Historians have learned to regard the supernatural as integral to past lives. No longer are magical and occult beliefs anachronistically condescended to as mere ‘superstitions’, entertained only by a credulous minority and for the most part ancillary to temporal existence. Instead, the near-constant presence of unseen yet powerful forces – both benevolent and malign, and across domestic, communal, and cosmic environments – now seems central to a subtle and pervasive worldview held by sane, intelligent people whose outlook on the universe was no less sophisticated or coherent than our own. At the same time, supernatural beliefs were unstable, inconsistent, and contested.
Taking this insight as its starting point, this conference will explore the meanings, practices, and everyday consequences of living in a magical world, with special reference to its complex relationship to the inner lives of our forebears, from the late medieval to the modern period. We invite papers from all geographical contexts and disciplinary perspectives, and from researchers at all stages of their careers, that relate the history of magic, witchcraft, ghosts, and other supernatural phenomena to the following themes and research questions:
- The history of selfhood, personal identity, phenomenology, and subjectivity;
- The history of the emotions, and the significance of feeling states – insofar as we can ever recover them – for understanding and appreciating past experiences and interiorities;
- And the extent to which interactions with occult realms and unseen worlds – which often engendered powerful feelings of anger, terror, and grief, but also of wonder, hope, and security – are privileged sites for understanding past emotional repertoires and experiences and, in turn, inner lives.
We hope that the assembled papers will shed new light on the role of the supernatural encounter in shaping the textures and meanings of lived experience over an unprecedentedly wide variety of time periods, national boundaries, and spatial and perceptual dimensions (from courtrooms, households, and urban and rural landscapes to dreamscapes, memory, and fantasy). Publication of an edited collection and/or journal special issue featuring a selection of the papers will be considered, while the conference will also incorporate a drinks reception at and private view of the project’s associated exhibition on the history of witchcraft and magic at the Ashmolean Museum. Provisionally entitled Spellbound: Thinking Magically, Past and Present, this will show from 6 September 2018 to 6 January 2019.
To propose a twenty-minute paper, please send a title and abstract of no more than 300 words, together with a short academic CV, to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 12 January 2018. Please also direct any queries to James in the first instance.