AHP readers may be interested in a special section honoring Janet Taylor Spence in the December issue of Sex Roles. Especially relevant is a piece from Alexandra Rutherford:
“Contextualizing a Life in Science: Janet Taylor Spence and the History of Women and Gender in American Psychology,” by Alexandra Rutherford. Abstract:
The present paper reflects on the life and career of Janet Spence (1923–2015) by situating her experiences within the history of women and gender in American psychology. This history has revealed the structural factors that have affected women’s participation in psychology, the shared themes in women’s interpersonal and professional experiences, and the specific strategies that women have used to navigate an androcentric, and at times overtly sexist, discipline. In spanning the second half of the twentieth century, Spence’s career provides an interesting case study of how these decades of institutional and political change affected a specific woman scientist and her science. I argue that her biography can offer rich insights into the complexly intertwined, and even reflexive, relationships among psychologists, their psychologies, and their contexts.
“Carl Rogers’ and B. F. Skinner’s approaches to personal and societal improvement: A study in the psychological humanities,” by Jack Martin. Abstract:
Carl Rogers and B. F. Skinner were highly successful 20th century American psychologists who founded historically important schools of psychological inquiry and practice. Their theories, research, and professional practices were embedded within but also challenged American sociocultural concerns and conventions. The focus of this article is on how their research, theories, and ideas, especially those related to the freedom and control of persons, were drawn from their own life experiences and interacted with their penchants for personal freedom versus personal control. The deeply personal bases of Rogers’ and Skinner’s contributions to psychology also are instructive with respect to several issues in the theory of psychology, including the role of values and personal interests in psychological science and practice, relationships between basic research and applied research and professional practice, the generalization of results from experimentation and research, questions concerning human agency, and the place of social advocacy and reform in psychological science and professional practice. More generally, the work reported herein demonstrates the utility of biographical inquiry in particular and the psychological humanities more generally for theoretical purposes in psychology.
The September 2017 issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, is now online. Two articles in this issue may be of especial interest to AHP readers: one documenting the relationship between cybernetics and modern Chinese linguists and the other exploring the construction of “gifted” and “academically talented” students in the context of efforts to desegregate schools following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. Full details follow below.
“From Modernizing the Chinese Language to Information Science: Chao Yuen Ren’s Route to Cybernetics,” by Chen-Pang Yeang. Abstract:
As one of the most famous Chinese intellectuals of the twentieth century, Chao Yuen Ren is known primarily for his founding of modern Chinese linguistics. This essay examines a less familiar part of his career: cybernetics. When he taught at Berkeley in 1947, he read Norbert Wiener’s book manuscript and gravitated toward the subject. His participation in the 1953 Macy Conference marked the beginning of his decades-long work that used the concepts of feedback and information to understand language in general and Chinese in particular. This essay argues that Chao’s exploration of cybernetics was influenced not only by the rise of information science in the midcentury United States but also by the movement to modernize the Chinese language two decades earlier. His phonetic research for dialect surveys, involvement in language reform, and appropriation of structuralism when he worked in China in the 1920s and 1930s shaped his cybernetic interpretations of language in the 1950s and 1960s. This article enriches the current historiography of information science, which stresses disunity and internationalism, by showing how an East Asian context affected an aspect of the early development of cybernetics. It also demonstrates the value of an immigrant scientist’s intellectual biography for studies of transnational science.
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.
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.