Magic Bibliography: Scholarly Research into Theatrical Magic
This magic bibliography provides a comprehensive list of academic and professional literature on conjuring. Researchers have asked questions about theatrical magic from diverse disciplines; from dentistry and linguistics to management and gender studies. This bibliography is dynamically generated from my Zotero database. If you like to be informed of any additions, then feel free to subscribe to the Magic Perspective newsletter.
Magic Bibliography Criteria
The criteria for inclusion in this magic bibliography are:
- Published in an accepted academic or professional publication (preferably peer-reviewed).
- Publications that discuss any aspect of theatrical magic (conjuring).
- Publications of any branch of science are accepted.
- Papers that use magic as a metaphor to understand science.
- Excluding normative discourse on how to perform magic, such as explanations of tricks and rules of performance.
Magic Bibliography Categories
Most of the estimated half a million magicians around the world are amateurs or semi-professionals who work as lawyers, occupational therapists, psychologists, computer scientists, teachers and so on. Many of these scientists and professionals have written scholarly papers and books about their passion.
The word ‘science’ usually relates to the natural sciences, such as physics. The scientific work on conjuring illustrates that science is a much broader concept than the physical sciences alone. The science of magic discusses the full spectrum of human experience and the natural world. There are broadly four branches of science:
- The natural or physical sciences: cosmology, geology, chemistry and biology.
- Formal sciences: mathematics and logic.
- Social sciences: psychology, sociology and the humanities.
- Applied sciences: engineering, medicine and computer science.
To fully understand a complex phenomenon such as theatrical magic, scientists use a range of perspectives beyond the natural sciences. Scientists and professionals from two of the four domains of science have studied the art of conjuring, each asking their specific questions of magic.
The wordcloud below visualises the relative frequency of each of the entries in this magic bibliography.
The relationship between science and magic is bi-directional. Scientists study magic tricks and magicians use science to create the illusion of magic. Magicians use the principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics and so on to create the illusion that supernatural magic exists. A magician might use a method based on psychology to create the illusion of magic. Psychologists study these techniques to understand better how the brain functions. Magicians use science to create magic, scientists study magic to understand better the world in which we live, and professionals use magic to improve the world in which we live.
The image below summarises the bidirectional relationship between science and magic. This table below is the result of bibliographical research on scholarly publications that study theatrical magic.
This summary shows that, for example, magicians do not use anthropology as a method, but anthropologists study magicians. Linguistics works both ways because it is a method to create the illusion of magic and it can be used to examine the lives of magicians.
The sciences marked in the inner ring move knowledge from the world of magic to the sciences. For the sciences in the larger middle ring, the direction is reversed. For the sciences, knowledge moves from science to magic. For most sciences, knowledge travels in both directions.
The bibliography is sorted alphabetically, from business studies to the social sciences.
The literature discusses using magic as a metaphor to teach professionals about managing a business. Researchers in this genre ask themselves how magic tricks can be used to better understand management and marketing.
In dentistry, magic tricks can be used to put young patients at ease. Performing a magic trick for children reduces the time it takes them to get them to sit in the dreaded chair and improves the quality of their care.
Teachers can use magic tricks to help their students understand abstract concepts of mathematics and physics as many tricks are based on these sciences. Performing magic stimulates the curiosity of students and motivates them to find out the principles of science that were used to create magic. A large amount of literature has been published on the topic.
Many magic tricks are based on the principles of mathematics, which makes them a suitable vehicle for teachers. Some aspects of magic have been studied in detail by mathematicians. Some have studied card shuffling in great detail, which is important knowledge for computer software and when managing a casino.
Magic and cinema have a lot in common in that they both rely on deception. Magicians, such as Georges Méliès, and Charles Pathé, were some of the first film exhibitors, performers and producers. Their efforts started the development of special effects as a narrative device. The literature in the genre reviews what role magicians played in the spread of cinema and how they responded to its popularity.
Magic is one of the few male-dominated performance arts. Less than five percent of people actively involved in theatrical magic are women. In other performance arts, more than one-third of performers are female. Gender studies explore the possible reasons for the imbalance between men and women in magic as a performance art.
Many magicians have an avid interest in the history of their passion, but their accounts are not considered of high value to academic historians as these writings mostly omit to place magic in a wider historical context. Until very recently, social historians had no real interest in magic. The past decade has, however, seen a steady flow of monographs critically analysing conjuring’s place in society through the ages.
Both software designers and magicians create virtual realities. Software designers bring their reality alive on computer displays; magicians bring theirs alive on the stage. Developing a computer interface is akin to performing a magic trick because a computer screen is a simulated reality. Several academic papers have been written that describe the similarities between magic and information technology.
Magicians are avid collectors of books on their craft. Some have bequeathed their collections to academic institutions, which have been described in academic journal articles.
Magicians use language to be able to share secrets with each other and also use their words wisely to enhance the deception of their audiences.
Medical researchers have investigated the impacts of endurance stunts, performed by Harry Houdini and David Blaine, on the body.
Mental Health Care
In mental health care, patients perform magic tricks to enhance their self-esteem, while performing magic tricks by the therapist has been used to assist in diagnosis.
The use of magic tricks in nursing is mainly related to performing tricks to children to help children cope with the anxiety of hospitalisation. Clown Doctors perform their craft in many hospitals around the world.
Performing magic tricks can help people with physical disabilities to improve their motor skills and self-confidence. Several programmes exist where magicians and occupational therapists work with patients to improve their life.
The literature on performance studies is surprisingly silent on the topic of magic. This silence is emblematic of the fact that conjuring is a minor form of theatre by the establishment. The available literature provides a theatrical analysis of magic as a performance art.
It can be said that magic is simply a physical process that is not completely understood. Publications in physics discuss the relationship between magic deception and the physical sciences.
The psychology of magic is the largest field of magic studies. Psychologists try to understand why magicians can so easily deceive their spectators.
Sociology, Anthropology and Legal Studies
The social sciences look at the social world of magicians—how they are organised, how they share secrets and other aspects of being a magician. Publications about legal studies review issues related to intellectual property of magic trick methods and presentations.