Roback, Abraham Aaron

views updated


ROBACK, ABRAHAM AARON (1890–1965), U.S. psychologist and Yiddish scholar. Born in Russia, Roback was taken to the U.S. as a child. He taught at several universities and was associated with the Massachusetts State Department of Education (1926–49). He served as chairman and professor of psychology at Emerson College (1949–1958). Roback's primary importance to psychology was as a historian and systematist. An early opponent of behaviorism, he believed in a broadly humanistic approach to psychology. He was the first to investigate the historical antecedents of American, as opposed to European, sources of psychology. He also stressed the Jewish contribution to the history of psychology. In addition, he devised tests for superior adult intelligence, scientific ingenuity, comprehension, and sense of humor. He wrote on personality and folklore and became interested in the study of linguistics, especially of Yiddish.

Roback was the first to introduce an academic course in Yiddish literature in the U.S., at the Massachusetts University Extension (1929) and organized the Yiddish collection (over 10,000 books) at Harvard University Library (1929). He was editor of Der Keneder Odler in Montreal (1908) and first editor of Canadian Jewish Chronicle (1914).

Roback's extensive research into the character and literary value of Yiddish also showed the cultural and spiritual impact which this language has made upon Western culture. He showed how Yiddish is permeated by the folkgeist of its Jewish speakers and Weltanschauung of the shtetl. Roback wrote the Jewish Influence in Modern Thought (1929) and Psychology Through Yiddish Literature (1931) in which he expressed his belief in the role of Jewish thought in the modern age. Roback was active in many communal and Jewish organizations.

Apart from Yiddish research, he was a prolific writer in his own field. He wrote many articles and over 20 books on psychology. Among the most important were: The Psychology of Character (1927, 19524); Personality in Theory and Practice (1949, 19572); A History of American Psychology (1952, 19642); History of Psychology and Psychiatry (1961, 19622); Aspects of Applied Psychology and Crime (1964).


J. Berger, The Destiny and Motivation of Dr. A.A. Roback (1957).

[Menachem M. Brayer]