The Freud Museum

Events Archive

11 March 2001

Minding History

Conference Report

The Minding History conference, jointly organised with the journal 'Psychoanalysis and History', was held at the Tavistock Clinic on March 11 2001. There were three main themes to the conference: psychohistory, psyche in history, and the history of psychoanalysis.

Erik Erikson asserted that history and psychoanalysis were very much the same enterprise. He quoted R.G. Collingwood: "History is the life of the mind itself which is not mind except so far as it both lives in the historical process and knows itself as so living." In the opening paper Lawrence Friedman charted three phases of psychohistory, and the ambivalent relationship that Erikson had to the discipline he founded. He noted that Erikson's concern with identity and historical processes have now become part of mainstream historical research. Similar ambivalence and uncertainty was expressed in Ann Scott's thoughtful paper 'The trauma of authority: reflections on editing a psychoanalytic dictionary'. As editor of the dictionary in question she was well placed to reflect on the psychological and historical significance of definitions and terminology.

History has traditionally interpreted minds and motives. In theory it should form a dream team with psychoanalysis. Why instead have the majority of academic historians treated it as a Trojan Horse invading their domain? Is it because psychoanalysis appears to be co-opting the forces shaping history? Or because it subordinates the social to the individual? Sally Alexander ('The psychopathology of everyday life: Britain in the 1920s') and Daniel Pick ('English questions: Psychoanalysis, history, national culture') considered these issues in relation to the traditions of cultural life and academic research in Britain. But in what ways can the intimate remembering and dynamic unconscious of psychoanalysis be related to wider historical process?

Ever since Freudís 'History of the Psycho-Analytical Movement' in 1914, the history of psychoanalysis has been a focus of polemics and scandal. Is that because it seems to be setting itself up as a science of history in order to escape from history? Or because it is simply a topic of history like any other, hence a subject in dispute? History combines the sense of truth and story. Inevitably we need to subject it, and ourselves, to continual revision and rewriting, as in psychoanalysis. John Forrester focused on 'Freud in Cambridge', a fascinating and little known episode in the history of psychoanalysis, while Joseph Schwartz investigated the wider literature on the subject in his paper 'Writing and Wronging: a history of the history of psychoanalysis'.

The conference was expertly chaired and moderated by Robert Hinshelwood and Andrea Sabbadini, and the papers will be published in a forthcoming issue of 'Psychoanalysis and History'.

This website uses cookies to ensure we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this website. Find out more about our cookie policy.