Recent studies in nineteenth-century spiritualism have illuminated the social practice of
the occult in various cultural contexts. Richard Noakes in his latest study on telegraphy and the
occult in Victorian England, for instance, shows how the world of spiritualism and the world of
technology were welded together by Victorian engineering schemes and money.R. Noakes, ‘Telegraphy is an occult art: Cromwell Fleetwood Varley and the diffusion of
electricity to the other world’, BJHS (1999), 32, 421–59.
This paper looks at another culture of occult practice which has often been neglected by historians of science: the
role of spiritism in the making of German experimental psychology. Based on a debate focusing
on the German astrophysicist Karl Friedrich Zöllner and the American medium Henry Slade, I
will show how spiritistic experiments were situated in the emerging contexts of scientific practice,
laboratories and disciplines.For a more external approach on Zöllner see C. Meinel, Karl Friedrich Zöllner und die
Wissenschaftskultur der Gründerzeit, Berlin, 1991. ‘Spiritismus’ in German and
‘spiritualism’ in English refer to the study of ghosts. ‘Spiritualismus’ in German
refers to the metaphysical and theological dimension of the spiritual.
This study will also take a close look at the perception of spiritistic
mediums as instruments by experimenters such as Zöllner.This perception dates back to the 18th century. S. Schaffer, ‘Deus et Machina’,
La Lettre de la Maison française (1997), 9, 30–58. On the perception of experimental
subjects as machines in Victorian culture see A. Winter, Mesmerized, Chicago, 1998, Chapter 3.
Things were in control and then they were not and then they were.
Sally Bushell, Under the Breadfruit TreeS. Bushell, Under the Breadfruit Tree, Cambridge, 1997, 22.