Rorschach Test Slides (c. 1958)
First created in the 1920s, the Rorschach test is a projective psychological test that shows test-takers ambiguous images—inkblots—in order to elicit unconscious processes of perception. Because there was no one way to interpret the inkblots, test-takers would ‘project’ their own desires or anxieties onto the material—hence the term ‘projective test.’
Clues to the test’s provenance lie in the handwritten note scrawled on the brown butcher paper that envelops the box. Dated 1958, the note is addressed to Roy Ross, a psychologist at Toronto General Hospital and lecturer at the University of Toronto. He likely would have used the Rorschach test to diagnose psychiatric patients at the hospital: the type of movement and shapes that subjects saw in the inkblots was supposed to indicate perceptual disorders like schizophrenia.
Since the early 20th-century, Canadian psychiatrists and psychologists have advocated for treating mental health as a public health concern. These slides are thus part of the material culture of the local history of public health.
I first encountered these Rorschach slides in an early visit to UTSIC, when I began my PhD at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. UTSIC’s collection contains a variety of psychological tests that were used in the psychology department at the University of Toronto.
They have been a valuable resource for my dissertation, which focuses on the history of personality tests in North America. I am interested in exploring how and why personality tests have become such pervasive, ubiquitous techniques for people to understand themselves.
Being able to physically touch and see the material culture of psychology’s past, in the UTSIC collection, offers a valuable entry point into the topic. It allows me to understand how a test-taker, or test administrator, would experience the test. It is through psychological tests, like the Rorschach, that millions of people have encountered psychology, and thus tests offer a useful way to understand the intersection of psychology with broader cultural and social history.
Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology