‘Psychology in History’: A New Course at Cambridge University

UC_logoA few weeks ago I was asked if I would like to teach a four-lectures course on history of psychology in the Natural Sciences Tripos and other programmes. Naturally I accepted, but proposed a focus that fundamentally differs from more conventional ways the history of psychology has been taught. Rather than merely addressing landmarks on the timeline of psychology as it is now taught and practised as a profession, the course will also cover some of the discipline’s more unorthodox aspects which you won’t read about in any history of psychology textbook.

The lectures will be part of Paper 10 (‘Human and Behavioural Sciences’) in Michaelmas term, offered by the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, along with a four-week ‘Primary Source’ course by Anna Alexandrova, and eight sessions on ‘History and Philosophy of Cognitive Science’ (to be taught by the holder of a recently advertised lectureship). This is the tentative blurb of my brief course:



Science is widely regarded as the ultimate practical culmination of psychological functions such as cognition, intelligence, memory and creativity, and yet the very status of psychology as a science remains contested. This course explores the emergence of Western psychological concepts and research methods from early modern natural philosophy to the birth of psychological professions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With a focus on historical key debates concerning the nature, functions and capacities of the human mind, it will highlight some of the major metaphysical and political issues that have determined the scope and boundaries not only of modern psychological disciplines, but of science itself.

Since much of what will be discussed is drawing on my own historical questions and research, there will be a certain overlap with issues addressed on this blog. Lectures will cover the following topics:

1. Science and the soul: from Bacon to Skinner (Michaelmas week 5)

2. Varieties of experimental psychology in the nineteenth century. Physiological psychology, hypnotism, and psychical research (week 6)

3. The unconscious mind: Wundt, Janet, Myers, Freud and Jung (week 7)

4. A science of the soul? Psychology, parapsychology and the demarcation problem in historical perspective (week 8)

Should you have any questions about my course you can email me at as2399 AT cam.ac.uk.

Update, 11th July, 2014:

The timetable for Paper 10 is now online: http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/timetable/paper10.html

About Sommer_HPS

Dr. Andreas Sommer, historian of the human sciences at Cambridge University, UK. View all posts by Sommer_HPS

5 responses to “‘Psychology in History’: A New Course at Cambridge University

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