The Modern Demonologist: An Introduction

Welcome to my new blog! I’ve been reading history blogs for a good while now and decided to start one of my own in order to document and share my PhD research and experience. This post serves as a little introduction to me and my project.

My Project

first post pic

Detail from Jan Ziarnko’s engraving of a witches’ sabbath. (Sp Coll Ferguson Al-x.50) reproduced with permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

I’m Thomas Wroblewski, a first-year History PhD student and President’s Doctoral Scholar at the University of Manchester. I’m fascinated by the print culture surrounding supernatural beliefs in the early modern period, hence the title of this blog. I’m particularly interested in the intersection of supernatural beliefs and contemporary concerns about age, the body, and gender in the early modern period.

My research focuses on the phenomenon of demonic possession of children and young people in England and France and roughly covers the period from 1550 to 1650. It examines the ways in which possession narratives were utilised as vehicles of political and religious propaganda and how they contributed to the construction of the body as a gendered entity, publicly constructed through widely-circulated print. This is a comparative study of English and French material which examines the translation and dissemination of possession narratives whilst also engaging with emerging methodologies from the history of emotions and the history of science, technology and medicine. The project is funded by the AHRC through the North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership (NWCDTP) and I’m extremely fortunate to have an excellent supervisory team in Dr. Jenny Spinks (@jennyspinks_) and Dr. Sasha Handley (@sashahandley). You can read a more detailed synopsis of my study and research aims here.

Starting the PhD

Starting the PhD has been both a daunting and exciting experience. I spent the majority of my masters year preparing for the doctorate. I started writing my draft proposals this time last year and with funding deadlines in February and results in April, the PhD was rarely far from my mind. I was lucky to be awarded AHRC funding for the project and once I received the news I was excited to return to Manchester.

I only had the small thing of my masters dissertation to research and write in the meantime. I submitted this dissertation on 11th September and had to be present at Manchester by 21st of the same month! Arriving to start the PhD and realising the scale of the project compared to a masters has definitely been daunting. I don’t even know the results of my masters yet. There’s a feeling I’m jumping the gun by working on my PhD when the masters is still kicking around.

Saying this, I’m extremely excited about the project. I have plenty of ideas of where I’d like to take it, some ideas more feasible than others. I also seem to be making good progress, despite feeling like my masters is still hanging over me. I’m extremely lucky to have the talented and supportive supervisory team that I do and to have known them prior to my doctorate. Jenny Spinks supervised my undergraduate dissertation and I’m pleased to add Sasha Handley to the team. So far, our meetings have been enjoyable and productive and I look forward to working with them over the next three years.

So where do I go from here?

I’ve spent the last few weeks doing bibliographic searches and thinking about the thesis structure and chapter ideas. I’ll be working on a draft introduction for my January panel in order to think more about the intellectual frameworks for my study. I also have a good idea of the first chapter I’d like to write and I want to get stuck into those old books as soon as possible (and to spend time in the beautiful John Rylands Library!). For this first chapter I’ll be looking at the translation into English of several French possession narratives. These works were written about two specific possession cases in France, Marthe Brossier in 1598 and Madeleine de Mandols in 1611. They were translated into English shortly after their original French publication. With the English witchcraft act passed in 1604, effectively outlawing exorcism, and the fact these translations have not yet been addressed in the historiography, it looks like a fruitful place to begin my study.

A little about me

Originally from Northampton, I left for the University of Manchester to pursue my BA in 10592878_10152801839253271_6587350131889846820_nHistory in 2010. I flirted with different periods but quickly became drawn to the early modern period. I first became interested in the gender history of witchcraft in my final year and wrote my dissertation on discourses of sexuality in early modern French demonology. After three fantastic years, I graduated with first class honours in 2013. I spent the subsequent year working as a teaching assistant in Lille, France where I improved my language skills (alongside drinking a fair amount of Belgian beer). In August 2014, I secured the Gender & History studentship for my MSc in Gender History at the University of Glasgow. My masters dissertation examined child agency, embodiment and subjectivity in the bewitchment case of Christian Shaw in Scotland, 1696-1697. I have now returned to Manchester, a city I consider my spiritual home, to conduct my doctoral research.

I hope to use this blog to share my experience as a PhD student as well as interesting stories from my research.

Watch this space!


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