The summer 2016 issue of Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore investigations of Palladino’s mediumship, Alfred Binet’s collaboration with instrument makers, the historiography of psychology textbooks, and central figures in psychological and philosophical associations at the turn of the twentieth century. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“DISCOVERING PALLADINO’S MEDIUMSHIP. OTERO ACEVEDO, LOMBROSO AND THE QUEST FOR AUTHORITY,” by ANDREA GRAUS. The abstract reads,
In 1888, the spiritist Ercole Chiaia challenged Cesare Lombroso to go to Naples and study a brilliant though still unknown medium: Eusapia Palladino. At that time Lombroso turned down the challenge. However, in 1891 he became fascinated by the medium’s phenomena. Despite the abundant literature on Palladino, there is still an episode that needs to be explored: in 1888, the Spanish doctor Manuel Otero Acevedo accepted the challenge rejected by Lombroso, spent three months in Naples studying the medium and invited the Italian psychiatrist to join his investigations. This unexplored episode serves to examine the role of scientific authority, testimony, and material evidence in the legitimization of mediumistic phenomena. The use Otero Acevedo made of the evidence he obtained in Naples reveals his desire to proclaim himself an authority on psychical research before other experts, such as Lombroso, Richet, and Aksakof.
Date: Tuesday 14 June 2016 Location: Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University
College London Speaker: Dr Marco Pasi (University of Amsterdam) Seminartitle: Mediumistic art and the problems of interpretation: The case of Georgina Houghton (1814–1884)
In this talk, I take up the work of the British mediumistic artist Georgiana Houghton (1814–1884), whose works feature in a new exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery. Houghton became interested in spiritualism in the early 1860s and began to practise as a medium. A trained artist, she produced a series of drawings that she claimed were done under the direct influence of spiritual entities. These works were almost exclusively non-figurative and seem to anticipate abstraction by at least 40 years. Her story presents some similarities with the the Swedish painter Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), who also began to develop an abstract style of painting as a medium under the perceived guidance of spiritual entities, a few years before Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian. How should we understand Georgiana Houghton’s (and Hilma af Klint’s) art? The context in which mediumistic art was first appreciated was psychical research, especially in the works of F.W.H. Myers. Myers presented a psychological approach to the problem of artistic genius, referring to automatic drawing as an example of the ‘subliminal uprush’. For Myers, artistic genius manifested itself when an artist was able to combine the inspiration coming from the ‘subliminal uprush’ with their ‘supraliminal stream of thought’. Myers’s theories were significant for psychologists and artists who tried to make sense of the phenomenon of mediumistic art throughout the 20th century.
Location: Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University College London
Directions: From the Torrington Place entrance to UCL, enter the campus on Malet Place. After fifty metres, you wind Foser Court on the right hand side. Turn right under the underpass, and enter via the second door on the right. The common room is straight ahead.
A new book by historian of psychology, and magician, Peter Lamont has just been released. Extraordinary Beliefs: A Historical Approach to a Psychological Problem offers an account of the continuing appeal of the extraordinary. As described on the Cambridge University Press website:
Since the early nineteenth century, mesmerists, mediums and psychics have exhibited extraordinary phenomena. These have been demonstrated, reported and disputed by every modern generation. We continue to wonder why people believe in such things, while others wonder why they are dismissed so easily. Extraordinary Beliefs takes a historical approach to an ongoing psychological problem: why do people believe in extraordinary phenomena? It considers the phenomena that have been associated with mesmerism, spiritualism, psychical research and parapsychology. By drawing upon conjuring theory, frame analysis and discourse analysis, it examines how such phenomena have been made convincing in demonstration and report, and then disputed endlessly. It argues that we cannot understand extraordinary beliefs unless we properly consider the events in which people believe, and what people believe about them. And it shows how, in constructing and maintaining particular beliefs about particular phenomena, we have been in the business of constructing ourselves.