We may define psychohistory as the interdisciplinary study of why man has
acted the way he has in history, prominently utilizing psychoanalytic
As of yet there are no formal training programs for psychohistorians, courses
are taught here and there by such scholars as Peter Loewenberg, David Beisel,
Rudolph Binion, Paul Elovitz, Jerrold Atlas, Charles Strozier, and a few
others. Thus, psychohistorians are essentially self taught, which is one reason
why a group such as IPA can be important for the growth of the field. IPA has
taken over the On-Line Training Course that had existed and is in the process
of redesigning it to hopefully make it more relevant for the needs of interested
scholars. Further information will be posted on our Web Site, as it becomes
available. Ideally, the psychohistorian should be trained in both history and
psychoanalysis. Most of us are usually trained in one or the other & many have
no formal training in either area. Thus, psychohistorical scholarship is
somewhat variable in quality and quite eclectic in character. But our work is
seldom dull and often provocative.
Not everyone can or should aspire to be a psychohistorian. You should feel
comfortable going beyond disciplinary boundaries. You need a certain amount
of extra imagination to ferret out the unusual source or find information in
unexpected places. You should not be afraid of new ideas, nor should you be
afraid to use your feelings in the service of understanding. You need to have a
well developed sense of curiosity. Psychohistorians are not special people, we
are fallible just like anyone else, but we do share an abiding desire to want to
know why, always why....
There are three inter-related areas of psychohistorical study.
If all this appeals to you, you might want to join us. There is a great deal left to
do. We welcome your involvement and support.
- History of Childhood:
Here we look at such questions as how have children been raised
throughout history, how has the family been constituted, how & why has it
changed over time, the place & value of children in society over time,
how & why our views of child abuse and neglect have changed, why there
is still such denial about the reality of child abuse, etc. We pay such
attention to childhood because it is there that much of the groundwork for
our future emotional development is created. Thus, if we are to
understand our emotional development, how & why it has changed over
time, we need to better comprehend the history childhood.
Here we seek to understand individual historical people and their
motivations in history. This is not as simple as it may sound.
Psychobiography involves understanding a person's emotional growth,
their personal, family, and societal relations, the time in which the person
lives, and how all of these interact to allow the person to have an effect
on history. Generally, this sort of scholarship cannot be done without very
detailed personal data, hence it is more likely that the best subject is a
recent historical figure. Psychobiography is perhaps the most visible form
of psychohistorical scholarship. It can be especially open to misuse
because scholars may find themselves unduly tempted to brand their
subject as more evil or pathological than they might have actually been. A
good example of this sort of problem is Richard Nixon.
- Group Psychohistory:
This is perhaps the most radical & anxiety provoking form of
psychohistorical scholarship. Here we study and seek to understand the
motivations of large groups in history. Like individuals, groups are also
driven by emotions and fantasies. There is no group mind, separate from
the individual members, rather groups are motivated by members all
having feelings and fantasies that are broadly the same, in other words
shared. It is a common truism that we will do things in groups that we
would never dream of doing as individuals, this is one thing that can make
the effort to understand group's underlying emotion and fantasy so scary.
But this work is also on the forefront of psychohistorical scholarship.
Thus it can be very exciting.
-- Henry Lawton, Pres.of the International Psychohistory Assn. His E-MAIL _|_ Assn. Website