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Otherworldly Impressions: Female Mediumship in Britain and America in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries


This dissertation examines representations of female spirit mediumship during the rise of the Spiritualist movement in the mid–nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. In private séances as well as public trance demonstrations, spirit mediums claimed to channel the dead and convey their messages to their audiences, in addition to disseminating this information to millions of Spiritualists through their memoirs, collections of automatic writing recorded during their trances, and spirit photography. “Otherworldly Impressions” assesses the ways female spirit mediums engaged and shaped British and American cultural identities as they relayed information that became formative to the construction and reimagining of gender, racial and class ideologies.

Chapter 1, “Visions of Travel: Paranormal Arctic Exploration, the Franklin Search Expeditions, and The Frozen Deep” provides an analysis of mediums’ contributions to nineteenth-century scientific and imperialist discourses on Arctic exploration through their psychic visions, and assesses Charles Dickens’ and Wilkie Collins’ collaborative fictional work inspired by these events. Mediums’ reports of their communication with spirits frequently intervened in constructions of their nations’ colonial histories; “Suffering as Spectacle: Sensationalized Depictions of Racial Violence in Spirit Narratives” attends to American mediums’ publications of spirit messages that capitalized on this violent history. “Spectral Labor: Women’s Spirit Photography and Constructions of Material Culture” uncovers women’s frequently hidden roles in the development of spirit photography; in a similar vein, “Staged Mediumship: Women’s Public Performances of Spirit Communication” examines mediums’ negotiation of Spiritualist constructions of their profession as well as gender ideologies to produce their public conjuring spectacles. The final chapter, “Assembly Required: Women’s Automatic Writing and the Production of Print Media,” looks at the way women used their automatic writing to obtain authority in the Spiritualist publishing industry as well as challenge conceptions of modern literary production.

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