Freud for Historians

Freud for Historians

3.5 (26 ratings by Goodreads)
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Is psychoanalysis a legitimate tool for helping us understand the past? Many traditional historians have answered with an emphatic no, greeting the introduction of Freud into historical study with reponses ranging from condescending skepticism to outrage. Now Peter Gay, one of America's leading historians, builds and eloquent case for "history informed by psychoanalysis" and offers an impressive rebuttal to the charges of the profession's anti-Freudians. Iin this book, Gay takes on the opposition's arguments, defending psychoanalysis as a discipline that can enhance social, economic, and literary studies. No mere polemic, Freud for Historians is a thoughtful and detailed contribution to a major intellectual debate. "Gay is one of those rare academics whose competence in psychoanalysis is hardly less than his expertise in historical research."--The New York Times "An impassioned, compelling argument for the utility of the psychoanalytic perspective to inform historical studies."--Library Journal "Incisive, persuasive, a delight to read...[It] should spark wide controversy for a long time to come."--Los Angeles Times Book Reviewshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 272 pages
  • 139.7 x 210.82 x 25.4mm | 476.27g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • 0195035860
  • 9780195035865

Review Text

An eloquent if overly cautious plea for historians to use the insights of Freud in their work. Gay (history, Yale), author of the widely acclaimed Education of the Senses, the first volume of his Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, spends too much time in this relatively short work anticipating and discussing historians' objections to what he calls the "psychoanalytic history of ideas." Certainly these objections - for example, that the dead cannot be analyzed - could be dealt with more quickly. Gay apologizes for psychoanalysts' hostility to submitting to "the kind of public verification that other disciplines take for granted," and he emphasizes the flexible, humanistic approach of Freud himself. When stating his case, he is wonderfully articulate. For example, in discussing his years as a research candidate at the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis, he writes that his training "sharpened my sensitivity to the unconscious shared fantasies that underlie cultural styles, and to the potent, largely concealed currents of sexual and aggressive drives that give energy to action, invade and distort objective perception, and make rationalistic interest psychologies appear naive, downright helpless." Near the end of the book, Gay gives precious few if convincing examples of historical work that is aided by psychoanalytic insight. One wishes he had expanded this section and dealt in more detail with historians' opportunities to use as tools group psychology, socialization, and the focus on one person in history as a reflection and articulation of the times - areas here merely touched on. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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26 ratings
3.5 out of 5 stars
5 12% (3)
4 35% (9)
3 46% (12)
2 8% (2)
1 0% (0)
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