A new book length account of the life and work of Hermann Rorschach,The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls, has just been released. As described on the publisher’s website,
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In this first-ever biography of Rorschach, Damion Searls draws on unpublished letters and diaries and a cache of previously unknown interviews with Rorschach’s family, friends, and colleagues to tell the unlikely story of the test’s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.
The University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection’s Kira Lussier writes on the history of the Rorschach (and other projective tests) at UofT, and its uptake in popular culture. Read her full piece here.
Anyone who happens to be in the Boston area, may want to stop by the Special Exhibitions Gallery of Harvard University’s Science Center. Currently featured in the Center is a special exhibition on the history of projective tests titled, X-Rays of the Soul: Rorschach & the Projective Test. The exhibit runs until June 30, 2012 and this coming Friday, March 30th, from 5-7pm Harvard history of science professors Peter Galison and Janet Browne will host the exhibit’s official opening.
The exhibit is described on the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University’s website as follows,
Beginning in 1921 with the Rorschach Inkblot Test and gaining momentum with the Thematic Apperception Test in 1935, a new breed of psychological probe aimed to reach previously inaccessible layers and levels of the unconscious self: the projective test.
Likened to X-rays of the inner life, these instruments promised to capture what no other tool could access – the secret self. The story of the triumphal rise as well as the periodic setbacks of the projective test movement is evidence of the heady confidence of the Twentieth Century human sciences to be able to extract and access the most human parts of human beings –scientifically.
From the genesis of the tests in passionate personal relationships to the recent Wikipedia furor over posting the Rorschach images, the exhibit will capture this neglected history’s equally utopian and dystopian elements.
More details on the exhibit can be found here.
via a recent post by Ben Harris on the Cheiron listserve.
The Summer 2011 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences has just been released online. This issue is a Special Issue on The Human Sciences and Cold War America, guest edited by Joel Isaac (left) of Queen Mary University of London. Articles in this special issue address, among other topics, 1960s Pentagon-funded psychological research in Vietnam, efforts to use projective tests as mental “X-ray” machines, and the relationship of rational choice models and international relations theory. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Introduction: The human sciences and Cold War America,” by Joel Isaac. The abstract reads,
Studies of the history of the human sciences during the Cold War era have proliferated over the past decade—in JHBS and elsewhere. This special issue focuses on the connections between the behavioral sciences and the culture and politics of the Cold War in the United States. In the recent literature, there is a tendency to identify the Cold War human sciences with two main paradigms: that of psychocultural analysis, on the one hand, and of the systems sciences, on the other. The essays in the special issue both extend understanding of each of these interpretive frameworks and help us to grasp their interconnection.
“The last stand of the psychocultural Cold warriors: Military contract research in Vietnam,” by Joy Rohde. The abstract reads, Continue reading The Human Sciences and Cold War America