Explanation of Psychohistory

Date: Thu, 25 Dec 1997 10:00:00 -0800

Sender: Historical motivation utilizing psychoanalytic principles +forum+

<[email protected]>

From: Michael Hirohama <[email protected]>

Subject: Predictions

X-Orig-Subj: Definition of Psychohistory [resending with definition]

//edited 1.5 mmh

X-cc: Jamie Peters <[email protected]>,

"Douglas C. Baxter" <[email protected]>

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Jamie [James?] Peters <[email protected]> defines "psychohistory" by discussing and citing six points of view as part of "A Historical Dictionary of Terms in Family History" produced as a "History of the Family" [History 381] Class Project, Winter Quarter 1996-1997, taught by Douglas C. Baxter <[email protected]>, Ohio U.






Psychohistory: An interpretation of historical events using psychological or psychoanalytical methods. Proper psychohistorical study is to look at the causes of historical events rather than effects, writes Rudolph Binion in "Doing Psychohistory" (p. 64).

It is, "understanding history through motives and motives through history," he writes (69). All that statistical historical analysis shows is "Who" and "What." Psychohistorical study answers "Why"? In "The Independence of Psychohistory," Lloyd deMause writes that many historians falsely believe that economic, political and sociological factors have no relation to psychological factors (p. 52).

Psychohistory must analyze the personality in convergence with the institutions, events, ideas and values of the time period. Lloyd deMause writes that psychohistory has a double burden of proof: It has to conform not only to the usual standards of historical research, but it also must be psychologically sound (p. 54). Psychohistorical study is more of a rediscovery than a discovery, according to deMause. "It is a process of finding out what we already know and act upon" (66).

Critics of psychohistorical study say that it is too subjective, and the psychological characteristics of study focus are too exaggerated. In "Some Uses of Dynamic Psychology in Political Biography," Alexander L. George argues that the "actions of the subject are often interpreted in ways which seem highly speculative and arbitrary" (p. 134). Psychohistorians often oversimplify the process of personality formation and the complex intricacies of the functioning personality, continues George (133). But, of course, psychohistory is reductionist, concedes deMause, since all it studies are historical motivations (p. 53).

In "Why Did Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear?" William McKinley Runyan writes that psychohistorians are too ready to accept the first psychoanalytic interpretation of an event, conveniently rationalizing previously unexplainable events: "When this happens, it is not sufficient to suggest that all of the explanations may be simultaneously true: rather, the situation requires that the alternative explanatory conjectures be critically evaluated and compared in terms of their relative plausibility" (p. 130).

In Varieties of Psychohistory, George M. Kren and Leon H. Rappoport write that psychohistory adds another dimension to historical study, eliciting a more representative account of events (p. 7). There will always be abstract arguments over the validity of psychohistory. The usefulness of psychohistory, though, contend Kren and Rappoport, is how it explains how the contours of leaders' minds shaped and affected important decisions (13). This method of analyzing history is especially important in the attempt to understand the profound evolutionary changes of contemporary western civilization, they write (14). "The utility of psychohistory," Kren and Rappoport write "is that it adds a new human dimension to great events, thus enriching our understanding of these events, and also. . .our understanding of ourselves" (13).

Psychohistory is an important tool in examining the history of the family. The study of the emotional elements of the family is important because they are intrinsic to the evolution of the family. The emotional aspects of the family are strongly correlated to demographic and economic changes, wars and religious beliefs throughout time. "Emotional experience may change over time, and emotional evaluations and targeting certainly change--in changing they reflect important historical shifts and cause others," write Peter and Carol Stearns in "Emotionology" (Psychohistory, p. 302). The use of psychohistory should be practiced with careful objective study and encourage precision and not overemphasize the emotional and psychological elements.--Jamie Peters


Alexander, George L. "Some Uses of Dynamic Psychology in Political Biography: Case Materials on Woodrow Wilson," Psychohistory: 133, 134.

Binion, Rudolph. "Doing Psychohistory." Psychohistory: 64, 69.

DeMause, Lloyd. "The Independence of Psychohistory." Psychohistory: 52, 53, 54, 66.

Kren, George M. and Leon H. Rappoport. Varieties of Psychohistory. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1976, 7, 13, 14.

Runyan, William McKinley. "Why Did Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear?" Psychohistory, 133.


Other family history terms defined:

Affinity; Agunah; Alberti, Leon Battista; Amenorrhoea;

Annales School; Annullment; Aristotle;

Bann; Betrothal; Bilinear Descent; Black Death; Brides wealth;

Cambridge Group; Canon Law; Celibacy; Chaste Marriage;

Consummation of Marriage; Council of Trent; Courtship;

Dispensation; Dower;

Elite Family in Athens; Ensoulment; Entail; Extended Family;

Familia; Family, Emotional Life; Family Life Cycle;

Family Reconstitution; Family Revolution of 1000;

Family, Views of Christ; Family, Views of St. Paul; Frérèche;

Gens; Gratian; Greek Mythology and the Family;

Henry, Louis; Hetaera; Household;

Impartible Inheritance; Impediment; Impotence;

Incest; Indissolubility of Marriage;


Laslett, Peter; Levirate; Life Expectancy; Luther, Martin;

Manus; Matriarchy; Matrilinear; Morgengabe; Multiple Family;

Nuclear Family;

Paston, Margaret; Patria Potestas; Pedagogic Pederasty;

Penitentials; Peter Lombard; Philip I, King of France;

Philip II Augustus, King of France; Polyptychs;

Premarital Sex; Primogeniture; Prostitution; Psychohistory;

Sacrament; Separation of Bed & Board; Sippe; Socrates;

Spiritual Affinity; Stem Family; Surnames;


Ultimogeniture; Univera;

Words of the Future/Words of the Present.


Michael Hirohama <[email protected]>

Owner, PSYCHOHISTORY (historical motivation) List