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The Apparitionists with author Peter Manseau

In this fascinating piece of historical nonfiction learn about William Mumler, a spirit photographer who captured the imaginations of post-Civil War America

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Time & Location








The Apparitionists with author Peter Manseau 

Tuesday, Oct 29, 2024

7-8 pm CT

About this online event:

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Pick and one of Publishers Weekly's Top Ten Books of the Year.

"In The Apparitionists, Peter Manseau takes us on an expedition through the beginnings of photography and its deceptions... Manseau has created an exceptional story of how photography intersects with the hope that some heretofore unexplored scientific process will reveal something about the nature of man and our limitations."—Errol Morris, The New York Times Book Review

In the early days of photography, in the death-strewn wake of the Civil War, one man seized America's imagination. A "spirit photographer," William Mumler, took portrait photographs that featured the ghostly presence of lost loved ones alongside his living subjects. At a time when artists like Mathew Brady were remaking American culture with their cameras, Mumler was a sensation: the affluent and influential came calling, including Mary Todd Lincoln.

It took a circuslike trial of Mumler on fraud charges, starring P. T. Barnum for the prosecution, to expose a fault line of doubt and manipulation. And even then, the judge's stunning verdict suggested no one would ever solve the mystery of how Mumler did it. This forgotten puzzle offers a vivid snapshot of America at a crossroads in its history, a nation in thrall to new technology while grasping desperately for something to believe in.

Author bio:

Peter Manseau is a novelist, historian, and museum curator. He is the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's Center for the Understanding of Religion in American History and writes often for publications including the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Raised outside Boston, he studied religion and literature at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Georgetown University, where he received his doctorate in 2013. He now lives with his family on a farm in Annapolis, Maryland.

Winner of the National Jewish Book Award, the American Library Association's Sophie Brody Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Jewish Literature, the Ribalow Prize for Fiction, a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, he has also been shortlisted for the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize and the Prix Médicis étranger, awarded to the best foreign novel published in France.

Moderator bio: 

Roddy MacInnes has been teaching photography at the University of Denver since 2001. He considers himself to be an autobiographical photographer, and in that capacity, has been documenting his life through photography for over five decades. He received an MFA in photography from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a BA in photography from Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh. His latest community engaged photography projects were inspired by an album of photographs he discovered in an antiques mall in Denver, Colorado. A North Dakota woman made the photographs in 1917. Through these projects Roddy explores issues surrounding the relationships between family photography and the construction of identity.

HND Value Statement

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or Humanities North Dakota. However, in an increasingly polarized world, we at Humanities North Dakota believe that being open-minded is necessary to thinking critically and rationally. Therefore, our programs and classes reflect our own open-mindedness in the inquiry, seeking, and acquiring of scholars to speak at our events and teach classes for our Public University. To that end, we encourage our participants to join us in stepping outside our comfort zones and considering other perspectives and ideas by being open-minded while attending HND events featuring scholars who hold a variety of opinions, some being opposite of our own held beliefs.

Humanities North Dakota classes and events are funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities

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