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Spring Symposium on UR and Community Engagement has ended
Tuesday, April 24 • 10:35am - 10:55am
Dead Men Tell No Tales: The Evolution Of Spirit Communication From Séances To Spirit Photography In Nineteenth Century America

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This paper examines the link between séances and spirit photography as an evolution from faith in Spiritualism, to the experience of the séance, to the physical object of faith found in spirit photography. When broken down, séances and spirit photography provide roughly the same product, a connection to deceaded loved ones, but with the latter being tangible and the former more indirect. There is an explicit connection between the two spiritual phenomenon. Spirit photography was able to develop out of the séance thanks to the advances in photography and the mass death caused by the American Civil War. This paper looks at this development step by step beginning with a basis in Spiritualism, the originating religion, moving on to a discussion of séances as a comforting activity for the bereaved. It followings up with some of the major advances in photography that made it both extremely popular and a commodity with an examination of the effects of the Civil War on the culture surrounding death and mourning, looking specifically at the commodification of mourning and the beginnings of photography’s popularity. Out of these elements, there is a culmination within spirit photography that draws on the same benefits of séances, the tangibility that photographs allowed, and the comfort needed by thousands due to the Civil War.

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Tuesday April 24, 2018 10:35am - 10:55am
014 Whiteside Hall

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