Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
Our colleague Bill Roll’s contributions to parapsychology were many, as I have commented elsewhere. These included his well-known poltergeist case investigations, as well as experimental studies of ESP, and discussions of conceptual and methodological issues. In my last published article I discuss another aspect of Bill’s work.
The article, “Attending to the Past: William G. Roll and the Old Psychical Research Literature,” just appeared in the Paranormal Review (2013, 68, 3-6), the magazine of the Society for Psychical Research. I discussed Bill’s frequent use of the old psychical research literature, which he used to examine topics and issues of relevance today.
As stated in the article: “In one of his papers, “The Contributions of Studies of ‘Mediumship’ to Research on Survival After Death,” Roll (1960) reviewed his topic reminding his readers of important papers published in the Proceedings of the SPR. Among these were papers by such authors as Balfour (1918), Hodgson (1892), and Johnson (1908). Similarly, in a paper about precognition Roll (1961) cited a case presented by Myers (1895) as well as the ESP experiments of Whately Carington (e.g., 1940). This regard for the old literature was not just the usual literature review because others in the field did not seem to be familiar with it, or at least did not use such citations that frequently. Then, as well as now, most literature reviews tend to ignore the work of the previous generations.”
In his book The Poltergeist (1972) Roll discussed many old cases. This included cases taking place in France (1851), England (1849), the United States (1874), Ireland (1877), and Italy (1900). “Although Roll’s (1977) study of 116 poltergeists reported between 1612 and 1974 also showed the long history of occurrence and investigation of these phenomena, it was much more than a citation of old cases. Roll presented us with frequencies of the features of the cases as well as other statistical analyses of the cases. His work was in this regard a pioneering use of quantification with the old poltergeist literature.” This was his paper “Poltergeists” published in the Handbook of Parapsychology.
Bill’s well-known paper “ESP and Memory,” published in 1966, had many references to previous authors generally ignored in modern discussions of the subject. This included Edouard Abramowski, F.W.H. Myers, H.F. Saltmarsh, G.N.M. Tyrrell, and René Warcollier.
I concluded the paper with following statement: “Roll’s attention to the old literature while he was helping us craft the modern canon should be remembered with appreciation, particularly in these days of myopic citation practices. Not only did he teach us the value of the past, reminding us of the relevance of the old literature for current concerns and improving our knowledge of the old literature, but he also provided both young and more experienced students of psychic phenomena with a model to follow when developing their ideas for their public presentation. In doing so, he illuminated the complexity of parapsychology and its problems.”