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Anderson, J.W. Winer, J.A. (2003). Introduction. Ann. Psychoanal., 31:1-4.

(2003). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 31:1-4


James William Anderson and Jerome A. Winer

Psychoanalysis would seem to be a resource indispensable to the study of history. All of history is made by individuals, whether they are leaders, creative thinkers, or members of a grouping of people. As the body of thought that best illuminates the inner world, psychoanalysis has a natural relevance for the study of history. It can help get at the motivations of individuals and groups, it can offer possible explanations for many of history's mysteries, and it can make sense of relationships between people.

William L. Langer (1958), in a well-known presidential address to the American Historical Association, recognized the obvious benefits that psychoanalysis offered to history. In this talk he lamented that history had largely overlooked these benefits and declared that “The Next Assignment” for historians should be the use of depth psychology in their work. What is the status of the use of psychoanalysis in history today, nearly a half-century after Langer's address?

The essays in Section I make the case for psychobiography in four different ways: they demonstrate what is now beyond serious dispute, that psychoanalysis (used in its broad sense to refer to psychological approaches that take the unconscious into account, consider the effect of childhood on adult thinking and behavior, and account for the interplay of forces in the mind) is invaluable in the study of the lives of historical figures. Norman Itzkowitz and Vamik Volkan compare how biographies informed by psychoanalysis and conventional biographies handle the same material. Gerald N. Izenberg considers the artist, Wassily Kandinsky, as a particularly telling case for the use of psychoanalysis in biography. He notes that many people might think that one of the least likely places for a psychoanalytic approach would be in the study of a painter of nonrepresentational abstractions. Yet he points out that personal motivations are central to Kandinsky's work.

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