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Dowling, J.A. (1972). Psychoanalysis and History: Problems and Applications. Psychoanal. Rev., 59(3):433-450.

(1972). Psychoanalytic Review, 59(3):433-450

Psychoanalysis and History: Problems and Applications

Joseph A. Dowling, Ph.D.

History, unlike political science, sociology, and anthropology, has remained relatively immune to the influence of psychoanalytic concepts. There are, of course, some signs of interest: in December 1957 Professor Langer of Harvard shocked the historical fraternity by suggesting that the next assignment for historians “was a deepening of … historical understanding through exploitation of the concepts and findings of psychology,” by which he meant “depth psychology.”12 More recently, H. Stuart Hughes has taken up the cause and has urged that historians work out programs of training in psychoanalysis since “nothing less … will be adequate to the needs of historical understanding in the second half of the twentieth century.”11 Nevertheless, we still find little evidence that most historians or even a significant minority are interested in pursuing such a course. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this reluctance, some of which are self-evident. Psychoanalysis is a difficult field, and the historian has his hands full with his own; history deals with the past, and it is hard to get the people of yesteryear on the couch; psychoanalysis is deterministic and smacks of the scientific positivism of the late nineteenth century. And Langer suggests historians “have habitually thought of themselves as psychologists in their own right … and many no doubt have shared the fear that the humanistic appreciation of personality, as in poetry and drama, might be irretrievably lost through the application of a coldly penetrating calculus.”12a Then too, historians have a definite bias in favor of rationalistic explanations of the past that detach the emotions from history and “retain the real, the proper history.”8

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