Sunday, November 18, 2012

American Spirit: A History of the Supernatural

Published: 10/26/2012 

“Houdini and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln,” ca. 1920, Library of Congress

This episode of BackStory with the American History Guys was originally broadcast in October 2011. This episode has been slightly edited and updated from that original version, which you can listen to here.

Halloween – despite its solemn Celtic roots – has become a safe way for Americans to transgress social norms and toy with the idea of ghosts in a family-friendly fashion. But for some, spirits from another plane have always been a very real part of life on thisplane.

On this Halloween special, the History Guys explore Americans’ relationship with ghosts, spirits, and witches throughout our nation’s history. Why were colonists so fearful of New England “witches”? How is it that progressive social reformers found a home in the Spiritualist movement of the 19th century? Why do new media technologies always conjure talk of the undead? Can social upheaval help explain our history with the ineffable?

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Guests Include:
Ann Braude, Director of the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School and author of Radical Spirits: Spritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-century America
Cara Seekings, Spirit medium and resident at the Lily Dale Assembly
Nate DiMeo, listen to more of his stories about the forgotten corners of American history at

Web Exclusives
Listen to an extended version of Ed’s interview with spirit medium Cara Seekings.
Listen to individual show segments.
Further Reading
A list of recommended readings from BackStory staff
Want to dig deeper into the history of the Supernatural? Check out this list of resources put together by the History Guys to learn more.
See the listener discussion that helped shape this show.

Even Further
Listing of the music heard in “American Spirit”
Full transcript of the show


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