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Stranger Things: The Supernatural in Early Modern Europe, c. 1450-1750 - HIS00078C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Sophie Weeks
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2019-20

Module summary

For most of us today, supernatural beings such as demons, werewolves and ghosts belong in the world of fiction and fantasy, but it was not always so. For the people of early modern Europe, these strange creatures were part and parcel of the real world. In attempting to understand how supernatural beings were rooted in a coherent and rational worldview that strikes us as odd, if not foolish, we can gain a fascinating insight into the beliefs and values of a vanished age.

Through a focus on supernatural beings, this module will introduce students to a novel way of looking at key themes in early modern history, such as politics, religion, the afterlife, societal expectations and science. In addition to exploring these themes, the module will raise general questions about the relationship between elite and popular culture, the impact of religious change upon attitudes to the supernatural, the value of cultural and literary representations of supernatural beings, and the role of science in the decline of belief in the supernatural. These questions are pursued through an extensive range of translated primary sources, including formal treatises, woodcuts, Shakespeare's plays, transcripts of witchcraft trials, popular pamphlets and broadsides. We conclude by reflecting on how serious engagement with the stranger aspects of the past can provide us with a fresh perspective on the present and help us to appreciate the strangeness of our own world.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;

  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;

  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and

  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into an unfamiliar period and/or approach to history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;

  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;

  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;

  • Have further developed work undertaken in the Autumn Term lecture courses and skills portfolios, including historical analysis, note-taking, using primary sources, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars;

  • Be able to construct a coherent historical argument in oral and written forms

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over nine weeks, plus an overview and revision session in Week 2 of Summer Term. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

1. Introduction: overview and historiography

2. Fairies

3. The Devil And Demons

4. The Witch's Familiar

5. Angels

6. Ghosts

7. Werewolves

8. Strange Worlds: Then and Now


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work:

During the Spring Term students will prepare a presentation in pairs or small groups. Tutors will determine the formative work for the course: all groups will present either on a primary source or on an assigned historiographical question. Formative work will be completed in one or more sessions at the tutor’s discretion.

Summative assessment:

An open exam in the Common Assessment Period, comprising one essay question chosen from five options.


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. Students will have a 15 minute one-to-one tutorial to discuss the formative assessment and prepare for the summative assessment. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Should you wish to do any preliminary reading, you could look at the following:

Davidson, J. P. Early Modern Supernatural: The Dark Side of European Culture, 1400–1700, Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger 2012.

Oldridge, D. Strange Histories: The Trial of the Pig, the Walking Dead, and Other Matters of Fact from the Medieval and Renaissance Worlds, London: Routledge, 2004.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.