BPS/UCL History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar

Monday 10th November 2014

  Dr. Alan Collins (University of Lancaster)

 The right kind of remembering: Nineteenth-century popular texts on memory training and the psychology of self-improvement.

 Much has been written on the history of mnemonics and the art of memory but in the twentieth-century memory increasingly became an object of science and psychological science in particular.  The emergence of this science is traditionally associated with the development of laboratory-based studies at the end of the nineteenth century.  However, in this paper I explore a very different literature from the same period: texts and pamphlets on memory improvement intended for popular audiences which began to appeal to the ‘science’ of memory as the basis for their advice.  These texts held out the promise that a well-grounded knowledge of the nature of memory could be harnessed to a firm will and good habits in order to improve oneself.  I explore the claims of these texts to offer means of improving memory that connected a grounded knowledge of memory with everyday practices.  These renewed efforts were not task-specific nor about resisting the effects of ageing but instead were offered up as contributing to social and financial betterment and improving one’s self generally.  The texts sought to weld together a somewhat sketchy science of memory, the improvement of the self and social advancement.  Following the work of Mathew Thomson on psychological subjects, Michael Billig on banality and Sally Shuttleworth on science in periodicals, I also reflect on how literatures often considered marginal might contribute to our understanding of how certain concepts, such as memory, have become primarily psychological concepts.

Organiser: Professor Sonu Shamdasani (UCL)

Time: 6pm to 7.30 pm.

Location:  Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University College London.


From the Torrington Place entrance to UCL, enter the campus on Malet Place. After fifty metres, you will find Foser court on the right hand side. Turn right under the underpass, and enter via the second door on the right. The common room is straight ahead.


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