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The Earth is Flat

(Just testing this Performancing Bookmarklet Plugin Widget Thingamabob.)

Sunday Times review of Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea, by Christine Garwood.

Recent flat-earthism was revived by an awkward Lancashireman (if that’s not a tautology), one Samuel Birley Rowbotham of Stockport, a radical socialist, quack doctor and all-round pain in the neck. With scant education concealed by tremendous energy and self-belief, Rowbotham started touring England in the late 1830s, arguing that the earth was a flat disc, the sun was 400 miles from London, and that we age only because we ingest too much “phosphate and sulphate of lime”. He comes across as a Victorian hybrid of David Icke and Dave Spart. Garwood vividly evokes this milieu of bolshy, furiously autodidactic working-class men in their splendid Mechanics’ Institutes and Owenite Halls of Science, determined to prove those toffee-nosed boffins down in London wrong. Even if they were spectacularly wrong themselves, there’s something appealing about their stubborn contrariness.

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King Crank

Tags: Useless research. Yes, yes, clever of you to spot the irony.

So what was I up to in the Archives of Useless Research, you ask? Here (below the fold) is the prospectus for a paper I’ll be presenting in November at the University of Virginia, for a conference called “Inventing America: The Interplay of Technology and Democracy in Shaping American Identity,” loosely tied to the Benjamin Franklin tricentennial (I just can’t get away from that guy, can I?) and sponsored by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. (I wonder if the AUR’s hollow earths, perpetual motion machines, and secrets of the pyramids revealed are the sort of invention and innovation the Lemelsons had in mind…)
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The Medium is the Message

Tags: the supernatural is political, suffragists from the Great Beyond, Ghostbusters, ectoplasm, creepy retro bondage gear.

(Part Two of Two. Read Part One.)

My post the day before yesterday described The Perfect Medium, an exhibition of spiritualist photographs on this month at the Met. I talked about spiritualism as a technology, or at least a technological endeavor, and about the funny place the Gilded Age spiritualists tried to occupy between science and religion. I didn’t talk, yet, about what it was that I found unsettling about the exhibition–and no, it wasn’t the gallery of surprisingly portly Victorian ghosts.
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Spirit Fingers

Tags: ghost cameras, necrophones, the no man’s land between faith and reason, a pirate’s daughter.

(Part One of Two. Read Part Two.)

I was in New York last week, and I got a chance to see The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult, an exhibit of spiritualist photographs from the late 19th and early 20th century at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I enjoyed it, as I knew I would, but there was something disquieting about the exhibit too. It’s taken me a couple of days to put my finger on what that might have been.

The angel of death comes for Martin Sheen.
The angel of death comes for Martin Sheen.

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