Magic, Diabolism, and Global Religion in European Print Culture, 1500-1700

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Arts Languages and Cultures

Abstract

This project analyses the print culture of Europe c.1500-1700 against the backdrop of the religious conflicts of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. In doing so it examines how printed books and related publications were sites of polemical exchange. The core of the project involves an analysis of 'wonder books', which were produced in great numbers and helped to shape contemporary religious anxieties and debates. These books collated and explained an extraordinary range of natural and supernatural phenomena (earthquakes, 'monstrous' births, terrible signs in the sky, diabolical creatures), and framed them in moralising and often deeply polemical terms. Most significantly, they were tools for Protestants and Catholics to use the astonishing properties of the world around them to create polemical narratives about religious conflict. These books appeared at the same time as other encyclopedic works, including cosmographies and travelogues with information on non-European lands, and demonological treatises on the activities of witches and devils. Wonder books were also closely connected to cheaper broadsheets that reported wondrous and terrifying events as part of a proto-journalistic news culture.

The project will provide the first substantial analysis of how Protestants and Catholics recycled this sort of printed material across German-, French- and Dutch-speaking Europe - as well as across different religious communities - and in doing so used print in vigorous new ways. In thematic terms this study will explore, for the first time, how these publications collectively reveal increasing anxieties about the devil, witchcraft, and 'heathen' religions beyond Europe's borders, and the ways in which these anxieties shaped European's approaches to religious conflicts on their own doorsteps. Reports of magical but also diabolical practices and objects in Asia, India, the Americas and elsewhere began to appear in European printed publications in the wake of European trade-based and missionary expansion in the sixteenth century. This material intersected with new debates and reports of diabolical witchcraft in Europe, and the whole was set in a broader framework of the extraordinary yet terrifying manifestations of the natural world. In examining this material, the project will provide a new reading of the print culture of wonder books, and their tangible role in constructing and shaping different forms of religious identity in the early modern world. It will explore the extent to which this anxiety about 'others' (witches, demons, and idolatrous heathens) was partly a means of giving polemical voice to religious conflict within Europe.

Research during the fellowship period will lead to innovative publications in the form of a book-length study as well as an article, and it will form the foundations for a collaborative exhibition project in early 2016 at the John Rylands Library, Manchester. The John Rylands Library is rich in printed and manuscript materials that reflect early modern cultural, intellectual and social preoccupations with magic, the supernatural, and the extraordinary properties of the physical world of Europe and beyond. This exhibition, with associated public events that will engage wide audiences and community groups, will explore how new ideas and experiences in early modern Europe prompted intensive debates about magical, diabolical and supernatural events, and about how to deal with them as individuals and societies. Religious conflicts, scientific developments, legal changes, and encounters with distant lands and peoples led to new ways of reporting, representing and debating magic and related phenomena. The exhibition will explore how beliefs in the power of magic, witchcraft, and associated phenomena persisted and adapted to changes in the early modern world. It will be supported and extended by a publication, an academic symposium, and a range of events for and by the wider public.

Planned Impact

This project is structured as a sequence of activities and outcomes designed to cumulatively generate impact. A book and an article aimed primarily at academic audiences will lay the essential preparatory groundwork for an exhibition ('Magic and the Expanding Early Modern World') that will then reach much broader sections of the community. It will have an accompanying publication and a range of public activities intended to actively engage visitors and community groups to generate longer-term benefits. The thematic scope of the exhibition will more broadly generate interest in and debates about the representation and (literal) demonisation of religious groups and practices in the early modern world. Through an accessible but also challenging series of examples, the project will generate particularly useful material for school groups to comparatively discuss religion and cultural difference, thereby creating opportunities to connect the early modern and modern eras in tangible ways. Visitors will also have the opportunity to connect the broader geographical parameters of the exhibition to local events such as the case of the 1612 Lancashire witchcraft trial, as well as John Dee, the occult Renaissance figure associated in significant ways with Manchester. The project will make tangible links between the wider early modern collections held in the city and the history of the region, creating opportunities for local audiences to feel a stronger sense of ownership and for visitors to engage with the cultural resources of the city in new ways. The project is timed to connect with the 2016 Manchester Histories Festival.

Workshops and visitor tours will draw upon new support materials prepared specifically by the exhibition curators, especially Spinks, and this material will form a substantial ongoing resource after the exhibition has closed. A cornerstone of community engagement will be a series of workshops involving 16 to 25 year olds, who will be mentored by Spinks and her colleagues to create a youth-curated online record, hosted by the John Rylands Library, of texts and artworks responding to the themes and objects in the exhibition. Participants will include sixth-form students from inner-city schools and young adults identified through local community youth projects. This aspect of the project will connect the themes of the exhibition with the practical processes of working in a professional or volunteer capacity with early modern print collections, and do so in a way that is relevant to local communities and especially young people. The project will lead to the creation of resources which will help professional and volunteer staff in the collection to work more closely with these aspects of the collections well beyond the life of the exhibition, with the capacity to generate practical and cultural changes that will see these materials engaged with in new ways over the longer term.

The impact activities will involve close collaboration with a range of professional staff in the John Rylands Library and also additional Manchester collections including Chetham's Library and the Whitworth Art Gallery. This will have ongoing benefits in further developing collaborative models between academics and professional and volunteer staff in cultural collections. The academic symposium at the conclusion of the exhibition will be connected to public lectures by historians during the preceding months. The symposium will include speakers from cultural collections in Manchester, and it will include a session on the ways in which community involvement unfolded during the exhibition, with the aim of further developing reflective approaches to impact activities in future academic activities. The project will therefore benefit and engage a range of groups within the broader community: school children and young adults; wider community audiences; and professional and volunteer staff already working with Manchester's rich cultural resources.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The AHRC Early Career Fellowship is still in progress. However the exhibition component has been on display since 21 January 2016. The exhibition and associated research demonstrate that the project's aim to put European in context with non-European materials sheds new light on the history of supernatural beliefs in the early modern word. This exhibition is the first to take this approach and has revealed a share focus on the female witch, on the use of magic objects to protect the body, and fear of diabolic forces. The exhibition research also demonstrates and has depended Jennifer Spinks' hypothesis that Europeans encountering non-European religions in the early modern period often framed these encounters in diabolical terms.
Exploitation Route Preliminary discussions with colleagues working on other time periods and regions (eg. Arabic material) indicate considerable scope for collaborative and comparative work in the future, sparked by the approach taken in the exhibition which forms one major output of the Fellowship.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/whats-on/exhibitions/magic/
 
Description The Fellowship is still in progress, but the exhibition has been completed and opened on 21 January 2016. This free exhibition is available 7 days a week to the general public. It will be on display on 21 August 2016. Between 21 January 2016 and Tuesday 1 March 2016, visitor numbers indicate that it has been seen by 26,503 members of the public, and it is therefore well one track to be seen by over 100,000 people while it is open. 3,000 copies of the accompanying booklet were produced and ran out in the first month; reprinting is currently under discussion. There has been online engagement with wider audiences through blogging, twitter, and several interviews. Social media has been particularly rich, with members of public describing their own and family members' reactions, and retweeting the visual and textual materials prepared to support the exhibition. One mother, for example, described how her young son wanted to read a manuscript on display - the Shahnama, or Persian Book of Kings - and that she planned to locate modern editions for him in several languages. Workshops for A-level and GCSE students has provided another avenue of engagement, with the students enthusiastically discussed key ideas about supernatural beliefs, religious difference, and European encounters with the non-European world.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Supporting material for exhibition Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The exhibition team prepared support materials for the use of the library's public engagement team, to enable more sustained ways of talking to members of the general public who visit the exhibition Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World at the John Rylands Library, Manchester. The Manager of Rare Books and Map, Julianne Simpson, was able to use this material to run several information sessions in January 2016 for members of staff (c. 50 people apparently attended).
 
Description Blog interview about the exhibition Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Interview about exhibition project for University of Manchester History blog. It was reblogged on the 'Religion in Museums' blog (see comments on the original blog).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://uomhistory.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/magic-witches-and-devils-in-the-early-modern-world-new-e...
 
Description Blog post by RA Stephen Gordon related to Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World exhibition - Chetham's blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact RA Dr Stephen Gordon wrote a blog on an exhibition item for the Chetham's Library blog to generate interest in the research towards the exhibition. Chetham's Library are a loan partner for the exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://chethamslibrary.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/conjuring-spirits-in-tractatus-de.html
 
Description Blog post by RA Stephen Gordon related to Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World exhibition - Manchester Medieval Society blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact RA Dr Stephen Gordon wrote a blog on an exhibition item for the Manchester Medieval Society blog to generate interest in the research towards the exhibition. This post is on one of the non-European items on display, and has helped to generate interest in the exhibition's innovative strategy of combing European with non-European materials.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://medievalsociety.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/guest-post-magic-witches-and-devils-in.html
 
Description Blog post by RA Stephen Gordon related to Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World exhibition - Rylands blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact RA Dr Stephen Gordon wrote a blog on an exhibition item for the John Rylands Library blog to generate interest in the research towards the exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://rylandscollections.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/cleansing-the-home-of-evil-spirits-sweeping-magi...
 
Description Blog post by co-curator Sasha Handley related to Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World exhibition - British Academy blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Co-curator Sasha Handley, who is currently a British Academy Mid Career Fellow, wrote a blog post about some of the innovative aspects of the exhibition, and connected it to her individual research on sleep. The post addressed well being and long histories of care of the body from supernatural attacks.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://blog.britac.ac.uk/magic-witches-and-devils-in-the-early-modern-world/
 
Description Blog post by lead curator Jennifer Spinks related to Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World exhibition - Arts and Humanities Research Council blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact As lead curator of the exhibition I wrote a blog entry for the AHRC to publicise the exhibition upon its launch, and connect it directly to my AHRC Early Career Fellowship. The post particularly stresses the innovative combination of European and non-European in the exhibition. The post has been tweeted and retweeted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/research/readwatchlisten/features/magic-witches-devils/
 
Description Media interview for exhibition Magic, Witches and Devils in the John Rylands Library 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact 4-minute profile with interviews for online TV station That's Manchester: the curators and postdoctoral research associate all appeared.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOSaF0iQknA
 
Description School workshops for exhibition Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact c. 55 A-level and GCSE pupils attended 2-hours workshops accompanying the exhibition Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World. I lead the workshops. The sessions includes time for questions and answers, and detailed follow-up with two A-level groups from Bury College studying The Tempest.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016