The strange saga of Albert Einstein’s brain was told in Carolyn Abraham’s 2001 book Possessing Genius. (The free Wikipedia version is here.) But what about the brains of famous figures in the history of psychology? Well, if they were Russian — such as Ivan Pavlov or Lev Vygotsky — then they may have ended up in Vladimir Bekhterev’s “Pantheon of Brains” in St. Petersburg. (It has been long speculated that Bekhterev, who died unexpectedly on Chirstmas Eve 1927, was “offed” by Stalin after having examined the Soviet leader and declared him to be insane.) Perhaps fittingly, Bekhterev’s brain also ended up in the “Pantheon.”
In the latest History of Education Quarterly, 48(2), Andy Byford examines the role of education in promoting psychology as a science at the turn of the twentieth century in Russia.
…psychology lacked the status of an independent academic discipline at Russian universities. It was taught only as a component of philosophy and had the reputation of the latter’s ‘‘handmaiden.’’ Its scientific credentials within philosophy departments were, moreover, under constant attack from physiologists, neurologists and psychiatrists, who sought to redefine the discipline from a biological point of view, and at times even denied psychology the right to legitimate existence.
In fact it was only in the sphere of education that psychology was able to portray itself as a respectable science in its own right, especially in relation to pedagogy, whose own academic legitimacy, as a lowly practical professional discipline, was even more problematic than that of psychology. Yet the eminent status of psychology in the educational realm (as the ‘‘scientific foundation’’ of pedagogy) had to be continuously maintained, which was how teachers became the most important ‘‘interested’’ public to whom psychologists of different persuasions promoted the idealized visions of their discipline.
For those not familiar with the history of Russian psychology, Byford’s article provides a fascinating look at the period in which Lev Vygotsky — who undertook graduate training at the newly created Moscow Institute of Psychology — developed as a student and teacher. See below the fold for annotated references. Continue reading Psychology at High School in Late Imperial Russia