New Histories of Psychology: Politics, Publics, and Power

This Consortium working group builds on a virtual community, founded in the midst of the pandemic to connect scholars working in the history of psychology. “New Histories of Psychology” seeks to integrate the subfield of history of psychology into the heart of the history of science by reading cutting-edge scholarship that highlights major themes in the history of science—from the role of experts to the popularization of science. Our monthly themes focus on the intersections of psychology with contemporary issues, showing how psychology has been bound up in politics, publics, and power throughout its history. The content of monthly meetings will vary session to session, including a mix of key texts, panel presentations on a common theme, and workshop opportunities for works-in-progress. We welcome scholars at all career stages and all disciplines, including those in related fields concerned with the history, sociology and ethnography of the human sciences, as well as psychologists interested in understanding the history of their discipline. We aim to create a multi-disciplinary space for pursuing theoretically-informed, critical histories of psychology, involving scholars from different institutions, disciplines, and career stages.

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Participants at Consortium activities will treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

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Upcoming Meetings

There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.

Past Meetings

  • May 25, 2022

    Please join us for the final meeting of the New Histories of Psychology working group. We will reflect on the past 2 years of discussion and members will have the opportunity to talk about their future plans.

  • April 27, 2022

    This week we will examine the history of global mental health. We will focus on 2 recent articles which examine the linkages between Europe and the decolonizing world after World War II. The first examines Frantz Fanon’s relationship to the French tradition of institutional psychotherapy. The second examines the relationship between Eastern European psychiatric experts and the decolonizing world. We will discuss how these articles help us envision alternative geographies for postwar psychology. They also offer new perspectives on the meaning of psychological universalism and its limits.
    Robcis, Camille. "Frantz Fanon, Institutional Psychotherapy, and the Decolonization of Psychiatry." Journal of the history of ideas 81, no. 2 (2020): 303-325.
    Antić, Ana. "Transcultural Psychiatry: Cultural Difference, Universalism and Social Psychiatry in the Age of Decolonisation." Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 45, no. 3 (2021): 359-384.


  • March 23, 2022

    Pedagogies of the New Histories of Psychology
    Please join us for our monthly meeting on Wednesday, March 23 at 1pm Eastern time. This month we will pivot slightly and have an informal conversation about teaching the history of psychology, psychiatry, madness - however you frame your courses!
    Some ideas to mull over:
    - diversifying the history of psych class
    - thinking locally, nationally, and globally in the history of psych...and how to fit all that in?
    - teaching to psych majors v. teaching to history majors
    - bringing the patient in
    - incorporating media - what are your favorite teaching films?
    - your best assignments...and the awesome-seeming assignments that didn't quite work
    Maybe you want to bring your teaching conundrums or share your favorite readings. Or just come think through the big questions with us: what do we actually want our students to learn when we teach them the history of the psy* sciences, and how do we try to get them there?
    There are no assigned readings this month - just show up!

  • February 23, 2022

    In this month’s meeting, we will discuss the American Psychological Association’s 2021 apology to People of Color for its “role in promoting, perpetuating, and failing to challenge racism, racial discrimination, and human hierarchy in U.S.” We will focus on the historical research, publicly shared as a timeline, used to support the claims made in the apology.
    What kind of history of psychology does the apology construct? How does it relate to other public apologies made by public institutions and the state for past wrongs? Which persons, events, and interventions get highlighted? Which get occluded? What does the apology and the timeline tell us about the role of historical knowledge (and memory) within the discipline of psychology?

  • January 26, 2022

    Pop Psychology
    It’s easy to roll our eyes at pop psych, especially when ideas from psychology are translated into into feel good, neoliberal, self-help books. But this meeting we dig deeper into the uses of pop psych. When is it political and when is it apolitical? Why is it more eagerly consumer by women, and can it ever be feminist? And how do we navigate the relationship and boundaries between “real” psychology and pop psychology, both today and in the past? When is psychology appropriated by culture, and when is culture appropriated by psychology? What does the self-help bestseller tell us about its surrounding culture?
    Susanne Schmidt, ‘The Anti-Feminist Reconstruction of the Midlife Crisis: Popular Psychology, Journalism and Social Science in 1970s USA’ Gender & History, Vol.30 No.1 March 2018, pp. 153–176.
    Eleanor Cummins, "The Self-Help That No One Needs Right Now,” The Atlantic October 18, 2021

  • December 22, 2021

    History of Substance Use Disorder Treatment
    As overdose rates have risen in the last few years, there has been more attention to treating substance use disorder. The history of such treatments, from the “narcotic farm” in Lexington, Kentucky of the 1950s to present pharmaceutical and CBT-informed treatments, reveal the intertwined phenomena of the professionalization of the psy sciences, race, and the criminal legal system. However, alongside these more carceral and medicalized forms of addiction treatment, there have been various community-based interventions, including the Lincoln Detox clinic, which provided acupuncture treatments for people who used heroin. In this discussion, we will elaborate on questions such as what has been the role of psychology in the war on drugs? How has mindfulness been conceived as treatment within carceral spaces? How can we, as historians of psychology, investigate community-based approaches to substance use treatments? 
    Kerrison, E. M. (2017). An historical review of racial bias in prison-based substance abuse treatment design. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 56(8), 567–592.
    Shaw, D. (2016). 50 Years since the Panthers formed, Capitalism + Drugs still = Genocide. Liberation School.

  • November 24, 2021

    History of Psychedelic Research
    Over 1,000 articles on the scientific and medical applications of psychedelics were published in the 1950s and 60s. However, by the early 1970s, changes in how medications were regulated and the conservative backlash against hippie culture essentially ended research into psychedelics. Over the past 15 years that has changed. Scientists at prominent universities like Johns Hopkins, Columbia and University College London are now investigating how drugs like MDMA and psilocybin can be used to treat conditions such as PTSD, depression and addiction. This week we explore the history of why psychedelics were banned and the burgeoning field of contemporary psychedelic research. How did (and does) the usage of psychedelics outside of a controlled scientific setting affect the course of psychedelic research? How does research into psychedelics blend religious and scientific beliefs? Can psychedelics possibly deliver on their current promise to be a cure-all for many treatment-resistant psychiatric ailments like PTSD and addiction?
    Novak, Steven J. 1997. “LSD before Leary: Sidney Cohen’s Critique of 1950s Psychedelic Drug Research.” Isis 88(1):87–110.
    Pollan, Michael. 2015. "The Trip Treatment." The New Yorker.

  • October 27, 2021


  • September 22, 2021

    Aversion Therapy
    Few terms are as controversial in the history of psychology as “behavior modification.” At once at the heart of almost every psychological intervention, the term evokes images of involuntary control, manipulation, and even torture. This is especially true of “aversion therapy” targeting sexuality. In this session, we will examine the history of this controversy. What was the historical geography of this approach? How did the promote and critique of behavior modification intersect with wider political concerns? What is the historical relationship among behavior modification regimes for homosexuality, gender nonconformity, pedophilia? How did the political controversies of the 1960s and 1970s shape subsequent psychotherapeutic orientations like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and eclecticism/integration? Our core reading examines the considerable gap between the initial studies of aversion therapy for homosexuality conducted in Czechoslovakia and their subsequent interpretation among behavior therapists across the British Commonwealth. Follow up readings examine the historical memory of aversion therapy among patients and professionals as well as a recent online exhibit dedicated to LGBTQ+ psychology.
    Davison, Kate. "Cold War Pavlov: Homosexual aversion therapy in the 1960s." History of the Human Sciences 34, no. 1 (2021): 89-119.
    Smith, Glenn, Annie Bartlett, and Michael King. "Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s—an oral history: the experience of patients." BMJ 328, no. 7437 (2004): 427.
    King, Michael, Glenn Smith, and Annie Bartlett. "Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s—an oral history: the experience of professionals." BMJ 328, no. 7437 (2004): 429.
    Radiolab interview with Gerald Davison
    A Clockwork Lavender (online exhibit from Cummings Center for the History of Psychology)


  • May 26, 2021

    Unpacking Communities of Care in the History of Psychology
    In our final session of the academic year, we will try unpacking the contested meaning of “community care” in the history of psychology, the social sciences, and politics. What is meant to empower the community? What constitutes a community “after kinship”? Who does the work of care in our austere times?  
    Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi. Care work: Dreaming disability justice. Vancouver: arsenal pulp press, 2018, chapter 1.
    Cooper, Melinda. "Neoliberalism’s Family Values: Welfare, Human Capital, and Kinship" in Mirowski, Philip, Dieter Plehwe, and Quinn Slobodian, eds. Nine Lives of Neoliberalism. Verso Books, 2020, 95-119.