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Psychological Subjects: Identity, Health and Culture in Twentieth Century Britain (HI906)

Module Leader

Dr Mathew Thomson

Please note: the information on this website reflects how the module was taught last year (2011/12). Although it is unlikely that the programme will change much (if at all), the information will here be updated (or confirmed - in which case, this note will dissappear) as soon as possible.

Context of Module
Module Aims
Outline Syllabus
Illustrative Bibliography
Other Information
Context of Module

This module, taught on the Spring term, may be taken by students on the MA in History, the MA in Modern History, the MA in the History of Medicine, or any taught Master's student outside the History Department.

Module Aims

This module explores the popularisation and influences of psychology in twentieth-century Britain. It is particularly suited to students on the MAs in Modern British History and the History of Medicine, though students from other MAs are equally welcome. It draws in particular on themes developed in the module tutor’s Psychological Subjects (2006). Each week we will consider one of the themes of this book. The module begins with a focus on the popularisation of psychology and psychoanalysis at the start of the century, inviting reflection on continuities with Victorian phenomena such as Mesmerism, Phrenology, and Spiritualism, and questioning the centrality of Freud and psychoanalysis in traditional accounts. It then turns to the emergence of the discipline and profession of psychology at the turn of the century, to the influence of psychology within education, industry, and healthcare, and to the role of psychology in relation to war and politics. Finally it concludes with the subject of psychology and sex, and the role of psychology and a culture of therapy in the emergence of what some have called a culture of narcissism in the last decades of the century. Each week, in addition to taking advantage of an increasingly rich secondary literature, students will be encouraged to examine readily available primary sources. Then in the final week, students will have the opportunity to present original findings arising from these sources. This will be a useful opportunity for developing ideas towards the required 5,000 word essay.

Outline Syllabus


Week 1: Introduction

Week 2: Popular Psychology and Psychoanalysis: Victorian to Modern Subjects?

Week 3: Education and Childhood

Week 4: Industry/Consumption/Class

Week 5: Healthcare

Week 6: Reading Week

Week 7: War

Week 8: Psychology, Sex, and the Permissive Society

Week 9: From Psychological Subjects to the Therapeutic Society (and Beyond: to the Rise of the Neurochemical Subject?)

Week 10: Workshop

Illustrative Bibliography

G. Bunn, A. Lovie & G. Richards (eds.), Psychology in Britain: Historical Essays and Personal Reflections (2001)

L. Hearnshaw, A Short History of British psychology, 1840-1940 (1964)

J. Oppenheim, Shattered Nerves: Doctors, Patients and Depression in Victorian England (1991)

J. Pfister & N. Schnog (eds.), Inventing the Psychological: Toward a history of Emotional Life in America (1997)

N. Rose, The Psychological Complex: Psychology, Politics and Society in England 1869-1939 (1985).

N. Rose, Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self (1989).

B. Shephard, A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists, 1914-1994 (2000).

M. Thomson, The Problem of Mental Deficiency: Eugenics, Democracy and Social Policy in Britain, 1870-1959.

A. Wooldridge, Measuring the Mind: Education and Psychology in England, c. 1860-1990 (1994).

Other Information

Teaching: 1 x 2 hour seminar (weekly)

Assessment: 1 x 5,000 word essay


Tutor/s Dr Mathew Thomson
Term Spring
Tutorial Day Wednesdays
Time 10:00 am to 12:00 noon

Seminars will take place in the tutor's office.

Tutor's Office
Mathew Thomson H3.10