About drsang

Laura Sangha is a lecturer in history at the University of Exeter. She also tweets @_drsang

Asking questions of speakers: top tips

Laura Sangha

Presentation ‘season’ has just begun at my University, where group and individual talks are part of the assessment for modules at every undergraduate level. Public speaking is apparently once of the most feared aspects of modern life, yet it is also a skill that students may well need in their future workplace, so it makes sense that all are called upon to regularly research, write and deliver presentations, building experience and confidence.


Many people aren’t fans of public speaking

At Exeter, the marking criteria is focused around preparation, content, structure, creativity and delivery, but students are also assessed on their handling of questions in a Q&A segment after they have presented. And it is this that has inspired this post. Of course, a presenter needs some good questions in order to be able to demonstrate the depth and scope of their knowledge in a Q&A session, but I have found that people can struggle to formulate queries and that they can as a result be a bit hesitant to raise their hand. So I have come up with some suggestions about the sorts of things that it might make sense to ask about, as a teaching resource I can point my students to. Please do add your own below the line. Continue reading

All ancient history now: England’s damaging Reformation

Laura Sangha

On Tuesday 16 January, in the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Archbishops and Canterbury and York issued a joint statement on ‘the damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church’. It reads:

The Reformation was a process of both renewal and division amongst Christians in Europe. In this Reformation Anniversary year, many Christians will want to give thanks for the great blessings they have received to which the Reformation directly contributed…

…Many will also remember the lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love. Those turbulent years saw Christian people pitted against each other, such that many suffered persecution and even death at the hands of others claiming to know the same Lord. A legacy of mistrust and competition would then accompany the astonishing global spread of Christianity in the centuries that followed.

MANDATORY CAPTION: (C) Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates

For a Reformation historian this was a fascinating moment. It was also humorous (in a sort of bitter, 2017 way), since the Daily Mail immediately took offence at this show of remorse, declaring that since Henry VIII’s ‘war with the Pope’ began 500 years ago, and that it wasn’t even a required subject for the National Curriculum, it was hardly a ‘burning issue’. Ann Widdecombe, a former Tory minister and Strictly Come Dancing Star provided a quote, saying:

These gestures are pointless. The Archbishop has not put anyone to death, as far as I know… Modern Christians are not responsible for what happened in the Reformation… You might as well expect the Italians to apologise for Pontius Pilate.

I’m looking forward to discussing all this with my students this term. There’s certainly a lot to be said of the way that the media are reporting this statement as an ‘apology’, as well as to ponder in the emphasis on unity and the healing of past divisions. Of course, Widdecombe is right that modern Christians are not individually responsible for what happened in the Reformation, but I disagree with the implicit argument underpinning the Mail article, that the Reformation is ancient history, and nothing to do with ‘us’. Since our understanding of the past and of where we came from is intimately tied to the way we conceptualise our contemporary identities, the way that we think of and interpret that past has a direct and immediate importance for the present. Members of the Church of England today are informed by, and understand their institution with reference to the past, so it seems appropriate to reflect on the evolution of the Church and to reconsider contemporary responses to it in this anniversary year. Continue reading

The ghosts of early modern England, part III: a ghost story

Laura Sangha

A Perfect particular of the strange Apparition
and Transactions that have happened
in the House of Mr. Edward Pitts
next Door to the Still at Puddle-Dock.

This blog is a paraphrased version of a pamphlet published
in London in 1674. For other posts on early modern ghosts click here.


f any year might justly be termed Annus Mirabilis, then this is certainly it. A year in which it is as though Nature had forgot to walk in her common road, thrusting out into the World a multitude of prodigious and almost extravagant Events. Wonders in Warfare, wonders in Death, wonders in Politics.

At least our costly and fruitless War with the Dutch ended in February. And I was pleased to see the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane reopen after its Great Fire rebuilding, though Joy-in-Sorrow and Fly-Sin Lofthouse, my door neighbours, were less pleased. They say these, and other signs of Gods anger against the Nation are only to be expected as the just reward for our abominable and crying sins against the Divine Majesty, God Save Him. (Though I say his Divine Majesty is hardly spotless himself). Fly-Sin said we can hardly be surprised that the Devil is loose amongst us in such troubled and sinful times!

On which, I must tell you about the strange and stupendous disturbances at the house of Mr Edward Pitts of Puddledock (it’s near Blackfriars on the river). The house is two Rooms of a Floor; and for the 15 or 16 Nights past, the two Rooms up one pair of stairs have been continually haunted between 12 and 1 of the clock. How it is, is when the family goes to bed, the two doors to the rooms are shut fast, but in the morning they hath always found them open. What’s more, not one night in all this time but the Goods in this Kitchin, and Parler have been removed from one place to another in a most strange manner. In the Kitchin the Pewter hath been taken off the shelves and laid any where about the Room. A Box of Candles of 5 or 6 pound have been taken out of the Box and planted about the Room, some put in Candlesticks, and others laid by two and two.

But what is most remarkable was on the last Lords-day at Night. The Family going to Supper, a Fold-up Table (which stood on one side of the Kitchin) was brought to the fire side, upon which the Meat was set. Mr Pitts takes up the Loaf off the Dresser to cut bread to lay on the Table, then as he was cutting the Bread he spied on the Dresser a great thing like a Catt. At which he being a little affrighted, he started back calling to his Wife, saying, here’s a Catt, I never saw a Catt in this house before. Upon which, this Cat-like thing seemed to slide off the Dresser, giving a thump on the Boards, and so vanished away. Of all those in the Room, only Mr Pitt and his daughter (15 years of Age) could see the Catt, and they say it was as bigg as any Mastiff Dog, but they could not perceive that it had any Leggs.

That night, the Watchmen as they have gone by have called, have a care of your lights Pitts! Upon which Mr Pitts endeavoured to rise and see if he could find any light in his house; but he told me himself that he had no power to stir. He said he was not fearful, but he could not rise; he also told me that that night he had a great light in his Chamber several times, and that it diminished little and little till all his Room was dark, and then of a sudden he had as much Light as if it had been clear day.

In the morning when he got up and went to see what alterations he could in his 2 haunted Rooms, when he came down he found his Kitchin-door wide open, but his Parler door was off the Latch a little ajar, barricadoed with a great 2 handed Chair. He thrust the Chair aside and opened the door, when he came into the Room, upon the Table there he found a great Wooden Sand-box, upon which was 2 snuffs of Candles burnt to Ashes. A 3d Candle had been upon that Box, which had burnt all one side of the Box and made a terrible stink in the house (which I should have mentioned before). The Sand-box Candlestick Mr Pitts had never seen before; but that which was yet more Wonderful is this, by this Sand-box was placed upon the Table two Splinters of Wood cross-ways. Three Ends or Corners of this Cross was cleft, and in each cleft there was stuck a Paper printed on both sides as you it here verbatim:



Right against this Cross and Papers by the Table side was placed a Chair, as if some one had sat there viewing them over.

This night, Mr Pitts intends to have some people to sit up, that may speak to any thing that shall appear, and to demand in the name of the Father, what are you? I’ve a mind to go along myself.


Horrid ghosts of early modern England, part II: creeks, screeks and…bacon?

Laura Sangha

In my last post I explained the protestant position on apparitions – which was that they were most likely to be the work of the devil. However, the evidence provided by a range of cheap, short contemporary pamphlets suggests that ‘lived experience’ of spirits was rather different for many people. These five page pamphlets reported news of spirits and haunted houses, and a rash of them were published in England between 1670 and 1700.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Continue reading

Dramatic news of the horrid ghosts of early modern England, part I

Laura Sangha

This is the first of three posts on early modern ghosts. Part 2 is here. Part 3 was published on All Hallow’s Eve and can be seen here.


St Johns Church, Leeds, in R. Thoresby, Ducatus Leodiensis (1715)

In seventeenth-century England the sepulchre was surprisingly likely to open its ponderous and marble jaws and cast up the dead. Apparitions in questionable shapes regularly made the night hideous and reduced people to jelly with fear. This belief was not restricted to old wives and children either, since people from all religious groups and every social level encountered ghosts, from servants to clergymen, soldiers to scholars.

[What, has this thing appeared again tonight?]

Traditional catholic belief, folklore and protestant theology each contributed to the contemporary understanding of what these ‘things’ were. Often apparitions had a clear purpose: they might appear to prophesy, to announce some strange eruption to the state, to reveal the location of treasure they had buried in life, or perhaps to request prayers for the soul that would ease their fate in the afterlife.

However, the nature of these apparitions was not something that was immediately obvious to those who encountered these spirits of health or goblins damned. An apparition might look like or wear the clothes of someone recently deceased, but its true nature could not be discerned from its appearance. Supernatural encounters with mysterious, otherworldly beings could be dangerous to the living, and were not to be entered into lightly.

[It wafts you to a more removed ground:
But do not go with it
] Continue reading

A fictional review of Adam Thorpe’s Ulverton

This book review is intended as a homage to Thorpe’s inspirational historical novel, and is offered in a spirit of experimentation and playfulness.

Laura Sangha

16 June, windy. Email quiet. This day began Adam Thorpe’s Ulverton (1992). Have heard v good things from M. Hailwood, and Hilary Mantel ‘Sometimes you forget that it is a novel, and believe for a moment that you are really hearing the voice of the dead’. Is historical fiction: social history of West Country English village across 300 yrs, each chapter different style and set in different yrs chronologically.

19 June, rain, windy, cat sick all over blue rug. Discovered original meaning of word ‘broadcasting’ from Ulver (pre-radio, telly and Wi-Fi) – OED has: to scatter (seed, etc.) abroad with the hand; examples are (romantically) ‘They sow the barley, spraining the first half, and broad-casting the second.’ [1807 A. Young Gen. View Agric. Essex I. vii. 333] or (sniggeringly) ‘It is preferable to broadcast the guano’. [1846 Jrnl. Royal Agric. Soc. 7 ii. 591]. Wonder when that would ever be preferable.

25 June, dry, but slugs have taken over garden: all pansies eaten. 1689 chapter of Ulver is styled as sermon, interesting but bit ‘busman’s holiday’. Excellently researched so far, am completely convinced, but not that enthralled.

30 June, dry. Arthur from next door gave me some rhubarb: roasted with sugar. Ulver continues good, diary-style chapter exploring continuity/change, fertility of land/women: mix of dull impenetrable (to me) agriculture and imaginative rendering of rural life, relationships, folklore etc. Gender v strong theme (exclt research again!), reminds me: excited to see new ‘all women’ Ghostbusters movie.

4 July, sun came out and noticed how deep cat scratches are in floorboards. Finished neat chap. in Ulver, ‘lady’ writing to ‘pleb’ lover, lots of nice detail. Remarkable way Thorpe can conjure characters through use of genre/style: is like all early modern diaries, sermons and advice manuals I read raised from the dead – boring bits beginning to make more sense. Continue reading

Understanding Sources: diaries

TPicture1o celebrate the launch of Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources the monster-heads have each written a brief post offering a personal perspective on the source type that they most like working with (the introductory post is here). Do tell us your own below the line, or on twitter #histsources

Laura Sangha

It won’t come as a surprise that I have chosen diaries as my favourite early modern source type, since I am currently researching the life and times of the Leeds antiquarian and pious diarist, Ralph Thoresby (1677-1725). But really, who could resist reading someone else’s diary? Who isn’t interested in other people’s lives? What other source gives us access to the personal jottings and reflections of the long dead? In what other source are the voices of the people delivered to us in such an unmediated fashion? Where else can we learn about how people thought about themselves in the past? Whilst other source types might be better defined, more representative of the population as a whole, more complete, or easier to contextualise or generalise about, there is nothing like the thrill of reading someone else’s thoughts on their own life experiences. Continue reading