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Bringing our psychic 
past back to life    A treasure trove of archived Psychic News is now back online...   for free

HAVING been in limbo for many months, in order to deal with various issues largely resulting from a transfer of ownership, the Psychic News digital archive is now back online at the University of Manitoba’s Archives and Special Collections website.

THE University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections is a world leader in the preservation of parapsychology research.   
THE University of Manitoba Archives
& Special Collections is a world leader
in the preservation of parapsychology

It was first launched in May 2018. The headline on the feature announcing it in these columns (PN June 2018) said it all, “Psychic News at your fingertips for free.”

We explained that thanks to a unique collaboration with the University of Manitoba in Canada, 78 years of this publication’s newspaper format editions – from 1932 to 2010 – would be made available to anyone, anywhere in the world, free of charge.

All that is needed to dive into this fascinating paranormal collection of news and views is a computer or other digital device with an internet connection.

This treasure trove of paranormal history, consisting of 4,125 issues of the weekly newspaper and its occasional supplements, was described at the time as an ongoing project that would be slowly rolled out in the months ahead.

The archive was originally owned by a Spiritualist charity, but its decision to gift it to Psychic Press Ltd, the owners of Psychic News incorporating Two Worlds, meant that a new agreement was necessary between the Canadian university and ourselves.

So, while those negotiations took place, the PN Digital Archive had to be put on temporary hold and removed from public access.

The good news is that it is now up and running again, with the first tranche of issues – from 1932 to 1967 – now available to view online.

The rest of the archive, right through to the final 2010 newspaper edition, will be added later this year. Check it out at https://libguides.lib.umanitoba.ca/psychicnews

Newspapers have always been a wonderful source of up-to-date information, even though there is a mistaken tendency to regard their contents as “yesterday’s news.” In reality, they provide a valuable historical record of important events and opinions that are often not available from other sources.

For that reason, the editors of Psychic News regularly received requests over the decades from authors and researchers eager to view the archives.

Founding editor Maurice Barbanell always endeavoured to satisfy their needs, even though it meant finding a desk for visitors and assigning a member of staff to assist their searches by fetching specific material.

Among those who took advantage of this service was Elizabeth Longford, writer of historical royal biographies.

Sitting at a desk opposite Barbanell as she sifted through folders of cuttings and pored over bound volumes of the newspaper, she was also able to benefit from the vast knowledge and experience of the man dubbed “Mr Spiritualism.”

Lady Longford’s focus was on claims that Queen Victoria was a Spiritualist and her ghillie, John Brown, was a medium through whom her beloved husband, Albert, communicated after his death.

The results of her research at Psychic News’ offices appeared in her best-selling book Victoria R. I. in which she argued that the evidence for these claims was not persuasive. Others, of course, begged to differ.

The famous biographer had the advantage of living in England, so a visit to Psychic News’ offices was easy to accomplish.

However, researchers in other countries were at a disadvantage, of course, but nevertheless many travelled to the UK especially to unearth records of long-forgotten events or the opinions of high-profile individuals.

Psychic News moved from London to Essex many years ago, making its physical archive even less accessible to researchers.

An alternative for them was to arrange access to the famous Harry Price Library, which has its own archive housed in the University of London’s Senate House, or to seek assistance from the British Library.

“I’ve found that Psychic News is frequently a crucial resource for obtaining historical information,” said Society for Psychical Research member Steve Hume, “especially when that entails cross-checking information about the activities of mediums of the past that I have obtained elsewhere.

“In recent years, for example, Psychic News has been invaluable to me in projects concerning Isa Northage, Harry Edwards, the famous R101 case, and others.

“Previously, accessing old hard copies of PN meant, at least, a trip to the British Library sometimes only to find that I had ordered the wrong editions. The digital archive will make life a lot easier.”

Australian researchers and Spiritualist historians Jim and Lis Warwood are also finding it to be an invaluable resource.

“I’m so relieved that the archive is back up,” said Jim, who is leader of Unley Spiritualists Association. “I am fascinated by the information that this archive makes available to us.

“Prior to it becoming available, we knew more about the pre-1930 history than the events of the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.

“I am well aware this period saw a real growth in both the Spiritualists’ National Union and a step up in the training and numbers of mediums.

HOUSED in metal cabinets, the original archives at “Psychic News” comprised countless thousands of paper cuttings. (Photo: Magnus Smith). Queen Victoria is seen with her faithful servant John Brown. Famous journalist Hannen Swaffer wrote the first lead story for “Psychic News” in 1932.
HOUSED in metal cabinets, the original archives at “Psychic News” comprised
countless thousands of paper cuttings. (Photo: Magnus Smith). Queen Victoria is seen with her faithful servant John Brown. Famous journalist Hannen Swaffer wrote the first lead story for “Psychic News” in 1932.

“My first project will be a detailed review of trance medium Meurig Morris. I had gathered a huge amount of material, but wanted to take it from her earliest years (with my wife Lis helping with the genealogy) until her last years.

“Psychic News is obviously a crucial resource for that. Hopefully I can also use it to close out the voluminous material we have gathered on physical medium Charles Bailey as well. I look forward to the next stage of the archive’s release.”

Spiritualist author Gerald O’Hara is equally impressed, describing the online archive as “a car-boot sale of goodies for the would-be expert and the joyful reader alike.”

Gerald, whose most recent book is about American physical medium Ethel Post Parrish, found the online interface difficult to navigate at first but encourages everyone to “go ahead. Take a look – it’s fun.”

Why, some readers will ask, is a Canadian university providing an online platform for a UK-based Spiritualist publication?

There are two equally valid answers to that question. The first is that although UK-based, Psychic News has always had an international perspective.

The second is that the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections (UMASC), based in Winnipeg, now has 50 Spiritualism and psychical research collections, making it a world leader in the preservation of parapsychology research.

This speciality stems from the fact that a Canadian pioneer of psychical research, Dr T. Glen Hamilton, lived and practised in Winnipeg.

His unique photographic collection, relating not only to his and his family’s experiments with physical mediums but also other famous investigators, was acquired by UMASC’s then head, Dr Richard E. Bennett, many years ago.

Dr Glen Hamilton and his daughter, Margaret Hamilton Bach, contributed articles to Psychic News.

Their research results were often the subject of special features in the newspaper, all now available once again to a new readership through the unique collaboration between the university and Psychic Press Ltd.

Other paranormal-related archives and collections have gravitated towards Manitoba since it acquired the Glen Hamilton research legacy.

Dr Bennett’s successor, Dr Shelley Sweeney, who retired in December after 35 years in archive development, has worked tirelessly to expand, make accessible and promote the collections, with a special emphasis on the Psychic News archive over the past two years.

In addition, the Survival Research Institute of Canada (SRIC) has played an important role in co-ordinating the project. It has been involved as the transferring agent for a number of UMASC’s collections, including the first transfers of its own records.

Walter Meyer zu Erpen, SRIC’s president, who achieved a Master of Archival Studies from the University of British Columbia, was an important and active advisor to Psychic News during the development of the digital archive project.

Lady Longford – and Maurice Barbanell for that matter – would probably have scoffed at the suggestion that one day, half a century after she made copious notes about Queen Victoria taken from the pages of Psychic News, those contents would be viewable and searchable on a small handheld device by anyone, either in their own home, in a school or anywhere else with an internet connection, around the globe, thanks to the wonders of computerisation.

Psychic News has often carried stories about individuals who could see the future, but no medium, clairvoyant or psychic appears to have predicted this astonishing development, as far as our own research in the PN archive has uncovered.

That said, there was one individual who foresaw such a development, but wasn’t a psychic. He was Dr Christopher Evans who, for four years, was assistant to Psychic News’ editor despite being a paranormal sceptic.

Evans was also a computer scientist at the National Physical Laboratory and an experimental psychologist, so his vision of a computerised future was due largely to educated guesswork and familiarity with technological advances rather than possessing paranormal powers.

His book Mighty Micro foreshadowed the transformation that microchips would have on world communication and was made into a six-part TV series that was transmitted in 1979 shortly after Evans’ early death.

He also debated the evidence of survival after death with Maurice Barbanell on a national TV programme.

You’ll find that story in the PN digital archive. Check out the August 6, 1966 issue’s front-page story and the full transcript published a week later.

Also check out https://libguides.lib.umanitoba.ca/psychicnews regularly as UMASC adds further bundles of issues later this year.


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