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Molnar, M. (2002). Report on ‘Minding History’ Conference. Psychoanal. Hist., 4(2):231-234.

(2002). Psychoanalysis and History, 4(2):231-234


Report on ‘Minding History’ Conference

Michael Molnar

The title of this journal's first conference is allusive and ambiguous. It might have been more precise had it simply been called ‘and?’ (though such mystification would undoubtedly have attracted far fewer participants than the 120 who attended). As the link between the ‘Psychoanalysis’ and the ‘History’ of this journal's title, ‘and?’ encapsulates the core problem of its enterprise. All the contributions to the conference circled some aspect of that queried conjunction.

It is most significant by its absence from the portmanteau term ‘psycho-history’. In the opening paper, ‘Erik Erikson's case against psychohistory: reflections and evaluations’, Lawrence Friedman followed the trail of this curious hybrid and its rejection by Erikson, its imputed father. Yet subsequent speakers had little to add on this subject, perhaps because it remains a largely American phenomenon. In the afternoon Daniel Pick offered a local counterpart to Friedman's transatlantic historiography—‘English questions: psychoanalysis, history, national culture’—but dismissed psycho-history as a genre, because its tendency to facile reductionism had brought it to an impasse.

Perhaps that tendency is coded into its very title. Without the pivotal ‘and’ two methodologies are concertinaed together, damaging both. The problem remains, how history and psychoanalysis can best be integrated? Sometimes this question is answered implicitly or by stealth. Friedman spoke of historians coopting psychology without attribution, or ‘obliteration by incorporation’, as he termed it. Daniel Pick noted that psychoanalysis is an unacknowledged spectre haunting such historians as Lytton Strachey and Lewis Namier. There remain prejudices to be overcome, on both sides of the fence. Pick mentioned the absence of Freud's name from the Royal Historical Society index: Pearl King noted that no historian had ever been invited to speak at the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.


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