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Dr Martha McGill

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Ghosts in Enlightenment Scotland

Scotland is famed for being a haunted nation, “whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry”. Medieval Scots told stories of restless souls and walking corpses, but after the 1560 Reformation, witches and demons became the focal point for explorations of the supernatural. Ghosts re-emerged in scholarly discussion in the late seventeenth century, often in the guise of religious propagandists. As time went on, physicians increasingly reframed ghosts as the conjurations of disturbed minds, but gothic and romantic literature revelled in the emotive power of the returning dead; they were placed against a backdrop of ancient monasteries, castles and mouldering ruins, and authors such as Robert Burns, James Hogg and Walter Scott drew on the macabre to colour their depictions of Scottish life. Meanwhile, folk culture used apparitions to talk about morality and mortality.

Focusing on the period from 1685 to 1830, this book provides the first academic study of the history of Scottish ghosts. Drawing on a wide range of sources, and examining beliefs across the social spectrum, it shows howghost stories achieved a new prominence in a period that is more usually associated with the rise of rationalism. In exploring perceptions of ghosts, it also reflects on understandings of death and the afterlife; the construction of national identity; and the impact of the Enlightenment.

Published in 2018. Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Award 2019.

Buy it from Boydell and Brewer / Amazon

Ghosts book

The Supernatural in Early Modern Scotland

Co-edited with Julian Goodare

This book is about other worlds and the supernatural beings, from angels to fairies, that inhabited them. It is about divination, prophecy, visions and trances. And it is about the cultural, religious, political and social uses to which people in Scotland put these supernatural themes between 1500 and 1800. The supernatural consistently provided Scots with a way of understanding topics such as the natural environment, physical and emotional wellbeing, political events and visions of past and future. In exploring the early modern supernatural, the book has much to reveal about how men and women in this period thought about, debated and experienced the world around them. Comprising twelve chapters by an international range of scholars, The Supernatural in Early Modern Scotland discusses both popular and elite understandings of the supernatural.

Published in 2020. Runner-up for the Katharine Briggs Award 2021. See full contents list here.

For a full list of publications, see my Warwick University webpage.