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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: 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 Autumn Term 2019-20

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 historical study of an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of 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 practiced core skills identified in the Autumn Term Making Histories module, including historical analysis, note-taking, essay writing, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars: and,
  • Have delivered advanced level historical work in essays, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the module topics.

Module content

Teaching Programme:
Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over eight weeks. 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
2000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

During the autumn term students will be tasked with finding and researching their own primary source or sources in pairs or small groups, on which they will give a group presentation for formative assessment in one or more sessions during weeks 4-7.

Students will then submit 2,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 10.


Task Length % of module mark
2000 word essay
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. 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 of 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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students