1. Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ
    Search for more papers by this author
    • I am extremely grateful to Brady Brower, Brian Connolly, Ben Kafka, Judith Surkis, and Elizabeth Weed, whose critical suggestions pushed me beyond my own limits and made this a much better essay than it otherwise might have been. I also wish to thank Peter Loewenberg for many helpful suggestions, and Sam Moyn and Ethan Kleinberg, who invited me to give the History and Theory lecture.

  • This paper is a revised version of the third History and Theory Lecture, presented on April 4, 2011, at Columbia University in New York. The History and Theory Lecture is given annually, and is jointly sponsored by History and Theory and the Consortium for Intellectual and Cultural History centered at Columbia University ( [accessed October 26, 2011]).


This article argues that, although psychoanalysis and history have different conceptions of time and causality, there can be a productive relationship between them. Psychoanalysis can force historians to question their certainty about facts, narrative, and cause; it introduces disturbing notions about unconscious motivation and the effects of fantasy on the making of history. This was not the case with the movement for psychohistory that began in the 1970s. Then the influence of American ego-psychology on history-writing promoted the idea of compatibility between the two disciplines in ways that undercut the critical possibilities of their interaction. The work of the French historian Michel de Certeau provides theoretical insight into the uses of incommensurability, while that of Lyndal Roper demonstrates both its limits and its value for enriching historical understanding.