A meeting with the spirits. Attending a spiritist séance in 1875

What happened during a spiritist séance in the nineteenth century? How can we piece together these fleeting, otherworldly gatherings? With sources like press reports, promotional material or exceptionally even photographs, it is possible to reconstruct and analyse these spectacular, occult performances of the past. That is precisely one of the challenges of my PhD research on spiritism in Belgium, and its relationship to popular entertainment. Let me introduce you to some aspects of a spiritist séance you would very likely have encountered, had you been a person looking for a night of…

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Funfair culture to be recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage?

This past year-end, the Musée des Arts Forains in Paris celebrated funfair culture as intangible heritage in a new edition of the Festival du Merveilleux (Festival of Wonder). The unique museum in the Pavillons de Bercy convincingly demonstrated that the funfair is a living culture that exists only by virtue of performers and entertainers interacting with an audience. Spanning 12 days, more than 5,000 visitors a day could witness how this enchanting place beyond time set the stage for a dazzling programme of live shows, music and dance. During the festival, the historic funfair attractions,…

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Colonial lantern readings with punch

Together with PhD student Anse De Weerdt, we visit the Antwerp university library’s Special Collections. Anse is affiliated with the UAntwerp and ULB. For the B-magic project, she aims to find out how colonial magic lantern images found their way into scientific, political and religious circles in Belgium from the end of the nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century.

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