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HIS2320 : The Supernatural: The Cultural History of Occult Forces

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Shane McCorristine
  • Lecturer: Dr Clare Hickman, Dr Adam Morton, Dr Luc Racaut
  • Teaching Assistant: Miss Timea Solyohvari, Mr David Johnson
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


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 and fieldtrip.

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

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials141:0014:00These account for student contact hours
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion561:0056:00N/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
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.

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.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A1003000 word essay
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1M1000 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. 3000 words.

A formative assessment of 1000 words will be provided mid-semester for students to analyse a case study/primary source

Reading Lists