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Science of the Seance


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Table of Contents

Groping in the Dark: An Introduction1 The "Scientific Self ": Performative Masculinity in the Psychical Laboratory2 Otherworldly Subjects: Mediums and Spirits3 A Touch of the Uncanny: Sensing a Material Otherworld4 The Qualities of Quartz: Technology, Inscriptions, and Mechanizing Vision5 Fragments of a Spectral Self: Psychology, Medicine, and Aberrant Souls6 Teleplasmic Mechanics: Spirit Scientists and Vital TechnologiesThe Knot Unravelled: An EpilogueNotes; Bibliography

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In this enthralling study of the ethereal, the scientific, and the strange, Beth A. Robertson investigates the gendered world of the seance, a place where self-proclaimed "psychic researchers" laid claim to objectivity and where spiritual mediums and the spirits they channeled resisted their methods.

About the Author

Beth A. Robertson is a historian of gender, science, medicine, and technology who teaches in the History Department at Carleton University. She has published in Gender and History and Nova Religio and is a co-editor of and the book review editor for Scientia Canadensis.


It's a rare treat when I get to indulge my interest in the paranormal through such a well-researched and argued work as Beth A. Robertson's Science of the Seance ... it will appeal not only to those studying the paranormal, but also to scholars of technology, gender, and sexuality, and those who are interested in the origins of new sciences and the construction of knowledge ... It takes its subject matter seriously (which shouldn't be underestimated), and makes far-reaching conclusions that cross disciplinary boundaries. It draws together a number of seemingly disparate threads into a concise framework that, for me, transformed how I thought about paranormal research. I look forward to more work like this.

-- Matthew Hayes, The Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies, Trent University * American Review of Canadian Studies *

In this provocative book, Robertson contends that the study of mediumship impacted both empirical methods and gender studies ... A major contribution of this work is its description of how women, both as participants and researchers, debunked the stereotype that had linked femininity with "intellectual ineptitude." Robertson's work can serve as a model for further inquiries on the contributions psychical research can make to scholarship, methodology, and philosophy.

-- S. Krippner, Saybrook University * CHOICE *

While there has been a considerable academic interest in Victorian Spiritualism and seance room phenomena, the 1918-1939 period has been less well served. Beth Robertson's Science of the Seance helps to redress that imbalance ... [S]he provides a useful introduction to some of the work exploring the boundary between this world and the next in the period.

-- Tom Ruffles * Fortean Times *

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