Two Years of ‘Forbidden Histories’

Today is my second birthday as a blogger. To celebrate, I decided to upgrade my free WordPress account, mainly to get rid of the annoying ads which started appearing as ‘Forbidden Histories’ got more views. Besides, the Premium account comes with its own dinky domain, forbiddenhistories.com (though the old address, forbiddenhistories.wordpress.com, is still working). Whoop.

I also decided it might be time to create and run a dedicated ‘Forbidden Histories’ Twitter account, which, like its cousin on Facebook, focuses on the topics at the heart of this blog, whereas my personal account continues to tweet a much broader range of historical and personal bits and bobs.

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What else is new? In terms of my professional life, I’m approaching the end of my first year as a Junior Research Fellow at Churchill College while continuing my association with the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, where I still supervise students and teach my little course, ‘Psychology in History’.

Perhaps most excitingly, last month I got what seems like a good publishing deal with Stanford University Press, who contracted me for a book with the working title Psychical Research and the Formation of Modern Psychology in Europe and the US. Of course I suffer no illusions of expecting to make money publishing an academic book. But I’m glad that Stanford UP are pushing me to write for a broad audience and intend to produce an affordable paperback from the start. In practical terms, this means anybody who really wants to read the book should be able to get hold of a copy.

At any rate, after guest-editing the special section ‘Psychical Research in the History of Science and Medicine’ for Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences last year, I hope the book will mark a second major step in my attempts to further consolidate historical interest in the unorthodox side of modern science.

Those of you who do not receive new blog posts by email (simply subscribe using the box at the upper right if you haven’t already) might have missed last year’s main contributions to ‘Forbidden Histories’. In chronological order, they were a brief recapitulation of the blog’s first year (including a still useful list of previous posts), followed by a guest article from Andrew Manns (a PhD student at the Warburg Institute) on the early modern mathematician Girolamo Cardano and his spirit visions.

Next, I wrote a piece on ancient Greek temple medicine, oracles and voice-hearing, discussing competing uses of their histories during the making of modern psychology and anthropology. This was followed by an article revealing a new source regarding Carl Gustav Jung’s experiments with mediums and clairvoyants, which I unearthed in a now obscure German book on spiritualism from 1921.

The next contribution was on the longer side and addressed a common myth regarding scientific practice. By connecting William James’ futile attempts to get scientific colleagues involved in his radical empirical tests of the medium Leonora Piper with the almost complete lack of interest by modern scientists in recent investigations of alleged memories of past lives in children, it questioned the widespread assumption that the so-called ‘scientific community’ really is guided by an ethos to investigate major scientific anomalies reported by well-qualified and respected colleagues.

Finally, I gave a short overview of my upcoming book (mentioned above) on the historical links between psychical research and psychology, making the bold claim that it will offer a radical revision of the traditional historiography of modern science and its relationship with the ‘occult’.

So what’s in the pipeline for the next 12 months? Besides updates on my book and forthcoming articles, I’m planning to post a note on my work as history advisor for a new BBC drama mini-series, The Living and the Dead. Moreover, I continue to recruit fellow historians to write guest posts. Should you be interested in discussing a brief article related to the scope of ‘Forbidden Histories’ (2-3 pages, written for a broad audience), or know another historian who you think I should pester, simply get in touch by email (as2399 AT cam DOT ac DOT uk).

© Andreas Sommer

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