Ghosts in Enlightenment Scotland
Item statusRestricted access
Embargo end date28/06/2019
McGill, Martha Macinnes
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This thesis analyses perceptions of ghosts in Scotland, with particular focus on the period from 1685 to c. 1830. According to traditional wisdom, this was a time when society was becoming progressively more rational, with magical beliefs melting away under the glare of Enlightenment scholarship. However, this thesis argues that ghosts actually rose to a new cultural prominence in this period, to the extent that Scotland came to be characterised as a haunted nation. The first chapter provides context, sketching attitudes towards ghosts from the Middle Ages to the late seventeenth century. It shows how ghosts were sidelined because of their questionable theological status, especially after the Reformation. The second chapter explores late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century attempts to reincorporate ghosts into Protestant society by converting them into religious propagandists. This endeavour was not only theologically problematic, but also came to be criticised on scientific grounds. Chapter three traces the evolution of sceptical and satirical depictions of ghosts, as well as discussing the debates that sprang up in the late eighteenth century as ghosts increasingly became an interesting object of enquiry. Under the pens of physicians and philosophers a medicalised vision of the ghost became widely influential. Literary works drew upon this interpretation, but also used gothic motifs to re-invest ghosts with horror. The fourth chapter discusses this theme, before exploring how romantic literature and folklore popularised a picturesque ghost that became entangled with conceptions of national identity. Finally, chapter five analyses the place of ghosts within popular culture. It uses ballads, cheap print and folklorists’ accounts to assess how and why ghosts remained important to the ordinary Scottish folk. The thesis as a whole shows how the ghost’s identity splintered in response to changing cultural contexts, allowing ghosts to take on new roles in Scottish society. This in turn reflects on broader questions of religious change, interactions between popular and elite culture, the formation of national identity and the legacy of the Enlightenment.