The difference of Being in the early modern world: a relational-material approach to life in Scotland in the period of the witch trials

McCabe Allan, Morgana Elizabeth (2016) The difference of Being in the early modern world: a relational-material approach to life in Scotland in the period of the witch trials. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis investigates how ways of being in different ontologies emerge from material and embodied practice. This general concern is explored through the particular case study of Scotland in the period of the witch trials (the 16th and 17th centuries C.E.). The field of early modern Scottish witchcraft studies has been active and dynamic over the past 15 years but its prioritisation of what people said over what they did leaves a clear gap for a situated and relational approach focusing upon materiality.

Such an approach requires a move away from the Cartesian dichotomies of modern ontology to recognise past beliefs as real to those who experienced them, coconstitutive of embodiment and of the material worlds people inhabited. In theory, method and practice, this demands a different way of exploring past worlds to avoid flattening strange data. To this end, the study incorporates narratives and ‘disruptions’ – unique engagements with Contemporary Art which facilitate understanding by enabling the temporary suspension of disbelief.

The methodology is iterative, tacking between material and written sources in order to better understand the heterogeneous assemblages of early modern (counter-) witchcraft. Previously separate areas of discourse are (re-)constituted into alternative ontic categories of newly-parallel materials. New interpretations of things, places, bodies and personhoods emerge, raising questions about early modern experiences of the world. Three thematic chapters explore different sets of collaborative agencies as they entwine into new things, co-fabricating a very different world. Moving between witch trial accounts, healing wells, infant burial grounds, animals, discipline artefacts and charms, the boundaries of all prove highly permeable. People, cloth and place bleed into one another through contact; trees and water emerge as powerful agents of magical-place-making; and people and animals meet to become single, hybrid-persons spread over two bodies. Life and death consistently emerge as protracted processes with the capacity to overlap and occur simultaneously in problematic ways.

The research presented in this thesis establishes a new way of looking at the nature of Being as experienced by early modern Scots. This provides a foundation for further studies, which can draw in other materials not explored here such as communion wares and metal charms. Comparison with other early modern Western societies may also prove fruitful. Furthermore, the methodology may be suitable for application to other interdisciplinary projects incorporating historical and material evidence.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Ontology, collaborative agencies, personhood, embodiment, liminality, early modern Scotland, witchcraft, archaeology of magic, animality, animism, infant burial.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > Archaeology
Supervisor's Name: Dalglish, Dr. Christopher J. and Given, Dr. Michael
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Dr Morgana E. McCabe Allan
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7811
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Dec 2016 13:38
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2017 08:56

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