Module Catalogue 2022/23

HIS2320 : The Supernatural: The Cultural History of Occult Forces

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Shane McCorristine
  • Lecturer: Miss Hannah Reeve, Dr Luc Racaut, Dr Adam Morton
  • Teaching Assistant: Miss Timea Solyohvari
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



Can we believe what we see and experience? Witchcraft, astrology, ghost-seeing and every kind of popular magic flourished in Britain and Europe between 1500-1900, while at the same time philosophers, scientists, clergymen, and ordinary people made judgements about what was believable and credible, unbelievable and incredible, natural and supernatural.

There are cultural and social histories behind the construction of the supernatural: through lectures and seminars this module will guide students through some of the key texts and debates associated with diverse supernatural phenomena. From sightings of the Devil to visions of ghosts to photographs of auras, the visual sense has been trusted and mistrusted throughout history, a battlefield which tells us much about the evolution of modern psychology.

This module will particularly explore Max Weber’s “disenchantment of the world” hypothesis that science and enlightenment demystified modern western societies and eroded beliefs in the supernatural. It has become a frequent reference point for historians looking at early modern and modern social and cultural history. However, this was not the end of the story for supernatural beliefs and practice, as recent historical work has shown in thrilling detail the extent of ‘magical thinking’ in contemporary times.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module will be led by a nineteenth-century historian, but will be co-taught with early modern specialists and supported by a workshop.

The module will take a thematic and broadly chronological approach to histories of the supernatural and other occult forces, with a broad syllabus that may include:

- Monstrous Bodies/Prodigies
- Angels
- Witches/Witchcraft
- Demons and Devils
- Miracles and Saints
- Vampirism
- Ghosts and Apparitions
- Phantasmagoria
- Mesmerism and Animal Magnetism
- Faith Healing
- Werewolves
- The natural and the supernatural
- Weird science
- The ‘Disenchantment of the World’ thesis
- Hallucinations

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

1.That students should be able to use multiple types of sources and media to understand the complexities of supernatural perceptions in western Europe in the early modern/modern periods, including treatises, visual sources, pamphlets, narratives, fiction and poetry.

2. That students should be able to critically understand and address the work of historians, sociologists, and other related scholars who have examined modern cultures of the supernatural and have influenced some of the key secondary debates in the field.

3. That students should be able to understand the key patterns of cultural, social, and intellectual aspects of supernatural perception in Britain and Europe. This will include a sense of the history of science and pseudo-science and the influence of the Enlightenment in shaping how people perceived phenomena that were seen to be credible by some people, but incredible by a growing number of other people.

Intended Skill Outcomes

Overall this module aims to ensure a defined progression for students from Stage 1 to Stage 2 and to prepare them for Stage 3. This is driven primarily to defined work on key skills (outlined below), as well as the content and approaches taken in the teaching and independent study elements of the module described above.

Practical skills

-to use and critically evaluate primary sources
-to identify and retrieve information from a wide variety of sources
-to construct a reasoned defence of an interpretation of an event or aspect of society in the past
-to work in small teams to produce assessed work, written and verbal/presentational

Key skills

-to achieve effective oral and written communication
-to show initiative, self-discipline and self-direction in learning
-to improve performance through reflection, self-assessment and using feedback from the tutor effectively
-to respond flexibly to a wide range of challenges

Cognitive (thinking) skills

-To critically evaluate, analyse and discuss a wide range of source materials.
-To construct extended written and oral arguments supported by relevant historical evidence.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials71:007:00Part of contact hours
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion561:0056:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture71:007:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading561:0056:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00N/A
Structured Guided LearningStructured non-synchronous discussion12:002:00Recorded workshop with tasks, part of contact hours
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery41:004:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study551:0055:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesModule talk21:002:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

As a Stage 2 module, aside from an in-depth understanding of the content of the module, the teaching methods, which focus on small group work, oral skills, team work, lecture delivery and independent research and writing, relate to the core learning outcomes of supporting students in developing sophisticated research skills across a wide range of sources, being able to synthesise the information they collect and form convincing and coherent arguments.

Independent learning is essential to this module: students are expected to develop skills of source evaluation, critical reading and note-taking in an independent and effective manner. Seminar teaching complements these skills by allowing students the opportunity to share and debate information gathered independently. Moreover, a significant part of seminar teaching will test the development of primary source analysis and problem solving.

Lectures will be a mix of synchronous and asynchronous to allow for more flexibility of access for students. The lecture materials comprise 7 hours and these will give students the chance to know in advance what is coming, and prepare for the seminar alongside a recording. Small group teaching will allow the students to explore ideas and patterns together in a structured way, and great emphasis will be placed on primary sources and their interpretation. This is why there will be a recorded workshop, helping students to work with documents and make them part of their writing.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A702500 word essay
Reflective log1M30Students will be tasked with visiting a local site and reflecting on the supernatural stories they contain in a pdf max 1000 words
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1M500 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Essay 1:

Students will be asked to select from a list of essay questions or to develop their personal interests by devising their own question, with the ML approval. Use of primary sources will be expected. 2500 words. This will encourage the students to conduct research when devising their essay, using the wealth of sources outlined in the Handbook, and allowing them to develop their critical writing skills.

Reflective log 1: students will be tasked with visiting a local site (church/archive/library/historic building, etc.) in order to research and reflect on the supernatural history/story/stories they contain. They will then produce a pdf document - max 1000 words - containing details of the research and how it connects with themes in the module. Creativity is welcomed here, and images and other non-textual materials can be included. All submissions will then form part of "HIS2320's Fieldguide to Occult Newcastle". The rationale for this is that we are surrounded by historical landscapes that can help deepen our understanding of the part' it is worth sometimes moving beyond the page and seminar class to demonstrate how the same debates and stories are part of the physical and storied environment of Newcastle.

A formative assessment of 500 words will be provided mid-semester for students to analyse a case study/primary source. This is done in order to assess how students are engaging with the material so far.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. Where an exam is present, an alternative form of assessment will be set and where coursework is present, an alternative deadline will be set. Details of the alternative assessment will be provided by the module leader.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2022/23 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2023/24 entry will be published here in early-April 2023. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.