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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Research Associate


History of the human sciences and medicine; historiographies of science and the occult; scientific naturalism; William James.

I'm interested in the historical interfaces of modern sciences and empirical approaches to the occult, more specifically the emergence of international psychical research during the professionalization of psychology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This has been the topic of my Wellcome Trust-funded PhD work (University College London, 2013), which won an award from the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology in 2017. I'm currently revising and expanding this ongoing research into a book manuscript.

I am also currently reconstructing understudied personal and professional links between Thomas H. Huxley and fellow popularizers of scientific naturalism with leading psychical researchers, including members of the 'Sidgwick group' here in Cambridge and William James in the US.

Publications (selection)

(forthcoming). James and psychical research in context. In A. Klein (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of William James. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(2018). Geisterglaube, Aufklärung und Wissenschaft – Historiographische Skizzen zu einem westlichen Fundamentaltabu. In H. Schwenke (Ed.), Jenseits des Vertrauten. Facetten Transzendenter Erfahrungen (pp. 183–216). Freiburg i. Br.: Verlag Karl Alber.

(2016). Are you afraid of the dark? Notes on the psychology of belief in histories of science and the occult. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, 18, 105–122.

(With Pascal Le Maléfan, 2015). Léon Marillier and the veridical hallucination in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century French psychology and psychopathology. History of Psychiatry, 26, 418–432.

(2014). Psychical research in the history and philosophy of science. An introduction and review. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 48, 38–45.

(2013). Normalizing the supernormal: The formation of the 'Gesellschaft für Psychologische Forschung' ('Society for Psychological Research'), c. 1886–1890. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 49, 18–44.

(2012). Psychical research and the origins of American psychology: Hugo Münsterberg, William James and Eusapia Palladino. History of the Human Sciences, 25, 23–44.

(2012). Policing epistemic deviance: Albert von Schrenck-Notzing and Albert Moll. Medical History, 56, 255–276.

Edited journal special section

(2014). Psychical Research in the History of Science and Medicine. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 48, 38–111.

Public engagement and media consultation

  • Forbidden Histories A website featuring my work in progress and guest posts by colleagues working on the history of science and the occult.
  • I was a history advisor for the BBC World drama series The Living and the Dead.

My Twitter handle is @Sommer_HPS.