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Colp, R., Jr (1988). Views of psychohistory. Free Associations, 1O(14):111-123.

(1988). Free Associations, 1O(14):111-123

Views of psychohistory

Ralph Colp, Jr

Psychohistory: Readings in the Method of Psychology, Psychoanalysis, and History, edited by Geoffrey Cocks and Travis L. Crosby, Yale University Press, 1987, xv + 318 pages, hb $35.00, pb $14.95

This anthology, edited by two American historians and primarily intended for history students, consists of eighteen essays on or related to psychohistory, written over the past thirty years by sociologists, political scientists, historians, philosophers, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, and psychologists. The editors have aimed at a book that — in contrast to several earlier compilations ‘which were too narrowly bound to psychoanalytic theory’ — offers a ‘thorough and balanced introduction to psychohistory’ (pp. ix, xiv). And, although this anthology suffers from bibliographic redundancies and irregularities,1 and the omission of important works, if it is read along with some of these works it affords summaries of four prevalent groups of views of psychohistory: the criticisms made against it; its various orientations; its studies of individuals; and its studies of groups.

The criticisms begin with the anthology's first essay: the psychologist Hans Eysenck's ‘What's wrong with psychoanalysis?’ (1953), which charges that ‘psychoanalysis is unscientific’ (p. 16). Farther on the political scientist Alexander George — in an essay on Woodrow Wilson — observes that ‘three major deficiencies’ of psychobiography are that it exaggerates the purely psychological determinants of behaviour, over-simplifies the process of personality formation, and is ‘highly speculative and arbitrary’ (pp. 133-4). To these may be added what is perhaps the best-known criticism: that psychohistory is reductionist — because it reduces complex events to neurotic mechanisms.

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