Psychohistory

The neutrality of this article is disputed.

Psychohistory is the study of the psychological motivations of historical events, combining 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.

Table of contents
1 Description
2 Centers of Research
3 References
4 External links
5 Psychohistory in Fiction

Description

Psychohistory derives many of its insights from areas that are ignored by conventional historians as shaping factors; in particular, childbirth, parenting practise, child abuse and willful neglect. The often hidden historical roles of incest, infanticide, and child sacrifice are considered.

Most political scientists and historians teach "realism" and "neo-realism"; ie. that social behaviour is rational, not irrational, and that international violence is for economic gain, not loss. Psychohistory contemplates that often social behaviour is a self-destructive re-enactment of earlier abuse and neglect. It holds that unconscious flashbacks to early fears and destructive parenting dominate society.

There are three inter-related areas of psychohistorical study.

  • History of Childhood - which looks 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 changing 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.
  • Psychobiography - which seeks to understand individual historical people and their motivations in history.
  • Group Psychohistory - which seeks to understand the motivations of large groups in history.

Sigmund Freud is probably most qualified to be described as the inventor of the field as his works, such as History and its Discontents, often included historical analysis supported by his theories of psychoanalysis. 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 such. Notable examples of psychobiography are those by Louis Namier, who wrote of the British House of Commons and Fawn Brodie, who wrote of Thomas Jefferson.

Some historians and anthropologists complain that they, too, are attempting to describe motivations in their fields of study . Psychohistorians reply that the difference is in emphasis, in conventional study narrative is central and motivation is peripheral, while in psychohistory motivation takes the centre stage. Despite this assertion, Psychohistory does lend itself to narrative and has been credited with helping to revitalize the historical biography. Critics doubt the viability of the application of post-mortem psychoanalysis, a concept which neither Freud nor the post-Freudian schools of psychoanalysis seemed to have in mind while developing their theories. See also Independence of psychohistory.

Centers of Research

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.

References

  • 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, ASIN: 0914434276 (1989)

  • Loewenberg, Peter ; Decoding the Past: The Psychohistorical Approach; Transaction Pub; ISBN: 1560008466 (August 2002)

External links


Psychohistory in Fiction

Psychohistory was also the name of a fictional science in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy universe, which combined history, psychology and mathematical statistics to create a (nearly) exact science of the behavior of very large populations of people, such as the Galactic Empire. Asimov used the analogy of a gas - In a gas, the motion of a single molecule is very difficult to predict, but the mass action of the gas can be predicted to a high level of accuracy. Asimov applied this concept to the population of the fictional Galactic Empire, which numbered in the quadrillions. The character responsible for the science's creation, Hari Seldon, established two postulates: that the population whose behaviour was modeled should be sufficiently large and that they should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses.

Later on in his career, Asimov described historical (pre-Seldon) origins of psychohistory. In The Robots of Dawn, he describes roboticist Han Fastolfe's attempts to create the science based on careful observation of others, particularly his daughter Vasilia.

As a precursor to psychohistory, one of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels, a character describes the possibility of forecasting the behaviour of society using mathematical means.




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