Katja Guenther

Professor of History
Office Phone
224 Dickinson Hall

Katja Guenther specializes in the history of the human sciences, especially the clinical and theoretical sciences of the mind and brain. She is a trained doctor (M.D., University of Cologne) who has worked in hospitals in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, and holds a research degree in neuroscience (M.Sc., Oxford University). She received her Ph.D. from the Department of the History of Science at Harvard. Her work has been funded by the Krupp Foundation, the Medical Research Council, the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes, the Kulturwissenschaftliche Kolleg in Konstanz (Germany), the IAS Princeton, and the ACLS, amongst others. She was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2022.

Professor Guenther’s research focuses on the history of subjectivity and the ways in which modern ideas of the self have been constituted through the interplay of cultural and scientific norms. Her Localization and Its Discontents: A Genealogy of Psychoanalysis and the Neuro Disciplines (Chicago University Press, 2015) explores the shared but diverging practices and theoretical assumptions within the medicine of mind and brain. Re-conceptualizing the relationship between two central principles within neurology—localization and connectivity—she uncovers a shared heritage for such diverse specialties as neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis, and provides new ways for thinking about the relationship between mind and brain in recent neuroscience.

The Mirror and the Mind: A History of Self-Recognition in the Human Sciences (Princeton University Press, 2022) traces the history of the mirror self-recognition test, exploring how scientists from a range of disciplines—psychoanalysts, developmental and animal psychologists, cyberneticians, anthropologists, neuroscientists, and psychiatrists—came to read the peculiar behaviors that the mirror elicited. Paying close attention to the mirror as a material apparatus, the book investigates how experimenters have exploited its peculiar properties in their attempts to answer questions about the boundaries of the human.

Guenther is working on a new book project tentatively titled Being Heard: A History of Therapeutic Listening in Twentieth Century America. Listening seems to be a natural, even timeless act. But over the course of the twentieth century, it came to be invested with transformative power. By simply listening to others, we think, we can help them grapple with the challenges they face in daily life. But how, exactly, did listening become therapeutic? And how did it develop as a practice? The book tracks the new therapeutic understanding of listening, as it was formed and adapted by social workers, pastoral counselors, marriage consultants, and group therapy participants in the middle decades of the twentieth century, to explore how it responded to and encouraged new understandings of the self and its social relationships.

She is currently extending her interest in mental therapeutics to the history of psychiatric foster care, focusing on the 700-year-long history of the Belgian town of Geel and its meaning for the history of de-institutionalization and community care, integration and social stigma, and anti-psychiatry.

Guenther’s teaching interests include the history of the human sciences, the history of psychiatry, the history of subjectivity, and the history of therapeutics.

Selected Articles

“'Um, mm-h, yeah': Carl Rogers, Phonographic Recordings, and the Making of Therapeutic Listening,” History of Psychology 25, no. 3 (2022): 191-210.

“How to Train Your Analyst,” in “How to Be an Expert,” Essays & Reviews, eds. Chitra Ramalingam and Henry Cowles, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 52, no. 1 (2022): 123-27.

“Belief in Science? On the Neuroscience of Religion,” afterword in Formations of Belief: Historical Approaches to Religion and the Secular, ed. Philip Nord, Katja Guenther, Max Weiss (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019): 235-242.

“Psychoanalysis: Freud and Beyond,” chapter in The Cambridge History of Modern European Thought, ed. Peter E. Gordon and Warren Breckman (Cambridge University Press, 2019), vol. 2: 44-71.

“Monkeys, Mirrors and Me: Gordon G. Gallup and the Study of Self-Recognition,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 53.1 (2017): 5-27.

  • Winner of the FHHS/JHBS John C. Burnham Early Career Award, Citation

“Soul Catchers: A Material History of the Mind Sciences,” editorial for special issue, co-authored with Volker Hess (Medical History, July 2016): 301-307.

 “'It’s All Done With Mirrors' – V.S. Ramachandran and the Material Culture of Phantom Limb Research" (Medical History, July 2016): 342-358.

“Imperfect Reflections: Norms, Pathology, and Difference in Mirror Neuron Research,” in Pathology and Plasticity: On the Formation of the Neural Subject, Berkeley Forum in the Humanities, ed. David Bates and Nima Bassiri (Fordham University Press, 2016): 268-308.

“Exercises in Therapy – Neurological Gymnastics between Kurort and Hospital Medicine, 1880-1945,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 88.1 (2014): 102-131.

“Recasting Neuropsychiatry – Freud’s ‘Critical Introduction’ and the Convergence of French and German Brain Science,” Psychoanalysis and History 14.2 (July 2012): 203-226.

Sigmund Freud, “Critical Introduction to Neuropathology (1887),” edition and translation, Psychoanalysis and History 14.2 (July 2012): 151-202.

Area of Interest
Medicine & Health
Home Department & Other Affiliations
19th Century
20th Century