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BA History and French / Course details
Year of entry: 2021
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Course unit details:
Contesting the Supernatural in the Early Modern British Isles, c. 1600-1800
|Unit level||Level 3|
|Teaching period(s)||Semester 2|
|Available as a free choice unit?||No|
Why did people in early modern England believe in the supernatural world? This module asks students to investigate the nature and everyday appeal of belief in magical healing practices, ghosts, demonic possession, monstrous births, angels and other occult phenomena in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We will try to explain how reports of supernatural activity helped people to understand political and religious crises, but also how belief in a vibrant world of supernatural power intersected with people’s day-to-day concerns. Particular focus falls on how women engaged with, and often crafted supernatural reports to protest against mistreatment and to protect the health of their families. Finally, the module addresses controversial claims that religious reformations and scientific revolutions began a process of 'disenchantment' that resulted in a more ‘rational’ understanding of the natural world by the close of the period.
This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; History and American Studies; Euro Studies programmes; and Classics and Ancient History-owned programmes.
- Students will become conversant with a range of historical and interdisciplinary theories and methods including material culture studies, gender history, and the sociology of religion.
- They will learn to question linear historical narratives of historical change e.g. the ‘rise of science’, secularisation and scepticism.
- Simplistic divisions between ‘elite’ and ‘popular’ culture will be challenged by examining variations of belief about the perceived efficacy of supernatural forces by different social, age and gender groups.
Knowledge and understanding
- Understand the meaning and importance of beliefs about supernatural phenomena in the lives of early modern men and women.
- Assess the impact of religious, cultural, medical and intellectual change in transforming perceptions of supernatural phenomena between c.1500 and c.1700.
- Evaluate the ways in which natural philosophy, and empiricism both supported and contested the definition of supernatural events.
- Explain particularities of supernatural belief in different local and national contexts.
- Understand and critique historical debates about the ‘disenchantment’ of early modern culture.
- Understand relevant historical models of social and cultural change.
- Understand sociological, material culture-centred, and anthropological approaches to social change.
- Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of interdisciplinary methods in historical analysis.
- Assess the relative strengths and limitations of print, manuscript, visual and material sources.
- Essay writing
- Seminar participation and discussion
- Primary Source Analysis (textual and visual)
- Analysis of secondary literature
- Use of appropriate online search engines and internet resources (e.g. Early English Books Online; Eighteenth Century Collections Online; Internet History Sourcebook)
Transferable skills and personal qualities
- Design and delivery of oral presentations, which may improve knowledge and use of technology and build confidence.
- Teamwork and collaborative discussions with peers.
- Improved written and oral communication skills.
- Critical analysis and evaluation
- Students can expect to learn essential communications skills amongst their peers and with the tutor, through seminar discussion and presentations, which are essential to the workplace. They can expect to develop important independent research skills as they prepare for their assignments. They will also utilise digital library tools and databases, with online heritage interpretation and online collection management systems.
|Primary source analysis||40%|
Formative or Summative
Oral feedback on seminar contributions
Written feedback on essay and primary source analysis
Additional one-to-one feedback (during office hours or by appointment)
- Sasha Handley, Visions of an Unseen World: Ghost Beliefs and Ghost Stories in Eighteenth-Century England (2007)
- Peter Marshall and Alexandra Walsham (eds), Angels in the Early Modern World (2006)
- Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971)
- Alexandra Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England (1999)
- Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (2011)
- Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion (1963)
- D.P. Walker, Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries (1981)
|Scheduled activity hours|
|Independent study hours|
|Sasha Handley||Unit coordinator|