For the fictional use of the term "psychohistory", see psychohistory (fictional)
Psychohistory is the study of the psychological motivations of historical events. It combines the insights of psychotherapy with the research methodology of the social sciences to understand the emotional origin of the social and political behavior of groups and nations, past and present. This field of study is considered by some to have significant differences from the mainstream fields of history and psychology.
Psychohistory derives many of its insights from areas that are perceived to be ignored by conventional historians as shaping factors of human history; in particular, the effects of childbirth, parenting practice and child abuse. The historical impact of incest, infanticide, and child sacrifice are considered. Psychohistory holds that human societies can change between infanticidal and non-infanticidal practices and has coined the term 'early infanticidal childrearing' to describe abuse and neglect observed by many anthropologists.
Psychohistory holds that many political scientists and historians teach that social behaviour is usually for rational reasons rather than irrational ones, and that international violence is often instigated for economic gain. Psychohistorians suggest that social behaviour may be a self-destructive re-enactment of earlier abuse and neglect - that unconscious flashbacks to early fears and destructive parenting could dominate individual and social behaviour.
Psychohistory has been credited with helping to revitalise the historical biography. Notable examples of psychobiography are those by Lewis Namier, who wrote of the British House of Commons and Fawn Brodie, who wrote of Thomas Jefferson.
Areas of Psychohistorical Study
There are three inter-related areas of psychohistorical study.
- The History of Childhood - which looks at such questions as:
- How have children been raised throughout history
- How has the family been constituted
- How and why have practices changed over time
- The changing place and value of children in society over time
- How and why our views of child abuse and neglect have changed
- Why there is still denial in modern societies about the reality of child abuse
- Psychobiography - which seeks to understand individual historical people and their motivations in history.
- Group Psychohistory - which seeks to understand the motivations of large groups, including nations, in history and current affairs.
Emergence as a Discipline
Sigmund Freud is probably most qualified to be described as the inventor of the field as his works, such as Civilization and Its Discontents, often included historical analysis supported by his theories of psychoanalysis. The actual term "psychohistory" was coined by Isaac Asimov as the name for a fictional science in his Foundation Trilogy universe. Lloyd deMause was a pioneer in the field of psychohistory and continues to be extremely influential in it. Other notable psychohistorians include Alice Miller and Julian Jaynes, though they are rarely thought of as being specifically psychohistorians.
Independence as A Discipline
Lloyd deMause and others have argued that psychohistory is a field of scientific inquiry with its own peculiar methods, objectives and theories and that it is separate from history and anthropology. Some historians, social scientists and anthropologists have, however, argued that their disciplines already describe psychological motivation and that Psychohistory is not, therefore, a separate subject.
Others have dismissed deMause's theories and motives arguing that the emphasis given by Psychohistory to speculation on the psychological motivations of people in history make it a completely undisciplined field of study. Doubt has also been cast on the viability of the application of post-mortem psychoanalysis, which is a concept that neither Freud nor the post-Freudian schools of psychoanalysis had in mind while developing their theories.
Psychohistorians reply that the difference is one of emphasis and that, in conventional study, narrative and description are central and psychological motivation is hardly touched on. In psychohistory motivation takes centre stage.
Organisations and Centers of Study
The principal centre for psychohistorical study is The Institute for Psychohistory which has 19 branches around the globe and has for 30 years published The Journal of Psychohistory. Its director is Lloyd deMause,
The International Psychohistorical Association, is the professional organisation for the field of psychohistory. It publishes “Psychohistory News” and has a psychohistorical mail order lending library. It hosts an annual convention.
Psychohistory is taught at a few universities as an adjunct to history or social science or as a post graduate study. The following have published course details; Boston University, City University of New York, University of Nevada, State University of New York, at Rockland, and Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut.
- Demause, Lloyd ; Foundations of Psychohistory; Creative Roots Pub ; ISBN 094050801X (January 1982)
- Demause, Lloyd ; Emotional Life of Nations ; Publisher: Other Press; ISBN 1892746980 (June 1, 2002)
- Lawton, Henry W.; The Psychohistorian's Handbook; New York: Psychohistory Press, ISBN 0914434276 (1989)
- Loewenberg, Peter ; Decoding the Past: The Psychohistorical Approach; Transaction Pub; ISBN 1560008466 (August 2002)
- Szaluta, Jacques ; Psychohistory: Theory and Practice;Publisher Peter Lang ; ISBN 0-8204-1741-6 (Published in 1999)
- The Institute for Psychohistory -- this website contains over 1,500 pages of psychohistorical articles and books with full scholarly references
- International Psychohistorical Association the professional organization for the field of psychohistory.
- Psychohistory moderated discussion group about psychohistory and the study of historical motivations hosted on Topica. Readable by anyone.
- The Independence Of Psychohistory Arguments by a psychohistorian on the independence of the subject.
- German Society for Psychohistorical Research in German.