Why does one study history of psychology? – Chapter 0

Studying history offers the opportunity to take a step outside the internal mechanisms of the discipline of psychology. This can help you to see how all the elements have evolved in relation to specific problems. 

A second advantage of studying history is seeing how ideas that we see as old or incorrect today, actually seem logical within their original context. This can help to better evaluate current psychological findings. This historical awareness can also contribute to your personal ability to critically evaluate contemporary ideas. 

A third reason is that it helps us to appreciate the 'reflexive' nature of the field. Reflexivity refers to the human ability to become aware of and reflect on your own activities. This reflection can lead to changes in the understanding of yourself.

What began the study of the history of psychology?

Psychologists have always been interested in studying their own history. One of the first American texts on the history of psychology appeared in 1912: Founders of Modern Psychology, by G. Stanley Hall. Another early text was A History of Experimental Psychology, published in 1929 by Boring. He wanted to strengthen the status of psychology as an experimental science. 

It is clear that the history of psychology has the interest of psychologists for various reasons. In the US, John Watson was very influential. He was trained as a clinical psychologist but decided in 1959 to dedicate himself solely to the history of psychology. He published an article titled History of Psychology: A Neglected Area, resulting that in 1965, a department of the APA arose that devoted itself to history: division 26.

How does one study the past?

Historiography is the technical term for writing about history, but it can also refer to historical work. Some historians solely focus on the development of important ideas and their intellectual and disciplinary contexts, neglecting the social and political factors that played a role in them. 

This distinction is called internalism versus externalism. Most historians try to find a balance between these two positions. Some adopt what they call the 'Great Man Approach', in which history is told by the contributions of important people in the field. In this case, external factors are often ignored.  The Zeitgeist approach takes into account the fact that the ‘spirit of time’ can influence someone's ideas. In this book, a balance is maintained between the internalistic and externalist stand point, and between the Great Man and the Zeitgeist approach.

Some historians use presentism, which means they try to view a subject from the present and explain current circumstances by emphasizing that we have made progress thanks to our ancestors. Others adopt the perspective of historicism and try to see the past as it was really experienced by our ancestors. Some historians take the position of 'sophisticated presentism', they don’t assume that the current state of affairs is by definition the right or best but do explain situations from a presentistic viewpoint.

The historians also had to deal with a practical question: when should my history start?  In 1908, Hermann Ebbinghaus wrote: “Psychology has a long fit but a short history.”  What he meant by this was that the psychology that he practiced, the experimental discipline, only started from the middle of the 19th century. General psychological ideas, however, occurred already much earlier. 

There is debate among historians of psychology about whether psychological concepts and ideas are timeless entities, or whether they depend on the social context. Decisions about when the history of psychology starts with part of the continuity-discontinuity debate. Many early ideas that go back to the past of psychology and are discussed in the first chapters of the book are also presented in the psychology of today.

One of the most important decisions of a historian is who he or she discusses in a book and who does not. For a long time, women were excluded from the formal sciences. Especially in the beginning, their influence was thus only indirect or supportive, which also only occurred in higher social classes. The facilitating and moderating roles of women were, however, often important. Even when psychology became a separate section the end of the nineteenth century, it was doubted whether it was appropriate to give women a higher level of education. Later, during the twentieth century, however, more and more women were allowed to participate. In 1970, a project occurred to determine the contribution of women in the history of psychology, in which movements that had an influence on theories about race and gender were also included.

What is the historiographical approach?

The historiographical approach of this book can be best described as personalistic contextual. The important theories, questions and applications that are present in current psychology are described by detailed analyses of the lives and times of the most important contributors. This can provide insight into how and why certain psychological ideas have taken shape and bring abstract ideas to life. This book also pays more attention to history’s female pioneers of psychology.

Selected Categories
Connect & Continue
WorldSupporter Resources

Pioneers of Psychology Bundle - Fancher & Rutherford - 5e druk Engelstalige samenvatting

Pioneers of Psychology - Fancher & Rutherford - 5e edition

English summary per chapter

Contributions, Comments & Kudos

Add new contribution

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Author: Emy
Join World Supporter
Join World Supporter
Log in or create your free account

Why create an account?

  • Your WorldSupporter account gives you access to all functionalities of the platform
  • Once you are logged in, you can:
    • Save pages to your favorites
    • Give feedback or share contributions
    • participate in discussions
    • share your own contributions through the 7 WorldSupporter tools
Access level of this page
  • Public
  • WorldSupporters only
  • JoHo members
  • Private
16 2

JoHo kan jouw hulp goed gebruiken! Check hier de diverse bijbanen die aansluiten bij je studie, je competenties verbeteren, je cv versterken en je een bijdrage laten leveren aan een mooiere wereld