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Clio and the Doctors: Psycho-History, Quanto-History, and History

Lester S. King, MD
JAMA. 1975;231(2):200. doi:10.1001/jama.1975.03240140056037.
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Historian Barzun turns his critical artillery on "psychohistory," that attempt to use modern psychiatric insights as a major tool in historical research. I must confess my own personal delight with Professor Barzun's utterly devastating barrage, for the studies perpetrated by psychohistorians—some of them quite respectable scholars, other far-from-scholarly—I have found for the most part repulsive rather than attractive. And I am happy to find myself in such good company as Dr. Barzun. His analogous attack on "quantitative" history—the reliance on quantification as the major evidence for historical subjects—does not have quite the same devastation but serves as a potent and welcome corrective to a contemporary trend that is going to excesses.

In between his strictures and his criticisms, Barzun provides many fine comments and obiter dicta on the nature of history and historical writing, its purposes, methods, and limitations. These ideas may stir considerable controversy among professional historians.

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