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“The astonishment of experience: Psychology as a citizen science”

Alicia Puglionesi
Lecturer, Johns Hopkins
Date and Time: 
Wednesday, November 15, 2017 - 17:30

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


Though the origins of scientific psychology in the U.S. are usually traced to the Harvard psychological laboratory established by William James in 1875, experimentation with mental phenomena had a long history as a public practice, a citizen science that pursued what James called “wild facts” embedded in everyday experience. This science, termed “psychical research”, encompassed studies of telepathy, clairvoyance, mediumship, and the emerging notion of a “subliminal” or unconscious self. The Astonishment of Experience shows how field sciences like meteorology and astronomy became models for psychical research, which in turn shaped the professional formation of psychology and its maligned double, parapsychology, in the early twentieth century. Spanning laboratories and asylums, cushioned parlors and remote weather stations, this project presents an expansive vision of how the mind sciences became a site of curiosity, hope, and danger for turn-of-the-century Americans living through unprecedented transformations of subjectivity.


Alicia Puglionesi works on the history of knowledge-making and mystery in the human sciences. She completed her PhD in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in 2015, and teaches at Johns Hopkins and the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her forthcoming book, The Astonishment of Experience, explores how citizen scientists tackled the observational problems of psychology and challenged the boundaries of professionalization around the turn of the 20th century. More information about her work can be found at