12 Oct, 11 | by James Poskett
Who are the big names in the history of child psychology? Anna Freud? Melanie Klein? John Bowlby? Certainly. But, according to Professor Sally Shuttleworth, in order to locate the origins of child psychology, we have to look to nineteenth-century literature, to authors such as George Eliot and Charles Dickens.
This is just one of the historical titbits to come out of the recent Stories of Psychology conference, ran by the British Psychological Society at the Wellcome Trust. In her paper, entitled Studying the Child in the Nineteenth Century, Shuttleworth argued that the emerging genre of the nineteenth-century novel was the first to take the psychological world of the child seriously. Whilst previous works may have dealt with comings of age, novels such as Dickens’s Dombey and Son began to investigate the psychological world of the child in its own right, particularly within the context of education. (In the novel, Dombey’s son has difficultly socialising and is sent to a number of medical and educational establishments in order to rectify this shortcoming.)
Shuttleworth believes that such literary explorations were picked up by the psychologists and educationalists of the time, citing as evidence the way in which psychological theories were put to use in debates over compulsory education.