Charlotte-Rose Millar on Urban Ghosts in Early Modern London

In 1732 the historian Thomas Salmon proclaimed that “the people of London are not so superstitious as those in the country; we seldom hear of Apparitions, Witches or Haunted Houses about town”. Salmon’s statement draws on a long tradition of depicting a divide between the superstitious rural regions and the ‘enlightened’ towns. Despite this, supernatural tales proliferated in early modern London, reaching the populace through word of mouth and cheap printed pamphlets and ballads.

This talk uses printed tales of ghost sightings in seventeenth-century London to demonstrate not only that supernatural beliefs were a key part of the early modern urban landscape but, also, that ghostly tales were integral to understandings of space and place. It highlights the importance of particular places in eliciting affective responses to supernatural phenomena; how close-knit communities conceptualised urban space; and how supernatural beliefs remained a key part of how urban dwellers understood their world.

Dr Charlotte-Rose Millar presented this talk to the Early Modern Circle seminar on 15 March 2021. A video recording of the talk can be accessed below.

 

Dr Charlotte-Rose Millar is a cultural historian specialising in supernatural beliefs and popular print in early modern England. She has previously held a research fellowship at the University of Queensland (2016–2020) and a visiting fellowship at the University of Cambridge (2018). She is the author of Witchcraft, the Devil and Emotions in Early Modern England (Routledge, 2017) and is currently working on a new, book-length project on ghosts in early modern England, as well as editing volume three of Bloomsbury’s six volume series A Cultural History of Magic. She holds an honorary position at the University of Queensland.