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Dead Psychologists’ Society? A dialogue on teaching the history of psychology Gira Bhatt & Randal Tonks Camosun College May 8, 2003.

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Presentation on theme: "Dead Psychologists’ Society? A dialogue on teaching the history of psychology Gira Bhatt & Randal Tonks Camosun College May 8, 2003."— Presentation transcript:


2 Dead Psychologists’ Society? A dialogue on teaching the history of psychology Gira Bhatt & Randal Tonks Camosun College May 8, 2003

3 Why the History of Psychology? Does Psychology need it’s own history? Should we have an ‘insider’ family history? Should we have ‘outsider’ professional historians? These questions address the nature of our identity as a discipline and invite questions regarding the identity of the history of psychology

4 Our commitment to history We have been teaching the history of psychology for many years Gira is past Chair of the History & Philosophy of Psychology section at CPA Randy is current Chair of the section on History & Philosophy of Psychology at CPA Recently we have explored the identity of History of Psychology and the role it plays in undergraduate curriculum for our section

5 The Origin When did Psychologists begin to Examine the History of Psychology? 1912 –B. Rand: "Classical psychologists: Selections illustrating psychology from Anaxagoras to Wundt“ – G. Stanley Hall: "The founders of modern psychology –G. S. Brett: "A history of psychology" (first of the three massive volumes)

6 The Origin 1913 –J. M. Baldwin published his two small volumes which are considered to be the first American textbook on the history of psychology in the 20 th century. (Hilgard, Leary, & McGuire's, 1991). 1929: – E.G. Boring "A history of experimental psychology". –Gardener Murphy "Historical introduction to modern psychology", – Pillsbury "The history of psychology".

7 So what was significant about the time frame of this origin? Boring's 1929 history textbook- an attempt to defend the pure scientific nature of psychology from its "applied" sibling. Graham Richards (1996) contends, these early books on the history of psychology were written because of the pressure that was experienced by the discipline "to prove its scientific credentials" (p. 2).

8 The Present: History of Psychology across Canadian Universities

9 Undergraduate History of Psychology Across Canadian Universities

10 Why Do We Teach History of Psychology? Michael Wertheimer (1980) critically summarized various reasons and justifications provided in the prefaces of various books on psychology's history. There seems to be a taken -for- granted attitude among the authors of psychology's history.

11 None of these writers … bother to specify in a preface or introduction why they believe study of the history of psychology is worthwhile. There even are prolific contributors of the history of psychology (such as Josef Brozek) who have not bothered to say at length in print why they believe the history of psychology is a topic worth pursuing. By taking its value for granted, these scholars imply that it must be self-evident to any thinking person. Devoting space to justification of the endeavor might even suggest that there might be some doubt about it in the first place! (Wertheimer, 1980, p. 5).

12 Why Do We Teach History of Psychology? It helps avoid the past errors and repetitions, It provides a fertile source of new ideas It may offer resolutions of current problems It provides a healthy dose of humility and tolerance It improves the general education of the psychologist “Simply because…"- everyone enjoys a good story; it is inherently interesting

13 Why Do We Teach History of Psychology? "It has been a tradition“ - a legacy since the Titchener era. Wertheimer (1980) calls it a "ritual" which is akin to an initiation rite that all teachers of psychology must take a course on the history of psychology, and in turn it implies;"do unto others as others have done unto us" (p. 6).

14 Why Do We Teach History of Psychology? "Look at our illustrious ancestors" or a "gee-whiz" approach. Wertheimer (1980) calls this a form of self-legitimization, and points out, as we noted earlier, that Boring wrote his history textbook to legitimize the "pure" against the "applied" psychology.

15 Why Do We Teach History of Psychology? It strengthens one's job prospects Wertheimer (1980) observed that regardless of one's specialization, adding a history of psychology course to one's teaching credentials raises one's marketability, since the course on the history of psychology is an integral part of the undergraduate psychology curriculum.

16 Two worlds of the history of psychology Insider view involves uniform single history, (like stairs or ladder) Celebration Whiggish presentism Old History (i.e., Boring, 1929/1950) Natural science perspective Outsider view involves critical and "situated“ plural perspectives Grounding in sociology and philosophy New History (i.e., Danziger, 1990) Human science perspective

17 Two worldviews: Tonks (1997) Natural Science Objective Deductive Explanation (Erklaren) Literal Univocal Laws Universal(Etic) Human Science Subjective Interpretive Understanding (Verstehen) Expressive Equivocal Pluralism Contextual (Emic)

18 Experimental-Behavioristic vs. Humanistic from Staats (1987) Experimental Objective events Atomistic Laboratory General (nomothetic) Precision & Measurement Prediction & Control Humanistic Subjective events Holistic Naturalistic Observation Individual (idiographic) Qualitative Description Understanding

19 Staats con’t Scientific Determinism Mechanistic in Causation Passive Respondent Conditioning & Modification Valueless Science Self-Determination & Freedom Spontaneity in Causation Originality, Creativity & Activity Self-actualization & Personal Growth Values in Science

20 How Do we Teach the History of Psychology? Kuhn (1970) suggested that "consensus", as a defining characteristic of normal science, is lacking in psychology This lack of a "normal science" status for psychology is also reflected in the ways in which the history of psychology is being taught

21 How Do we Teach the History of Psychology? Tracing the ancient roots is one of the favored ways of teaching the history of psychology as these roots are relatively easy to order chronologically.

22 How Do we Teach the History of Psychology? First there was the golden age of the Greek scholarship, then came the Dark Ages, then came the Renaissance and the British empiricism, followed by the German physiologists

23 How Do we Teach the History of Psychology? The neatly ordered chronology however, is lost upon entering the 20 th century as diverging fields began to emerge all over. The major three distinct beginnings of psychology as Leahey (1980) calls it, grew simultaneously.

24 How Do we Teach the History of Psychology? 1) Wundt and his volunteeristic psychology of consciousness Involving creative synthesis of personal and collective minds

25 How Do we Teach the History of Psychology? 2 ) Charles Darwin and William James and their functional approach Involving adaptation and pragmatism

26 How Do we Teach the History of Psychology? 3) Freud and his psychoanalytical psychology Involving the unconscious and hidden motives

27 How Do we Teach the History of Psychology? Also, fields within fields, specializations within specializations dominated the growth of psychology Importantly, this growth has not been linear, but rather scattered in varied directions

28 Dialogue over the method of teaching the history of psychology Danziger (1994) raised critical concern over the classical insider perspective on the history of psychology Cultural centres counter the American Hegemony in psychology Ongoing debates over the ‘scientific’ vs. ‘professional’ activities in psychology

29 Back to the future Danziger (1994) suggested that the traditional content of the history of psychology needed to change from a 'celebratory' 'insider' view to a more critical 'outsider' perspective. The positivist 'Whig' approach to history has largely been celebratory where history merely plays a supportive role for current dogma and ideologies of psychology. Rather, he contends, the history of psychology needs to offer a critical historiography of the discipline.

30 Problem of Historical Amaturism “we find histories that are no more than literature reviews extended backward in time, we find story telling substituting for history, we find the cult of 'anticipators' and the awarding of good and bad marks on the basis of some current scientific orthodoxy, we find gross insensitivity to historical context, we find the formulation of 'timeless' problems in the language of the present, we find the construction of spurious lines of ancestry, we find the mythology of progress. What historian of psychology could feel smug in the face of such shortcomings?” (Danziger, 1997, p. 108)

31 Dialogue Continues Rappard (1997) responded to Danziger's concerns over the future of the history of psychology by suggesting that the "insider" perspective is not so bad after all. He contended that by giving our history away to professional historians (critical outsider) we are likely to have an irrelevant history, one that would look more like philosophy than psychology. (Rappard, 1998).

32 Danziger concludes “No matter how hard one tries, one cannot step outside history in order to write about it. Every historian occupies a particular place in a historical world and can only describe the historical process as it appears from the perspective afforded by that place.... That is why history will always be rewritten." (1998, p.670).

33 Is there a Future for the History of Psychology? Danziger (1994) has contended that the very fact that the discipline lacks cohesion and has remained filled with divisions has necessitated the study of the history of psychology within the discipline

34 Is there a Future for the History of Psychology? It follows that as long as there are "isms" and systems and theories, undergraduate psychology students will need a course on the history of psychology since it is the only course that would put all these isms into a larger "scientific" perspective.

35 Is there a Future for the History of Psychology? Does the lack of cohesion and consensus then ensure the presence of the history of psychology courses at an undergraduate level? Leahey (2000) the past president of the Division 26 of APA (History of Psychology) observed that in contemporary psychology, there seem to be no major "isms" and no "big pictures" anymore that students need to know. Need to ponder the course content in the changing discipline.

36 The Problem and the Threat to the Teaching of Psychology's History Deciding on the direction and the content of the course * Insider/Outsider * Celebratory/Critical Justify its relevance to one's colleagues and decision makers in a psychology department & the hiring of an expert to teach the course.

37 Direction and Content “Old history” –Insider involves celebrating and enumerating achievements, students, listing contributions along with dates “New History” – Outsider involves critical examination of social context, political struggles, idea and movement development within personal and social contexts

38 New History- Human Science Human Science perspectives offer interpretations of identity within the social and political contexts of lived experience Erik Erikson provides several examples of a human science approach to understanding personal and collective identity He draws from the Hermeneutical tradition of Wilhelm Dilthey where he articulates the individual life as it is lived in a socio- historical context

39 Psychohistory making Identity is integrated as the nexus of the past present and future where we find meaning in our present identity by interpreting it against our historical past; our context of understanding Looking at our future we also must turn to our past in order to maintain continuity of identity; both personal and collective Erikson draws from R.G. Collingwood (1965) who contends that “history is thought” (p. 7) and “thought is life” (p. 15). Interpreting present practices and values against our traditions and histories is what gives us life as psychologists and and human beings

40 The Problem and the Threat to the Teaching of Psychology's History Not replacing the retired "history of psychology" faculty Hiring "external" faculty to teach the history of psychology course Scrapping the history of psychology courses as a requirement for major at an undergraduate level Not offering any history of psychology course at the graduate level Shortening the credits assigned to the course

41 Voices of Concern: Comments from teachers of the history of psychology "While I was on my last sabbatical, proposals were floated to dilute my history courses. Given only a year left before my retirement, and the negative mood in the department, I decided to give up"

42 Voices of Concern "… 25 years ago when I arrived [at this university] there was … a history concentration. This is now whittled down to one course, optional, at the third year level. Some of this had to do with the fact that three people went on to become dept. chairs, deans etc. Some of this had to do with the complete inability and lack of energy [on my part] to engage in departmental politics….So it has dwindled away, and interested students have gone to the York program".

43 Voices of Concern "One faculty member has expressed interest in teaching the history class, but it would have to be at the expense of other courses offered, and we cannot entertain that possibility at the present time" "Our department has never appointed anyone with explicit interests in history and I expect it will not in the immediate future (even as we have made 8 new appointments this past year and expect to make another six or so next year"

44 Voices of Concern "Being strictly a science department, it is unlikely that we would ever have a position devoted solely to the history of psychology" "I am taking an early retirement package… No initiative to replace me with a full-time professor with a specialization in History has been made and it is unlikely that such a move will take place"

45 Voices of Concern "There are no plans to hire a historian, although I will argue for this. Unfortunately, I am pessimistic. … My department has officially announced that it is an "applied" department (clinical and applied social), which to me signals a further moving away from intellectual and critical investigation of the discipline. On a more positive note, there are two recently hired tenure-track faculty … in my department with interests in teaching history”

46 Is there a Future for Historians of Psychology? Katalin Dzinas (1995), reflected that: We worry whether we will be able to secure a job as historians of psychology… None of us wish to work as closet historians, pretending at all times to be something we are not and doing research on problems in which we are not particularly interested…We worry that we may not be able to secure grant money to fund our research… We might not have the opportunity to supervise students who wish to work in this area. (1995; P. 33)

47 Conclusion Teaching the history of psychology has a varied history where multiple methods and perspectives have been advocated. Debates continue over the nature and role that history of psychology plays in the undergraduate (& graduate) curriculum Some see a shaky future to the teaching of the history of psychology and ponder whether or not history is history.

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