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Stepchildren of Science, by Heather Wolffram

Psychical Research and Parapsychology in Germany, c. 1870-1939

Reviewed by Egil Asprem

[Snip] The history of psychical research and parapsychology has received increasing and varied attention in scholarly literature over the last few decades. The English and American contexts have long been relatively well charted, through the major studies of scholars such as Alan Gauld, Frank M. Turner, Janet Oppenheim, Robert Laurence Moore, and Seymour Mauskopf and Michael McVaugh, while the continental contexts have received much less attention. Bertrand Méheust’s study of mesmerism, spiritualism and the later developments in psychical research has remained a standard reference for the French context, while scholarship on German parapsychology has been close to non-existent – especially in English language publications. In recent years, a number of articles have been published in journals such as the History of the Behavioral Sciences, History of the Human Sciences, and The European Legacy, which ameliorate this situation. The Australian historian Heather Wolffram is one of these scholars, and her recent book, The Stepchildren of Science, is a major achievement in this wave of renewed attention to the history of psychical research. Not only does it fill an empirical gap by focusing on the development of German parapsychology from the 1870s to the 1930s, but it also represents a new way of analysing and writing about these problematic sciences, informed by recent theoretical work in the history and sociology of science.

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