about the historical study of mental health and mental illness. The blog, therefore, primarily serves university and college faculty, students, and independent researchers. Continue reading New History of Madness Blog

History Track at EPA

Wade PickrenThe first day of the new history track at the conference of the Eastern Psychological Association conference (in Brooklyn, NY) was a big hit. The highlight of the day was the session by EPA Historian Wade Pickren on the life and career of psychologist and anthropologist Otto Klineberg. Klineberg is best known for his “radical” assertion in the 1930s that races do not differ in intelligence. Most of Klineberg’s academic career was at Columbia University in New York City, though he traveled widely. Continue reading History Track at EPA

Western Madnesses Displace Indigenous Kinds?

Ethan WattersThe New York Times has published an interesting essay by Ethan Watters claiming that the spread of Western psychiatry has paradoxically spread characteristically Western kinds of mental illness to other parts of the world where they were rarely seen before.

The essay is adapted from Watters forthcoming book, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche.

According to Watters,

For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world. We have done this in the name of science, believing that our approaches reveal the biological basis of psychic suffering and dispel prescientific myths and harmful stigma. There is now good evidence to suggest that in the process of teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well. Continue reading Western Madnesses Displace Indigenous Kinds?

After 2+ years: 530+ posts, 520+ subscribers

Jeremy Burman in January 2009

This will be my last post as Editor of AHP. Jacy Young, who joined the team in May, will soon replace me as editorial head and take charge of daily newsgathering.  I will continue to contribute occasionally, but — after more than two years, almost 200 individual posts, and over 100,000 words — I have decided that it’s time to refocus my energies on finishing my doctorate and publishing the results of my research.  Before I sign off as Editor, however, I feel as though I ought to write one last progress report.  (The others can all be found here.)

First, some history: AHP launched in May 2007 as a collaboration between a TV/Web Producer (Burman) and a Professor (Dr Green).  Its purpose, initially, was to examine the challenges faced by the resurgence in interest in “citizen journalism,” but targeted at a specific niche audience: those interested in topics covered within the historical psychological scholarly literature.  The result, after two years and more than 530 posts, is that we are now averaging around one useful comment per post.  While these “community contributions” have not on their own been sufficient to justify the cost of the project, they have often clarified and expanded upon the literature in some significant ways.  This has definitely added value.  Yet without the software to separate the wheat (these ~430 useful comments) from the chaff (~43000 spam comments), even this would not have been possible.  And, indeed, it has taken a considerable investment to get to this point.

Has it been worth it?  Yes, but not yet as “citizen journalism.”  There is very little incentive for experts to post substantive comments at a blog when their insights could themselves be published in a scholarly journal. With this realization, the project instead became a way to experiment with methods of knowledge mobilization: a way to expand the world constructed at the intersection of history and psychology, while at the same time pushing its news, notes, and resources to those interested.

Where post-publication interaction does add value (i.e., through short user comments), the blog seems like a possible candidate technology to replace the listserv.  It retains the flow of discussion among interested participants without inflicting the occasionally cacophonous results on those who would rather not participate.  In this way, a blog is like “listserv on demand.”  In addition, the results are searchable and can remain active for years.  But asking for more from this technology would push the limits of what is presently possible: for example, the WordPress platform is perhaps not ready to be used out-of-the-box for open peer review.  This progress report — my last — will review the work that has led to this conclusion, as well as providing the standard lists of “best of” and “most popular.” Continue reading After 2+ years: 530+ posts, 520+ subscribers

Freud’s Visit to New England

Sigmund Freud x 4Today’s New York Times has an article by the psychoanalyst Leon Hoffman about Sigmund Freud’s only visit to the United States, which started a century ago today.  As is well known, Freud was invited by Granville Stanley Hall to give a series of lectures at the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Clark University in Worcester, MA, of which Hall was President. Freud’s lectures, given in German, were translated and became the book The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis, which has been in print ever since. Hoffman, however, focuses on Freud’s relationship with the Boston neurologist, James Jackson Putnam, who invited Freud to his retreat in the Adirondacks, where Putnam became a convert to the Austrian’s system of psychotherapy. Two years later Putnam would become the first president of the American Psychoanalytic Association.

Knowing that all was not well with Hoffman’s fawning treatment of the encounter, I forwarded the article to the email lists of the Society for the History of Psychology (APA, Div 26) and of Cheiron to see what their reactions might be. Historian of psychology Ben Harris (U. New Hampshire) wrote back in short order. I think his words are better than any summary I might provide.

The errors in Leon Hoffman’s account of psychotherapy in America before Freud provide a mini tutorial in how one’s professional affiliations can bias one’s historical views. Continue reading Freud’s Visit to New England

APA turning its back on history

The American Psychological Association (APA)’s 117th annual convention wrapped up yesterday in Toronto, Canada. The Society for the History of Psychology (SHP), APA’s Division 26, put on a full and engaging program of 39 sessions over the four days which culminated with APA Council bestowing upon Dr. Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. a presidential citation in recognition of his contributions to the discipline. But a decision by APA council just before noon on Sunday would put a damper on the mood of the whole event: they have decided to cut their annual contribution to the Archives for the History of American Psychology (AHAP) from $60,000 annually to $30,000 this year and $20,000 next year. This decision was made against the recommendations by many on council who stood to speak up against such a significant budget cut to an archives that counts among its collection the papers of many past APA presidents and APA divisions.

These actions by the APA are extremely disappointing. I would go so far as to say that from the point of view of a graduate student in the history of psychology, they are discouraging. AHAP is the only archives dedicated to psychology in North America and serves as a valuable resource to all who are interested in the discipline’s history. I contacted David Baker, director of AHAP, who replied that “It is indeed disappointing that the Executive Management Group and the Board of Directors fail to see the value of our shared past.”

I hope you will join me in (1) writing to APA Council of Representatives in protest of this decision and (2) donating to AHAP to show our support of the work they do for the discipline.

Ongoing Debate About APA & Torture

Even though the membership of the American Psychological Association (APA) voted overwhelmingly in a referendum last year to strengthen the organization’s ethical guidelines to ban its members participating in the kinds of “harsh” interrogations that were being practiced by the US government at Guantanamo and various other “dark sites”  during the time of the Bush administration, the debate over the APA’s actions and how it got to be the kind of organization that would behave as is it did, continues unabated. Two recent items seem to crystalize one side of the debate particularly clearly Continue reading Ongoing Debate About APA & Torture

Historiographic essay: “Whither history?”

In her presidential address to the American Historical Association, Gabrielle Spiegel (pictured right) equated the problematic ungroundedness of postmodern histories with the psychological impossibility of feeling grounded following the Holocaust:

Both for those who survived and for those who came after, the Holocaust appears to exceed the representational capacity of language, and thus to cast suspicion on the ability of words to convey reality. And for the second generation [those who inherited the wound but did not experience its infliction], the question is not even how to speak but, more profoundly, if one has a right to speak, a delegitimation of the speaking self that, turned outward, interrogates the authority, the privilege of all speech. (Spiegel, 2009, p. 7)

It is for this reason, Spiegel suggests, that the historians who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s became suspicious of their ability to represent truth. Not only were the events of the Holocaust fundamentally indescribable to any adequate degree, but the language itself seemed stricken to silence. There were simply no words to describe the reality. Only grammars — conjugations of understood essences — retained their capacity to convey; to construct meaning.

Pretensions of intellectual objectivity died at Auschwitz. Or rather, argues Spiegel, they died following innumerable failed attempts to describe what it was like to have been there. And this had a fundamental impact on what it meant to do history.

the emergence of poststructuralism under the sign of the linguistic turn bespoke the end of the confident, optimistic era of European Enlightenment with its faith in the continual progress of human history under the aegis of scientific learning and methods and, not least among them, scientific history. (Spiegel, 2009, p. 8 )

A new call was thus raised; rather than celebrating individual events or actors, context became king. For thirty years, social and cultural histories reigned.

But there has recently been some disgruntlement.  Analyses of language and its constructions are beginning to sound hollow. Continue reading Historiographic essay: “Whither history?”

Becoming a Psychologist-Historian

Kelli Vaughn-BlountIn the latest issue of the American Journal of Psychology, 122(1), Kelli Vaughn-Blount (pictured left) answers — with co-authors Alexandra Rutherford, David Baker, and Deborah Johnson — two key questions: Why do history in psychology?  And how do I get started?

More than 40 years ago, psychologist-historian Robert Watson argued that the study of history was of particular salience to psychology. In this article we explore the relationship between psychology and history and argue that the psychologist-­historian plays a vital role in the discipline of psychology. We provide a brief overview of the emergence of the history of psychology as a professional subdiscipline, describe who psychologist­-historians are, explain why they are needed, and detail how to join their ranks. We argue that increasing historical sophistication among psychologists will have beneficial effects on research and teaching, and we invite all psychologists to participate in the making of psychology’s history.

We wrote to Vaughn-Blount and asked to take us behind-the-scenes on her decision to write this article. This is what she said. Continue reading Becoming a Psychologist-Historian

Pickren’s vision for History of Psychology

Wade PickrenPreviously on AHP: Wade Pickren was confirmed as the new editor of History of Psychology, the official journal of the Society for the History of Psychology (division 26 of the American Psychological Association).

Just prior to making this announcement, I asked him to share his thoughts with AHP.  The result, below, is a behind-the-scenes look at the future of History of Psychology.  He writes:

I am very honored to have been chosen to be only the third editor of History of Psychology. The legacy of Michael Sokal and Jim Capshew is large and I have big shoes to fill. I look forward to the challenge of building on what they have constructed. 

I think about psychology in very broad terms in both the little p and big P senses, to use Graham Richards’ distinction. I will encourage scholarship that is just as broad for publication in the journal. 

I hope to make the journal even more inclusive in terms of topics covered and to expand even further the range of authors whose sound scholarship should be published in the journal.  I hope we can add international perspectives so that we can share in the exciting developments occurring in our field in many countries around the world.  Doing so will help us realize the importance of cultural context in both science and practice. It may well be that our best and most direct way to understand the complexities of our globalizing world is to take a historical perspective. I would want our journal, History of Psychology, to be at the forefront of providing that perspective.  Continue reading Pickren’s vision for History of Psychology