Medieval History

Selected Sources Full Text Sources Saints' Lives Law Texts Maps Medieval Films Search Help

Selected Sources Sections Studying History End of Rome Byzantium Islam Roman Church Early Germans Anglo-Saxons Celtic World Carolingians 10 C Collapse Economic Life Crusades Empire & Papacy France England Celtic States Nordic Europe Iberia Italy Eastern Europe Intellectual Life Medieval Church Jewish Life Social History Sex & Gender States & Society Renaissance Reformation Exploration
IHSP Credits

Internet Medieval Sourcebook

Paul Halsall:

Annotated Bibliography on Psychohistory (1989)

This is ancient, but some of you may find the theme of this bibliography interesting in it s own right.

The bibliography is accented towards the psychohistory of the middle ages, and methodological essays. Readers should be aware that most psychohistory has been concerned with modern history.

deMause, Lloyd. A Bibliography of Psychohistory. New York: Garland Press, 1975

A somewhat aging bibliography. deMause lists citations under theoretical and chronological headings. He lists the Renaissance and Middle Ages together and leaving aside works on daVinci has only 14 pre-1500 citations. There is an informative but didactic introduction.

Anderson, J.W. "The Methodology of Psychological Biography." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 11 (1981): 455-75.

Anderson raises and answers criticisms of psychological biography; its reductionism, its disparagement of subjects, its application of modern psychology to the past, its inadequacies in psychological theory, and the problem of analyzing an absent subject. He recognizes that many psychological concepts have been developed in the context of psychopathology and so can lead biographers to overstress the psychological problems of their subjects. He sees real value in trying to understand the psychology of past individuals but, although in the psychoanalytic tradition, gives full credit to other ways, economic and social, of understanding the past.

Askew, Melvin W. "Courtly Love: Neurosis as an Institution." The Psychoanalytic Review 52 (1965): 19-29.

Askew sees courtly love's origins in arranged marriage and Mariolatry. He thinks it was a neurotic attempt to portray erotic, or id, urges as leading to virtue and in this way to deceive the superego: the "courtly lover's" actions - swooning and so on, are literally sick. Courtly love also reflects an ambivalence towards the emergence of powerful women in the twelfth century. Whatever the value of his psychology, this author gets his history wrong.

Barzun, Jacques. "History: the Muse and her Doctors." American Historical Review 77 (1972). 36-64.

A leading critic condemns psychohistory on grounds of deficiency in method and scholarship. He suggests Freudianism, in contrast to other theories, is used by psychohistorians mainly because its concepts have already been popularized. Barzun's view of history as essentially an art leads him to reject all attempts to turn it into a social science with a methodology.

Benton, John. "The Personality of Guibert of Nogent." The Psychoanalytic Review 57 (1970-71): 563-586.

This is a revision of the introduction to Benton's Self and Society in Medieval France: The Memoirs of Abbot Guibert of Nogent. New York: Harper and Row, 1970 [Now reprinted in MARTS]. Benton thinks that Guibert is one of the few medieval personalities about whose childhood enough is known for the application of psychoanalysis, which uses childhood experiences to explain adult character. Benton explains Guibert's attempt at autobiography, critical approach to relics, and patriotism - all outlooks which have seemed "modern" to some - as consequences of Guibert's childhood. The result is a rather heavy handed use of Freudian concepts.

Cocks, Geoffrey and Travis L. Cosby, eds. Psycho/History: Readings in the Method of Psychology, Psychoanalysis & History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

A recent collection of articles on the theory of psychohistory. Some contributors offer alternatives to older psycho-biographies.

Coupe, M.D. "The Personality of Guibert de Nogent Reconsidered." Journal of Medieval History 9 (1983): 317-29.

Coupe assails the use of psychoanalysis by Benton and Kantor by highlighting their selective use of evidence. His attack is within the Freudian paradigm; for Coupe without personal contact there can be no psychoanalysis, although here he ignores Freud's own work on da Vinci. Coupe's alternative explanation is of Guibert as a monk and a reader of the classics, but this remains unsatisfying.

DeMause, Lloyd. Foundations of Psychohistory. New York?: Psychohistory Press, 1982.

A collection of essays which conveniently assembles the work and ideas of the leading contemporary advocate of psychohistory. DeMause's essay on "The Evolution of Childhood" proposes that development in the treatment of children is central to history and he calls this the "psychogenic" theory of history. The essay demonstrates the ability of psychohistorians to raise new topics and what, to many historians, seems like the unsatisfactory way the new topics are handled. Other chapters spell out deMause's emphatic claim that psychohistory is a new science, and that its "truth value" rests on its explanatory power.

 Erikson, Erik. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. New York: W.W. Norton, 1958.

This was the seminal work in psychohistory by the analyst who invented the concepts of "identity" and "identity crisis". It is more a meditation on the psychology of Luther than a biography. It embodies Erikson's distinctive psychoanalytic approach that emphasizes epigenetic factors - the importance of events occurring later in life than childhood - and psychosocial aspects on the development of the personality. This is an advance on Freud's exclusive reliance on childhood experience to explain development. Although Erikson relies on older histories for his facts and occasionally appeals to legendary events to explain Luther, his work remains substantial.

Forsyth, Ilene. "Children in Early Medieval Art: Ninth through Twelfth Century." Journal of Pyschohistory 4 (1976): 31-70.

Izenberg, Gerald, "Psychohistory and Intellectual History." History and Theory 14 (1975): 139-155.
Izenberg addresses the probity of evaluating an individual's ideas in psychological terms. He thinks this is allowable only when an individual behaves or argues irrationally within the norms and standards of his/her historical milieu.

Johnson, Roger A., ed. Psychohistory and Religion: The Case of Young Man Luther. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.

A useful collection of essays that examines the theory of psychohistory and Erikson's application of it in the case of Luther. Johnson defends Erikson, whilst the great Luther historian Roland H. Bainton and Lewis W. Spitz attack Erikson's approach.

Halverson, John. "Amour and Eros in the Middle Ages." The Psychoanalytic Review 57 (1970): 245-62.

Halverson examines attempts to explain courtly love in Freudian terms. He suggests that courtly love is a modern construct with no medieval social reality and that previous commentators have blended fictional with factual sources and overlooked whatever contradicts their theories. His own view of twelfth century erotic writing is expressed in terms of a superego vs. id conflict.

Kantor, Jonathan: "A Psychohistorical Source: The Memoirs of Abbot Guibert of Nogent." Journal of Medieval History 2 (1976):  281-304.

An attempt, building on the work of Benton, to describe an explicit Freudian understanding of Guibert. Kantor thinks Guibert's childhood relationship with his mother left him with a matriarchal superego and unable to cope with the masculine life of young French nobles. Guibert retreated to a monastery where he worked out his Oedipal problems, a castration complex and a fear of sexuality, in his writings. Kantor omits to consider that Guibert was an oblate.

Karlen, Arno. Napoleon's Glands and other Ventures in Biohistory. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984.

Popularizing effort to look at the biological foundation of the actions of individuals in the past. This is not quite the same as psychohistory, but is part of the same historical approach.

Koenigsberg, R.A. "Culture and Unconscious Fantasy: Observations on Courtly Love." The Psychoanalytic Review 54 (1967): 36-50.

This author tries to fit courtly love into the model suggested by one of Freud's cases studies. He sees it as a collective fantasy that changed the nature of social reality: courtly love is meant to re-create the oedipal situation on an adult level. Koenigsberg does not adequately distinguish between literature and social reality.

Kohut, Thomas A., "Psychohistory as History." American Historical Review 91:2 (1986): 336-54.

Kohut, a trained historian and psychoanalyst, condemns the deMause school of psychohistory for reducing problems to a single interpretive formulation by applying textbook theory. He agrees with Barzun (see above) that empathy is basic to history, but argues that this is also true of the clinical practice of psychoanalysis. A good clinical psychoanalyst should try to make sense to a patient in terms of his/her own life. For Kohut then, psychoanalytic training can increase historical sensitivity.

Lawton, Henry. The Psychohistorian's Handbook.  New York: 1988.

Leclerq, Jean: "Modern Psychology and the Interpretation of Medieval Texts." Speculum 48 (1973):  476-90.

Leclerq looks at three medieval documents - by Othloh of Saint-Emmeran, Abelard and a hagiographer - to establish the value of a psychological dimension and a methodology. He uses a few Freudian concepts but relies on "common sense" psychology and so does not require the evidence of childhood vital to Freudians. Since this is rarely available in the middle ages, Leclerq's methodology is perhaps more appropriate for a medievalist than that of other writers cited who concentrate on the modern period.

Leclerq, Jean: Monks and Love in 12th Century France: Psycho-historical Essays (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979)

Leclerq proposes that there was a change in the way monks saw "love" once the Cistercians replaced the Benedictine oblate system with the recruitment of grown men. He points to the more carnal interpretation of the Song of Songs as an indication of this. Leclerq is careful in his use of sources and offers his ideas undogmatically.

Matzoh, Bruce. "What is Psychohistory." Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 21 (5th series) (1971): 79-99.

O'Meany, John. "A Mystic as `Psychoanalyst.'" Diakonia 5 (1971): 99-113.

The Byzantine saint, Symeon the New Theologian, wrote On Three Methods of Attention and Prayer and distinguished between localizing thought in the head and in the heart. O'Meany compares this to aspects of Jung's thought and sees analogies in Symeon to the concepts of depression, defense mechanism, and detachment. In fact, Symeon's thought is within the traditions of spiritual advice, but it is possible that a careful analysis of this type of material might yield information on medieval mentalities.

Pomper P.L. The Structure of the Mind in History: Five Major Figures in Psychohistory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Pomper examines the work of five major figures in psychohistory, Freud, Erikson, Marcuse, Norman O. Brown and Robert Jay Lifton.

Radding, C.M. "Evolution of Medieval Mentalities: a Cognitive-Structural Approach." American Historical Review 83 (1978): 577-97.

Using the cognitive theory of child psychologist Jean Piaget, Radding explains the shift in attitude in the twelfth century as a psychological reconstruction of morality. By this he means that people stopped just obeying authority, but reformulated the rationale for rules in their own mind. He uses legal and religious evidence and is aware of the problem of characterizing an entire society in terms of modern childhood development.

Sarbin, T.S. "Review article on Peter Gay. Freud for Historians. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985." History and Theory 3 (1987): 352-64.

Sarbin attacks the claim of psychoanalysis to be scientific. He points out that psychoanalysis has not been verified by any experimental means and that its formulations resist standard scientific testing. Sarbin is not opposed to the use of psychology by historians and proposes Erving Goffman's ideas of dramaturgy or role-playing as more useful than Freudianism.

Shepherd, Michael: "The Psycho-Historians: A Psychiatrist’s Scepticism." Encounter 52 (March 1979): 35-42.

A critical appraisal of psychohistory in which the author takes Hugh Trevor-Roper's view that "psychoanalysis is not an investigative tool but a therapeutic myth". The article is a useful summary of criticism of psychohistory.

Strozier: Ch.B & Daniel Offer, eds. The Leaders: Psychohistorical Essays. New York: Plenum, 1985.

A collection of essays looking at modern leaders. 

Wallace, Edwin R. Historiography and Causation in Psychoanalysis: An Essay on the Psychoanalytic and Historical Epistemology.  Hillside, N.J.: 1985.

Wittels, Fritz: "Psychoanalysis and History - The Nibelungs and the Bible." Psychoanalytic Quarterly 15 (1946): 88-103.

An early and rare attempt to do a collective psychohistory for in the middle ages. Wittels sees the myth of the Nibelungs and Luther's German Bible respectively as the id and the superego of the German nation. Although he notes a thirteenth century change in the myth, a change he relates to a diminution in women's status, Wittels main concern is the German national character in the 1940's.

Source: Paul Halsall (C) 1989

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, February 2023

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project. The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.   Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 3 May 2024 [CV]