Tuesday was the first full day of talks at the first joint meeting of Cheiron: The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences and the European Society for the History of the Human Sciences at University College Dublin, Ireland. With three parallel sessions running nearly continuously, I cannot report on everything, unfortunately, only on those sessions I see. My personal highlight today was the late afternoon, four-country session on magic, spiritualism, and technology in late 19th- and early 20th-century psychology.
Peter Behrens of Penn State U. (USA) began with a paper on Joseph Jastrow’s attempts to popularize psychology in newspapers, magazines, books, and on radio after his retirement from U. Wisconsin, in the late 1920s and the 1930s. Although often dismissed by colleagues as “oversimplifications” Jatrow strove to assist people in avoiding popular nonsense (such as spiritualism) and dealing with the problems of modern life with his many monographs, articles, and broadcasts. Marcia Moraes of U. Federal Fluminense (Brazil) discussed parallels and influences between the early cinema of Thomas Edison and early experimental psychology. Sophie Lachapelle of U. Guelph (Canada) discussed the complex relations between professional magicians, spiritualists, and psychologists in 19th-century France. Robert Houdin, the prime exemplar of the “new” magician in France, was the focus of the talk. Particularly interesting was the discussion of how magicians, knowledgeable of the “tricks of the trade,” collaborated with skeptical psychologists in debunking mediums and other spiritualists of the period. The session concluded with Francis Neary’s (U. Manchester, UK) discussion of Augustus Pitt Rivers and the anthropological museum in Oxford that bears his name. Pitt Rivers attempted to arrange the artifacts in his collection (e.g., firearms) such that viewers could directly see the evolutionary development of its form and function through time. At a time when many evolutionists (such as T. H. Huxley) doubted the causal importance, or even the existence, of consciousness, Pitt Rivers hoped to make the relations among his object so evident by their spatial arrangement that one need not even apply conscious thought (if it existed) to the problem. In short, Neary argued, he treated visitors to his museum as though they were the automata Huxley believed all humans to be.