Spirits, Séances, and a Ringing Watch: Spiritualism and the papers of Joseph Peace Hazard

Wednesday, September 12, 2018 1:14 PM | RILA Communications (Administrator)

As part of my coursework for my MLIS, I completed two professional field experience (PFE) internships at the James P. Adams Library, Rhode Island College.  During my first PFE (Fall 2017), I learned about different aspects of digitization by working with Kieran Ayton and Andy Davis on several ongoing projects in the Digital Initiatives Department.  During my second PFE (Spring 2018), I got to apply the skills I learned in my first PFE by working on a new project with Marlene Lopes in Special Collections, in collaboration with Andy Davis in Digital Initiatives.  RIC student workers J Bruscini, Catherine Butler, and Natasha Soto also worked on this project. 

Special Collections at RIC holds the Nathaniel Terry Bacon collection, which includes the personal and business papers of Nathaniel Terry Bacon, as well as the personal papers of other members of the socially prominent Bacon and Hazard families.  For our project, my PFE supervisors selected the papers of Joseph Peace Hazard (1807-1892) of Peace Dale.  Hazard’s papers reflect his personal passions, which included architecture, travel, and Spiritualism.  In Special Collections, you can find Hazard’s correspondence regarding his construction projects; tickets, hotel bills, calling cards and letters of introduction from his extensive travels abroad; and personal letters, notes, and a journal regarding Hazard’s interest in Spiritualism.

For this project, we decided to digitize Hazard’s journal and other documents related to Spiritualism.  We started with Hazard’s journal, in which Hazard recorded instances of his pocket watch “ringing.”  Hazard believed this “ringing” to be a form of communication from his “Spirit Friends.”  We first digitized this journal using a copy stand with a digital SLR camera.  We also used a pane of glass, which was ordered specifically for this project, to keep the journal pages flat during the photography process.  

After the journal was photographed, we cropped the images in Photoshop and created a PDF of the journal.  We then transcribed the journal, adding notes to explain historical oddities in the text (for example, Hazard’s watch began “ringing” during a visit to “Beyrouth [Beirut] in Syria”; Beirut is now in Lebanon, but during the time of Hazard’s visit in 1878, Beirut was part of Ottoman Syria).  J Bruscini used Adobe InDesign to create an e-book which presents the original journal pages alongside their transcription.

Once the journal was transcribed, we reviewed the rest of Hazard’s papers to select additional documents related to Spiritualism for digitization, including leaflets, newspaper clippings, letters, and personal memoranda.  Once digitized, these additional documents were then uploaded and assigned metadata in RIC’s Digital Commons. We curated these documents in an Omeka exhibit which presents Hazard’s papers in the broader context of 19th century Spiritualism.  Finally, we presented our work to the public during programs held at the Greenville Public Library and the Peace Dale Public Library.

In addition to making Hazard’s papers more accessible to researchers, we hope that this project will spark some public interest in the local history collections held by Special Collections and the digitization work done by Digital Initiatives.

By Patricia McIvor