A historical analysis of psychological models for understanding

Instructions for the essay


Term Essay

For the term essay, students are required to select and investigate a specific topic related to the history of psychology. The term essay is intended to have students bring together findings from literature in the history of psychology and related fields to illustrate and justify a clear argumentative position.


The term essay must be word-processed, conform to APA format (refer to Publication Manual of the APA, 6th ed.), and consist of 8-13 single-sided (1″ margins, 12-point Times Roman font), double-spaced pages excluding the title page, references, and any tables/figure/appendices. Do not include an abstract. Do not insert unnecessary space between paragraphs or sections to increase the number of pages. Essays consisting of fewer than 8 pages will be penalized in proportion to the extent of the page shortage.


A strong essay may critically examine the historical development of a particular psychological construct or school of thought. Students may also choose to examine the influence of particular psychologists, either alone, in tandem or in comparison to one another. Regardless of the approach taken, the essential point is for students to choose a topic that is: 1) In line with the subject matter of the course; 2) Goes beyond the material covered in class, in order to demonstrate a capacity for independent research and; 3) Specific enough to permit the student to bring together existing research on the topic in service of their own argumentative position – a good essay allows the voice of the student to be clearly heard.


Some examples of strong topics for term essays are listed below. These are meant to provide an idea of the type of topics that make for successful essays. Students are encouraged to select their own topic based on the types of media and questions they find personally relevant and worth exploring.


Topic Examples:


The return of the repressed: How the tenets of psychoanalysis have been reimagined by cognitive neuroscience.

A historical analysis of psychological models for understanding homosexuality.

The making of “prodigy”: How G. Stanley Hall and John Watson changed the role of psychology in education and child development.





Term essay marking is broken down as follows:


Introduction – 15 Marks

– Clearly introduces the topic and defines constructs to be considered

– Outlines the essay’s argumentative process

            – Indicates a specific issue to be addressed and a reason behind its importance

            – Lists the premises of an argument that addresses the issue

            – Briefly proposes the final position that will be argued by the essay


Content – 50 Marks

– Reviews theoretical/research material and evidence that is relevant to the topic investigated and to the argument proposed

            – Information is accurate

            – Citations are supplied as required

            – Avoids distracting, unnecessary detail

            – Demonstrates awareness of major findings and approaches in the chosen topic

            -Uses labels, constructs and terminology correctly

– Demonstrates extensive research and strong understanding of the subject area


Argument – 30 Marks


– Integrates existing theories and/or research findings to synthesize a distinct argument

– Analyzes argumentative position into its assumptions and premises, then provides evidence and reasoning to support each of these

– Content is organized to reflect and compliment the logical structure of the argument

-Argument remains consistent throughout the essay


APA Format – 5 Marks

-Title page, headings, citations, and references adhere to most recent APA guidelines (see the Basics Tutorial @ http://www.apastyle.org/). An abstract is not required.

Brief Recommendations:

Begin reading and collecting research materials early. This is a long-term project and should reflect extensive reflection on a selected topic.

Consult The TA or professor if you encounter difficulty or uncertainty in developing your ideas. We are here to help.

Make the essay focused and consistent. Keep your reader in mind and remember that you are trying to convince them of your argument. Be sure each of your points has a clear purpose and that it fits cogently with points that come before and after.

Avoid circular logic

Avoid making either whiggish or presentist assumptions about the connections among historical events

Your argument should take both intra-institutional and extra-institutional factors into account. That is, keep in mind that the context for your topic is constituted by both what was happening in the field of psychology and society in general at any given historical point. Making the connection between these interdependent contexts and your topic will sharpen the critical historical perspective of the essay and thereby strengthen your argument. 










Course Syllabus


Required Readings: 


A History of Psychology: From Antiquity to Modernity (8th ed.) by Thomas Hardy Leahey. Pearson.         


Text is available at the University of Toronto Bookstore (214 College Street, Phone: 416.640.7900)


Supplemental Readings (optional):


Putting Psychology in its Place (3rd Ed.). By Graham Richards. Routledge.


A History of Psychology in Letters (2nd. Ed.) By Ludy Benjamin. Blackwell.  

A History of Modern Psychology in Context. By Wade Pickren and Alex Rutherford. Wiley.


Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology. Various Authors. APA.


A Brief History of Modern Psychology. By Ludy Benjamin. Blackwell.


Course Overview:


Psychology is an institution designed to answer fundamental questions that concern most people in small and large ways each day. Such questions range from the mundane (e.g., “How can I persuade others to see things my way?” and “What do my friends really think about me?”) to the profound (e.g., “Am I responsible for my actions?” and “Are all people equal?”). Throughout its history, psychology has proposed frameworks and offered evidence that aim to address and answer such questions in a definitive fashion that is grounded in the scientific method. As psychologists and psychology students, our focus is usually directed toward the quality of evidence and the validity of research methods involved in this process of knowledge-making. The theoretical frameworks that organize, structure and, to some extent, determine evidence and methods are often overlooked. The study of the history of psychology is intended to remedy this, by shedding light on the lineage of various theoretical frameworks that have been employed by psychology over the course of its history and historical contexts: considering their assumptions, their implied values and their roots in the personal lives of psychologists themselves.


The importance of understanding the history of psychology is twofold: (i) to students and researchers, it provides a means of understanding the implications, limitations and foundations of any given line of research; and (ii) more generally, though, such understanding provides an informed perspective from which each one of us may approach the types of psychological questions that confront us on a daily basis.


The aim of this course is to enable each student to historically situate and critically evaluate psychological research from present and past eras in both basic and applied contexts. Getting the most out of the course depends on attending lectures, being engaged in class discussions, and making an effort to understand the course readings. 


Class Schedule:


January 11 – Course Introduction


No Readings


January 18 – Why and How the History of Psychology is Studied; Test & Essay Advice


Cushman, P. (1990). Why the self is empty: Toward a historically situated psychology. American Psychologist, 45, 599-611.


Danziger, K. (1985). The origins of the psychological experiment as a social institution. American Psychologist, 40, 133-140.


Rose, N. (1996). Power and subjectivity: Critical history and psychology. In C.F. Graumann & K.J. Gergen (Eds.), Historical Dimensions of Psychological Discourse (pp. 103-112). Cambridge University Press.


January 25 – Introduction to the History of the Study of the Mind and the Psychology of Race Differences


Leahey: Chapters 1-3, pp. 283-289


February 1 – The “Founding” of Psychology in America


Leahey: pp. 219-234, 251-253, 301-310


Skim through information and biographies available at http://www.feministvoices.com/


February 8 – Behaviorism vs. Gestalt Psychology


Leahey: Chapter 11, pp. 245-250, 311-322


February 15 – Term Test I (No Lecture)


February 22 – Reading Week (No Lecture)


March 1 – Testing: Origins and Applications


Leahey: Chapter 9, 13 and 14


March 8 – Testing: Personality vs. Social Psychology


Leahey: Chapter 7


March 15 – History up to the Present: Computation and the “Cognitive Revolution”


Leahey: pp. 235-245, Chapter 12


March 22– History up to the Present: Computation and the “Cognitive Revolution” (continued)


No additional readings


March 29 – Course Overview and Retrospective


No readings


April 5 – Term Test II (No Lecture)



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