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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sorting through the Ghosts

As most of you know, I'm here in Helsinki to draft the first volume of my monsterpiece on belief in ghosts.  One of the best things about having a year like this isn't just the release from service and teaching, although that certainly helps; it's the chance to focus your thought on a subject for a year.  It makes me appreciate the classic "absentminded professor" more; they're just ones who can enter that research and writing mind-set even while supposedly teaching and doing committee work.  Me, I'm not like that, so I LOVE being able to indulge!

Probably my biggest challenge this year is figuring out how the heck to sort through all of this material.  Do you know I've got over 1,000 printed sources alone, and that doesn't include modern books written about earlier times?!  Then there are all the archives and manuscript materials!  Then there are the pictures!  BTW, old pictures of ghosts are kind of fun!  Here's just a few of the ones I've collected.

The Brown Lady of Rayburn Hall.
She's one of the ones that creeps me out considering that, while it would be relatively easy to fake this photo, there's been a lot of investigation of the actual circumstance and no fraud has been found.

I love this medieval one and always ask my students to guess which of the monks is the ghost.

This medieval one gives me the willies: an empty but animated shroud.  I haven't seen any other medieval ghosts like this; in fact, it isn't until the 18th c. that I see ghosts depicted this way.

Another great medieval one: winding sheet as body stocking.


Check out the number of arms. Is it a ghost or an insect?


The ghost as a crazy old dude.  I can't decide whether this story was meant to be scarey or comical.
This is from this great series of late 18th-century British satires.  The eyes crack me up.


I love spectral photography.
If you want something gross, you should check out the 19th-century shots of ectoplasm!
Cheesecloth coming out of people's noses--ugh.

This is only a small sample, too, folks.  Since I've started sorting my materials more thoroughly, I've found all sorts of great images.  Especially funny are the ones that the early publishers keep reusing.

One great product of doing this sorting in Europe is that any skill I have at foreign languages seems to be coming back with a vengeance.  I don't know why, but I'm finding in much easier to read the German, French, Italian, and even Spanish over here than in Columbia (Latin's never easy!).  I guess my brain is in "foreign language mode" from all the Finnish I see everyday.  Of course, it helps when you sort things by theme and language, so that you spend the morning dealing with English-language sources that focus on purgatory and the afternoon with French ones covering folklore.  I can't imagine being able to switch from one language to another automatically!

Well, now that I've managed to have a lovely, non-productive lunch break, I'm off to continue sorting my ghostly materials!

P.S.  One of the hazards of blogging from my office: the Finnish spellchecker attached to Blogspot.com went nuts when I ask it to spellcheck this!  Pretty funny actually. :-)

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