Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, this research project investigated the relationship between, on the one hand, the circulation of ideas and practices of spirit communication in the nineteenth century, and on the other hand, the institution and transatlantic spread of telegraphy, the first significant industrial application of electricity and a harbinger of our contemporary networks of global communication.
Through an analysis of scientific, religious and popular texts from the 1850s to the 1880s (roughly speaking) this project considered three dimensions of the Spiritual Telegraph:
- the role played by telegraphically mediated telecommunications systems in the expansion and institutionalization of the Spiritualist movement, as well as in the growing visibility of the movement in the emerging international public sphere of telegraphically-mediated journalism;
- the sedimentation into the Spiritualist imagination of the electrical vocabularies and metaphors of telegraph cables and nerves, and related notions of conduction, sympathetic vibration, signal interruption, etc.
- the material culture of electrical devices used within seance practice to demonstrate (or disprove) the existence of the spirit world, and also to register the effects of spirit possession on the bodies of spirit mediums.
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