Kathryn Edwards

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2011/2012
discipline History
Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, College of Arts and Sciences

Research project

Living with Ghosts: The Dead in European Society from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment


The research project analyzes changing beliefs about and practices concerning ghosts and their activities in late medieval and early modern Europe (c.1300-1750). Widely held throughout Europe, belief in ghosts endured and even strengthened despite intellectual, cultural, and social changes in that period that might have relegated it to an obscure folkloric niche. By evaluating the ongoing relationships between the living and the revenant dead and the assumptions on which this belief was founded, Living with Ghosts interprets the spiritual and structural foundations of such interactions. Ghosts were both uncanny and mundane, and the tensions they caused reflected similar epistemological and societal tensions in European culture.


By using ghosts as a specific lens to analyze transformations and continuities in late medieval and early modern culture, this book contributes to and in some cases revises interpretations that would be impossible to address in a less focused monograph or in one devoted to a specific place or smaller chronological framework. Such topics include the socio-cultural changes in Europe after the “crises” of the fourteenth century (such as the Black Death), the effects on European society of the emphasis on death, intercession and Purgatory in late medieval Christianity, the distinctions between Reformation confessions, the rise of nationalized intellectual cultures, the tensions between more folkloric piety and the spirituality of religious and secular reformers, and the relationship between religion and rationality in the Enlightenments. The perpetuation of belief in ghosts and its integration into “rationalist” epistemologies also calls into question fundamental modern academic assumptions about the construct “modernity” and its dissemination. As late medieval and Reformation beliefs about ghosts show, apparitions inspired both hope and happiness, revulsion and terror. That mixture remained at the heart of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century responses to ghosts. The power and durability of belief in the wandering dead and the ways that ghosts remained living members of European society thus contributes to recent reassessments of the Enlightenment and the theological disputes and religious repression against which it was supposedly reacting. It suggests that we would be well served to see such paradigm shifts as gradual processes; in the case of ghosts, it is a process that continues.



Kathryn Edwards earned a PhD in History at the University of California, Berkeley. She is Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, College of Arts and Sciences. She teaches Renaissance and Reformation European history (c. 1400-1700), with special interests in the history of frontiers, religion, families, and folklore.

Selected publications


Visitations: The Haunting of an Early Modern Town (microhistory based on the manuscript translated for Leonarde’s Ghost) (forthcoming).


''And Blood Rained from the Sky’: Creating a Burgundian Identity after the Fall of Burgundy', in Ocker et al. (eds), Defining and Redefining Early Modern History: Old Paradigms and New Directions, Brill, Boston / Leiden, 2007, pp. 344-357.


Families and Frontiers: Recreating Communities and Boundaries in the Early Modern Burgundies, Brill, Boston / Leiden, 2002.


Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Folklore and Traditional Belief in Early Modern Europe, editor, contributor, and translator of 2 articles (Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies), Truman State University Press, Kirksville, 2002.


senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Anthropology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Social Anthropology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Philosophy