A History of Developmental Psychology in Autobiography

By Dennis Thompson; John D. Hogano | Go to book overview

2
James Emmett Birren

Conventional histories of science tend to portray the sequence of findings: what was accomplished and discovered. In this pattern, histories of psychology usually present pictures of an orderly development and accumulation of information and a logical flow of ideas. Little is said about the twists and turns in individual lives that play a role in shaping careers and the growth of scientific knowledge. In contrast, autobiographical histories of science indicate why certain pursuits were undertaken as well as mistakes and dead ends and, if the authors are candid, reveal the role of chance in research careers.


Personal Background

Chance is clearly evident in my life. At my birth on April 4, 1918, I promptly fell on the floor in the delivery room, causing consternation for the doctor, nurse, my mother, and presumably for me, who turned purple. Years later, reconstruction of the event with my mother established that she was aware of what had happened, because the ether she had been given had worn off. After my delivery she was conscious of a dispute between the physician and the attending nurse. Apparently the nurse had not put an umbilical cord clip in the obstetrics bag, and the physician complained that he would have done better had the charwoman assisted him. The nurse left the room to find a clip while the doctor in his anger went looking for one in the other direction. Meanwhile, I had been left lying on a small table adjacent to my mother, from which I was pulled by the expulsion of the placenta. When they returned to the room, I was an inconvenient mess on the floor. My mother said, "I will never forget the look on the doctor's face when he saw you lying on the floor." My mother also told me that as she left the hospital with her baby, the nursery attendant mentioned that I was "better now." All these events left uncertainty and the question in my mother's mind: Better than what?

I have the impression that the family did not expect me to survive the fall from the delivery room table. In fact, the doctor must have been so rattled that he did not record my birth. Twenty years later, when I needed evidence of my birth, I discovered there was no recorded birth certificate. The doctor was still alive at that time and signed my handwritten birth certificate application. I became a rare in

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