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list price: $95.00
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category: Science
published: Nov 2016
publisher: UBC Press

Science of the Seance

Transnational Networks and Gendered Bodies in the Study of Psychic Phenomena, 1918-40

by Beth A. Robertson

tagged: history, women's studies, 20th century

Beth A. Robertson resurrects the story of a group of men and women who sought to transform the seance into a laboratory of the spirits and a transnational empirical project. Her findings cast new light on how science, metaphysics, and the senses collided to inform gendered norms in the 1920s and ’30s. She reveals a world inhabited, on one side, by psychical researchers who represented themselves as masters of the senses, untainted by the effeminized subjectivity of the body and, on the other, by mediums and ghostly subjects who could and did challenge the researchers’ exclusive claims to scientific expertise and authority.

About the Author

Beth A. Robertson

Contributor Notes

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 ActiveHistory.ca and the book review editor for Scientia Canadensis.

Editorial Reviews

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.


While there has been a considerable academic interest in Victorian Spiritualism and séance 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.

— Fortean Times

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.

— American Review of Canadian Studies
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