A Revisionist's History of Psychology in Canada

Randal G. Tonks
Department of Psychology
Simon Fraser University

This editorial was titled as such because of my recent awareness of the need to discuss revision in creating histories of psychology. It might be said that a history is written before it begins, and this is true in several ways. First, it can be said to be true whereby destiny holds truth to a fateful outcome, inevitable and pre-ordained. Secondly, this can be true if one accepts the schematic or paradigmatic perspective on the construction of bodies of knowledge and works about such knowledge. As in Kuhn's (1970) schematta of the progress of science, a hermeneutical account of the production of histories of science or psychology involves an examination of pre-established background contexts of understanding and expression. Being examined only against such background contexts, historical ideas are condemned to be understood in particular fashions or from particular standpoints. Subsequently, in re-examining the production of historical accounts, a historian (professional or otherwise) can make use of one's present context to revise one's present understanding of the original events, ideas, or historical accounts of the events or ideas.

Hermeneutics involves revision, the revision of oneself and the world (including others) as well as the constant turning of the hermeneutical circles of understanding (Woolfolk, Sass & Messer, 1988). While one may be said to be undergoing constant constitutional revision (or becoming) in terms of structure and identity, the production of human understanding (including history making) also involves a great deal of revisioning. I make use of this loosening of the term to present the idea of revising language along with understanding.

In introducing hermeneutics and the history of psychology, this term re-visioning can also convey a metaphor of sight and perspective in producing and understanding a historical account. Taking a new look or vision on our selves and our histories also leads to revision in history making. Standing from many places near to and far from the source can provide the enquirer with a diversity of perspectives on the historical subject. As self-reflective beings, we (as persons) are also able to examine the role that we, as historical observers and meaning makers play in the production of historical accounts (Collingwood, 1946). Erikson (1964) points out that a historical awareness is crucial to the dialectical unfolding of our self-understandings, crucial to the dialectics of our identities. Because our identities are in a process of constant redefinition and revision, the histories that we construct for ourselves are also undergoing constant revision. These histories are part of our identities, our connections to the our pasts and our cultural and intellectual ancestry. The history of psychology in Canada can thus be seen as a process of the construction of the identities of many people through their forms of interpretation of various historical characters, events, and facts from the past. Additionally, as with other parts of our identities, these histories also undergo a gradual transformation.

At the recent meeting of the Canadian Psychological Association, Katalin Dzinas (1997), recipient of the 1997 Mary J. Wright Award, provided her revision of the reasons behind the establishment of the Canadian Psychological Association in 1938-39. Katalin pointed out that the most common contemporary account of the beginning of CPA attributes the reason to the coming of the second world war (WWII), an account that appears to have begun in 1958 (twenty years after the fact) with C. Roger Myers. She also has pointed out that CPA documents, including the early volumes of the Bulletin, do not verify this account. Instead, Katalin offers Berhardt's 1947 account, which suggested that there were many reasons behind the establishment of the CPA, and that WWII may not have been one of the central ones. Here, the revisionist work of C. Roger Myers was presented as having led us away from other important reasons, casting a dark shadow on the role of revision in the history of psychology in Canada.

The role of revision in the history of psychology in Canada is additionally observed in this present issue of Psybernetika, as it also could be found in the two preceding collections of reports. These three collections of accounts produced by the students of Simon Fraser University history of modern psychology classes (Psyc 308) are also seen to vary greatly in both in focus and scope. While the students were given the same task of providing a historical account, of their choosing, based on the articles from one of the CPA journals, the accounts within and across these three collections are widely varied. Much of this variance can be attributed to the Teaching Assistants (TA) who were responsible for guiding the small group activities that led to several partial reports from any given tutorial class. In each of these small groups of 3 to 4 students, approximately five years of a given journal (CP, CJBS, CJP) were assigned. They were asked to provide some historical account of the articles found throughout those years, using any historical approach that they chose. Many tutorial classes attempted to find particular themes throughout all of the small groups. Others opted for greater diversity where small groups had more freedom of topic and approach. Some T.A.s were instrumental in guiding their students to external sources of information, such as Maclean's Magazine and Chatelaine.

In the first collection of reports from the Winter 1995 issue, there were three general styles of perspective that were taken. Some students focussed on the Insider / Outsider histories while others focused on the "Zeitgeist" of the publication of Canadian psychological articles. Still others focussed on a "Trend Analysis" of various topics covered in the given journal. Here, topics such as professional status, industry, health and feminism were addressed along with divorce and the divisions between experimental/clinical psychology and French/English languages. Also examining many "current issues" from Maclean's Magazine, the concerns of psychologists were placed against this natural background.

The role of Hermeneutics in the History of Psychology was also brought up while introducing those first reports and the expectations I then had of the second and (now) third collections of reports. At the time, I was expecting to be able to provide the reader with a detailed comparison amongst these collections of reports, where recursive and novel themes could be observed. Alas, the pragmatics of the situation got the better of me. With a new baby at home (now two months old), teaching two courses, trying to finish my dissertation, and trying to maintain some form of sanity, this lesser version will have to suffice--at least for now, until I have some time to revise this editorial at some future date--.

Teaching the second version of this course during the semester following the first version, I had no time to edit and publish the first reports before this second group was well on its way. As a result, the second class had a nearly identical set of circumstances to produce their reports, with no earlier versions to follow. One significant change occurred, though, the Teaching Assistants (TA)s were new and had different contributions to make. The most major impact here was that one TA had some health problems that semester and missed several tutorials. In addition to having the students of this TA feel that they didn't know what was going on, they actually didn't because this TA did not ask them to contribute electronic versions of their reports, only hard copies. The upshot of all of this is that we had only four reports to contribute to the Summer 1996 issue of Pysbernetika, those recovered from the other TA.

In that second collection of reports we had two articles that drew heavily from the course lectures to discuss the professional and scientific identity issues in Canadian psychology. One article also made use of an overview of the early "Scottish Common Sense" contributions to Canadian philosophical psychology (Armour & Trott, 1981), as well as the later concerns over the science and practice of psychology in Canada (Wright & Myers, 1982; Wand, 1993). A third article provided an overview of recent articles from Canadian Psychology, while the last article provided an review of several courses taught at Canadian Universities.

Again, hermeneutics were presented as playing a role in the production of historical accounts, where a distinction between methodological, ontological and ethical concerns was introduced as a background to hermeneutics.

Arriving at this third collection of reports, the first collection of reports had been published several months prior to the commencement of this collection. With such a background context for this third group of students, they were able to draw on many themes presented in those Winter 1995 articles.

In preparing the articles for this issue I discovered that, in addition to discussing the general issue of revision in the production of historical ideas, attention could also be drawn to the role of revision in the editing and production of the papers in this (and other) issue(s). When these particular papers first came to me they were in "bulk" fashion, like something one might buy at the real Canadian Superstore or at Cost-Co. This package of many articles of varying lengths on one of two disks (all with strange names like !paper.doc or 308pap.wpd) represented the semester long group projects of my psychology 308 - History of Modern Psychology course from the summer of 1996.

The first disk came from Tom Bauslaugh, the Teaching Assistant for the first three groups of papers. These electronic files were received with code names where only two of the files actually had the authors listed. Some detective work was need, so I made an e-mail to Tom.

Having not heard from him after several days, I later tried e-mailing again. Next, I did the old fashion thing and made of hard copy of the word file that I had sent him and placed it in his mail box in the psychology department. I thought I had seen Tom fleeing the department while I sat with Anand a few weeks ago, perhaps he has left town. Was it for the semester break? The summer semester? Or has he graduated? Perhaps I will be able to recover the names of the authors before the articles are ready for posting. It appears not. But there is some chance that if I do recover the names, that the reader will not read this sentence, nor the one preceding it.

The second disk came from Heather MacDonald, the TA for three other tutorial groups from the same course. Like many of the files from the first disk, many of these did not have authors listed, although some had renamed the files with a serious of names such as class.doc, class2.doc, etc.. While this was of some help, the sequence of the papers did not quite match, and there were still missing names. I also sent an e-mail to Heather and she replied before too long. Between the files that I had, some original hard copies that Heather had and our class lists, we were able to deduce the present list of authors, as was posted in early June 1997.

Getting back to the soft nature of the web, information can be up-dated quickly and easily, and is almost expected by many who frequently surf the net. While preparing this editorial I received an e-mail from one of the students in Heather's collection. She let me know that:

Something I'd like to pass on regarding the article which appears under my name - only one or two lines are left of my contribution to that work (which was roughly half of our collective effort). The rest - most - has been edited out, and I don't know whether my name should even appear on it as a result. I don't know whether I want my name to appear on it as a result! :) I know brevity is a concern, but I didn't think my writing was that bad!

Certainly not! Knowing the writing ability of this student, I am know that the omission was not base on that, but more likely on a technological oversight. While I don't know how this loss of information occurred, we are presently engaged in the re-construction of the original document. I am awaiting a new disk to recover and revise the article in question.

As such, this form of publication enables us to revise the journal in time as information becomes more available. In the recovery process, as in psychological recovery, many weeks or years can be spent attempting to understand the original events and ideas of the historical subject. In our present accounts we occasionally have missing names, but not persons, that we can fill-in in the future as we are able to track down the authors. For now, we have the class lists and the fragments of expressed authorship that came with the electronic and hard copies of these articles.

The present need for revision initially arose because the papers we were about to publish did not always have all authors fully listed. It is, however, the hope of the editorial team of Psybernetika that we find the missing names and revise this historical account as we acquire more information. As in the history of science itself, we are able to delete old facts as new untruths, erasing them from our reaches. The only possibility of their existence in the future is if they had been saved in electronic or "hard copy" form somewhere, possibly to return to the public through our Letters message board to embarrass the conservative in us while heralding the constructionist.

At any rate regardless of any future versions of this issue that might come to exist, the present one contains additional variety of perspective on the history of psychology in Canada. As already mentioned, this collection was produced against the backdrop of the first collection of reports that were published in Winter 1995. The present collection begins with a brief review of issues related to Canadian psychology the mid-1960s through to the early 1970s. This is followed by a more topical approach of Education, Social Psychology, Experimentation Methods, and Behaviourism vs. Cognitivism in the Canadian Psychologist 1971 to 1975. The third article took a different approach and focused in the issue of sexual assault in Canada, integrating information from Canadian Psychologist along with some from Maclean's and Chatelaine. The fourth article also made use of such "zeitgeist" concerns where the authors examined articles from the Canadian Journal of Psychology against the backdrop of various socio-cultural events.

The next three articles were the contributions from a second tutorial who examined articles from the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. Here the authors of these articles examined such concerns as: Historical Background: Canadian Multiculturalism, Social Progression, and Developmental Psychology in the CJBS from 1976 to 1980. Other practical concerns, such as wife and child abuse were also examined, along with the Young Offenders Act, feminism in psychology and violence against women for the last two articles, covering the time periods from 1980 through to 1990. That closes off the contributions from the students in Tom's tutorials.

Turning to the contributions from Heather's tutorials, we begin with a look at "trend analysis" of articles from the history of the the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. Beginning in 1975 the first articles examines such topic trends as methodology, family environment, drug abuse, stress, business psychology and the language of publication (French or English). The four trends of: Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Stereotyping and Sex Bias, Multiculturalism in Canada, and Criminal Behaviour were also examined for the period from 1980 to 1994 in the second article. Continuing this focus on trend analysis, the third articles examined the trends of: Cognitive Psychology, Testing, Criminal Psychology, Depression, Anxiety and Stress, Children and Youth, Social Psychology, and Feminist Psychology. These authors pointed out that the topics of child psychology, feminist psychology, and social psychology had become more popular while cognitive psychology had declined in popularity from 1985 through to 1989. The final trend paper examined the trends of: Children, Health, Family, Family and Interpersonal Relations, Health & Medicine, Socio-cultural Issues, Children/developmental Issues, Sexual Issues and Gender Difference, Social Issues and Development. This last paper was cut and pasted together with the contributors having written their sections in isolation. That is why the topics appear to repeat in this list even though the names are slightly different interpretations on the underlying themes or trends.

The next four articles examined segments of the history of the Canadian Journal of Psychology, looking at the trends of: Research in Memory, Perception, Information Processing, Psycholinguistics, Audition, imagery, Learning, Intelligence, Sleep and Language of Publication for articles ranging from 1974 through to 1982. The third article examined the trends of neurological psychology published from 1989 to 1992. Finally the fourth article of this group examined the: Special Issue on Animal Memory (1984), Special issue on Skill (1985), Special Issue: On Aging and Cognition (1987), and the Special Issue on Child Development: When Things Go Wrong (1988).

The final group of articles examined Canadian Psychology and its precursor, The Canadian Psychological Review / Canadian Psychology, as well as a Zeitgeist for Canadian Psychology in the 1980s: Contributions from Simon Fraser University. Additionally, the topics of Economics, Ethics, and Feminism, as well as Violence, the Internal and External Struggles of Psychology in finding a niche, Information Systems, and Immigration were examined in these reports.

As an overview of these articles (beyond the content that they present) I would like to convey a few thoughts that emerged while I was editing them for publication. Some articles appeared to have over-played certain themes (e.g., identity crisis), something I too have been accused of in my concern for the role that identity issues play in our professional activities.

Another paper made extensive use of secondary sources in providing information about the historical circumstance and background to other articles in this issue. Here some of these "secondary" sources actually turn out to be "tertiary" sources in constructing their accounts (e.g., Schultz & Schultz, 1992 and their use of Boring's, 1950 account of the history of psychology). The issue of revision comes in again where the facts are gradually transformed from their original to some contrasting form, as described by Danziger (1980) of Wundt and the Lockean and Kantian traditions.

As is often the case in positivistic science, where there is a constant search for the universal Laws of Nature, many of the students who wrote these reports revealed their similar strivings. Here, some papers display this act of "over-generalizing" from a collection of published articles to [all] Canadian Psychologists. As pointed out by Daniel Robinson (1986), the profound historian Giovanni Battista Vico (1648-1744) recognized that there is "a tendency to identify the character of an age by studying the thoughts of its scholars" (p. 6). I believe that this tendency shows itself in some of these papers, and I ask the reader to kindly provide a critique or commentary or any such points in our letters section, or by writing a critical article. Another related point of criticism that the reader might find with some other articles is the attribution of historical causality. Occasionally the authors of some of these articles make statements like 'the trend of articles might have been stimulated by the events for the year.' While this does (at times) border on idle speculation, I remember having similar enthusiasm and interest in psychology as an undergraduate and hating the feeling of having my imagination steered into various categories of conformity in thinking and practice. I do, lament stifling the creative imagination of my students, but I also try to point out my own such biases through revealing my background of pre-understanding. This is done through critical self-evaluation of my identity as a psychologist to the end that they will come to critically reflect upon their own identities (Erikson, 1964, 1968) through knowing their own histories (Collingwood, 1946).

Meanwhile, the spaces between credits and the many "might-be"s of historical influence that will be seen by readers of these pages will hopefully stand as mere lacunae in our web of understanding. Like a honeycomb being slowly filled with royal jelly, the web could possible provide a rich and thorough menu for growing minds. In reality, the holes in the net often appear to be too large to make it enjoyable to use, however, it also appears that the number and diversity of users is steadily growing.

Revision has also been on my mind as I am presently teaching another section of the Psychology 308 course from which these and the earlier versions of reports came. This time around, however, we have dropped the group project as an explicit part of the course. Instead, students are being asked to provide 10 minute presentations to their tutorial classes on their terms paper topics. They have been encouraged to write their term papers on some historical perspective on a Canadian psychologist or psychological issue. Following these and the earlier reports which focussed on specific journals for only a few decades I expect that this revision to the course will provide the students with a broader scope of topics and a wider ranges of years and settings.

In providing on last discussion of the context of these three collections of reports, I offer the following summary of my Psyc 308 course.

Psychology 308: History of Modern Psychology

Course Syllabus and Readings

Benjafield, J.G. (1996). A history of psychology. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Week 1 - May 7 - Introduction to the history of Psychology
Benjafield: Chapter 1 (optional); Chapter 2 (pp. 45-46); Chapter 15 (pp. 315-332)

Week 2 - May 14 - Introduction Cont'd ... Wundt and the Beginnings ...
Benjafield: Chapter 2 (pp. 23-40) Optional Reading: Leahey, T.H. (1992). A history of psychology: Main currents in psychological thought. Chapter 1 (On Reserve at W.A.C. Bennett Library)

Week 3 - May 21 - Wundt and the Beginnings
Benjafield: Chapt 2 (pp. 37-40); Chapt 3 (pp. 49-61); Chapt 4 (pp. 69-80); Chapt 7 (pp. 121-126)

Week 4 - May 28 - Darwin, Evolution, Adaptation and Individual Differences
Benjafield: Chapt 1 (pp. 15-21); Chapt 2 (pp. 40-46); Chapt 3 (pp. 61-66); (pp. 139-140)

Week 5 - June 4 - Freud and Psychoanalysis
Benjafield: Chapt 4 (pp. 77-78); Chapt 6 (pp. 95-117)

Week 6 - June 11 - Psychoanalysis Cont'd ... The New World ...
Optional Reading: Armour, L. & Trott, E.A. (1981). The Faces of Reason. (On Reserve at W.A.C. Bennett Library)

Week 7 - June 18 - Canada: Psychology in the New World part I
Supplemental Reading: Wright, M.J. & C.R. Myers (1982). History of academic psychology in Canada. (On Reserve at W.A.C. Bennett Library) Introduction: An overview

Week 8 - June 25 - America and Functionalism: The New World part II
Benjafield: Chapt 5 (pp. 83-93); Chapt 7 (pp. 127-139); Chapt 12 (pp. 235-240)

Week 9 - July 2 - Applied Psychology in North America: The New World part III
Benjafield: Chapt 3 (pp. 61-66); Chapt 7 (pp. 131-139); Chapt 10 (pp. 195-207)

Week 10 - July 9 - Gestalt, Behaviourism & Logical Positivism
Benjafield: Chapt 7 (pp. 140-143); Chapt 8 (pp. 147-162); Chapt 10 (pp. 171-193, pp. 195-207)

Week 11 - July 16 - Canadian Psychology: WWII and the aftermath
Benjafield: Chapt 11 (pp. 226-233) Optional Readings: Wright & Myers (1982) - Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, 12.

Week 12 - July 23 - Neo-Behaviorism and Social Constructionism
Benjafield: Chapt 8 (pp. 162-168); Chapt 10 (pp.199-207); Chapt 13 (pp. 265-268); Chapt 14 (pp. 291-293); Chapt (pp. 322-331)

Week 13 - July 30 - Explosion of Diversity, ... into the Future
Benjafield: Chapt 12 (pp. 241-261); Chapt 13 (pp. 269-287); Chapt 14 (pp. 289-312); Chapt 15 (review all).


In covering these topics I begin with an overview of the four cornerstones to the Philosophy of science (ontology, epistemology, logic and ethics) while also presenting an outline of important distinctions between the natural and human science world-views. With this brief introduction to the philosophical roots to psychology and science in place, we also addressed the question of perspective in making an historical account. Having to choose amongst the perspectives of the "insider & outsider", the zeitgeist, the great scholar, the schools, or the seminal issues, the students were then introduced to a post-modern mixed bag of perspectives through out the entire course.

Moving through the other weekly topics, the issue of professional identity is raised where the students are encourage to think of the acceptance of one or another theory of psychology as the acceptance of an ideology for their identity. We try to get behind the theories to reveal the assumptions so that the students can make their own informed choices about which theory or theories to pursue in setting up their own careers as professional or lay psychologists.

While John Conway's (1992) account of William James struggle with his worlds-views and Identity has been used since the first semester, Charles Tolman's (1996) account of early Canadian philosopher psychologists enhanced the use of earlier as sources on the identity of Psychologists in the history of Canada. Armour and Trott's the Faces of Reason and Wright and Myers (1982) History of Academic psychology in Canada \are two of these sources that have been used throughout the three semesters of my teaching this course. Please give us your feedback on this or any other issue of Psybernetika.


Armour, L. & Trott, E. (1981). The faces of reason: An essay on philosophy and culture in English Canada 1850-1950. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press.

Collingwood, R. G. (1946). The idea of history. London, Oxford at the Clarendon Press.

Conway, J. B. (1992). A world of differences among psychologists. Canadian Psychology, 33, 1, 1-24.

Danziger, K. (1980). Wundt and the two traditions of psychology. In R. W. Rieber (Ed.), Wilhelm Wundt and the making of a scientific psychology. New York: Plenum.

Danziger, K. (1990). Constructing the subject: Historical origins of psychological research. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Dzinas, K. (1997). Founding the CPA: A case of revisionist history. Paper presented to the annual convention of the Canadian Psychological Association, Toronto, Ont., June, 13, 1997.

Erikson, E. H. (1964). Insight and responsibility. New York: Norton.

Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton.

Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions (2nd edition). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Robinson, D. N. (1986). An intellectual history of psychology. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Schultz, D. P. & Schultz, S. E. (1992). A history of modern psychology. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Janovich.

Tolman, C. (1996). Opposition to the Ideal System as leitmotif in nineteenth century Canadian psychology. Canadian Psychology, 37, 137-144.

Wand, B. (1993). The unity of the discipline. Canadian Psychology, 34, 2, 124-134.

Woolfolk, R. L., Sass, L. A. & Messer, S. B. (1988). Introduction to hermeneutics. In Messer, S. B., Sass, L. A. & Woolfolk, R. L. (Eds.) Hermeneutics and psychological theory: Interpretative perspectives on personality, psychotherapy, and psychopathology. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Wright, M. J. & C. R. Myers (1982). History of academic psychology in Canada. Toronto: Hogrefe.


Other Links for students in Psychology

Psychology Grad Project and a St. Louis University History of Psychology Library Guide