Spreading the spirit word: print media, storytelling, and popular culture in nineteenth-century spiritualism
journal contributionposted on 11.11.2015 by Simone Natale
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Spiritualists in the nineteenth century gave much emphasis to the collection of evidences of scientific meaning. During séances, they used instruments similar to those employed in scientific practice to substantiate their claims. However, these were not the only source of legitimization offered in support of the spiritualist claims. In fact, writers who aimed to provide beliefs in spiritualism with a reliable support relied very often on the testimonies of eyewitness that were reported in a narrative fashion. This article interrogates the role of such anecdotal testimonies in nineteenth-century spiritualism. It argues that they played a twofold role: on one side, they offered a form of evidentiary proof that was complementary to the collection of mechanical-based evidences; on the other side, they circulated in spiritualist publications, creating opportunities to reach a wide public of readers that was made available by the emergence of a mass market for print media. Able to convince, but also to entertain the reader, anecdotal testimonies were perfectly suited for publications in spiritualist books and periodicals. The proliferation of anecdotal testimonies in spiritualist texts, in this regard, hints at the relevance of storytelling in the diffusion of beliefs about religious matters as well as scientific issues within the public sphere. By reporting and disseminating narrative testimonies, print media acted as a channel through which spiritualism’s religious and scientific endeavors entered the field of a burgeoning popular culture.
Research that lead to the publication of this essay has been funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and by the Italian Academy of Columbia University, New York.
- Social Sciences
- Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies