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Mazlish, B. (2003). The Past and Future of Psychohistory. Ann. Psychoanal., 31:251-262.

(2003). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 31:251-262

The Past and Future of Psychohistory

Bruce Mazlish

Memories are at the heart of psychoanalysis, and increasingly a topic of interest to historians as they contemplate the nature of the past and their attempts to account for it. The invitation to contribute to this volume happened to coincide with two other recent events so as to stimulate my search back into my own past as it linked to the history of psychohistory. The assignment I have given to myself here is to combine memories of my involvement in the early stages of psychohistory with reflections on why the field has not fulfilled its early promise and what ought to be done about it now, that is, where should future efforts be directed?

A few years ago, a Finnish scholar, Petteri Pietikainen, came to MIT (my first event) as a Fulbright scholar to work with me. He has a special interest in the history of psychology, coupled with broader concerns. At first, in pursuit of those broader concerns, he conducted extensive interviews concerning my work in the human sciences, overall. Then, as part of that general work, he also delved into my involvement with early psychohistory. At the same time, he interviewed Robert Lifton in depth as to his role in what came to be called the Wellfleet Group, which included mainly Erik Erikson, Philip Rieff, Frederick Wyatt, and myself, in its first incarnation. The result is an article, written jointly by Pietikainen and a colleague, Juhani Ihanus, ‘History as Neurosis: The Origins of Modern Psychohistory’ (Pietikainen and Ihanus, 2003). It is divided into three parts: on Erikson, Lifton, and Mazlish. Needless to say, the article was a stimulus to my taking a memory trip down the lane of these associations and their results.

The second event was less personal. It involved my attending a symposium on ‘Why Psychoanalysis?’ at the Radcliffe Institute, February 22, 2002, with one of the essays by the eminent historian, Lynn Hunt. Her topic was ‘Psychoanalysis and History(Hunt, 2002). In her essay, she delved into the reasons why the promise of psychohistory has never been realized and why William Langer's ‘Next Assignment’ has had so few takers.

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