Empathy and Understanding: In History, Psychotherapy, and Our Contemporary World


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Instructor: Abstract:

Tom Kohut, PhD - Sue and Edgar Wachenheim, III Professor of History, Williams College.This pre-recorded forum uses Thomas Kohut’s recent book, Empathy and the Historical Understanding of the Human Past (Routledge, 2020), as a springboard for an interdisciplinary discussion of empathy and its role in understanding people in the past and in the present. 

In addition to considering some of the central claims Kohut makes in his book about empathy as a way of knowing in history, the four discussants consider the similarities and differences between the role of empathy in knowing and understanding people in history, and in the humanities more generally, and in knowing and understanding people in psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy.  Finally, the discussants consider the prominent role that empathy has come to play in contemporary political and cultural discourse.  The forum is of interest to historians and other scholars in the humanities and social sciences who seek to know and understand human beings, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists, and those with an interest in the place of empathy in our contemporary world. 

Thomas A. Kohut received a BA from Oberlin College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota.  He is also a graduate of the Cincinnati Psychoanalytic Institute.  He is currently Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Professor of History at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  Kohut is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and of the Council of Scholars at the Erik Erikson Institute at Austen Riggs.  He is also the president of the Freud Foundation, US.  From 2000 to 2006, Kohut served as Dean of the Faculty at Williams College.  Kohut has written three books: Empathy and the Historical Understanding of the Human Past (New York: Routledge, 2020); A German Generation: An Experiential History of the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press; 2012); Wilhelm II and the Germans: A Study in Leadership (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).  He has also published articles on a number of historical and psychological topics: including the German humorist, Wilhelm Busch; letters from German soldiers at Stalingrad; and psychohistory, history, and psychoanalysis.

Discussants include:   

Irene Kacandes, PhD 
Dartmouth Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature, Dartmouth College 

Anna Fishzon, PhD 
Licensed Psychoanalyst, Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research (IPTAR) 

Jane G. Tillman, PhD 
Evelyn Stefansson Nef Director of the Erikson Institute for Education and Research, Austen Riggs Center

Format: Videocast and Audio Podcast

Continuing Education Credits Authorized: 1

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to define the concept of empathy
Participants will recognize that empathy is a way of understanding the human past in the field of history
Participants will be able to describe the use of empathy for historical research purposes
Participants will be able to critique methods of inquiry that exclude empathy as a way of knowing

System Requirements

The Austen Riggs Center Continuing Medical Education and Online Courses system is offered to users who are able to access these courses with systems and devices meeting the following requirements:

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  • Apple iPhone and iPad devices running iOS 7 or iOS 8
  • Android 4.4.x-capable devices
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