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Dingwall, Eric John

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0096 MS 912
Held at: Senate House Library, University of London
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Full title: Dingwall, Eric John
Date(s): c1800-1986
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 242 boxes
Name of creator(s): Dingwall | Eric John | 1890-1986 | anthropologist and psychical researcher
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born in Ceylon in 1890, Eric John Dingwall was a graduate of Pembroke College, Cambridge. He joined the staff of the Cambridge University Library in 1915 as a volunteer and went on to become an assistant librarian, leaving in 1918. In his youth he developed an enduring interest in magic and was eventually elected to the Magic Circle. This informed his approach to the investigation of the physical phenomena of mediumship, his major contribution to the Society for Psychical Research which he joined in 1920. In 1921 he spent a year in the United States as Director of the Department of Physical Phenomena at the American Society for Psychical Research. He was then appointed research officer to the British Society in 1922. One facet of Dingwall's complex character was his interest in sexual deviation and peculiar sexual practices, an interest which annoyed some of his colleagues at the Society and led to the termination of his appointment in 1927. His failure to be elected to the Society Council in 1928 led to his excessive criticism of the Society's administration. Released from his responsibilities at the SPR he continued to publish books including "Ghosts and Spirits in the Ancient World" (1930), "The Girdle of Chastity" (1931) and "How to Use a Large Library" (1933). In 1932 he was awarded his DSc from University College London. During the Second World War he worked for the Ministry of Information and in "a department of the Foreign Office". After the war he became Honorary Assistant Keeper at the British Museum Library, later the British Library, where he became a recognised authority on historical erotica, as well as on magic and psychical research. He also continued to publish books including two collections of short biographies of strange characters, "Some Human Oddities" (1947) and "Very Peculiar People" (1950) and contributed to to a four volume treatise "Abnormal Hypnotic Phenomena: A survey of nineteenth century cases" (1967/68). Dingwall was married twice. His first wife Doris left him, his second wife was Dr Margaret Davies who died on Christmas Eve 1976. Dingwall spent his remaining years independently and alone until his death on 7 August 1986.


Scope and content/abstract:

Material comprises a series of scrapbooks and loose papers containing press cuttings, journal articles, advertisements, letters and photographs including those relating to psychical research, investigations into paranormal events and occurrences, mediums and spiritualists and the exposure of fraudulent practitioners, anthropology, medical research, sexuality, erotic literature, crime, religion and religious beliefs and conjuring. (Items in this series can be cross referenced with the index slips/cards in series three of the collection); a series of notebooks with quotes, extracts and comments by various writers and notes and comments by Dingwall on subjects such as ancient medicine, body decoration, chastity, infibulation, witchcraft, magic, telekinesis, mediumship and demonology, and appointment diaries, including some belonging to Dingwall's wife Dr Margaret Davis; index slips/cards with additional material including press cuttings, articles, letters, postcards and advertisements (the index slips/cards can be cross referenced with the scrapbooks and loose papers in series one); correspondence between Dingwall and various individuals and organisations including author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, escapologist and psychical researcher Harry Houdini, Professor Alfred Kinsey, psychical researcher and co-author of "The Haunting of Borley Rectory" Trevor Hall, mediums Willi and Rudi Schneider and Margery Crandon, the Society for Psychical Research (including the American branch), the BBC, the Parapsychology Foundation and the College of Psychic Studies as well as correspondence relating to the disposal of Dingwall's estate after his death (THIS SERIES IS CLOSED UNTIL 2025); photographs, glass plate negatives and lantern slides including the Frederick Barlow collection; printed material including copies of "The Demon Telegraph" and various catalogues for conjuring products, and Dingwall's toolkit for investigating hauntings and poltergeist activity. (A second series of scrapbooks referenced R-Z have been transferred to the Harry Price Collection).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English; French; German; Dutch; Latin; Afrikaans; Italian; Spanish; Danish.

System of arrangement:

Series: 1. Research Material. 2. Notebooks, Diaries and Notes. 3. Index Slips. 4. Correspondence. (ALL CORRESPONDENCE IS CLOSED UNTIL 2025 IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE TERMS OF THE DEPOSIT). 5. Photographs, Glass Plate Negatives and Lantern Slides. 6. Printed Material. 7. Haunting and Poltergeist Toolkit.

Conditions governing access:

Open except for records restricted under the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act. Please contact the University Archivist for details. At least 24 hours notice is required for research visits. ALL CORRESPONDENCE IS CLOSED UNTIL 2025 IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE TERMS OF THE DEPOSIT.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies may be made, subject to the condition of the original. Copying must be undertaken by the Special Collections Reading Room staff, who will need a minimum of 24 hours to process requests.

Finding aids:

Catalogued online. A hardcopy catalogue is available in the Historic Collections Reading Room (excludes files which are closed until 2025). A pdf version of the catalogue is attached to the fonds level description.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Bequeathed to the library by Dr Eric Dingwall, 1986.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Eric John Dingwall

Allied Materials

Related material:

Senate House Library Alec Craig papers (MS1091); Cambridge University Francis Jenkinson war correspondence (MSAdd. 6444) and Cambridge University Charles Ogden correspondence and papers (MSAdd.8309/8310) contain correspondence with Dingwall.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:

Date(s) of descriptions:
2000-03-13 Joseph Gelfer; 2013-07-22 Jane Kirby

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