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date: 25 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Reflexivity has been a common theme in the literature on the history of psychology in recent years. Reflecting on the history of psychology is for historians of psychology the ultimate reflexive step. Germany is widely regarded as the homeland of “modern” or “scientific” psychology. It is here that the oldest surviving work with the word “psychology” in the title was published in 1590. It was also here that the first book with the title History of Psychology [Geschichte der Psychologie] was published in 1808. This reflects the fact that a substantial literature on psychology had already been published in Continental Europe by the end of the 18th century. Several other works on the history of psychology were published in German-speaking countries in the 19th century and in the years leading up to the First World War. English-speaking countries were relatively late in adopting psychology, but it grew rapidly in the United States when it was adopted, and the country was already the dominant power in the field by the outbreak of the First World War. Several works on the history of psychology were published in the United States around the same time, suggesting that disciplines and disciplinary history tend to appear simultaneously. This is because disciplines use their history to create a distinct identity for themselves. The history of psychology was widely taught in American psychology departments, and several textbooks were published to support these courses. E. G. Boring’s A History of Experimental Psychology (1929, 1950) was by far the most influential of these textbooks, and it has profoundly shaped the understanding of psychologists of the history of their field. For example, it was Boring who traced the history of the discipline to the establishment of Wilhelm Wundt’s laboratory for experimental psychology at the University of Leipzig in 1879. In 1979–1980, was widely celebrated as the “centennial” of psychology and the XXII International Congress of Psychology was held in Leipzig to mark the occasion. Prior to the 1960s, the history of psychology was mainly a pedagogical field, and it still is as far as many psychologists are concerned. However, it also became an area of specialization during this decade. This was partly due to a few psychologists adopting it as their main area of interest and partly due to historians of science becoming more interested in the field. A large body of scholarly literature has been produced, including some scholarly textbooks, but this literature exists side by side with more traditional textbooks for which there is still a significant demand. There are signs that the history of psychology has been facing difficulties as a branch of psychology in Europe and North America in recent years. However, interest in the field has been growing among psychologists in other parts of the world and among historians of science. This situation will inevitably have implications for the content of the field.

Keywords: history of psychology, reflexivity, disciplinary history, scientific controversies, historiography, textbooks, critical history, history of science

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