The Oxford Handbook of the History of Psychology (Book Review)

Editor: Baker, David B. 
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2012. 672 pages. ISBN: 978-0195366556
Reviewed By: Harold Takooshian, PhD, Fordham University

At over 600 pages, the purpose of this latest volume in the Oxford Library of Psychology is "to bring a historical perspective to international psychology" (page 621). It is a "handbook" in the truest sense of the term, offering a mass of detailed information in a palm-size format. Its cumulative 21-page index of names and topics alone is an invaluable index of psychology world-wide in the last century.

For most of the 20th century, we saw "history of psychology" textbooks focus exclusively on North America. This myopia was natural, since most psychologists and publications by far were concentrated in the U.S. This myopia first changed in 1976, when historians Virginia Staudt Sexton and Henryk Misiak edited Psychology around the world, their first-ever panorama of psychology across nations.  After 1976, their volume became a model, inspiring others' edited tomes, in which each chapter would limn the history of psychology in a different nation: in 1987 (Gilgen & Gilgen), 1992 (Sexton & Hogan), 1992 (Gielen, Adler, & Milgram), 2000 (Pawlik & Rosenzweig), 2001 (Overmier & Overmier), 2004 (Stevens & Wedding), 2006 (Stevens & Wedding).

The Baker volume brings this genre to new heights in several ways. Its 29 chapters cover 27 nations, averaging about 22 pages each. The 40 contributors include key leaders in international psychology, authoring chapters that range from 8 pages (on Brunei Darussalam) up to 44 pages (on China) in proportion to the growth of psychology in that region. The tone of most of the chapters seems familiar--that the region's psychology had modest origins, grew despite challenges, and now has a bright future.

The editors' format for each chapter is useful: (a) an abstract, including key words; (b) a background, including key origins/ people/ events/ specialties/ concepts; (c) a glossary of terms; and. (d) an extensive bibliography of indigenous sources.  

The volume benefits from two chapters at the start and end of the volume, co-authored by two master historians--David Baker himself, and his erudite mentor Ludy Benjamin. Their introductory chapter (pages 1-17) offers a fascinating overview, complete with recondite but useful lists of the international congresses since 1889, and 75 national psychological associations. Their concluding chapter (pages 616-624) describes trends in the likely future of psychology world-wide. With the index on pages 625-645, it seems intentional that it is highly detailed--as a useful resource for readers seeking people, events, or organizations of the past century. 

If there is one limitation to this masterful volume, it is the relative absence of internet resources in this electronic age.  So much of our knowledge has now shifted to the internet, and a roster of current organizations and resources, such as the APA, international psychology, or the Union of Psychological Sciences—indispensible internet resources for anyone seeking to learn about international psychology (Takooshian & Stambaugh, 2007).

Like other Oxford handbooks, this seems aimed at libraries more than individual purchasers. Whatever the case, it is an invaluable resource for those students and professionals who share the editors' desire to internationalize the history of psychology.


Gielen, U.P., Adler, L.L., & Milgram, N.A. (1992). (Eds.). Psychology in international perspective: 50 years of the International Council of Psychologists. Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger. [339 pages]

Gilgen, A.R., & Gilgen, C.K. (1987). (Eds.). International handbook of psychology. Westport CT: Greenwood. [629 pages]

Overmier, J.B., & Overmier, J.A. (2001). (Eds.). Psychology: IUPsyS global resource. East Sussex UK: Psychology Press. [CD ROM]

Pawlik, K., & Rosenzweig, M.R. (2000). (Eds.). International handbook of psychology. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage. [629 pages]

Sexton, V.S., & Hogan, J.D. (1992). (Eds.). International psychology: Views from around the world.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska. [524 pages]

Sexton, V.S., & Misiak, H. (1976). (Eds.). Psychology around the world. Monterey CA: Brooks/Cole.

Stevens, M.J., & Wedding, D. (2004). Handbook of international psychology. New York: Brunner-Routledge. 

Stevens, M.J., & Wedding, D. (2006). Psychology: IUPsyS global resource. [CD ROM]. (7 ed.). Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Takooshian, H., & Stambaugh, L.F. (2007). Becoming involved in global psychology. In U.P. Gielen & M.J. Stevens (Eds.), Toward a global psychology: Theory, research, intervention, and pedagogy (pp. 365-389).  Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum.

Reviewers Note

Harold Takooshian, PhD, is professor of psychology and urban studies at Fordham University, where he directs the program in organizational leadership.

Editor’s Note:  Google Books offers a limited preview of The Oxford handbook of the history of psychology.


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