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Spotlight! Symposium: Re-forming the Dead

Abolitionist Iconoclasm and the Spirit Circle



Date & Time

November 29, 2023, 12:00 pm1:00 pm


Mediumship and the intimate practices of the spirit circle drew in some of the nineteenth-century’s most prominent abolitionists in America. Spiritualism promised communication between the embodied and the disembodied through mediums and touted the continuous growth and “elevation” of the dead rather than, in the Christian tradition, the finality of judgment. This talk by Lindsay DiCuirci explores the beliefs, language and community practices that fused an interracial circle of spiritualists at 36 Sophia Street, the home of Isaac and Amy Post in Rochester, NY. It focuses on Isaac Post’s 1852 collection of spirit letters, Voices from the Spirit World, Being Communications from Many Spirits, and on Amy’s extensive correspondence with Boston-based Black abolitionist, historian and editor William Cooper Nell. Hearing from dead luminaries from George Washington to Napoleon Bonaparte, Post recorded a chorus of regret and expiation, requiring a radical rethinking of the people and accomplishments that merit enshrinement in public memory and space. Post’s iconoclasm was in conversation with Nell’s own historiographic efforts to commemorate and center Black history in mid-century Boston, an effort informed by the conviction that those lionized while “in the body” were not guaranteed glory in the celestial sphere.

This is the sixth in a series of six lectures, Beyond the Veil: Making Sense of the Spirit World, the fall 2023 Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery Spotlight! symposium. The symposium presents speakers who explore themes from the Special Collections’ Eileen J. Garrett Parapsychology Foundation collection, such as the history of human interaction (beliefs and practices) with supernatural, paranormal, mystic, and psychical phenomena, as well as the interaction of race, spiritualities, magic, mysticism and feminist expression with the otherworldly.

Lindsay DiCuirci is an associate professor of English and affiliate faculty in Language, Literacy, and Culture at UMBC, specializing in early American literature and the history of the book. Her book, Colonial Revivals: The Nineteenth-Century Lives of Early American Books (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019) examines the politics of collecting, preserving, and reprinting colonial books and manuscripts in the nineteenth-century U.S. Colonial Revivals is the recipient of the Bibliographical Society of America’s St. Louis Mercantile Library Prize, the Library Company of Philadelphia’s First Book Award, and the Early American Literature Book Prize. Other work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Reception, Early American Literature and the edited collection, Apocalypse in American Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP, 2020). She is the current director of the English Honors program at UMBC and the director of the Dresher Center for the Humanities’ Humanities Teaching Labs. Dr. DiCuirci is also an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society, one of the nation’s oldest learned societies and independent research libraries.