UniMelb History Brown Bag Seminar

'Demons, Wonders and Religious Identity in Reformation Europe'


Presented by Associate Professor Jenny Spinks


Thursday 30 September 2021, 1-2 pm via zoom 

Early modern wonder books compiled reports of comets, floods, earthquakes, devils, ‘monstrous births’, and other terrifying natural and supernatural phenomena. These books reflected changing approaches to knowledge as well as specific new religious anxieties, and often deployed the terrifying wonders of the natural world in order to construct arguments about the coming Last Days. This paper will comparatively examine material from some key but little-studied sources from the 1550s through to the early seventeenth century, and will do so by honing in on the phenomenon of demonic possession. By examining possession reports found in Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist wonder books, I aim to explore how and why their authors increasingly stressed the dangerous reality of possession. In doing so, I aim to also reflect on the impact of religious conflict and violence on religious identities.


Jenny Spinks is a Hansen Associate Professor in the School of Historical & Philosophical Studies.  Jenny teaches and researches the history of early modern Europe, with a particular focus on Germany, France, and the Low Countries.​​​

For the zoom link contact: sarah(dot)walsh(at)unimelb.edu.au 

History and Philosophy of Science Seminar

Whaling, Consumer Culture and Changing Understandings of the Natural World in Early Modern Europe

Sarah Bendall (Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, ACU)

12 noon Wednesday 6 October (Online)

By the end of the seventeenth century, Europeans wore a variety of fashionable garments made from whalebone sourced from the Artic, sprayed on perfumes infused with ambergris from Africa or the Caribbean, and used medicines and cosmetics made with spermaceti from North America. This paper argues that scientific and popular understandings of whales went hand-in-hand with seventeenth-century fashionable consumer culture. While the whale still occupied various contradictory cultural, commercial and scientific spaces in European thought, this century saw a period of transformation where common understandings of whales shifted. These animals went from being monsters to curiosities of the natural world that could be commodified and used in a wide variety of consumer goods, goods that were increasingly used in the everyday lives of Europeans. By focusing on the use of whale products in early modern England, this paper highlights the role that the consumption of fashion and other goods played in fostering wider understandings of the natural world, in both positive and negative ways, during the seventeenth century.


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