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Erik Erikson

Erik H. Erikson immigrated to the United States in 1933, where he practiced child psychoanalysis and joined the Harvard Medical School faculty. In 1936 he moved to Yale, and in 1938 he began his first studies of cultural influences on psychological development. He later taught at U.C. Berkeley, but left in 1950. In his view, personality development takes place through a series of identity crises.

 Erikson retired from the Harvard teaching faculty in 1970, but he hardly retired from writing. Although he did not complete any more long psychobiographies along the lines of the Luther and Gandhi books, he wrote thoughtful shorter works on Thomas Jefferson and on Jesus. With the full participation of his wife Joan, he continued to write about the later stages of the life cycle. Perhaps his most interesting treatment of the final stage, dealing with the crisis he called “ego integrity versus despair,” was a paper he had originally developed for his Harvard undergraduate course as a commentary on the Ingmar Bergman film Wild Strawberries. The film depicts an elderly Scandinavian professor’s review of his entire life cycle on the day he is to receive an honorary degree for his life’s work—no doubt a personally resonant film for Erikson, but also an excellent medium for him to communicate to young people what it means to look back on one’s life at its end and to assess whether it has been emotionally and morally rewarding or deeply disappointing.

In his late seventies Erikson thought about writing a full-scale autobiography, perhaps as a further illustration of that final stage of psychosocial development. But he did not do it; as he moved into his eighties, his memories and his eloquence began to fade. Continuing the pattern he had followed throughout his life, he moved every few years from one part of the country to another, though by now the places he moved to were mostly returns: back for a while to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, then to Tiburon in the San Francisco Bay Area, then across the continent again to Cape Cod and to Cambridge, near Harvard. During his final years he was unable to write anything or to remember much of what had gone before. He died on Cape Cod at age ninety-one. His wife Joan continued to write about the life cycle until her own death three years later. 

Personality development, in Erik H. Erikson’s view, occurs through a series of identity crises that occur in stages that must be overcome and internalized.  Erikson is best known for identifying eight stages of psychosocial development in the human life cycle and for his concept of the identity crisis. He expanded psychoanalytic theory to include the influence of cultural variations on individual ego development, and showed how personality development in certain key individuals can induce widespread cultural changes. For his book Gandhi’s Truth, he won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. By improving Sigmund Freud’s case-history research methods and extending their application beyond childhood to the entire life span, Erikson became the father of contemporary psychobiographical research.

Adapted by:  Biography.com, http://www.biography.com/people/erik-h-erikson-37751
“Erikson, Erik Homburger.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Retrieved June 19, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830905654.html
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