Ritual, Belief & the Dead in Derby: New Talks, Tours & Workshops on Seeking Superstitions & Finding Folk Magic  

I must first apologise for appropriating the title of Sarah Tarlow’s fascinating book on Early Modern beliefs and practices associated with the dead.[i] At the same time, I must also acknowledge how I have found this work (as with most of her publications) not only a valuable source of information, but also an inspiration for my own research, and while developing educational sessions on this topic. (The latter, among other archaeological adventures, accounts for the prolonged silence here, and on my other blogs – which, with Twitter & Facebook feeds,[ii] will provide updates & information in the not-too-distant future.[iii])

This post is to explain what I’ve been up to since the last, and to introduce some of the educational events (the products of this silence) that I have to offer over the next few months, which focus on ritual and belief. An outline of research and teaching development over the last couple of years (briefly explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing – which at first click might seem unconventional) would perhaps be useful, so this follows. But if not interested in this, scroll down to the sentence beginning ‘As 2017…’.

As I have discussed elsewhere, I’ve worked in adult / continuing education on and off since 2000, and have for a while intended to develop freelance talks, tours and workshops that (though maintaining professional standards), might be more relaxed, and (hopefully) more ‘fun’ than the at times restrictive formats and surroundings typically associated with AdEd.

I aim to reach wider audiences by offering series of inter-linked sessions that might also stand alone, attempting to invigorate interest by integrating close engagement with historical material (including dress, and contemporaneous print culture, alongside material more commonly employed by archaeologists). By their nature, sessions will not include the obligatory formal assessments (despised by almost all of the students – and more than a few tutors I have encountered) typical of AdEd courses, though I am exploring new ways to assess achievement (and thus act as quality control) – to both reinforce and augment learning.

By incorporating my own recent and ongoing research, I hope to make sessions more relevant to local (and visiting) audiences, and to welcome those with some knowledge of the topics under consideration. Being particularly interested, and long involved, in studies (through varied academic disciplines) of ritual, belief, and death – works on these subjects usually providing my bedtime reading!– [iv] I’ve looked forward most of all to presenting educational sessions in this field, and planned to begin with a talk and / or tour on death and burial. Preparations have taken several years, but I reached the point of being able to offer a session to the same standard as the University courses I’ve provided over the last 17 years, and started making more detailed plans earlier this year.

As 2017 marks the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, I decided to focus on the time in which Britain’s favourite female author lived and died, and began organising a series of events to run between July 2017 and July 2018 as part of the bicentenary celebrations. This was launched by an exhibition I held this summer to illustrate the range of subjects, and a selection of materials, that my sessions would cover.

My first education talk / walk was to be a tour of graveyards in Derby’s Cathedral Quarter, just before Halloween. However, bureaucracy thwarted my plans (as explained in a blog post here), and I had to rearrange an alternative event – True Tales from the Grave: Death & Burial in the ‘Age of Austen’. When ticket sales closed, I organised another event that compliments this subjects, Ghosts of Christmas Past: Late Georgian Death, Ritual and Belief, to be held on Twelfth Night (5 Jan. 2018).

Tickets are now on sale for this event via the button below, and from the Eventbrite page, which also includes information. As the venue only holds a small number of seats, limited places are available; and the event will only go ahead if sufficient tickets are sold. So if interested, please purchase your ticket while you can (discounts apply), or let me know via the Facebook event page.

Eventbrite - Ghosts of Christmas Past: Late Georgian Death, Ritual and Belief

I’ll post more information on this and related events over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, wishing readers a Happy Halloween!


[i] Tarlow, Sarah 2010 Ritual, Belief & the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland, Cambridge: CUP.

[ii] @LadyAntiquary; & Mrs. Leach’s Antiquarian Academy Facebook Page; respectively.

[iii] My personal blog, Notes of an Antiquary, discusses ideas & works in progress, and highlights research relevant to my various fields of post-medieval study. Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project (LIPCAP) blog, and the Past Sense Project (PSP) blog, provide information and discussion relating to the work of these public history initiatives. (Respectively, these projects explore everyday life through surveys domestic building and garden – primarily of houses in Derbyshire dating to the 17th – early 20th centuries; and integrate 17th – 19th century archaeological and historical material with psychotherapeutic support for survivors of sexual & domestic violence & abuse in the East Midlands.) The blog associated with my most recent venture, Mrs. Leach’s Antiquarian Academy, introduces research and work in progress, and provides further information, relating to the freelance educational exhibitions, talks, tours, and workshops that I have provided and plan to present relating everyday life in the 17th-early 19th centuries.

[iv] My formal studies (as an Undergraduate in 1991) began by adopting a multi-disciplinary approach (studying History, Art History, English Literature, Philosophy, and Music) through the Open University, after completing the foundation year moving on to study Archaeology at the University of Nottingham. Due to the requirement that students took minor / subsidiary modules, in addition to the main / major subjects, to broaden knowledge, I was able to study Literature alongside Archaeology. Due to inter-departmental collaboration between scholars of high repute, this allowed students to explore specifically how literary works (including many sources relating to mythology and folk tales) and material culture might work together in examining belief and ritual in the past – an approach further supported by the opportunity to study anthropology in the department. For my MA (Archaeological Research, again at Nottingham), I was able to study these subjects in greater detail, and bring them together in interpreting remains of ritual practice from a notable site. My PhD research (at Sheffield) enabled further multi-disciplinary study.

Most of my academic publications and conference papers involve studies of ritual and belief (covering contexts in various locations, across millennia), summaries or which can be found here. However, these studies have shown that separating ritual and belief from the domestic and mundane imposes modern-day perceptions that appear inappropriate with regard to the past (and it is doubted whether such distinctions can be sustained when considering contemporary societies). My work in this field therefore runs alongside, and discoveries often derive from, my studies of household archaeologies.


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