November 7, 1980

Shrinking History: On Freud and the Failure of Psychohistory

Author Affiliations

Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center Chicago
Harvard Medical School at the Cambridge Hospital Cambridge, Mass


by David E. Stannard, 187 pp, 8 illus, $12.95, New York, Oxford University Press, 1980.

JAMA. 1980;244(18):2107. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03310180071048

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Psychohistory is the marriage of history and psychology, with the aim of developing a discipline to study the motives and purposes of individuals and groups during important moments in history. As such, it has leaned heavily on psychoanalysis as the psychological member of the partnership, and, as is often the fate of new disciplines, it suffers from superficial and irrelevant findings. In Shrinking History, the author, David E. Stannard, insists that the failures of this union are so enormous that we should just chuck the whole venture.

Every physician who has ever taken a patient's history knows that one needs first to gather facts and then must interpret what is collected. History can never be a mere lumping of data, and sometimes one good interpretation of a finding is worth all the rest of a multitude of facts. Dr Stannard clearly feels that we need such interpretations of history, but