In early modern Europe (ca. 1550-1815), people believed that there was a permeable boundary between the natural (what could be readily observed and explained by natural philosophy) and supernatural worlds (what was hidden, or lay beyond the natural world). We’ll explore the shifting meanings of the natural and supernatural worlds during a period that encompassed three major shifts in intellectual outlook: the Reformation, Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment. This was an age of collecting and classifying knowledge, objects… and wonders! Not only did the relationship between science and God undergo profound changes, but the shifts simultaneously resulted in many supernatural beliefs (e.g. werewolves) becoming less plausible while raising the possibility of other mysterious creatures (e.g. vampires). But to what extent did the intellectual framework of the educated elite shape popular belief (or vice versa)? We will explore the way in which early modern people understood the boundaries between human and animal, body and soul, life and death, science and religion, and reality and imagination.

In this module, we’ll consider the political, economic, and cultural significance of early modern households through the lens of recipes and recipe books. Early modern households were busy places, with servants, lodgers, extended family and visitors coming and going, forging connections with other families. Households were centres of production in which family members worked alongside each other and knowledge was shared beyond its threshold. Central themes will include domestic management, gender, life cycle, relationships, patronage, and practical knowledge.


Over the year, you will develop a portfolio of online work by participating in a collaborative digital research project: transcribing part of a seventeenth-century recipe book and developing an online exhibition of contextual material. To this end, some weeks will focus on developing the group project and learning about digital tools.