Centre for European and International Studies Research (CEISR)
Dr Karl Bell
Senior Lecturer in History
I joined the University of Portsmouth in 2007, having previously studied and taught at the University of East Anglia. My research interests fall under the umbrella heading of ‘the fantastical imagination’. I take this to include magical beliefs and practices, witchcraft, the supernatural, superstition, prophecy, millenarianism, legends, myths, urban folklore and (proto-) science-fiction tropes in the modern period (anything post-1700). I am particularly interested in the way these ideas and mentalities were used to navigate the experience of modernisation, especially as a means of resistance and adaptation. At the same time I use these rather offbeat areas of historical research to explore the nature of different types of nineteenth-century cultures and the concept of modernity. I am happy to supervise PhDs on any of these weird and wonderful topics.
- PhD in History – University of East Anglia (2007)
- MA in Modern History – Birkbeck College, University of London (2001)
- BA (Hons) in Modern History – Anglia Ruskin University (1992)
- Social, Historical and Cultural Change in Europe
- Cultural Studies
Current Research Projects
- Research on magical beliefs, witchcraft, the supernatural, superstition and folklore in the Portsmouth/Hampshire region in the period c. 1780-1900. This will be used in conjunction with my PhD research on Manchester/Lancashire and Norwich/Norfolk with the aim of producing my first monograph.
- Researching and writing a second book on Spring-heeled Jack and Victorian popular cultures. I am using this urban legend to analyse facets of nineteenth-century English society and to probe the interrelated nature of what are often portrayed as key dichotomous cultures such as urban/rural and oral/literary divides.
- Writing an article on perceptions of the popular imagination as deviance in the nineteenth century, focussing on critics’ shift from a language of morality to medical pathology.
- 2012 The Legend of Spring-heeled Jack: Victorian Urban Folklore and Popular Cultures, Boydell and Brewer, ISBN:1843837870
- 2012 The Magical Imagination: Magic and Modernity in Urban England, 1780-1914, Cambridge University Press, 308pp, ISBN:1107002001
- ‘The Legend of Spring-heeled Jack: Urban Folklore in Victorian Popular Culture’, Gramarye, vol.1, no 1 (2012), pp.41-56.
- ‘Remaking Magic: The “Wizard of the North” and Contested magical Mentalities in the Mid-Nineteenth Century Magic Show’, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, vol.4, no.1 (2009), pp.26-51.
- ‘Breaking Modernity’s Spell - Magic and Modern History’, Cultural and Social History, vol.4, no.1 (2007), pp.115-122.
- ‘The Humbugg of the World at an End: the apocalyptic imagination and the uses of collective fantasy in Norfolk in 1844’, Social History, vol.31, no.4 (2006), pp.455-468.
- Supernatural Folklore and the Popular Imagination: Re-reading Object and Locality in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Norfolk', in T.A. Heslop, Elizabeth Mellings and Margit Thofner (eds), Art, Faith and Place in East Anglia (Woodbridge, Boydell and Brewer, 2012), pp.240-252 ISBN 9781843837442.
- ‘Illuminated by Darkness: Superstition, the Supernatural, and the Challenges of Modernity c.1800 – 1870’ in Rosalind Crone (ed), New Perspectives in British Cultural History (Cambridge Scholars Press, Cambridge, 2007)
I have acted as a referee for peer-reviewed journals such as Cultural and Social History and Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft. I have also been a reader for developing publications by Palgrave Macmillan.