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Dr Martha McGill

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Some recent publications

After not having published anything in academic journals for a little while (babies are distracting), I’ve had a few pieces appear at once.

Co-authored with Luke Holloway, ‘The Conversion of a Cork Candle-Maker: An Account by Hester Ann Rogers (1788)’ is a scholarly edition of a wonderfully weird conversion account. Recorded by the devoted Methodist Hester Ann Rogers, the story centres around Cadwallader Acteson, who is married to a loyal and long-suffering wife but sleeping with a maid who wants to see her murdered. Cadwallader arms himself with arsenic, but is rebuked by the ghost of another mistress. He also has a few encounters with a combative Devil, and hears a sweet voice promising redemption. The story’s been explored by some students I worked with in ‘The Georgian Ghosts Project’, a web resource pitched at a general audience. This piece is targeted primarily at an academic readership, and discusses gender, agency and the Methodist relationship with the supernatural.

‘The Evolution of Haunted Space in Scotland’ appeared in a special issue of Gothic Studies this March (2022). Edited by Monica Germanà, the issue looks at the theme of ‘Haunted Scotlands’, and brings together historians and literary scholars. My piece does some scene-setting, sketching out how the idea of haunted Scottish landscapes developed over a few centuries. It argues that in the medieval and early modern periods, there was no established stereotype of ghosts patrolling Scottish castles, hills or glens. Most ghost stories were about ghosts who returned to people, not places. These ghosts typically rested in peace after they had accomplished some specific purpose. This changed in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when factors including the appearance of James Macpherson’s Ossian poetry, the rise of Gothic literature, the development of folklore studies, and declining interest in ghosts as religious messengers combined to reshape ways of conceptualising apparitions. The Highland landscape especially was infused with romantic, melancholy spectres who lingered over centuries – a cruel irony in a period when many Highlanders were being forcibly removed.

‘Bodies of Earth and Air: Corporeality and Spirituality in Pre-Modern British Narratives of the Undead’ has appeared in the Journal of Medieval History, in a special issue on the medieval undead edited by Scott Bruce and Stephen Gordon. I’m not a medievalist, so putting together this piece required some interesting forays into unfamiliar source material (mostly in Latin). I did cheat a bit by changing the chronology to ‘pre-modern’; in practice the article spans about the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries. I look at the common tendency of framing medieval revenants (or walking corpses) as corporeal, in contrast to incorporeal ghosts. I argue that in both the Middle Ages and the early modern period, the bodies of the returning dead were commonly ambiguous, blending both corporeal and spiritual elements. I look both at stories, and scholarly discussions about the nature of apparitions. I also suggest that we can gain new insight into the history of ghosts by looking at wider discourses about the distinction between body and spirit. Ghost stories seem to have flourished in periods when there was greater cultural emphasis on ‘spiritual corporeality’.