Edward K. Morris, President

The History of Behavior Analysis (HoBA) Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) was founded in 2011. Our Listserv was established in 2012. Our first business meeting was held at the 2013 ABAI convention and has been held there annually since, except during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 2023, we had about 284 members. This was up a dozen from last year, but our membership is basically stable. To join the SIG and the ListServe, contact Pat Williams (University of Houston-Downtown) at WilliamsP@uhd.edu.

Aim, Mission, Objectives, Purview, and Audience

     The SIG’s aim is to advance behavior analysis nationally and internationally through its history and historiography. Our mission is to cultivate and nurture, enrich, and improve, and disseminate the field’s history and historiography. Our objectives are to enhance teaching the history of behavior analysis (e.g., course content, pedagogy); to enhance research on its history (e.g., historiography) and its dissemination (e.g., presentations, publications); and to enhance service to the field’s history in the SIG and ABAI (e.g., leadership, governance, communications). Our purview is the field’s long past (599 B.C.E-1900), short history (1900-1930), and recent origins (1930-present). Our audience includes behavior analysts, other scientists and humanists, and the public at large.

Reasons and Rationales

     Jack Michael (2004) offered the following reasons and rationales for teaching and researching the field’s history and historiography:

Students of behavior analysis who know little of its history will be less than optimally effective in acquiring new knowledge. They will also be unaware of relations among various parts of their professional and scientific repertoires. In short, it is important to know where we came from.
(p. 93)

     More specifically, the history and historiography of behavior analysis place the discipline, its sub-disciplines, and its practices in relation to each other. The field has breadth and depth beyond any one of them. Its history and historiography reveal the interdependence of the field’s system, its sciences, and its practices. The field is more than the sum of its parts. Its history and historiography also address the field’s relation to other sciences and the humanities. The field is defined, in part, by its comparisons and contrasts with them.

     History and historiography also have more general rationales. The Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) offered among the first: “Those who know only their own generation remain children forever.” Another is based on an observation by the American author and humorist, Mark Twain (1835-1910), about travel – but here “History” — in The Innocents Abroad:

[History] is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. (Twain, 1869, p. 243).

Perhaps the most common rationale is attributed to the Spanish-American philosopher, George Santayana (1863-1952): “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (Santayana, 1905). Benjamin Farrington (1949) summarizes these and other rationales in almost a behavior-analytic idiom:

     History is the most fundamental science for there is no human knowledge which cannot lose its scientific character when men forget the conditioning under which it originated, the questions which it answered, and the function it was created to serve. A great part of the mysticism and superstition of educated men consist of knowledge which has broken base from its historical moorings. (p. 173; see also Coleman, 1995)

More recently, Carl Sagan (1934-1996) observed, “You have to know the past to understand the present” (www.quteslyfe.com), on which Ibram X. Kendi (1982-present) elaborated: “To know the past is to know the present. To know the present is to know yourself” (Reynolds & Kendi, 2020, p. ix).


     Our membership is open to anyone interested in the history and historiography of behavior analy-sis. This includes (a) all ABAI members; (b) members of other behavior-analytic organizations, in-cluding Division 25 for Behavior Analysis of the American Psychological Association (APA), the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, and the B. F. Skinner Foundation; (c) members of organi-zations outside of behavior analysis, including APA Division 26 for the Society for the History of Psychology, the International Society for the History of the Behavioral Sciences (aka Cheiron), and the History of Science Society; and (d) independent scholars. The SIG’s members need not be mem-bers of ABAI. We have no membership fee.


     Until recently, the SIG’s governance has consisted of its founding president, Edward K. Morris (University of Kansas), and a vice-president, Karen Wagner (Behavior Service of Brevard, FL). Pat Williams (University of Houston-Downtown) is our Listserv owner and moderator. The SIG’s near-future goals are to broaden its leadership and governance (see below).

Business Meeting

     Our main activities have been hosting a ListServ for our members, a website (in process), and an annual business meeting at the ABAI conference. To summarize the minutes of our last meeting in 2022:

Despite the size of the SIG’s membership, attendance at the business meetings has been modest the last several years (e.g., K. Wagner and n ~4-8 members), compared to earlier years (n ~20).  Behavioral gerontology.

The low attendance probably reflects the SIG’s lack of engagement with its members other than through its Listserv. The SIG’s activities have not changed since its founding – and neither has its leadership.

Tin 2022, the SIG leadership, and the audience discussed changes in the SIG’s structure and functions, the most fundamental of which is to establish By-Laws.
This would:

Formalize the SIG’s structure (e.g., governance, Executive Council)

Expand the SIG’s purview (e.g., committees, positions)

Set a calendar for elections and the succession of leadership (e.g., positions, voting, terms)

In expanding the SIG’s purview, the leadership and audience in 2022 and 2023 considered further the functions the SIG could address, in part, through a committee structure. This might include a membership committee (e.g., growth, diversity), finance committee (e.g., dues, donations, IRS status), website committee (e.g., management, communications), publications committee (e.g., a newsletter), program committee (e.g., conference posters, papers, symposia), education committee (e.g., a syllabus bank), dissemination committee (e.g., bibliographies, a YouTube directory), obituary committee (e.g., published obituaries), archival committee (e.g., listing and promoting archives), awards committee (e.g., for the best annual HoBA presentation or publication), and a history of ABAI and ABAI SIGs committee (e.g., for their website).

Goals for 2023

     The SIG’s goals this year were to establish By-Laws and a committee structure. The SIG president took the lead, but SIG members were invited to participate (see ekm@ku.edu). Preliminary by-laws and committees were developed last spring and discussed and voted on at the May 2023 Business Meeting at ABAI held on Sunday, May 28 from 7:00 to 8:00 pm in the Hyatt Regency, Mineral Hall E. Please join us. The future of history
looks bright.


     Coleman, S. R. (1995). The varied usefulness of history, with specific reference to behavior analysis.
     In J. T. Todd & E. K. Morris (Eds.), Modern perspectives on B. F. Skinner andradical behaviorism (pp. 129-147). Greenwood.

     Farrington, B. (1949). Greek science, its meaning for us, Volume 2: Theophrastus to Galen. Penguin.

     Michael, J. (2004). Historical antecedents of behavior analysis. In J. Michael (Ed.), Concepts andprinciples of behavior analysis and verbal behavior (pp. 93–104).
     Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis.

Reynolds, J., & Kendi, I. X. (2020). Stamped: Racism, antiracism, and you.Little, Brown, and Company.

     Santayana, G. (1905). Reason in common sense.
In G. Santayana (2005-2006), The life of reason: The

phases of human progress (Vol. 1). Scribner’s.

Twain, M. (1869). The innocents abroad.
American Publishing.

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