Alicia Puglionesi

Ph.D. History of Science, Medicine, and Technology Johns Hopkins University

2016 to 2017
NEH Postdoctoral Fellow

The Astonishment of Experience: Americans and Psychical Research, 1885-1935

My dissertation explores the practice of psychical research in America around the turn of the twentieth century. I embed psychical research within a vigorous culture of popular science that brought amateur and professional investigators into close, if not always comfortable, collaboration. Psychical researchers probed supernormal mental phenomena using methods adapted from the nineteenth-century field sciences, and grounded their findings in a rhetoric of empiricism that privileged direct experience as the basis for knowledge. Thousands of ordinary Americans participated in this project as part of a network of psychical societies and publications that gathered evidence of telepathy, clairvoyance, and trance mediumship. My project examines the knowledge-production practices of psychical research in light of its growing marginalization in the 1920s and 30s, when laboratory psychology asserted its exclusive status as an objective science of the mind. As an NEH Postdoctoral Fellow, I will use the archival resources of the Consortium for the History of Science to conduct additional research and revise this manuscript for publication.

Read Alicia's research report here.