Supernatural and Natural Worlds in Early Modern Europe

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 13 January 2020
Friday 20 March 2020
20 August 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This course brings together intellectual and cultural approaches to history to explore the shifting meanings of the natural and supernatural worlds during a period that encompassed three major shifts in intellectual outlook: the Reformation, Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment.

In early modern Europe (ca. 1550-1815), people believed that there was a permeable boundary between the natural (what could be readily observed and explained by natural philosophy) and supernatural worlds (what was hidden, or lay beyond the natural world).

Not only did the relationship between science and God undergo profound changes, but the shifts simultaneously resulted in many supernatural beliefs (e.g. werewolves) becoming less plausible while raising the possibility of other mysterious creatures (e.g. vampires).

But to what extent did the intellectual framework of the educated elite shape popular belief (or vice versa)? We will explore the way in which early modern people understood the boundaries between human and animal, body and soul, life and death, science and religion, and reality and imagination.

Module aims

1. To think comparatively across Europe about early modern beliefs about the natural and supernatural worlds.
2. To understand the ways in which religious, medical and scientific ideas overlapped and reinforced social hierarchies.
3. To consider the ways in which these ideas changed over time and reflected the wider concerns of society.
4. To apply cultural history methods, including analytical tools from the social sciences, to our understanding of the past.

Module learning outcomes

What will we have done by the end of the module?

1. Written for specialist and general audiences on social media and other online outlets.
2. Used digital tools for research and presentation.
3. Situated and analysed early modern beliefs within a wider historical context through assignments and discussions.
4. Enhanced critical reading, writing and research skills by preparing for seminar discussions and completing the required coursework.
5. Produced a small portfolio of digital work that you can list on your CV (e.g. as scholarly work, public engagement, or online writing).

Module information

General reading list:

Daston, Lorraine and Katherine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (New York: Zone Books, 2009).

Sugg, Richard, Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians London and New York (Routledge, 2011).

Wilson, Stephen, The Magical Universe: Everyday Ritual and Magic in Pre-Modern Europe (London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2000).

Learning and teaching methods

Combination of workshops and lectures/seminars.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework Workshop assignment, including transcription (2000 words) 09/03/2020 40%
Coursework Analysis assignment (2000 words) 20/04/2020 45%
Practical Online participation 10%
Practical In-class participation 5%

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Lisa Smith
Belinda Waterman, Department of History, 01206 872313



External examiner

Dr Mark Williams
Cardiff University
Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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